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LA COUNCILMEMBERS BRING FOOD, SUPPLIES AND HOPE TO THE TIJUANA BORDER

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02 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

Proposed Legislation would help California LGBTQ students Safe and Supportive School Act helps advocate for acceptance By CRAIG APPELBAUM State officials proposed a new law that would require California schools to provide annual teacher and staff training on how to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students both at school and in their local community. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) joined with Equality California on Feb. 13 to announce the Safe and Supportive School Act of 2019 (AB 493) to give teachers and staff the tools they need to support LGBTQ students to be successful. “The bullying and name calling I experienced in school as a young gay kid is still a reality for today’s LGBTQ youth. No child should have to experience that,” Gloria said in a statement. “Students should feel safe, accepted, included, and supported in their schools.” “I’m proud to co-sponsor AB 493, which will help protect California’s LGBTQ students by providing teachers the resources

Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Assemblymember Todd Gloria meet with students Photo courtesy Equality California

they need to support them at both school and home,” said Thurmond. “Every child deserves a caring and supportive school environment, and we must continue to work towards closing disparities in health, mental health and academic outcomes for our LGBTQ students.” “When LGBTQ students don’t feel safe and supported at school, they can’t learn,”  said Equality California Executive Director

Rick Zbur. “It’s time for California to give our hardworking teachers the tools and training they need to ensure every student — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — has a shot at success. We’re excited to partner with Superintendent Thurmond and Assemblymember Gloria to get this done.” The bill was welcomed by teachers. “I think it’s a positive first step,” said Sim Leng, an LGTBQ teacher in South Los Angeles. “In

the education community, to get to a kid academically, we need to meet their social and emotional needs as well.” A 2017 GLSEN study reported that 82 percent of LGBTQ students heard antiLGBTQ remarks at school; approximately 7 in 10 were called names or threatened based on their perceived sexual orientation; and more than one-third of LGBTQ students said they missed at least one day of school as a result of feeling unsafe. Additionally, according to the Human Rights Campaign and University of Connecticut’s recently released California LGBTQ Youth Report, half of California’s LGBTQ youth have been teased or bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity and 28 percent said they have been threatened with physical violence at school. Research also consistently shows that students who are the targets of bullying, harassment and discrimination are more likely to miss school, see their academic performance suffer or even drop out of school as a result. LGBTQ youth face additional disparities in health and well-being, including higher rates of homelessness, suicide and substance use and lower rates of economic success than their non-LGBTQ peers.

WeHo promotes voter engagement with music video Fun video features bare-chested men By STAFF REPORTS The deadline to register to vote  for the March 5 General Municipal Election in the City of West Hollywood has passed. But voter turn out may be higher to filled three city council seats as the city grapples with allegations of sexual harassment leveled against Mayor John Duran. Three incumbent councilmembers seeking reelection — Lindsey Horvath, Lauren Meister and John D’Amico — recently demanded  that Duran step down from his position believing that his flirtatious behavior is inappropriate for a 24/7 mayor in

or out of the workplace. Ironically, the city waged a similar debate over sexual propriety in Feb. 2011 when D’Amico and Duran argued about the need to “save Boystown” amidst a contentious argument over the annual Tom of Finland exhibits. Duran, hospitalized at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center with complications from blood clots, has refused to resign. “There has been one formal claim made against me in 20 years with the [Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles]. An independent investigator was hired. He interviewed both parties and the 5 alibi witnesses who were with me that evening,” Duran said on Facebook.  “And the witnesses all concurred that nothing unusual happened in the dressing room while they were with me. So, the claim was found to be unsubstantiated and the case was closed.”

Other issues confronting the city’s government including homelessness, affordable housing, development, traffic, mass transit and the burgeoning cannabis business dominated the discussion at the Jan. 29 West Hollywood City Council Candidate Forum. The forum was moderated by KNBC journalist Robert Kovacik. Nine of the 11 candidates participated: incumbent councilmembers Horvath, Meister, and D’Amico and challengers Brendan Hood, Duke Mason, Shawn Davis Mooney, Marquita Thomas, Tom Demille and Sepi Shyne. Candidates Jack Cline and Eric Jon Schmidt did not participate. The last two scheduled WeHo city elections staff-run Voter Registration and Election Information Pop-Ups will take place on: Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 from 11 a.m. to 1

p.m. at the Helen Albert Farmer’s Market, located in the Vista Lot on the north end of Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard; and Monday, March 4, 2019 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at West Hollywood City Hall, located at 8300 Santa Monica Boulevard. Given the political climate of the current scandal, the city’s choice of a catchy music video public service announcement to promote its voter registration drive has raised some eyebrows as it featured half naked men seductively touching their chests. One WeHo resident who declined to be identified noted in a phone call to the Los Angles Blade: “That video is really awkward given all the bitchy drama. I get that it was produced before all the crap hit the fan, still you’d think they (the city) would have pulled it down.”


04 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

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West Hollywood City Council delays vote on Mayor John Duran’s tenure An intersection of outrage takes the council by storm By CRAIG APPELBAUM and TROY MASTERS About 50 members of the #MeToo Movement/LA joined with protesters from Black Lives Matter and Justice4Gemmel to demand the resignation of Mayor John Duran At a rally on Feb. 19 in front of the West Hollywood City Council Chamber. The rally occurred before the council meeting that drew intense media attention after 3 councilmembers used social media to call for the mayor to step down. Duran recently drew the ire of many community activists after it was revealed that a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles had accused him of making an unwelcome physical contact by touching the waistband of his underwear. And though a third party investigator found there was no evidence of wrongdoing and the matter was dropped, it served to revive memories of prior instances where the mayor’s behavior had drawn similar scrutiny and unleashed reports of new ones. Duran finds himself at the intersection of many community flashpoints beyond the allegations of inappropriate behavior. To shouts of “Duran must go,” the protestors linked Duran to Ed Buck, who is currently being investigated by police surrounding the deaths in his WeHo apartment of two gay African-American men — Gemmel Moore in 2017 and Timothy Dean in 2019. Moore died of an apparent accidental overdose; the County Coroner has not yet released the cause of Dean’s death. “Duran must resign unequivocally” said protester Rosalind Jones. Council candidate and local lawyer Sepi Shyne agreed, telling the Los Angeles Blade that Duran “absolutely” must resign. At the council meeting, Duran’s fellow Councilmembers voted unanimously to end his previously-extended term as mayor early, in May instead of September, thus returning the term limit to the standard one year. Incumbent Councilmembers Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath, and John D’Amico

West Hollywood City Council meeting on February 19, 2019. Photo by Troy Masters

were joined by Councilmember John Heilman in calling for Duran to resign his position as mayor. Duran was in Cedars Sinai hospital as doctors monitored blood clots. “Given John’s current health situation, as well as the controversy, I think it is important for us to move forward with somebody else in charge,” Heilman said to applause from the crowd. Meister asked City Attorney Mike Jenkins to look at the situation and provide the Council with options at a special meeting in April. The council can vote to strip Duran of his largely ceremonial mayoral position, which ends in two months, but they do not have authority cannot remove him from council. WeHoTimes.com founder Marco Colantonio read a statement by Duran at the meeting in which he apologized for a comment about the Asian American man who accused him of wrongdoing in the Los Angeles Times. But he did not bow to the intense pressure to resign.

“I flirt. I crack dirty jokes. I often say things that make some cringe. But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone. Not ever. It is not in my DNA. I will own my human flaws for being and saying inappropriate things. But I will never admit conduct that never occurred. That would be dishonest and done for expediency rather than truth,” Duran said in his statement. “Unfortunately, people are now piling on a false narrative that is untrue, misunderstood, and driven by the current mood of the country rather than the rule of law and due process. Erin Roberts, a member of the “Orange County MeToo Movement,” was among a dozen people who spoke before the council. “A lot of the LGBT community of Orange County comes to West Hollywood to find a safe haven and a welcoming community,” she said. “In order to continue to make it a safe haven it needs to not have people who make the community unsafe, like Ed Buck. One dead black man is a tragedy, two is a pattern.”

She drew a parallel between Duran and Buck. “How many men need to speak up in order for this not to be a rush to judgment? How many complaints need to be filed in order for you to take this seriously?”she asked. In 2011, Duran provided legal counsel to Buck, a longtime member of Stonewall Democratic Club, but says he “never represented [Buck] in a case.” Others who addressed the council included Dennis Gleason, a policy director for LA Councilman Joe Busciano, who alleged that he was subject to unsolicited messages from Duran on Grindr. Robert Oliver, who resigned from the WeHo Public Safety Commission in protest against the councilmembers’ unwillingness to speak out about Duran, also called for the mayor’s immediate resignation. “Any doubt that I have had about the seriousness of this situation has been alleviated by the individuals who have since come to share their interactions with Mayor Duran,” declared Oliver. “What he cannot understand or is unwilling to admit is the fact that many feel like they can’t say ‘No’ to the mayor or to the chair of the board,” adding “or to a pillar in the recovery community.” “The time for excuses is over,” said former councilmember Steve Martin. City Council candidate Tom DeMille countered the trend, decrying the “rush to judgment to ruin a man. You don’t ruin men, you don’t ruin women,” he said. “No one is perfect.” During Councilmember comments, Horvath doubled down on her call for Duran to resign. The Council “cannot focus on the work of the people when we have to address new and numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including whether our mayor used his title to solicit sexual favors,” she said. She also linked Duran to Buck, saying the harassment allegations were a “diversion from the gravely serious homicide investigations that are ongoing in our city.” The LA County Coroner ruled Moore’s death to be an accidental overdose and has not yet announced what caused Dean’s death. The Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau told the Los Angeles Blade that both cases are ongoing “death investigations.” Lt. William Moulde told the council there is no update on the status of the investigations.


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06 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

LA Cares Los Angeles city councilmembers bring food, supplies, and hope to asylum seekers By KAREN OCAMB kocamb@losangelesblade.com It was just a throwaway line at the end of a contentious interview about President Trump’s controversial emergency declaration to go around Congress to get funding for the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. “This is a deep intellectual problem that is plaguing this city, which is that we’ve had thousands of Americans die year after year after year because of threats crossing our southern border,” Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller said Feb. 17 on “Fox News Sunday.” Except it isn’t true. “There’s no evidence that thousands of Americans are killed by undocumented immigrants, especially in light of credible studies showing they commit crimes at lower rates than nativeborn Americans. He earns Four Pinocchios,” wrote Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler on Feb. 21. However, Kessler notes, “This is a good example about how a paucity of data allows political advocates to jump to conclusions.” Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Curren Price represent districts highly impacted by the humanitarian crisis at the border cause by the Trump/Miller anti-immigration policies. On Feb. 15, the councilmembers teamed up with the Salvadoran American Leadership Educational Fund (SALEF), Clinica Monseñor Romero, CARECEN-Los Angeles, El Rescate, St John’s Health, and Equality California to go to Tijuana on both a fact-finding mission over Presidents Day weekend and to provide food, a myriad of much needed supplies, complicated legal assistance and medical services through St. John’s mobile medical unit to refugees and migrants seeking asylum at the United States border with Mexico. Many are living in squalor in make-shift shelters or on the streets or being bussed to crowded camps in various Mexican border cities as they endure long waits to be processed by U.S Customs and Border Patrol.

Sam Garrett-Pate/EQCA, Rick Zbur/EQCA, Councilmember Curren Price, Yolanda Rocha, Director, Jardín de Las Mariposas, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and a number of Jardin volunteers and clients. Photo Courtesy Equality California

The LA delegation was also well-aware of the tortured death of HIV-positive Roxsana Hernandez, an asylum-seeker fleeing violence in Honduras who died May 25, 2018 while in ICE custody. ICE said she died of cardiac arrest but the Transgender Law Center paid for a private autopsy that revealed that Hernandez most likely died from “severe complications of dehydration” on top of HIV infection, according to a CNN report last November. The autopsy “also found bruising on her body that suggests she was shackled tightly at the wrists and beaten on her back and abdomen, lawyers for her family said.” The delegation was also aware of the Feb. 3 death of a trans woman named Camila who sought asylum after escaping from El Salvador but was deported back to her country. Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Camila, had been reported missing at the end of January. She

was later found at Rosales National Hospital in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital, on Jan. 31 with multiple injuries. Camila passed away on Feb. 3. “She migrated to the U.S. because of threats that she had received, but she was deported because they didn’t believe her,” Aislinn Odaly’s, an independent LGBTI rights advocate, told the Blade. Camila is the second trans women reported killed in El Salvador this month. What was surprising for some in the delegation was the danger and violence in Tijuana, which has a mythical reputation for accessible bars and cheap prescription drugs. In fact, Tijuana is a Catholic-centric conservative area of Mexico where the real danger for LGBT people—especially for trans women—is not the criminals of the Trump/Miller imagination but the public, the police, the city and state—and Mexican immigration officials. Before leaving, O’Farrell, who is the

openly gay chair of the LA City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, introduced a motion to help fund a facility in his 13th District that provides emergency and long term shelter to minors under the age 18. “The president has caused a humanitarian crises that is affecting thousands of immigrants,” O’Farrell told the Los Angeles Blade by email. “Trump’s border policy is a violation of the Refugee Act of 1980. Women, children, and members of our LGBT community who have fled persecution from their own countries are being victimized again while they seek asylum hoping for a better life in the United States. I am in solidarity with the members of this delegation, demanding we follow our own laws while fighting for common human decency and compassion.” Like many others, O’Farrell thinks Trump’s emergency declaration is a political stunt. “The declaration of a national emergency


LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • 07

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Councilmembers O’Farrell and Curren Price visit a shelter Photo Courtesy O’farrell’s Office

is a cynical discriminatory falsehood,” he says. “Many of our local shelters can’t obtain Federal funding, so it’s critical for our local elected officials to remain engaged in this issue, and use whatever mechanisms possible to help those seeking asylum in the United States.” O’Farrell is keenly aware that neither he nor the City Council has any authority over the border or federal immigration policy. But he is working with others to find solutions to this manufactured humanitarian crisis. For instance, he says, “we can partner with our members in Congress and our local human rights organizations to accompany folks at the border. During this time, we can utilize and maintain the pipeline of support through our partners at SALEF, Clínica Romero, El Rescate and CARECEN-LA. These organizations have the infrastructure in place to not only provide hope but also offer real assistance to reach those seeking asylum. The infrastructure in place provides

nourishment, medical and legal services, and clothing to those in need and waiting at our border. Our collective focus includes the LGBT asylum-seeking community.” O’Farrell also says the Council can “apply discretionary funding to create safe spaces for our most vulnerable youth that have fled their home country for a variety of reasons. Related to the trip, I introduced a motion in my role as Chair of Homelessness and Poverty Committee. The motion directs $175,000 in discretionary funding to assist Casa Libre, a facility in my district that provides emergency and long-term shelter to minors, including unaccompanied migrants and refugee children. This temporary housing assists those minors waiting on their hearings, and provides social, recreational, and medical services for clients.” O’Farrell also notes that he is working with Equality California—Executive Director Rick Zbur and Communications

Director Samuel Garrett-Pate were in the delegation—to bring a statewide delegation of LGBT elected officials to the border in the coming weeks. The fact-finding and missionary trip helped lay the groundwork for the possible Congressional trip. Additionally, O’Farrell says, he will be coordinating with LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl “on a strategy to assist this population. I am also directing LAHSA and the city to focus on ‘vulnerable communities’ as part of Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy that will be heard in my Homelessness and Poverty Committee in March.” While O’Farrell noted specific efforts to help, Zbur was just outraged in his email to the Los Angeles Blade after his visit to the LGBT shelter Jardin de las Mariposas where Director Yolanda seemed incredibly upbeat and positive despite the ever-present danger, poverty and deplorable living conditions.

“Thousands of asylum seekers — including LGBTQ people fleeing violence and persecution — are stranded in Tijuana right now because of the Trump-Pence Administration’s illegal and unjust asylum policies,” Zbur wrote. “As we fight to hold the administration accountable for their cruel, inhumane treatment of LGBTQ and other refugees, we thought it was important to meet with migrants experiencing the very real impacts of the president’s manufactured crisis first-hand. Equality California is committed to lifting up their stories and working with our partners to provide any assistance that we can.” Zbur concluded with a plea for attention: “The conditions that we saw — that too many LGBTQ and other refugees are living in just across the border — are heartbreaking and require more attention from the LGBTQ community and the broader progressive movement in the United States.”


08 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

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TransLatin@ Coalition releases first policy agenda Launch and reception Feb.13 held at the California Endowment By CRAIG APPELBAUM The TransLatin@ Coalition has grown from a local grassroots powerhouse into a leading national advocacy organization that also now provides direct services for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people in Los Angeles. On Feb. 13 at the headquarters of the California Endowment, the coalition leapt forward even further, releasing the first policy agenda by and for TGI people of color— #TransPolicyAgenda. The  #TransPolicyAgenda  is the result of more than six months of surveys and collecting community input to identify specific, urgent issues and offer solutions, conducted by queer Latina researcher Jacqueline Caraves. The vision of the agenda builds on “the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Ecosystem and Inherent Issues,” developed by Celia Sandhya Daniels to comprehend the multiple aspects of a Trans person’s life. #TransPolicyAgenda is a pioneering road map for providers to understand the landscape of the lives of Trans people in order to create change, Bamby Salcedo, coFounder, President and CEO of TransLatin@ Coalition, told the Los Angeles Blade. Salcedo and Daniels worked together from the outset, putting together a coalition of TGI communities of people of color to insure all voices in the TGI people of color of community were heard. “This #TransPolicyAgenda is not just a product of love, but a product of the resilience that exists within our community,” Salcedo said in a statement. “We fight to be treated with dignity by a society that is constantly telling us that we are not worth it, that we are not supposed to be part of decision-making process, and that we are not able to design the architecture of own lives. We understand that in order to change the landscape of our lives and the lives of the people we love, we must build our #TransPower.” And that is not easy. According to the TransLatin@ Coalition, Trans Latino/ as often live in extreme poverty with 28%

Trans activist Celia Sandhya Daniels speaking at the launch Feb. 13, 2019 Photo by Craig Appelbaum

reporting a household income of less than $10,000, nearly double the rate for all trans people of all races and seven times the general United States rate. The urgency of this policy project is further explained in the introduction to the 44-page policy paper. “We release this policy agenda out of necessity, with 396 Transgender murders reported in 2018, and many more left untold, hundreds of homeless TGI people, rising HIV/STD rates among our community, healthcare protections at risk, and various other forms of institutional violence; the system is legally killing us,” the Agenda report says. “As the Translatin@ Coalition expands and serves as a vital resource for the TGI community, regardless of race, creed, age, size, immigration status, ability, or any other systemically stigmatized identity-we notice a direct lack of resources and advocacy efforts centering the struggles of our community. This policy agenda will be used not only to work toward securing the legislative rights for our community and to hold the state accountable, but to demand moral integrity from society as a whole.” Daniels’ Ecosystem examines the social,

economic, and political factors affecting TGI people of color, specifically issues around security, protections and access. “It covers the whole spectrum from a global perspective,” Daniels, an Asian Indian trans woman activist, said at the launch. The Ecosystem and Agenda are intended to address issues TGI people of color experience “right from childhood.” “TGI people are more than just figures of sex and fear. We are fully realized human beings that influence mass culture and have been here for centuries,” the report notes at the beginning of the section on “Our Collective Strategy.” That strategy outlines six key needs in the TGI community, particularly for TGI women of color: “(1) educational access & research justice, (2) economic stability & housing equity, (3) holistic and accessible universal health care & bodily autonomy, (4) ending policing, state violence & criminalization, (5) decriminalizing migration & global trans rights and (6) gender justice & identity autonomy.” “The main thing is education,” says Salcedo. “It’s important to have a roadmap on how to do things related to policy. We wanted to make sure the community had a

document that could serve as a guide.” #TransPolicyAgenda also creates a direct line of communication between policy makers, government and federal agencies and the TGI community, says Salcedo. She hopes that legislators, stakeholders and private individuals will use the Agenda as a resource for advocacy, community organizing, and policy-making in California and across the country. Additionally, Salcedo says a goal of the Agenda is to work with legislators to provide allocations for Trans programming. The TransLatin@ Coalition held its very first Transgender Policy Institute in Nov. 2017, which convened TGI movement leaders across California to improve their knowledge of policy and the legislative process. “TGI people deserve to be treated fairly socially, institutionally, and systemically. For too long we have been disenfranchised by a system that demeans our existence. It is time for us to thrive in a society and on land that has historically been ours,” reads the #TransPolicyAgenda. “We are committed to advancing policies and practices that reflect this divine and moral vision.” – Karen Ocamb contributed to this story.


FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • 09

QUOTES

Actor Jussie Smollett “is under arrest and in custody of detectives,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Thursday morning on Twitter. A Cook County State’s Attorney’s office spokesperson confirmed Wednesday evening to the Los Angeles Blade that felony charges have been filed against Smollett. The actor was indicted for filing a false report after a Grand jury heard evidence from Chicago police investigators in connection to the alleged hate-crime incident last month. Smollett will be charged with Class 4 felony which is punishable with a prison term of between 1 to 3 three years if found guilty. A spokesperson for the Chicago Police announced that Smollett is now considered a suspect “for filing a false police report” and that detectives are presenting the case against him to a grand jury. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi Jussie Smollett’s mugshot. tweeted the news Wednesday afternoon Courtesy of Chicago PD after Smollett’s legal team had met with prosecutors and detectives. Defense attorneys for actor Jussie Smollett met with Cook County, IL prosecutors and Chicago Police investigators earlier Wednesday afternoon Guglielmi confirmed to the Los Angeles Blade. The meeting takes place as a police source said that at least 6 separate subpoenas had been issued for Smollett’s phone and bank records. Guglielmi refused to confirm those reports, “The only tool for detectives to be able to corroborate information is a search warrant and a subpoena. I’m not at liberty to discuss this,” he said adding; “But it’s not uncommon for detectives to ask to subpoena records as part of any investigation.”- Staff reports

“Protect trans kids”

-Powerful statement on Don Cheadle’s T-shirt that went viral when he wore it while hosting “Saturday Night Live” on Feb. 16.

“Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around” - Martina Navratilova giving her view on transgender athletes competing in sports in an op-ed for Times of London.

“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve” - Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson at a news conference on Feb. 21.

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NATIONAL

10 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

LGBT Democrats play visible role at DNC winter meeting Party Chair Tom Perez speaks at caucus meeting By LOU CHIBBARO JR. The Democratic Party’s support for LGBT rights and the election of a record number of LGBT people — nearly all Democrats — to public office in the 2018 midterm elections were widely discussed at the Democratic National Committee’s 2019 Annual Winter Meeting held Feb. 14-16 in D.C. Among those hailing the election of LGBT Democrats to local, state and congressional offices in what is being called the 2018 “rainbow wave” was DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez mentioned what he called the importance of LGBT Democratic candidates in a rousing keynote speech at the closing session of the annual DNC Winter Meeting on Feb. 16. The meeting was held at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel. Perez also elaborated on what he said was the importance of LGBT Democrats running for public office at a meeting of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus held on the opening day of the DNC winter gathering on Feb. 14. Among other things, Perez praised the LGBT community and LGBT Democrats for emerging as a strong force in opposition to the Trump administration’s rollback of LGBT rights policies as well as other issues. “Our democracy was on fire. You stepped up. You were the first responders,” he told about 85 people attending the LGBT Caucus meeting, including many of the 42 LGBT DNC members who make up the caucus. “One of the things we learned is candidate quality matters,” said Perez in referring to the Democratic candidates who won their races on the local, state and congressional level in the 2018 midterm election. “And when they had the likes of Danica Roem running for state legislative seats those things matter,” he said. “And that’s been a huge formula for our success over this cycle.” He was referring to Danica Roem, the transgender Virginia lawmaker who beat an entrenched anti-LGBT GOP incumbent for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the nation’s first openly trans

DNC Chair Tom Perez is among those who spoke at the Democratic National Committee’s 2019 Annual Winter Meeting that took place in D.C. from Feb. 14-16, 2019. Washington Blade photo by Michael Key

person to be seated in a state legislature. In his remarks before the LGBT Caucus and in his speech at the closing session of the meeting, Perez also hailed the election last year of openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) as governor of Colorado. He called Polis’ election as the nation’s first openly gay governor “truly historic.” Perez served as an assistant attorney general and Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. He told LGBT Caucus members he is confident LGBT people and the other diverse communities and working people that make up the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition will succeed in helping a Democratic presidential candidate defeat President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. “You’ve been leading the charge to make sure that we are calling out these efforts to turn the clock back,” he said. “It’s painful to me as someone who spent a heck of a lot of time in the Obama administration fighting for equality to see what the Education Department is doing, to see what the Labor Department is doing, to see what the military is doing to turn the clock back for so many communities, including the LGBTQ community,” he said. Gay Democratic activist Earl Fowlkes,

immediate past president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBT group, serves as chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus. He outlined the caucus’s plans for working with the DNC to help elect more LGBT delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention than any previous convention. “This is one of the first caucus meetings of the whole weekend,” he told the Washington Blade after the LGBT Caucus meeting on Feb. 14. “And it was very positive. We are still in an afterglow from the rainbow wave that came across the country as part of the blue wave of 2018,” he said. “There are new faces here,” he continued. “A lot of people are coming as vice chairs and party officials in their own states. So, we can see the movement growing visibly just by the people in this room.” Among those in attendance were Ray Buckley, the openly gay chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and Terje Anderson, the openly gay chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. Also attending were gay Wisconsin DNC member Jason Rae, who serves as the DNC’s National Secretary; LGBT Caucus Vice Chair Evangeline Beechler, who serves as Vice

Chair of the Idaho Democratic Party; and LGBT Caucus Secretary Laurence Zakson, who holds positions with the California and L.A. County Democratic Party committees. Also speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were leaders of three national LGBT political groups who briefed caucus members and others attending the meeting on the status of LGBT rights initiatives, including the Equality Act, an LGBT civil rights bill pending in Congress. Among them were former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is the executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps elect LGBT people to public office. The others who spoke were JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign; and Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action for the National LGBTQ Task Force. Polis greeted LGBT Caucus members on a video recording projected on a large screen at the caucus meeting. He mentioned some of the initiatives he and his new administration were working on in his first year in office. “I’m busy being the governor of the great state of Colorado,” he said. “Come visit us some time.”


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NATIONAL

12 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

Trump administration launches global effort to decriminalize homosexuality Gay U.S. ambassador to Germany to lead campaign By CHRIS JOHNSON The Trump administration is launching a new initiative to encourage countries to decriminalize laws against homosexuality. NBC News first reported the initiative kicked off on Tuesday in Berlin, where the U.S. embassy flew in LGBT activists from across Europe for a strategy dinner. Leading the initiative is U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest ranking openly gay official in the Trump administration. Grenell is widely reported to be on President Trump’s short list to become U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in the aftermath of his previous pick, Heather Nauert, withdrawing her name from consideration of that post. The initiative is reportedly aimed at drawing attention to the human rights record of Iran, which criminalizes homosexuality with the death penalty. The Jerusalem Post, a conservative publication in Israel, reported recently the Iran executed a gay man in a public hanging. Iran, which has long had an antagonistic relationship with the U.S., has also been the target of Trump’s ire. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal, much to the consternation of its supporters and European allies who say it was preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Other countries besides Iran continue to criminalize homosexuality, including those that are considered U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. According to an annual report by ILGA, more the 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality, with eight of them still having the death penalty on the books. The initiative stands in contrast with Trump administration policy seeking to undermine LGBT rights, such as the transgender military ban, “religious freedom” initiatives seen to enable antiLGBT discrimination and legal filings from the Justice Department asserting LGBT people aren’t under protected under civil rights law.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is leading the Trump’s administration global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality.

Leading LGBT groups not invited to Berlin meeting

The Blade has learned that LGBT groups in the U.S. working to advance LGBT rights overseas and major LGBT groups in Europe weren’t invited to the Berlin meeting. Three LGBT rights groups within the U.S. — OutRight Action International, the Human Rights Campaign and the Council for Global Equality — confirmed they weren’t invited to attend the event that took place at the U.S. embassy in Germany. As far as LGBT groups outside the United States, one LGBT advocate said LSVD, the largest LGBT rights organization in Germany, and ILGA-Europe weren’t included, although an LGBT rights group from Ukraine had a presence.

Jeremy Kadden, HRC’s senior international policy advocate, said in a statement the new global initiative stands in contrast to the Trump administration’s previous record on international LGBT rights. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have turned a blind eye to a campaign of violence and murder targeting LGBTQ people in Chechnya that has stretched on for two years,” Kadden said. “They have turned away LGBTQ people fleeing violence and persecution and sent them back to countries that criminalize them, and have consistently worked to undermine the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and our families here at home from day one. If this commitment is real, we have a lot of questions about their intentions and commitments, and are eager to see what

proof and action will follow.” A State Department spokesperson said Grenell hosted 11 activists from different countries in Europe for a meeting that was “an opportunity to listen to and discuss ideas on how the U.S. can advance decriminalization of LGBTI status and conduct around the world.” “The United States continues to work to protect and defend human rights for all,” the spokesperson said. “Governments have an obligation to ensure that all people can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled.” The Blade has placed a follow-up email in with the State Department seeking identification of the 11 activists in attendance.


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INTERNATIONAL

14 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS dying due to lack of antiretroviral drugs Service providers urge government to release warehouse stockpile By MICHAEL K. LAVERS People with HIV/AIDS in Venezuela are dying because of an acute lack of available antiretroviral drugs in the country, according to service providers and activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent days. César Sequera, founder of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela, a Venezuelan LGBTI advocacy group, told the Blade on Feb. 8 during a telephone interview from the country’s Vargas state that he has been able to obtain antiretroviral drugs from non-governmental organizations or from donations he received from outside the country. Sequera, who is also a priest at an Anglican church outside of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, acknowledged “there are other people who aren’t receiving them.” “The situation is critical and alarming,” he told the Blade. Hendriel Briceño, a 26-year-old public university professor who lives in Caracas, tested positive five years ago. He told the Blade during a WhatsApp interview on Feb. 8 that he did not take antiretroviral drugs for a year “because there weren’t any.” Briceño said he currently has a month’s supply. “We have a very serious situation,” said Eduardo Franco, secretary of Red Venezolana de Gente Positiva, a Caracasbased HIV/AIDS advocacy group, during a telephone interview on Monday. Sequera, Briceño and Franco all told the Blade that Venezuela’s worsening economic and political crises have further exacerbated the country’s HIV/AIDS crisis. A report  from the International Council for AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), Aid for AIDS International, Global Development and three Venezuelan organizations — Asociación Civil Impacto Social, Alianza Venezolana para la Salud and Sociedad Venezolana de Salud Pública — cites statistics from the Pan-American and World Health Organizations, the Venezuelan Ministry of Health and other agencies that note 25,000 more people died from HIV between 20102018. The statistics also indicate the number

People wait in the waiting room at an HIV/STI clinic in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 13. 2019. Venezuelan HIV/AIDS service providers tell the Washington Blade that people with HIV/ AIDS are dying because of an acute shortage of available anti-retroviral drugs in the country. Photo courtesy of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela

of people with HIV increased from 97,000 to more than 120,000 during the same period. PAHO, WHO and UNAIDS representatives traveled to Caracas last June in order to observe the Venezuelan government’s efforts to combat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. The organizations subsequently announced a plan to combat the diseases that includes input from Venezuelan health care providers, NGOs and government representatives. “The plan was subsequently presented to the national authorities who gave approval of the document, as well as to State coordinators, the Venezuelan Society of Infectious Diseases, Pulmonology, Pediatrics and Gynecology/Obstetrics,” reads the plan of which the Blade obtained a copy. The Global Fund board of directors on Sept. 24, 2018, approved $5 million “to help alleviate the gaps in the provision of HIV treatment in Venezuela.” The PAHO Strategic Fund received $4.9 million to purchase antiretroviral drugs. Venezuelan NGOs received the remaining $100,000 from UNAIDS in order to oversee the distribution of the medications to people with HIV/AIDS. The first shipment of the antiretroviral drug Tenofovir, Lamivudine and Dolutegravir (TLD), which contained 100,000 bottles, arrived in Venezuela on Dec. 23, 2018. A second shipment of TLD

with 200,000 bottles arrived in the country on Jan. 16. Red Venezolana de Gente Positiva and more than two dozen other Venezuelan HIV/ AIDS service and advocacy organizations in a Feb. 4 letter  to Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said none of the bottles from the two shipments had been distributed from a warehouse that is located on a military base in Miranda state. The letter also notes “millions and millions of pills of antiretroviral drugs are stored and withheld without justification” at the warehouse. “Venezuelan civil society organizations working on HIV are writing to you to demand your urgent intervention in the release and delivery of antiretroviral medicines that will save the lives of more than 70,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in Venezuela,” reads the letter. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Feb. 6 wrote in a tweet that “apparently (President Nicolás) Maduro is blocking $5 million Global Fund shipments of HIV and AIDS medicine from Venezuela.” “This is a death sentence to those who depend on anti-virals (sic) for survival,” said the Florida Republican. A Rubio spokesperson last week told the Blade she did not “have any additional information” about the antiretroviral drug shipment. The Venezuelan government has said a lack of working trucks has prevented it from distributing the drugs throughout the country. ICASO Executive Director Mary Ann Torres, who is originally from Venezuela, on Feb. 12 told the Blade during a telephone interview from Toronto the Venezuelan Ministry of Health indeed only a handful of trucks that are working. She said officials distributed some of the drugs in Valencia, a city in Carabobo state, after the open letter to Alvarado and Rubio’s tweet.   Venezuelan police on Feb. 15 raided the offices of Fundación Mavid, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Valencia. Social media and press reports indicate police took donated infant formula and medications for people with HIV/AIDS and arrested three human rights activists who work for the organization. Fundación Mavid is among the groups that wrote to Alvarado on Feb. 4 about the antiretroviral drugs warehoused on the military base in Miranda state.

‘The government doesn’t care’ Venezuela, which has the world’s largest known oil reserves, was once Latin America’s most prosperous country. Venezuela’s worsening economic and political crisis has prompted millions of Venezuelans to migrate to neighboring Colombia and other countries in recent years. Juan Guaidó, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, last month declared himself president after the country’s disputed presidential election that took place in May 2018. The U.S. is among the countries that have officially recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim leader. Briceño said he has seen well-dressed people in Caracas “picking through the garbage” for food. One source who asked the Blade not to identify them by name because of safety concerns said three condoms and a bottle of lubricant costs a month’s salary for someone who is making minimum wage. Madonna Badillo, a transgender woman of indigenous descent who lives in the Colombian city of Maicao, which is a few miles from the country’s border with Venezuela on the Guajira Peninsula, told the Blade last March during an interview at her home that Venezuelan women sell their hair to wigmakers for less than $10 “out of necessity.” “One of the things I have seen is the government doesn’t care,” Torres told the Blade. “It’s a mixture of bad policies. It’s a mixture of ideology over evidence.” Torres said other issues that have contributed to the crisis include corruption and the mismanagement of Venezuela’s nationalized oil and mining industries. “It’s not about sanctions,” she told the Blade. “It’s about the mismanagement of a country and a government that is overpowerful and over-present everywhere. They have left the infrastructure to be destroyed completely. You see pictures of the hospitals and you understand why health is the way it is. Everything is falling apart.” Sequera noted some Venezuelans still support Maduro, despite the deepening crisis. He also told the Blade there will be “a civil war” in the country if the U.S. stages a military intervention to oust Maduro. Continues at losangelesblade.com


Councilmembers HORVATH & D’AMICO are Champions for LGBTQ Rights While Washington, D.C. is trying to take away our hard-fought rights, Councilmembers Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico are working tirelessly to “RESIST” and protect them. Horvath and D’Amico have a long history of making West Hollywood a beacon of human rights and social justice. As Mayor, Lindsey created a Resource Guide to LGBTQ youth that was made available in 88 cities in L.A. County. As Councilmember, she created “transition guidelines” that were adopted by our state Attorney General. An architect and project manager, John served as co-Director of Policy and Planning at AIDS Project L.A. Working together, Horvath and D’Amico have: fought to protect marriage equality; supported programs to achieve “HIV ZERO,” sober living, and prevent LGBTQ youth suicide; and made WeHo one of the safest, most discrimination-free communities in the country. In these uncertain times, it is critical to re-elect Councilmembers like Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico — candidates who know how to protect our rights locally.

COUNCILMEMBERS LINDSEY HORVATH & JOHN D’AMICO ARE ENDORSED BY Rep. Adam Schiff State Senator Ben Allen Assemblymember Richard Bloom L.A. County Assesor Jeffrey Prang West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman Estevan Montemayor, Christopher Street West/L.A. Pride Board President

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16 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

VOLUME 03 ISSUE 08

Supporting LGBT Migrants at U.S. Border Trump is violating longstanding humanitarian protections By TAI SUNNANON I would think that six trips to the U.S.-Mexico border to reunite children with their parents and to help asylum seekers find refuge here would make a difference. Three of these trips were at the southern Texas border and three were in Tijuana. But the more I visited, the better I understood the problem. And the problem lies with the White House. My parents are proud immigrants. My father came from Thailand and my mother from Ecuador. I grew up with diverse foods and clothing and aromas and languages that have shaped my best thinking as a social justice advocate and strategy consultant. My parents came to this country with a few hundred dollars for a better life. The American Dream is one of our greatest exports. Anyone around the world seeking a better life for themselves knows this. But now, President Trump has turned this hope into an “invasion” that needs protecting with a border wall. Hey Trump: funny how your grandparents were granted the freedom to immigrate here, but you now close off our borders to grandparents of other people. Funny how the greatest threat of terrorism is homegrown, but you blame immigrants. But this is no laughing matter. In Nov. 2018, the first wave of migrant caravanners — from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — were LGBT asylum seekers. They fled unimageable violence. They escaped the persecution, taunts, employer discrimination, public beatings, family ostracization, and poverty, to name a few, in pursuit of the American Dream. As the border wall fight rages on, the Trump administration has quietly begun enforcing its Migrant Protection Protocols, forcing many asylum seekers to remain in Mexico throughout the duration of their asylum cases—a process that can take years. This is both illegal and affects the most vulnerable of populations, including unaccompanied minors and LGBT people. Since the enactment of the 1980 Refugee

Tai Sunnanon Courtesy Tai Sunnanon

Act nearly 40 years ago, U.S. law has prohibited the return of individuals to countries where they are likely to face persecution. Thus, the Migrant Protection Protocols are a violation of the humanitarian protections to which asylum seekers are entitled under U.S. and international law. Migrant Protection Policies not only endanger migrants but also make it far more difficult for asylum seekers to pursue their claims. I witnessed this first-hand. In the three trips to Tijuana, Mexico, in as many months, I’ve seen the migrant campground displaced in as many times. The most recent location is deeper into the city and further away from the U.S. border, where — interesting fact — they must be present at in order to have their case heard and processed. So, not only is the Trump administration using illegal tactics to keep vulnerable populations from entering the U.S., they are making it harder for them to even be considered for rightful asylum. We do not have the exact numbers of unaccompanied minors or LGBT asylum seekers, but they are in the dozens. I met 2 teenagers, 2 trans women and 5 LGBT people during my visits to the various campsites in Mexico. The scars are visible on their faces and arms, masking the turmoil and fear they are valiantly hiding. With the support of my firm, the strategic insights group, and ACLU, we supplied nearly 1,000 towels and toiletries for the migrants at the campsite by the border in Tijuana during our first trip in November 2018. As we handed these supplies over to the aid workers, the

Mexican border patrol agents placed me in custody. I learned to expect anything from years of humanitarian work. But this was just another sign of how bad the situation was for these migrants who were denied international aid. During another visit the following month, I was granted unprecedented access into the tent city where the migrants were relocated. There were limited supplies and restrooms. Artists painted rallying cries on sheets of cloth, asking for America to help. It was a tense visit, as I went from tent to tent finding the 9 asylum seekers I had met in previous trips. “Lucy” is one of the trans women I met who shared her story of fleeing violence from her own family members in El Salvador. No job would hire her there or in neighboring countries. She sat still in front of me, exhausted from escaping one bad situation from another. We spoke in Spanish and I made sure she received legal counsel and transportation to the U.S. border, where she could present her case. She trusted me and I tried to convey that the asylum process would take awhile. “How long?” she asked. “Possibly up to a year,” I said. I was eager to connect with her during my last visit, but forced to find work anywhere in Mexico, she permanently left the campsite. I can’t blame her. No one has the luxury of waiting a year in such conditions. Tai Esteban Sunnanon is the Founder and CEO of the strategic insights group (tsig), the premier mission-driven consulting firm in Los Angeles. tsig helps communities by supporting social justice organizations, nonprofits and social enterprises and its leaders. For more information, go to www.strategicinsights.group

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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • 17

The struggle to maintain access to lifesaving HIV meds Trump proposing dangerous changes to Medicare Part D By MARK S. KING When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, there were no medications to treat it. Not one. I never imagined that the medical community would achieve the advancements in HIV treatment and prevention we see today. In fact, President Trump actually proposed a plan in his State of the Union address to end the HIV epidemic in America by 2030. This lofty goal would be thwarted, however, by proposed changes to Medicare Part D that jeopardize the advancements we’ve made in the fight against HIV. I have lived with HIV for almost 35 years. I’ve dealt with more doctors, stubborn insurers, and drug formulations than I care to count. But I do it to stay alive. What other choice do I have? By 1995, 10 years after I contracted the virus, AIDS claimed as many as 50,000 lives per year. Today, fewer than 7,000 people die from HIV related causes. And recent data shows that although there are nearly 19,000 people living in Baltimore with HIV and 15,000 in

D.C., less than a quarter of all new Baltimore and D.C. HIV diagnoses develop into an AIDS diagnosis within three months. This means that approximately 80% of these individuals newly diagnosed with HIV are taking steps to control and reduce their viral loads. Becoming an “empowered” patient with consistent and unimpeded access to my medications through Medicare Part D has kept me alive. Had I not been relentless in my pursuit of the latest research, drug trials, and newly approved treatment regimens — while also educating my own providers — I likely would have been counted among the nearly half million Americans who perished from AIDS between 1981 and 2000. For many years after my diagnosis, insurance companies rejected my prescriptions or tried to force me to rely upon medications that had been proven ineffective. When I became disabled due to HIV, my newfound access to Medicare Part D changed all of that. Medicare Part D and its protections against insurer interference finally brought some certainty to my treatment plan. With reliable access to effective medication, I was suddenly free to divert my time and energy away from day to day survival and focus it

towards my friends, my family, and a better quality of life. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is proposing a change to Medicare Part D in a way that would remove many of these certainties. The change — in the name of reducing drug pricing — removes the protected class status for HIV medication and would expose hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV to “step therapy” and “prior authorization.” Step therapy allows insurers to require Part D enrollees living with HIV to prove that less effective medications don’t work before agreeing to cover more effective, but more expensive treatments, as determined by our doctor. Prior authorization forces doctors to pre-clear prescriptions for certain HIV medication with insurers before the insurer agrees to cover the costs, a time consuming and complicated process that delays treatment. As someone who has failed multiple drug categories over the years, I know these changes are dangerous because they would force me to fail on one medication before trying another. I need highly customized, effective therapies to keep my viral load in check. When a viral load is rendered

undetectable, I cannot transmit HIV to someone else. Successful treatment, then, also prevents new HIV infections. Interfering with access to effective treatment formularies for Medicare Part D enrollees under the guise of pricing reductions will cause more harm than good. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care estimates that there would be 16,200 more cumulative deaths by 2025 if more restricted treatment options are allowed to take effect. The priorities for people living with HIV are stark. First you pay your insurance premiums, then you pay your prescription costs, and then you pay for food and housing. That is how important our medications are to our survival. For us, failure is not an option. We must fight this new proposal that would end guaranteed access to the treatments we need to stay alive. Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, and HIV/AIDS advocate who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985. His blog, My Fabulous Disease, was awarded the NLGJA’s “Excellence in Blogging” honor in 2014 and 2016.


Western US LGBT business leaders gathering set for DTLA

Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce hosts historic gathering

Whether speaking to the niche concerns of our community or offering products and services whose consumer appeal casts the widest net possible, LGBT businesses are at their best when their owners are able to learn from peers, access available resources, and create new opportunities. To that end, March 14-16, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (LAGLCC) will host this year’s incarnation of the annual Western Business Alliance (WBA) LGBT Economic Summit & Conference. Founded in 1992 to further LGBT economic equality, the WBA’s current membership draws upon the collective knowledge of over 3,000 businesses from LGBT chambers of commerce and thought-leaders on the West Coast of the U.S., as well as Vancouver, British Columbia. Longtime West Hollywood resident Marquita Thomas is Executive Director of the LAGLCC. In anticipation of their role as host of the summit, Thomas spoke to the Blade about the LAGLCC, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

By SCOTT STIFFLER

Initially known as the Valley Business Alliance, “The Chamber was created at a time when LGBT businesses — bars, in particular — faced persecution and needed to strategize ways to keep their doors open,” Thomas recalled. At the time, she noted, “Many LGBT chambers used names like ‘business alliance’ for safety.” In 2006, the chamber “decided to take a bold stand in its identity” and became the LAGLCC.” Within the next year, Thomas said, the organization will once again undergo a name change, to reflect a contemporary spirit of inclusivity. Over the years, she observed, attitudes “have changed. But LGBT businesses still need support — and not only do they find that support at the chamber, but also find business owners who share their values.” Changing times, and needs, are also front and center at this year’s WBA gathering, which, they note, will “focus attention on issues facing our business community and the LGBT community at large.” At the center of the summit will be a lunch confab whose theme, “Understanding and

Improving the Effectiveness of Supplier Diversity,” explores ways to maximize opportunities for businesses owned by minorities, women, LGBTs, the disabled, veterans, and others who have been historically underutilized as suppliers. “This luncheon,” Thomas noted, “allows small business owners to assess whether or not their business is ready for government and corporate contracts, find out resources available for capacity-building, and avoid pitfalls.” Citing National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) estimates, Thomas said there are “about 1.4 million LGBT-owned business in the U.S.,” noting that less than 10 percent of NGLCCcertified businesses earn income generated from their work as contractors for state and local government — although 80 percent say they’d like the opportunity to do so. Last week, our sister publication, the Washington Blade, reported that Nashville is became the first Southern city to recognize LGBT-owned businesses. The new policy, signed by Mayor David Briley, allows NGLCC-

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Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce members mingle at an event in December. Photo courtesy LAGLCC

certified businesses to access the same contracts and economic development opportunities currently available to businesses owned by women and ethnic minorities. NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson, in a press release, praised the efforts of the city’s affiliate chapter, noting its positive effect on job creation. Co-Founder and CEO Chance Mitchell said, “We hope this executive order in Nashville will encourage more mayors to proactively include the LGBT community for the optimum social and economic health of their cities.” As for the work of her own affiliate chapter, Thomas said the LAGLCC has made the championing of LGBT business-friendly legislation an important part of their mission. She cited a recent successes in that area, such as when 2015 efforts helped secure Governor Brown’s signing of AB1678, which “mandates LGBT inclusion in the diverse spend in the companies regulated by the California Public Utilities… We also advocated for AB53, which requires that national insurance companies doing business in California report their

spend in diverse markets.” Reports generated from the passage of AB53, Thomas said, “has increased the spend in this industry from a few thousand to the low millions.” Thomas said that, for her, one of the most consistent takeaways from having attended past WBA summits has been “seeing the impact LGBT businesses have” on industries, legislation, and economic growth. Often, ideas for innovative practices and new forms of community outreach emerge from WBA groupthink efforts. Such will be the case, Thomas assured, from the summit’s “BreakOut Sessions,” in which experts lead group discussions meant to yield recommendations that can be taken back to the local communities of the WBA’s 21-city, 11-state membership — which includes LGBT chambers of commerce in Anchorage, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson. This year’s Break-Out Session topics include niche marketing to millennials, transgender entrepreneurship and freelancing, and

fostering social and corporate responsibility. “Innovation and diversity are crucial to growing a business,” Thomas said, noting these sessions “allow business owners to connect with an audience in ways that were not taught in business schools, as well as use their resources to help an undeserved segment of our community.” Ray Parrish, WBA Summit Chairman, gave an example of how he’s already embraced the charitable aspect of a session addressing LGBTQ youth and veteran homelessness. “If we accept that assumption, that the best way to address homelessness is to prevent it, I can tell you what my company does,” said Parrish, founder of InSight Consulting Partners. “We give to an organization called HEART L.A. [Housing Equality and Advocacy Resource Team] that, during, 2018, helped 195 people and their 123 animals remain housed. It’s what we as an LGBT small business can do on a local level.” For more information about the WBA, and to register for the summit, visit wbasummit2019.com.

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20 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

FILM

Kiwi gal-pals explore love outside the norm in new Netflix comedy There is a bit of Jen and Mel in all of us By JOHN PAUL KING

Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, and Ana Scotney in “The Breaker Upperers” Image courtesy Piki Films, Miss Conception Films, and Netflix

Jackie van Beek got the idea for “The Breaker Upperers” as she was standing in her kitchen making a cup of coffee. The New Zealand comedian was reflecting on conversations she’d had with friends about the difficulties of ending a relationship that’s not working anymore. “I mean we’ve all been in relationships that we know need to end,” she says, “but it’s often hard to muster the energy or courage to call it quits. Breaking up with people isn’t fun.” The thought occurred to her that there should be a service where people could pay someone else to break up their relationships, and the concept intrigued her so much that she took it to friend and fellow comedian, Madeleine Sami; the pair was soon working on creating a script for a film comedy about two women who offer just such a service. On Friday, February 15 – the day after Valentine’s Day, appropriately (or is it ironically?) enough – the resulting movie dropped on Netflix. In it, Van Beek and Sami portray Jen and Mel, respectively, two women who became fast friends after being two-timed by the same man. Now, fifteen years later, they are in their thirties and have developed a dysfunctional, codependent relationship together while operating a booming business breaking up other couples for cash. They keep their cynicism alive by not getting emotionally involved with anybody else — but when an old victim comes back into their lives, Mel finds herself developing a conscience, and their friendship is put to the test. Although they wanted their movie to be funny, the two creators weren’t just going for laughs. In the film’s press release, they explain, “In many ways, we feel this film gives us a voice in the ongoing conversation about ‘what is love?’ and ‘what do women want?’.” “Although we are both die-hard fans of the rom-com genre,” the statement continues, “we have grown tired of being constantly told that a reproductive heterosexual relationship is the answer to happiness. We look around our community and see so much love flying about in so many different forms that we want to celebrate love that defies this old-fashioned concept.” To this end, they’ve made a film acknowledging that love can be found in the strangest places. “The Breaker Upperers” paints a realistic world where people are hunting out special connections and navigating their way through relationships as best they can. The friendship between Mel and Jen is platonic – though Mel is bisexual – but even so, it’s really the biggest love story in the film. “I just loved the idea that two women whose strongest relationship is their friendship with each other,” says Sami. “Society puts on the expectation that we must all take a certain path, but I hope that people come to the film and see that there are other paths to happiness, and that doesn’t have to be with a man and kids.” Despite their desire to promote non-traditional relationships, Van Beek and Sami say they made “The Breaker Upperers” to be pure escapism and silliness. Both women have the qualifications for that. Sami created, co-wrote, and starred in two seasons of the critically acclaimed New Zealand TV comedy “Super City,” and directed the second season of the hit sketch comedy series, “Funny Girls.” Van Beek is an award-winning short filmmaker and also an actress best known for her role in the Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s breakout hit, “What We Do in the Shadows” – a “mockumentary” about modern-day vampire roommates in which Sami also appeared. Waititi, of course, has gone on to bigger success with Marvel Studios as the director of “Thor: Ragnorak,” largely due to the quirky comedic sensibilities he displayed in earlier films like “Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” He’s a friend to the two ladies behind “The Breaker Upperers” (he’s one of the film’s Executive Producers, along with Kiwi arts patron Sir James Wallace), but he’s also an inspiration. “We were halfway through the writing process,” says Sami, “and we were stuck with the question, who do we get to direct this? We’d seen Jermaine and Taika direct and star in ‘Shadows’ and thought ‘we can do that too.’” The script was developed through a series of workshops with Waititi and Carthew Neal’s company Piki Films; their film shares a similar tone to Waititi’s signature works – wacky, astute, oddball, and as hilarious as it is full of heart. Besides the two stars, “The Breaker Upperers” features actor James Rolleston (who gained fame as the star of “Boy,” another Waititi film), Australian actress Celia Pacquola, and actress Ana Scotney – a recent graduate of the prestigious Toi Whakaari Drama School who Van Beek and Sami call “a real find.” The film had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, followed by a domestic release in New Zealand in May 2018. Now, Netflix is offering it to wider audiences in the U.S., in hopes it will be embraced by American viewers who can relate to its two offbeat heroines. Van Beek thinks the chances are good that they will. As she puts it, “There is a bit of Jen and Mel in all of us.”


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22 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

FILM

The 2019 Oscar mess Nominees solid but Academy lurches from backlash to backlash with inane policy changes By BRIAN T. CARNEY

Rami Malek in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Nick Delaney for 20th Century Fox

This year’s Oscars show, which will be broadcast on ABC this Sunday (Feb. 24), will be like a cinematic Zen koan. The 91st annual Academy Awards honoring movies from 2018 will be its queerest show ever, but there won’t be many openly LGBT people onstage. And since there are no clear front runners, there shouldn’t be any upsets or controversies during the ceremony. Instead, thanks to some wild missteps by the Academy, most of the Oscar drama happened before the red carpet was even rolled out. Following years of bad reviews, falling ratings and bloated runtimes, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to make changes for the 2019 awards ceremony. In August 2018, in an ill-conceived attempt to bridge the gap between popular favorites (which don’t win Oscars) and critical favorites (which do), the Academy announced the creation of a new category: Best Popular Film. The Academy did not release any criteria for how these films would be selected and the proposal met with widespread derision. The following month, the Academy announced that the introduction of the category would be delayed to “examine and seek additional input regarding the new category.” In October, the Board of Governors announced that producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd would be replaced by Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss. In December, the Academy announced that comedian Kevin Hart would host the Oscars ceremony. When homophobic jokes and tweets from the actor surfaced, LGBT film fans and their allies instantly demanded that Hart be removed as host. Despite Ellen DeGeneres’ attempt to serve as an intermediary between a somewhat apologetic Hart and the Academy, Hart quickly stepped down as host. Since the awards date was rapidly approaching, and since a number of previous hosts (including DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Seth McFarlane, Chris Rock and Jimmy Kimmel) publicly stated they had no interest in hosting the 2019 show, the Academy announced that there would not be an official host for the ceremony. Instead, a long string of performers and celebrities would present the awards. The last time the Academy tried this at the 61st ceremony in ’89, it was widely panned. Last month, the Academy shot itself in the foot again. In order to shorten the show, the Academy announced that only two of the five nominated songs would be performed live. Kendrick Lamar would sing “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper would sing “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” There was an immediate backlash from audience members and industry musicians, most notably previous nominee and “Mary Poppins Returns” star Lin Manual Miranda. The Academy reversed its decision six days later. Finally, earlier this month, in another attempt to shorten the broadcast, the Academy announced that awards in four categories (Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live Action Short Film and Best Makeup

and Hairstyling) would be presented during commercials breaks. Audiences could stream the presentations live online and edited acceptance speeches would be aired later in the ceremony. Led by angry fans, the Hollywood guilds and several prominent directors, the backlash was again fast and furious. The Academy reversed course four days later and announced that all 24 awards would be presented on live television. In the midst of all these self-inflicted injuries, the announcement of the nominees went off remarkably smoothly. In the wake of #OscarsSoStraight and #OscarsSoWhite, the slate of 2019 Oscar contenders seemed much more diverse, despite the inevitable stumbles and snubs. Of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, out of a possible 10, five had significant LGBT content. “The Favourite” was a bawdy reexamination of English history focusing on a lesbian love triangle in the court of Queen Anne. “A Star Is Born” featured Ally’s gay BFF and “Vice” featured Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter Mary. Reallife gay musicians were front and center in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book.” In a robust show of inclusion, the other Best Picture nominees included a strong female-centered narrative in “Roma,” an African-American cop named Ron Stallworth fighting the Klan in “BlacKkKlansman” and a black superhero (with some fierce female colleagues) in “Black Panther.” However, once the initial celebrations of LGBT representation died down, some problems became apparent. Three of the Best Picture nominees engaged in significant straight-washing. In “BlacKkKlansman,” writer/director Spike Lee and his colleagues left out the fact that in real life, Stallworth and his partner thwarted the bombing of two gay bars in Denver. In “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a film billed as a biopic of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) turned out to be a wellmade concert film about the creation of Queen’s big hits and their performance of those hits at Live Aid. Mercury’s bisexuality is largely erased and his sexual life is reduced to a redemption narrative as he staggers from the bad influence of his manager (Allen Leech) to the good influence of his monogamous boyfriend (Aaron McCusker). Despite great performances and good intentions, “Green Book” relies on tired cinematic tropes to tell the story of civil rights pioneer Don Shirley, a classically trained, African-American musician who toured the South in the early 1960s with the assistance of his white driver Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. The script combines the feel-good racial sentimentality of “Driving Miss Daisy” with the uplifting appeal of the Hollywood legend of the “Great White Savior.” In this case, Tony Lip becomes the “Straight White Savior” who, among other things, teaches Shirley how to be a black man by making him listen to R&B songs and feeding him fried chicken. Continues at losangelesblade.com


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OUT & ABOUT

Outfest Fusion fest celebrates queer voices of color Full on rainbow of new LGBTQ film By JOHN PAUL KING

A scene from controversial Kenyan film “Rafiki.” Photo courtesy Outfest

24 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

While there are still several months to go before this year’s Outfest, fans of LGBTQ cinema will have an early opportunity to catch an exciting crop of new queer films at the Outfest Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival, taking place in Los Angeles March 1-5. A celebration of the rich heritage of LGBTQ Los Angeles, Outfest Fusion showcases the stories of queer communities of color, including African, African American, Asian diaspora and Latinx perspectives as well as many other cultural identities. The festival enables Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Genderqueer people of color to see themselves on the big screen, often for the very first time – a powerful and validating experience that underscores the universality of our lived experiences. The festival, like the larger Outfest that takes place in the summer, features screenings of films by, for, and about LGBTQ people, chosen from submissions by filmmakers around the world; it includes features, both narrative and documentary, and short films, bundled into always-popular showcases, as well as screenings of LGBTQ TV shows. In addition, the lineup includes free educational workshops for aspiring filmmakers, as well as more advanced masterclasses for the more experienced, empowering queer people of color to create their own content and tell their own stories. Among the film highlights: “Amateurs (Amatörer)” – When the opening of a chain store with hundreds of jobs appears on the horizon for a fictitious working-class town in Sweden, Aida and Dana become documentarians and capture the heart and diversity of the community to lobby for the store. Directed by Gabriela Pichler, this humorous, must-see Swedish film reflects on the beauty of immigrant families, the impact of globalization, and the agency of filmmaking, and features charming, vulnerable performances from Zahraa Aldoujaili and Yara Aliadotter. “Sidney & Friends” – A moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and power of community, this documentary follows Sidney, who is intersex, after he flees his violent home and heads to Nairobi, where he befriends a group of transgender people fighting discrimination. A joint production of Kenya and Scotland, this Tristan Aitchison-directed film is an honest exploration of gender, friendship, and love, communicating narratives – painful and endearing – that paint a heartfelt portrait of the human condition and what it means to live and fight at the margins of an antiLGBTQI+ Kenyan society. “The Skin of the Teeth” – Trapped between dinner and drinks in the bougie apartment of his older white hookup, Josef slides helplessly down a rabbit hole of temporal sleight-of-hand after swallowing a mysterious pill with mind-bending effects. Tapping a surreal and Lynchian nerve, where clean surfaces suggest an underlying, insidious menace, director Matthew Wollin and star Pascal Arquimedes interrogate the imbalance of authority between subject and voyeur by summoning the out-of-body absurd and demoralizing panic of stolen agency. “The Third Wife” – May, a young girl in rural Vietnam,

is chosen as the third wife of a wealthy man in the 19th century. When the pressure to deliver a male heir collides with the escalation and limits of her desires and challenges class, culture, and family, May must decide what kind of future she truly wants. Premiering at Toronto, Ash Mayfair’s haunting directorial debut guides her young leads through lyrical and captivating performances. “José” – Winner of Venice’s Queer Lion Award, this intimate neorealist story from Guatemala follows José, a 19-year-old who finds escape from his working-class existence through hook-up apps and casual meetups. He discovers meaning in his encounters with Luis, a migrant construction worker from coastal Itzapa, who dreams of a better life for them together. But can this passionate new relationship — and the promise of change — rival José’s bond with his doting, religious mother? Directed by Li Cheng, in Spanish with English Subtitles. “Rafiki” – In Wanuri Kahiu’s Cannes-nominated film from Kenya, Kena and Ziki fall into the light of young love against the backdrop of community gossip and familial political ambitions while exploring the soulful colors, street soccer, and vibrant music of Nairobi. Encouraging each other to pursue a life of abundance and freedom from cultural expectations, they must decide between love, safety, and their dreams. At first banned from screening in its native country for going against Kenya’s strict mandate against depicting “homosexual themes,” it was allowed to be shown for seven days – thus qualifying for an Academy Award submission – after director Kahiu successfully sued the government to lift the ban. It didn’t get the Oscar nom, but it played to sold-out crowds in Nairobi and went on to become an audience favorite at NewFest and other film festivals. Shorts: “Between The Sheets” – A new fling, a fading affair, or a no-strings-attached rendezvous with a stranger or two — no matter who climbs in next to you, the bedroom is truly where the magic happens. Agonizing and exhilarating, the rush of another’s touch can lead to wholly unexpected outcomes. A collection of short films that are equal parts kinky and emotional, sensual and contemplative, this exhibition of profound closeness of the body and soul makes an impact. Free your inhibitions, unpack that bittersweet baggage, and let’s get it on. Shorts: “Latinx & Chill” – Get ready for your daily dose of Latinidad! Hailing from Venezuela, Brazil, and of course, Stateside here in our own backyard — or patio if that’s more your thing — these short films paint vivid, uplifting portraits of a proud, resilient, and diverse community. Whether it’s letting go of past traumas, making new and life-changing connections, or standing up to outdated gender norms, it’s clear that there isn’t a single voice for the Latinx experience. The festival will begin on March 1 with an opening night gala screening of “Amateurs” followed by an after party, and wrap up on March 5 with a Finale that features the winners of Outfest Fusion’s “One-Minute Movie Contest.” A complete schedule, along with more information about the screenings, venues, workshops, and events, visit www.outfest.org.


26 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

FILM

Don’t cruise down the “Devil’s Path” or... Putting the gay in horror By JOHN PAUL KING

Stephen Twardokus and JD Scalzo meet on the “Devil’s Path.” Photo Courtesy Breaking Glass Pictures

Going into the movie “Devil’s Path,” one’s first thought might be that a film about cruising “IRL” seems a bit outdated in the age of Grindr. For better or for worse, the days when going out to a park or a dark alley was the usual way to find an anonymous hook-up are essentially over. Yet Matthew Montgomery’s brooding thriller, which opens for a limited run in L.A. on March 1, takes place entirely on an isolated wilderness trail where gay men go to do exactly that; knowing that it is set in the early 90’s – which you might not, unless you’ve already read a plot synopsis, since it’s not immediately apparent from anything in the film’s actual content – helps to explain why there are so many guys wandering around out there, but it doesn’t really explain why it’s the premise of a movie in 2019. Of course, it’s not really about the act of cruising itself, although it taps into the fears of anybody who has ever risked getting it on with a total stranger in a location where nobody can hear you scream; instead, it uses that situation as a premise to explore more existential matters – or, perhaps more accurately, how our individual beliefs affect our ability to connect as human beings. The narrative takes place over the course of a single day and night at a hiking spot (the “Devil’s Path” of the title), well-known as a gay cruising area, where several men have recently gone missing. Noah, a nervous and quirky misfit, is drawn to the handsome and confident Patrick, but they don’t seem like a match, at first. When a pair of belligerent hikers begin to threaten them, however, the two are forced to flee into the woods together; with their very survival seemingly at stake, they must try and overcome the fundamental differences in their personalities and find a way to trust each other – something that grows increasingly difficult as their individual secrets and lies begin to be revealed. Montgomery, who directed and co-wrote (with Stephen Twardokus, who also plays Noah), says the project was inspired by an actual hiking trail in the Catskills, considered one of the most difficult in the country. He has said that he wanted the characters “to be trekking through rough terrain as a metaphor for their constant struggle with trying to connect.” It’s an intriguing premise, if hardly an original one, and it serves to pique our interest in a story which is otherwise an exercise in horror movie formula – at least until it becomes heavy-handed, which happens pretty quickly. Once the two men start talking about their opposing views on the existence of love, it becomes obvious that they are not so much characters as representatives for their ideological perspectives; couple that with the fact that neither of them are particularly likable – Noah is too sketchy to gain our unreserved sympathy, and Patrick has an arrogance that borders on nastiness – and we cease to care much about their fate before they’ve even been placed in danger. Once that happens, watching the film becomes about figuring out what’s really going on – a puzzle that Montgomery and Twardokus work hard at prolonging. As we find out that neither character is entirely what they seem (not a surprise), we also begin to question the circumstances surrounding their peril – and where the real threat to their safety is coming from. In this way, the

movie starts to resemble one of those old-school mysteries where, fueled by implausible and previously undisclosed details of the backstory, one plot twist leads to another until the story ends up being something completely different from what it seemed to be at the beginning. At best, when the writing is clever and doesn’t take itself too seriously, such an approach is entertaining but gimmicky; at worst, it’s a tiresome cheat. That’s especially disappointing in “Devil’s Path,” which ostensibly sets itself up to explore themes of selfinflicted queer isolation. Its two protagonists (or are they antagonists?), each wrapped in a protective cloak of secrecy, offer a great opportunity to examine how a people can work together in a struggle against outside threats when they are individually plagued by the toxic baggage they carry from years of homophobia, shaming and abuse. To put it another way, it could have been a look at how the LGBT community can avoid eating its own in the fight against those who would still see us repressed or worse. Indeed, these ideas are evoked, whether by design or by accident; but they are quickly abandoned in favor of pursuing a bleak and convoluted psycho-drama which plays out all too predictably. The thriller format also presents another opportunity – also unfortunately missed – to explore the conflict between self-preservation and sexual desire. Almost from the first few frames, it’s impossible not to make a connection between Montgomery’s film and “Stranger by the Lake,” Alain Guiraudie’s taut and sexy 2013 French suspenser presenting an all-too-similar scenario in which a young man is unable to stop himself from hooking up with a handsome stranger who will more than likely kill him. Guiraudie’s movie, by relying on visual storytelling and keeping its dialogue sparse, is far more effective – both as a thriller and as a thematic contemplation – than Montgomery’s, which devotes much of its screen time to wordy philosophical debates and overtly symbolic confrontations. Of course, it’s not fair to criticize a movie for not being another movie, nor for being what it is rather than what it could have been. On its own merits, “Devil’s Path” is reasonably well-crafted, and though it’s too didactic to work as pure escapism, its engaging enough to hold your interest for its 90-minute runtime. Twardokus is interesting to watch as Noah, and J.D. Scalzo overcomes Patrick’s haughtiness enough to earn our sympathy by the end. “Devil’s Path” took home the Best First Narrative Feature award at San Diego’s FilmOut LGBTQ film festival, as well as earning a Best Supporting Actor prize for Scalzo. It also made the rounds at other festivals, where it presumably did well enough to gain a distribution deal with Breaking Glass Pictures, who are releasing it into theatres before making it available on their VOD platform later in March. Even if it isn’t quite as gripping – or as thought-provoking – as it might have aspired to be, “Devil’s Path” is worth your time and attention; at the very least, you’ll be showing support for queer films and the queer artists who make them. If you and yours enjoy creepy tales about being stalked in the woods, it might even be a fun date night. Otherwise, you might want to hike down a different trail.


28 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

GOSSIP

Yes, Billy goes there on the Jussie Smollett case And Bachelor Colton Underwood’s #MeToo moment By BILLY MASTERS

Jussie Smollett on Good Morning America. Screenshot via Youtube

“In my situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all. And that’s about what I can say about it at this point.” - Rami Malek on his working relationship with director Bryan Singer on “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Pleasant or not, Singer’s direction did result in Malek getting an Oscar nomination. Jussie, Jussie, Jussie. I tried. Really, I did. I wanted to believe that you had been attacked - not because I wanted anyone to harm you, but because I didn’t want to think that anyone would stage such a thing. I defended you when people I love and respect told me something about this story wasn’t quite kosher. I looked the other way when asked to believe that you went to a Subway sandwich shop at 2a.m. I even fought every instinct I have to yell bullshit when you said you went there to buy a salad. But, damn, this is getting harder. More and more evidence seems to be pointing to Jussie not only lying about the attack, but perhaps manufacturing it. “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the ‘Empire’ case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” said the Chicago PD. And who were those “individuals”? “Nigerian” brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, are aspiring models and personal trainers. In fact, one of them is Jussie’s personal trainer, and one or both have appeared on “Empire”! They claim that Jussie paid them $4,000 to stage the assault, which the trio rehearsed for days. The police found some receipts in their apartment. The MAGA hat allegedly was purchased at Uptown Beauty Supply, while the rope allegedly put around Smollett’s neck was purchased at Crafty Beaver Hardware Store - and if there’s one thing you can be sure of, never cross a crafty beaver. According to the brothers, Jussie paid for those items. In case you don’t believe they’re credible, this little tidbit might change your mind - when the police told Jussie the two were in custody, he refused to press charges against them because he knew them and felt bad for them. Now, I dunno about feeling bad, but I’m feeling something since I came across some exceptionally hot shirtless pics of the brothers. I’m now wondering what else they may have done during those long rehearsals. If the brothers’ story ends up being true and Jussie orchestrated this whole debacle, he’s done a huge disservice to everyone who has ever been attacked; everyone who is at risk of being attacked; everyone who feels marginalized, ostracized, and politicized. And to come out after this “attack” and do a concert in West Hollywood to rally support from people who loved and stood by him...well, it’s almost unforgivable. But, people are innocent until proven guilty. If all these twists and turns are wrong and Jussie was the victim...well, all I can say is, “Oops!” You know who was really assaulted? Our virginal “Bachelor”, Colton Underwood. Apparently his virtue was compromised at an event supporting his own charity. During a fundraiser for The Legacy Foundation - which raises money for cystic fibrosis - people waited in line to take photos with the hunk. Allegedly, someone got a bit too handsy and the former football player felt...well, I’ll let him tell you. “At one point during the event I was grabbed and touched inappropriately while people were throwing cameras in my face...I didn’t sign up to be a piece of meat or a zoo animal.” I have two questions: 1) What is inappropriate after being on “The Bachelor”? and B) Isn’t part of the job description of “The Bachelor” to be a piece of meat and a zoo animal? Last weekend is a blur, because I was on a whirlwind 48-hour trip to NYC with Jenifer Lewis, who appeared as part of Lincoln Center’s “American Songbook” series. To call the event a triumph would be an understatement. One of the administrators congratulated Jenifer for bringing in the most diverse audience they’ve ever had. Gays, straights, drag queens, and a rainbow of colors. I must single out the divalicious Flotilla Debarge, who helped out by running the meet-and-greet like clockwork. And speaking of divas, the Divine Miss M was in attendance - you surely know that Jenifer was one of Bette’s most beloved Harlettes. Midler cheered on her old friend, cried at some of the touching moments, and fist-pumped Lewis’ activism. It was all simply grand. Since I was at Lincoln Center, I sauntered across the plaza and FINALLY saw the revival of “My Fair Lady”. I went primarily for the luminous Laura Benanti, who is fulfilling a lifelong dream by playing Eliza Doolittle. To say the role fit like a glove isn’t quite right - it was actually more like second skin. Obviously she can sing beautifully. But, more than that - she acted the role to perfection. Her commitment is peerless and her ability is inestimable. Director Bartlett Sher’s vision takes a serious look at gender roles and sexual dynamics. It makes the show more timely than ever. Truly, it’s impossible to fault anything in this luxurious production. The sets, the orchestra, the costumes, the cast - everything is simply perfection. In fact, if NBC is seriously looking for a family-friendly musical to do live, this is it - cast and all. Having Harry Hadden-Paton opposite Benanti is a stroke of luck. Not only does he fit the traditional role of Higgins to a T, the duo’s constantly evolving dynamics work on every level. And, what can one say about Rosemary Harris - it is simply an honor to be in her presence. Benanti has extended her run through July 7th, and it would be a crime to miss this piece of magic should you be in NYC. If you have a question, drop me a line at Billy@BillyMasters.com and I promise to get back to you before Bachelor Colton teams up with Terry Crews as spokesmen for the #MeToo movement. So, until next time, remember, one man’s filth is another man’s bible.


CANNABIS CULTURE

Cannabis Culture Provided by NORML

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have introduced bills to expand veterans access to medical cannabis.

30 • FEBRUARY 22, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

Veterans medical marijuana access legislation introduced in House, Senate WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions. Under existing regulations, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out the mandatory paperwork necessary to recommend cannabis therapy in those 33 states that regulate it. Passage of The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act ends this discrimination against veterans and prevents sanctions against VA doctors who wish to recommend medical cannabis treatment to their patients. “The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country. It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option,” said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senator Schatz and Rep. Lee in putting forward this legislation.” “Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing the widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality. The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act,” Strekal concluded. “In 33 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain — unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Sen. Schatz said. “This bill gives VA doctors in these states the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.” “As the daughter of a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that our veterans have access to the quality and comprehensive medical care they deserve — including medical marijuana. The current federal prohibitions on cannabis are unnecessary, harmful, and counterproductive,” said Lee. “The federal government should never stand between our veterans and their medicine. This critical legislation is a long overdue step to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed health care decisions, without political interference.”

WHO committee calls for changes in cannabis international classification

GENEVA — Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence have proposed amending the classification of cannabis under international law. According to reporting in the British Medical Journal, the WHO policy reversal “takes account of the growing evidence

for the medical applications of the drug,” and marks the first time that the agency has reviewed its stance on cannabis in nearly 60 years. The recommended changes, outlined in a letter by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, call for cannabis to be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Schedule IV is the most restrictive classification under the treaty. Instead, the committee advises that whole-plant cannabis and THC be designated as Schedule I controlled substances under international law. “The current [international] scheduling of cannabis is as strict as that for heroin,” the BMJ summarizes. “[T]he committee believes that keeping cannabis at that level of control would severely restrict access to and research on potential therapies derived from the plant.” In a separate recommendation, the committee reiterated its 2017 request that preparations containing “pure cannabidiol ... and not more than 0.2 percent of delta-9tetrahydrocannabinol” no longer be scheduled within the international drug conventions. The committee’s policy recommendations now await action from the 53 participating members states of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The Commission is anticipated to vote on the issue in March. In October, NORML delivered over 10,000 public comments to the US Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to recommend that WHO reschedule cannabis internationally.

Study: Cannabis use associated with metabolic benefits

SANTANDER, Spain — Cannabis use is associated with sustained effects on weight and metabolism, including lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cholesterol levels, according to the results of a three-year longitudinal study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Spanish researchers assessed the relationship between cannabis and weight over a three-year period in a cohort of 510 subjects. Participants in the study were classified as either “continuers,” “discontinuers” and “non-users.” At the study’s initiation, cannabis users presented “lower weight, body mass index, total cholesterol, and lowdensity lipoprotein-cholesterol compared to non-users,” investigators reported. Differences in weight, BMI, and LDL levels remained consistent over the three-years among those subjects who continued to consume cannabis. By contrast, those patients who discontinued using cannabis use over the course of the study “presented a higher increase in weight, body mass index, and triglyceride-high-density lipoprotein ratio than the ‘non-users’ and ‘continuers.’” Authors concluded, “Thus, we may interpret that cannabis consumption has a protective effect on metabolism, which is reflected in clinical terms.” The study’s results are consistent with a number of prior trials — such as those here, here, and here — finding that a history of marijuana use is associated with a lower prevalence of obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. Cannabis Culture news in the Blade is provided in partnership with NORML. For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at paul@norml.org. 


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