Fentanyl and deadlier Carfentanil cut into crystal meth and cocaine PAGE 6
A P R I L 2 6 2 0 1 9 • V O LU M E 0 3 • I S S U E 1 7 • A M E R I C A’ S LG B TQ N E W S S O U R C E • LO S A N G E L E S B L A D E . C O M
02 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Lambda Legal wins settlement in anti-LGBT discrimination case Lesbian teacher Julia Frost’s litigation lasted more than five years From STAFF REPORTS Lambda Legal has settled a lawsuit filed in Nov. 2013 on behalf of lesbian teacher Julia Frost against the Hesperia Unified School District in San Bernardino, Lambda announced April 18. Frost alleged that she was fired in retaliation for supporting LGBT students, who claimed discrimination by school administrators. Frost alleged that, as the faculty adviser to Sultana High School’s Gay Straight Alliance club, she helped GSA members bring in the ACLU of Southern California to look at what they saw as a pattern of discrimination against them by faculty, staff, and school administrators. But before the ACLU weighed in, Frost was told her contract would not be renewed for the 2013-14 school year. In a November 19, 2013 interview with the San Bernardino Sun, Frost, an English teacher, said she was asked to advise the GSA. “Almost immediately, I was singled
Julia Frost Photo courtesy Lambda Legal
out,” she said. Frost was summoned to meetings with administrators without other GSA advisers. “The only thing I can surmise,” Frost told the Sun, “because it was just me and nobody else, was it was just because of my sexual orientation?” The ACLU’s intervention ultimately led to changes in the district’s nondiscrimination policy and training procedures in 2015. “Since filing this lawsuit more than five
years ago, Julia has stood strong, knowing that she was penalized simply for being herself and doing her job,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer said in a press release. Frost will receive $850,000, Lambda Legal’s largest employment discrimination settlement. “It was important for me to bring this challenge, but I’m also happy it’s settled,” Frost said. “I’m also pleased to know that there are now clear, written policies in
place at HUSD that hopefully will not allow what happened to me to happen to anyone else who, like me, was doing their job and looking after the interests of students.” “This lawsuit forced Hesperia to establish desperately needed policies protecting the rights of LGBT students and teachers. It also compensates her for the harm HUSD caused to her career,” said Attorney Dan Stormer, a law partner with Hadsell Stormer Renick LLP and Lambda Legal’s co-counsel. HUSD “strongly denies” Frost’s allegations of discrimination, harassment and related claims—which they claimed could not be supported by any “compelling evidence,” the district said in an emailed statement to BusinessInsurance.com. However, settling the case was a “prudent financial decision in light of the protracted litigation effort by this former employee” and “one can never predict what might happen at trial,” including “the potential risk of a huge plaintiff’s attorney fee award if the District didn’t win on all counts.” HUSD also asserted that “the settlement is not an admission of guilt or an acceptance of liability for any alleged wrongdoing by the District.” – Karen Ocamb contributed to this report.
Coyle resigns as Pride Media CEO Tenure marred by allegations of failing to pay freelancers By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org It must have been a stressful moment for the news department, finding out that the chief executive officer of the flagship company had suddenly resigned without a courtesy heads-up. The Advocate had to rely on outside sources to tell an inside story – which it did on April 18 under the headline: “Pride Media CEO Nathan Coyle Resigns After Rocky Tenure.”
Coyle jumped ship to go to the Ford Modeling Agency, according to The Hollywood Reporter – which found out “prior to (Coyle) informing his staff at Pride Media,” The Advocate reported. The Advocate did its due diligence: “Pride Media’s spokesperson confirmed with The Advocate that Coyle is no longer with the company and will be replaced by chief revenue officer Orlando Reece in the interim.” Another outside outlet, Women’s Wear Daily, also reported on the surprise move. “Coyle’s exit is said to have been unexpected by Pride owner Adam Levin, the founder of Oreva Capital and also the owner of High Times magazine, although rumors had been
going around that the CEO was actively looking for another job,” WWD reported. Yet another outlet, the New York Post, had a quote from Levin: “We are confident Orlando will provide the necessary leadership required to serve the dynamic Pride Media team’s needs in order to move our business forward in a positive way.” At the helm of Pride Media, which owns The Advocate, Out, and several other LGBT publishing and media titles, Coyle was besieged by freelance writers, photographers and others furious at not having been paid for work they contributed to Out magazine under a content provider and payment scheme created under the
previous regime. The back-and-forth over who is responsible for those outstanding payments “quickly turned into a $10 million lawsuit, which is said to already be in early stage settlement talks,” WWD reported. Coyle, who was hired in June 2018, had promised freelancers that they would be paid, and apparently about half were, according to WWD. But some said they are still waiting. WWD reported that talks with the National Writers Union “hit a snag a few weeks ago. But already, the new leadership at Pride is said to have gotten in touch with NWU about moving forward.” The Los Angeles Blade was unable to connect with Levin for comment.
04 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
LA City expands anti-discrimination enforcement in employment Brings greater justice for job bias By KAREN OCAMB email@example.com News that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up three cases centered on LGBT rights in the workplace was jarring, considering the conservative bent the Court has taken under President Trump. This fall, the Court will hear arguments over whether Title VII, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace, protects LGBT employees, according to the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Millions of LGBT people now rely on those federal protections, and countless businesses across the country have changed their policies to protect LGBT workers,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter in a press release. “A Supreme Court decision reversing these established protections would be catastrophic for LGBT people and disruptive for businesses, who would face a patchwork of conflicting state laws.” No doubt LGBT Californians, living in arguably the most progressive state in the nation, feel protected on the job. But awareness and enforcement of nondiscrimination laws are not universal nor uniform, especially given the intersectional bias experienced by LGBT people of color. It’s an issue Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson and Councilmember Gil Cedillo took up last year after members of the Los Angeles Black Workers Center pointed out that seeking a remedy for discrimination on the job was just too costly for low income workers. “A disproportionately high number of Blacks were and have been facing employment discrimination in the city of Los Angeles,” Jasmyne Cannick, senior advisor to Council President Wesson, told the Los Angeles Blade. “This caused the BWC to take up this issue.” “Currently, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is the state agency that is the first line of
Workers and civil rights advocates gathered on the City Hall South Steps with Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. Photo courtesy Wesson’s Office
defense for individuals to report claims of discrimination in the workplace,” added Wesson communications deputy Michael Tonetti. “However, in 2016, the Department received nearly 24,000 complaints, 86% of which alleged employment discrimination. With this volume, the Department, acting alone, is not adequately funded and staffed to be the only recourse of defense against housing and workplace discrimination. In addition, confronting workplace discrimination in the judicial system is too costly for most low-wage workers. Without local enforcement, employee complaints are going unaddressed.” Introduced on Jan. 26, 2018, the Civil and Human Rights Ordinance, co-authored by Wesson and Cedillo, was stringently vetted by LA City Attorney Mike Feuer and the Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee before the amended ordinance was passed 12-0-3 by the City Council on April 17. Both out councilmembers Mike Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell were absent for the vote that day. The Ordinance will be added to the City’s administrative and municipal codes and establishes a Civil and Human Rights Commission and Executive Director, giving the City expanded authority to raise awareness about, oversee and enforce discrimination cases within its boundaries, better enabling lower-paid, black and other
minority workers the ability to seek recourse for injustices they face in the workplace. “WHEREAS, the City of Los Angeles, with its diverse population, wishes to establish public policy that promotes understanding between and among communities and to discourage discrimination that denies equal treatment to any individual because of an immutable characteristic or real or perceived status,” the Ordinance says before explaining its reach. (The Civil and Human Rights Ordinance is available as a PDF online here: http:// clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2018/18-0086_ misc_06-01-2018.pdf) “With this vote, we are prioritizing vital protections for LA’s black and brown workers, including women, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQ, and Muslims,” Wesson said in a statement. “Employment should be based on a person’s merit, experience, and character, not the color of their skin, where they’re from, or who they love. A big thank you to the Los Angeles Black Worker Center for their work in getting us to this point.” “This ordinance is designed to discourage human and civil rights violations from occurring at a local level in the City of Los Angeles and also to provide the necessary structures and remedies for the everyday resident to seek assistance should they find themselves in a position of discrimination and vulnerability,” said Cedillo. “This
commission will include an Executive Director and hearing officers to ensure that each case is given the proper resources and attention it deserves.” Tonetti notes that there is a bill winding its way through the California State Legislature that would grant local governments greater enforcement jurisdiction dealing with employment discrimination—SB 218, authored by Sen. Steven Bradford (amended on April 9). But right now, under the current California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the new Commission created by the Ordinance “will be able to address discrimination complaints related to the four protected classes in the proposed City Civil and Human Rights Law including: 1) citizenship status; 2) partnership status; 3) veteran status; and 4) employment and income status.” Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to sign the Ordinance. “Equality and belonging are values that define what it means to be an Angeleno,” Garcetti said in a statement. “We will not waver in protecting equal opportunity, rejecting bigotry, and rooting out discrimination wherever it may exist in Los Angeles. City Hall must lead by example, and I thank Council President Wesson and Councilmember Cedillo for their tireless advocacy on these issues of critical importance.”
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06 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Fentanyl kills in 45 seconds Fentanyl and deadlier Carfentanil cut into crystal meth and cocaine By KAREN OCAMB & SEAN SHEALY Last month, the Palm Springs LGBT community experienced a surge of fear after two people were shot at the Toucans Tiki Lounge, a popular gay nightclub. Instantly thoughts went to the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016. Nerves calmed when the facts emerged, with Palm Springs Police Lt. William Hutchinson telling the Los Angeles Blade that the shooting is not being investigated as a hate crime. That terrorist attack on the Pulse Nightclub left a psychic mark with LGBT people now being more vigilant, sometimes curtailing freedom for the sake of safety. But there are also moments and events where the old gay liberation culture clamors to let it all hang out, let gay Pride and freedom ring and party until the spirit says please, no more. One such event is the annual White Party in Palm Springs, this April 26-29 celebrating its 30th anniversary of unbridled gay hedonism. But there may be a silent killer stalking the White Party for which the organizers and partygoers are unprepared —Fentanyl and Carfentinal, about which the Drug Enforcement Agency just issued a dire warning after three deaths in San Diego. Fentanyl is usually linked with the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic, which kills 130 Americans every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and for which opioid manufacturers are facing over 1,700 federal lawsuits, according to ABC News. Federal prosecutors are also looking at pharmaceutical executives and companies’ failure to properly report “thousands of suspicious orders of oxycodone, fentanyl and other controlled substances” to the DEA. But the casual drug user attending the White Party or any other social gathering might not equate fentanyl in oxycodone with fentanyl in crystal meth, cocaine or other non-prescription drugs popular in
Los Angeles LGBT Center Addiction Recovery specialist Mike Rizzo tests a Fentanyl test strip. Photo courtesy Rizzo
the LGBT community. And that makes these new powder-forms even deadlier because one’s guard is down. Mike Rizzo, manager of Addiction Recovery Services at the Los Angeles LGBT
Center, only became aware of the deadly encroaching crisis last year when an employee died of an accidental overdose of Fentanyl that was “cut” into the cocaine he was using.
“This beloved employee was not an addict,” Rizzo told the Los Angeles Blade. “He and a few of his buddies where celebrating a friend’s birthday. There were four of them that used that night—three of them died. The fourth individual woke up at 6 a.m., thought his friends were asleep, went home and felt sick. That prompted him to go the ER, which probably saved his life.” When he read about the Center employee’s passing on Facebook, Rizzo says, “I was in shock. I immediately ran to the office and started to do some research and found that Fentanyl was being cut with meth, cocaine and ecstasy. It has been a problem on the East Coast and it’s just now hitting the West Coast. This is very concerning for me.” The more research Rizzo did, the more afraid he became. “Pride was right around the corner. What was going to happen to casual users who would choose to celebrate Pride with a bump of meth or cocaine? An unsuspecting individual may lose their life because they wanted to have a good time,” Rizzo says. “Just because someone chooses to party doesn’t mean they should lose their life.” Rizzo says there are five points to know about Fentanyl: Fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than heroin; Individuals may not know that what they are about to use may contain Fentanyl; The intervention rate for a heroin overdose is 1-3 hours; the intervention for a Fentanyl overdose is 45 seconds; The normal dose of Narcan may not be enough to prevent an overdose from Fentanyl, more may be needed; Of the meth samples tested in San Francisco, 78 percent tested positive for Fentanyl and 68 percent of the cocaine samples also tested positive for Fentanyl. “One of the scariest parts of this,” Rizzo says, “is that people who are using meth or cocaine think they are using a stimulant and will not have the tools they need, like Narcan,” a nasal spray or Naloxone, an injectable (needle) solution. Fentanyl is a cheap, apparently relatively easy to make synthetic drug that has become popular among drug dealers because it’s also highly addictive, as well as deadly when not dosed properly as in a legitimate prescription. Fentanyl can cause respiratory distress and death when taken in high doses
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • APRIL 26, 2019 • 07
or when combined with other substances, especially alcohol. One example is the high-proﬁle case of singer Demi Lovato, who was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center last July after she was found unresponsive in her Hollywood Hills home. LACFD paramedics administered Narcan to the then 25-yearold pop star, reviving her prior to transport. It was believed at the time that she had ODed on oxy that may have been laced with Fentanyl. As a drug 80 to 100 times more potent than heroin, Fentanyl may be classiﬁed as a weapon of mass destruction. “Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack,” Assistant Secretary James F. McDonnell, Department of Homeland Security, wrote in a Feb. 22, 2019 internal memo to senior DHS and Defense Department officials asking them to consider classifying Fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. In Nov. 2018, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon announced results of the National Drug Threat Assessment that outlined the threats posed to the U.S. by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs. “Of all opioids, the abuse of illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids has led to the greatest number of deaths in the United States,” the report said. “Fentanyl is increasingly available in the form of counterfeit prescription pills marketed for illicit street sales, and also sold by traffickers on its own, without the presence of other drugs.” On March 29, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times took aim at the Trump administration’s diverting billions of dollars away from the opioid crisis. “In 2017, the most recent year for which we have good data, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses,” The Times wrote. “Nearly 50,000 of those deaths involved opioids. New government data released this month show that a key driver of the overdose deaths in the last few years has been the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been mixed in with heroin and other illicit drugs. Extraordinarily potent, fentanyl is killing unwitting users in rapidly growing numbers.”
Fentanyl test strip Image from dancesafe.org
This prompted the West Hollywood City Council to vote on April 15 to proactively engage in “harm reduction” by making available Fentanyl test strips available to combat the problem.
“It’s important to target the casual user, as well as the addicts,” West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran tells the Los Angeles Blade. “In the 1980s, I was legal counsel to Clean Needles Now, part
of the efforts by ACT UP/LA to help in the prevention of spreading HIV.” Harm Reduction is “a much needed step in to addressing these deaths caused by Fentanyl-related overdoses,” he added. “We are doing this because WeHo is a hub for the LGBTQ community. This is a real public health emergency that has signiﬁcant impact on the 40% of our population who are LGBT,” he said. “People who are using—whether at a party or an event like the upcoming White Party or hook-ups on Grindr or other social events. They’re not expecting to use and then die,” Duran says. “We need to inform people as to the real dangers. They need to understand that even their casual party use can be lethal.” Rizzo concurs. “With a 45-second intervention rate, the only defense is to test the product before you use it.” Fentanyl Test Strips are available in every Center department and in all satellite locations, including Center WEHO. The City of WeHo recently gave the Center a grant for more test strips and this year the Center will do outreach at every Pride event. “We would like people to stock up before they attend these events and have them available for themselves or for friends who may choose to party,” Rizzo says. “If you do choose to party...party safer.” Even deadlier than Fentanyl is carfentanil, one hit of the drug the size of a speck of dust can kill, the DEA reports. “The DEA in San Diego County has issued an alert after three people have suffered documented fatal overdoses from a new form of the drug Fentanyl know as carfentanil,” CBS13 in Sacramento reported April 16. “It would only take 2 mg of the drug to cause a deadly overdose. Meanwhile, it would only take .02 mg of carfentanil to have the same fatal results.” This synthetic drug is so fast-acting it not only attacks the brain stem to interrupt breathing but also rapidly closes the esophagus so even Narcon might fail to act in time. The bottom line: freedom loving gay partiers these days must become as vigilant about their drugs as they are about scoping out the exits at a crowded gay bar. For more information about Fentanyl and the addiction services offered at the Center, please call 323-993-7448.
08 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Buttigieg coming to LA for gay Hollywood fundraiser Rivals are coming for him now By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surprisingly charmed so many in America with his smart, calm liberal morality that some polls of Democratic presidential contenders show him third behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—a once impossible feat for an openly gay politician. Buttigieg is no cookie-cutter candidate. Shortly after his breakthrough CNN Town Hall and his West Hollywood appearance last March, Buttigieg appeared on Fox News for an interview with Chris Wallace. “I think coming from the industrial Midwest, the place where, unfortunately, my party really lost touch with a lot of voters, especially in 2016—it’s a combination of attributes, not to mention the military service—that I bring to the table, that is simply different from the others and I’m looking forward to competing,” he told Wallace. Buttigieg said his core message is: “Generational change, and then liberty, democracy and security.” By mid-March, Buttigieg had hit the 65,000 individual donor goal the Democratic National Committee requires to qualify to be on the DNC debate stage—the first of which will be in June hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo. Hollywood A-Gays want to hear more directly, especially about Buttigieg reclaiming “values,” using his marriage to Chasten as an example. The Hollywood Reporter reports that mega-producer Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller are hosting a fundraiser for Buttigieg at their Los Angeles home on June 19. The event is also co-hosted by a bevy of married gays, including PR guru Simon Halls and his husband actor Matt Bomer; TV hit-maker Greg Berlanti and his husband, producer/ former soccer star Robbie Rogers; CAA partner Bryan Lourd and his husband Bruce Bozzi; and former People editor Jess Cagle and TV writer-producer husband Matt
Mayor Pete Buttigieg in West Hollywood Photo by Karen Ocamb
Whitney. But with Buttigieg’s surge in popularity comes the hard-knocks of political gamesmanship. His political rivals have been “caught off guard” and are “scrambling to find vulnerabilities and lines of attack that can be used against him, five officials with opposing Democratic primary campaigns and Republican political groups tell NBC News.” “He’s getting a very significant free pass on a lot of stuff that other candidates aren’t getting a free pass on,” said one official from a rival Democratic presidential campaign, who called Buttigieg a “kid mayor,” citing the 37-year-old candidate’s willingness to take money from lobbyists as an example. “There’s a novelty there. People don’t know anything about him, so he can kind of be whatever people want him to be. But if he sustains this, that will come down to earth.” “Our competitors can run their campaigns how they want,” Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s top communications adviser, told NBC News.
“We’re less interested in politics as usual and more focused on getting Mayor Pete’s hopeful message of generational change out there.” But Buttigieg’s Democratic competitors might note that many of these A-Gays also raise and contribute money for other candidates—Murphy and Miller hosted a mega-fundraiser for California Sen. Kamala Harris on April 12, for instance—and they may not appreciate being used as “opporesearch” against a viable gay candidate. The lobbyist Buttigieg’s rivals are using against him right now is longtime gay fundraiser Steve Elmendorf, former Board Chair for the Victory Fund. He and longtime Human Rights Campaign backer Barry Karas are co-hosting a fundraiser for Buttigieg in Washington, D.C. on May 21. “Elmendorf is a lobbyist and former John Kerry campaign official who bundled more than $100,000 in the last election for Clinton. He announced his support for Buttigieg on Sunday, just as the Democrat
officially launched his campaign,” NBC News reported on April 18. “Karas raised at least half a million dollars for Obama in 2012 and was later appointed by Obama to the Kennedy Center’s advisory board.” “The more I watched him, the more I thought he was performing at a level above all the other candidates. He has an optimistic message and I liked him,” Elmendorf told CNBC for an April 17 story. “I just think everything about him is the opposite of Trump in a good way and when he answers every question he’s trying to find solutions. He’s not attacking anyone.” Elmendorf is impressed. “I think he’s put himself out there in every possible venue. He’s done every possible interview and has done well. He comes across as authentic,” Elmendorf added. “There’s something to be said about someone from out of Washington and a new, young person in this race.” Buttigieg is also different in not eschewing capitalism for democratic socialism. He has pledged not to take PAC money from corporations or the fossil fuel industry but contributions from top finance executives helped him raise $7 million, which catapulted him to the top tier over betterknown contenders. “Pete has never made a decision based on a contribution that he’s received, and where he receives his contributions from has no bearing on the policy positions and governmental actions he takes,” Smith told NBC News. In fact, Buttigieg has re-framed capitalism. He says the Green New Deal, for instance, is more of a “goal” than a concrete plan. But it recognizes climate change as a reality and a necessity set by science. And, Buttigieg told Fox’s Chris Wallace, “Retrofitting buildings means a huge amount of jobs for the building trades in this country. I view that as a good thing.” The other reality, Buttigieg told CNBC, is that “[t]he economy is not some creature that just lumbers along on its own. It’s an interaction between private sector and public sector. And public sector policies, for basically as long as I’ve been alive, have been skewed in a direction that’s increasing inequality.”
APRIL 26, 2019 • 09
It was a tale of two Easters. Neil Patrick Harris posted a family portrait on Instagram of him with husband David Burtka and their 8½-year-old twins, Gideon Scott and Harper Grace. Decked out in traditional spring pastel colors with Harper sporting floral bunny ears, the caption read simply: “Happy Easter from the four Burtka-Harris bunnies.” Accompanying the photo were videos of the kids enjoying an Easter egg hunt. Meanwhile, President Trump, ﬁrst lady Melania Trump and the Easter Bunny stood on the Truman Balcony April 22 overlooking the South Lawn for the 141st White House Easter Egg Roll, with Trump joking to about 30,000 guests, mostly kids waiting to hunt for 74,000 donated eggs, that he didn’t remember the ﬁrst Egg Roll. “We are completely rebuilding our military. It was very depleted, as you know. A lot of the military folks can tell you,” Trump told the children. Military bands provided the entertainment and during a coloring session featuring the ﬁrst lady’s anti-cyber bullying “Be Best” campaign, he talked about the border wall, with a young future conservative apparently saying, “Keep building that wall.” Trump also spoke for a few minutes with reporters on the Sri Lanka attacks and he pushed back on questions regarding the Mueller report. He pointedly disputed reports that administration staff ignored his dictates: “Nobody disobeys my orders,” Trump said. He also shrugged off a question asking if he is concerned about possible impeachment: “Not even a little bit.” Meanwhile, Harris’ third book in The Magic Misﬁts series about teaching children acceptance, love and understanding is due out in September.
“I’m not a master ﬁsherman, but I know bait when I see it — and I’m not going to take it.”
– Gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on CNN forum April 22, refusing to answer a question about gay Republican troll, Ambassador Rick Grenell.
“The potentially existing lending discrimination might just reﬂect a corner of the iceberg.” - Lei Gao, co-author of a new Iowa State University study ﬁnding bias against gay borrowers in the mortgage loan industry, to NBC News.
“We hope that we live to see it.”
– Lily Tomlin to Ellen DeGeneres on the planned sequel to her “9 to 5” hit with friends Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton on April 18.
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10 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Gay couple sorry for photo with Aaron Schock Will Rossi and Rob Massi have issued an apology on Instagram for posing for a photo with former GOP Rep. Aaron Schock. Schock, 37, supported anti-gay policies such as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” while a member of Congress. During the recent Coachella weekend, Schock was photographed and recorded partying with gay men and kissing another man. Schock has stated in the past that he is not gay. Rossi and Massi posed for a photo with Schock at the music festival and have now apologized for it. The Will Rossi and Rob Massi posed for a photo with Aaron Schock and regretted it. apology was posted on both of their Instagram accounts. “Will and I wanted to take a photo with our friends at Coachella, to celebrate our last day there,” the statement reads. “Being polite, we allowed Aaron–who was basically a stranger to us and someone we just met–to include himself in our photo.” Rossi and Massi claim they were not aware of who Shock was or the anti-LGBTQ policies he has voted for. “For our own political ignorance, we are deeply sorry,” the statement continues. “We hope Aaron does decide to come out publicly and live the gay life he so freely enjoyed at Coachella, the kind of life so many out and proud LGBTQ individuals have fought for and have made possible for younger gays like Will and me to live today. And we hope if or when Aaron does decide to come out and own his actions, he apologizes and makes amends with the LGBTQ community, because he certainly owes us one.” MARIAH COOPER
Gillibrand hangs with drag queens at Iowa bar Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) dropped by gay bar Blazing Saddle in Des Moines, Iowa last Friday night where she spent some quality time with the drag queens. The Democratic presidential hopeful hung out with the queens backstage at Blazing Saddle, known as the “Gay Cheers” since its 1983 opening, did her makeup with them and even lent one queen her dress. “Vana and the amazing queens at the Blazing Saddle in Des Moines invited me for a visit tonight before their show. I felt underdressed, so I brought a dress I Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited a gay bar in Iowa and posed for photos with drag queens. picked up yesterday—turns out it fit me, but it fit Vana even better! Thank you for having me, ladies,” Gillibrand captioned a photo set of her night. Gillibrand will continue her support for the drag community when she sits down to discuss LGBTQ issues with drag queen and activist Marti Gould Cummings, who went viral for her “Baby Shark” brunch performance, on May 2 in New York City. “For the first time in the history of the United States a presidential candidate is sitting down one on one with a drag queen to discuss the issues,” Gould promoted the discussion on Twitter. MARIAH COOPER
Lesbian candidate wins big in Tampa mayoral race Lesbian candidate Jane Castor won big Tuesday night in Tampa, Fla., in the race to become the city’s next mayor, making her the first out person elected mayor of top 100 city in the Southeast. Castor, the city’s former police chief, won 72.5 percent of the vote against her opponent, philanthropist David Straz, who won 27.5 percent of the vote, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the first openly lesbian mayor of Houston, commended Castor in a statement, saying “a lavender ceiling was shattered in Florida Tuesday night.” “Both LGBTQ people and women face tremendous obstacles in running for public office, but Jane’s victory shows lesbian candidates can win citywide office with a strong record of public service and policy priorities that align with their constituents,” Parker said. “While voters chose Jane because of her vision for Tampa, her willingness to be open and honest about her life lent her an authenticity that voters are drawn to not just in Tampa, but across the nation.” According to Equality Florida, Castor wins the distinction of being the first openly LGBT person to lead one of Florida’s three largest cities. Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida, said in a statement Castor’s victory is “a historic milestone for our LGBTQ community.” “Equality Florida Action PAC members, supporters and donors showed up in force in this election,” Saunders said. “We’ve spent months talking to over 30,000 pro-equality voters in the City of Tampa about how important this race is. The phone calls, emails, digital ads and door knocks mobilized our community to support our champion, and that support has made a defining difference.” Castor is the third out lesbian to win a big city mayoral race this year. Both Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wisconsin also won mayoral elections earlier this month. CHRIS JOHNSON
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12 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Supreme Court to hear LGBT discrimination cases Pelosi urges Congress to pass Equality Act By CHRIS JOHNSON The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases seeking to determine if anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under federal law. In its orders list released on Monday, the court announced it has granted certiorari in response to three separate petitions seeking clarification on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace, applies to cases of anti-LGBT discrimination. Two of the petitions — the filings for the cases of Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County — sought clarification on whether Title VII applies to cases of sexual orientation discrimination. The other petition — a filing in the case of Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC — seeks clarification on whether Title VII applies to anti-transgender discrimination. Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement the time has come “for the Supreme Court to cement into place our core American values of treating all people with respect and dignity and allowing everyone a fair shot no matter who they are.” Because the court decided to grant certiorari in April, the court will be unable to reach a conclusion by the time it adjourns for this term in June. The decision will have to wait until the next term, which means a ruling may not happen until June 2020. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether existing federal law prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination will have “no impact” on the advancement of legislation seeking to ban it explicitly under federal law, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in response to the news. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, told the Blade the Supreme Court decision will have “no impact” on the legislative process for the Equality Act, which he said is set for a floor vote in the U.S. House in May. “I would just make the point that House passage sends a strong message to SCOTUS,” Hammill said. Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I. and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and
A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Supreme Court would have ‘no impact’ on the Equality Act. Blade file photo by Michael Key
credit. The petition in the Harris case was filed in behalf of Harris Funeral Homes by the anti-LGBT legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which called on the Supreme Court to issue a more restrictive interpretation of Title VII that would omit transgender protections. “Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing sex with gender identity — a change with widespread consequences for everyone,” ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch said. “Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is — not what government agencies want it to be — when they create and enforce employment policies. The funeral home wants to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one, but the EEOC has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves.” In a conference call with reporters Monday, Bursch told the Blade the Alliance Defending Freedom doesn’t have a position on whether Title VII applies to cases of sexual orientation discrimination. “The issue in our case is about what Congress meant when it prohibited discrimination based on sex in 1964 and I don’t think any reasonable person would look at what was happening in
1964 and conclude that they intended to address gender identity in any way shape or form,” Bursch said. “I suspect that there are similar arguments that can be advanced with respect to sexual orientation, but they’re obviously distinct cases.” LGBT people have asserted workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex discrimination and is unlawful under Title VII for decades. With respect to sexual orientation discrimination, courts have more recently adopted the idea Title VII applies to sex discrimination. The Second Circuit and Seventh Circuit have affirmed Title VII prohibits anti-gay discrimination, but the Eleventh Circuit recently rejected the idea. Case law affirming Title VII covers antitransgender discrimination is more developed. Over nearly two decades, eight federal appeals courts and 35 federal district courts have affirmed anti-transgender discrimination is sex discrimination and unlawful, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. James Esseks, director of the LGBT project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a conference call with reporters a ruling from Supreme Court against LGBT protections would conflict with the public acceptance for LGBT rights and the perception held by 70 percent of people that anti-LGBT discrimination is already unlawful. “There are cases going back to 1977 where courts have protected transgender workers or transgender individuals from sex discrimination,” Esseks said. “In fact, the public would be shocked if the Supreme Court ruled that it’s perfectly legal to fire someone just because she’s LGBTQ.” The ACLU is co-counsel for the gay plaintiff in the Zarda case and the transgender plaintiff in the Harris case, but isn’t affiliated with the Bostock case. Although the upcoming Supreme Court ruling will determine whether anti-LGBT discrimination is prohibited under employment non-discrimination law, it will also impact other non-discrimination laws that bar discrimination on the basis of sex, such as the Fair Housing Act, the Affordable Care Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Esseks pointed out LGBT people have taken advantage of laws barring sex discrimination in cases of discrimination not just in employment, but also education, housing and health care. Transgender people have won cases asserting denial of transition-related health care, including gender reassignment surgery, constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.
“This isn’t a question of is the Supreme Court going to for the first time say that LGBT people get to sue from discrimination,” Esseks said. “LGBT people are suing and have been suing for years and have been getting remedies for the discrimination where the courts say it is real.” (No federal law bars discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations, so discriminating against LGBT people in public accommodations will be legal regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.) The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the cases at the same time the Democratic-controlled House is moving forward with the Equality Act, legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, credit, jury service, federally funded programs, education and public accommodations” Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the Supreme Court has “an opportunity to clarify this area of law to ensure protections for LGBTQ people in many important areas of life,” but legislative action is still necessary. “The impact of this decision will have very real consequences for millions of LGBTQ people across the country,” Warbelow said. “Regardless of the eventual outcome, it’s critical that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone.” The petitions have been pending before the court for some time. The court granted certiorari the week after the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held arguments in the case of Horton v. Midwest Geriatric Management on whether Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination. It remains to be seen what decision the Supreme Court will reach. The cases reach the Supreme Court after Trump has remade the bench with the appointments of U.S. Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. LGBT groups, fearing the appointees would be hostile to LGBT rights, opposed the confirmation of both justices. Esseks, nonetheless, told the Blade he’s “hopeful” the Supreme Court will reach a decision affirming LGBT protection under existing law. “I think that the lower courts that have recognized that anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination have it right,” Esseks said. “I think the public has it right. The public already agrees that we are protected. And so, I think the court would be going out on a limb with the public and, I think, legal argument by ruling against us as opposed to ruling for us.”
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14 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
8 LGBT Nicaraguans killed in protests: report
Lyra McKee Photo by International Journalism Festival via Wikimedia Commons
Northern Ireland journalist/activist killed A prominent investigative journalist and activist in Northern Ireland was killed on April 18 as she covered riots in the city of Londonderry. Lyra McKee was shot to death in Creggan, a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in Londonderry, which is near the Irish border. The Associated Press reported the Police Service of Northern Ireland has said a stray bullet likely killed McKee. Authorities have also described McKee’s murder as a “terrorist act” the New IRA dissident group likely carried out. Local media reports indicate authorities have released two young men they arrested in connection with their investigation into McKee’s death. McKee, 29, was an editor for Mediagazer, a news website. She also contributed to BuzzFeed and other media outlets and recently signed two book deals. Forbes Magazine in 2016 named McKee as one of its “30 under 30 in media.” McKee two years earlier wrote “Letter to my 14-year-old self,” a blog post that detailed her struggles growing up as a lesbian in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. “I hated myself for much of my life because of what religion taught me about people like me,” she said during a TED Talk speech she gave in Belfast in 2017. “And when I stopped hating myself, I started hating religion.” The New York Times reported McKee was pronounced dead at the same hospital where her partner, Sara Canning, is a nurse. Canning on April 19 spoke at a vigil for McKee. “The death of Lyra McKee in last night’s suspected terrorist incident in Londonderry is shocking and truly senseless,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a tweet that her office posted on April 19. “My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.” Leo Varadkar, the gay prime minister of Ireland, also condemned McKee’s murder. “The government condemns in the strongest possible terms the fatal shooting of journalist and writer Lyra McKee in Derry,” said Varadkar in a tweet. “We are all full of sadness after last night’s events. We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.” MICHAEL K. LAVERS
A report from Nicaragua indicates eight LGBT people have been killed during anti-government protests that began in the Central American country last April. The report notes a gay man was one of three people who were killed on April 19, 2018, the day after protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, began. The report says a total of seven gay men and a lesbian were reported killed in Managua and Carazo departments between April 18, 2018, and Jan. 31, 2019. The report indicates five of these murders “were committed during the protests” and the bodies of three of the victims were found “many days after they disappeared.” “These three victims had been receiving death threats or had been injured,” reads the report. “Two of them had denounced (these threats) on their social media networks or with close associates and one of them blamed members of Citizens Power Councils (local, pro-government entities that are similar to Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) in her community for what happened to her.” The protests began after Ortega announced cuts to the country’s social security benefits that he later rescinded. The government’s response to a fire at the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast in April 2018 also sparked widespread criticism. Hundreds of people have been killed since the protests began. The National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua was one of the first organizations that urged the government to stop using violence against the protesters. The U.S. has imposed sanctions against Murillo, National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Díaz Madriz and other Nicaraguan officials that include travel bans and frozen assets under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The report notes LGBTI people “have actively participated” in the protests since they began. It also includes findings of a survey to which 220 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and cross-dressing Nicaraguans responded that indicate the government and its supporters continue to target LGBTI people in the country. More than 40 percent of survey respondents said they have received death threats. MICHAEL K. LAVERS
More LGBT Bruneians speak out against penal code Two LGBTI Bruneians with whom the Blade spoke last week said their country’s new penal code that calls for the death penalty for anyone convicted of same-sex sexual relations continues to spark fear. A gay man who asked the Blade not to publish his name said during a WhatsApp interview from Bandar Seri Bagawan, the Bruneian capital, that he was “freaked out” when the provision took effect on April 3. The man said he did not go to school on Saturday, in part, because police officers were participating in a career day. “Anyone would freak out initially, but as the days go on, they don’t really want to enforce that type of punishment because of the international backlash,” he said. “The international media is already getting into it, calling out Brunei. If Brunei tries to enforce that type of the law, of course they’re going to get into more trouble.” Brunei’s penal code, which also criminalizes apostasy and adultery, began to take effect in 2014. The State Department, gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are among those who have sharply criticized the penal code, which is based on Shariah law. George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and other celebrities have called for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei owns. The Bruneian government in an April 7 letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights defended the penal code. The gay Bruneian man with whom the Blade spoke on Saturday said his country’s government “tried to implement this without getting caught, which obviously didn’t work.” “It got real,” he said. He added Bolkiah implemented the penal code as a way to exert further control over his country’s population. A transgender Bruneian woman with whom the Blade spoke agreed. “I knew it was going to happen sometime in the future because the sultan wanted more control and power over the population and religion for him would be the best tool for it,” she said during a WhatsApp interview from Canada. “But personally, it sucks my friends back there would basically be criminals under Shariah law.” “It’s just that they’re basically waiting to be found,” she added. The trans woman, who also asked the Blade not to publish her name, said she flew to Vancouver last November. She said she decided to seek asylum in Canada because of the country’s human rights record and Trudeau’s immigration policy. “I’ve always wanted to leave Brunei as soon as possible and as far as possible,” said the trans woman, noting it was impossible for her to transition in Brunei. “They would punish anyone or stone anyone who is an apostate, which is someone who left Islam.” She said Brunei was always “a repressive country before” the penal code’s implementation, even though oil and gas deposits have made the country one of the wealthiest in the world. The State Department’s 2018 human rights report notes “violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex (LGBTI) persons including intimidation by police,” the exploitation of foreign workers and “substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association” are among the human rights concerns in Brunei. Bolkiah and his family have also faced questions over their lavish lifestyle and reports that his brother had a harem of dozens of women. “Even without Shariah law, Brunei would still be a repressive and oppressive nation,” said the trans women. MICHAEL K. LAVERS
16 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
VOLUME 03 ISSUE 17
Restoring decency David Huebner is the gay former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and American Samoa under President Obama.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the demise of decency as an anchor of American life. Unfortunately, nothing since then provides grounds for optimism. Quite the contrary. A brutal, remorseless Cabinet secretary was fired, not for kidnapping, caging, and “losing” large numbers of children but because she did not break enough laws. The president threatened to commit acts of terrorism against our own people by dumping what he describes as dangerous criminals into cities that don’t submit to his will. A bank CEO whose fingerprints are on the global economic crash that stripped jobs and homes from millions of families publicly railed against “socialist” programs that help unemployed and uninsured Americans, despite his having received $25 billion in government welfare cash to bail out his own business. And most Americans just shrugged. That reaction is understandable. A steady drumbeat of self-dealing, deception, vulgarity, and aggression desensitizes. Self-protective detachment is a natural response to physical and psychological assault. Besides, what impact can one person have when even the mighty Senate’s majority has been largely brought, or bought, to heel? Quite a lot, actually. Although not easy or immediate, restoring decency is not a herculean proposition. Restoration depends not on legislation, mass demonstrations, election results, or a charismatic champion but on more of the rest of us more consistently making five basic choices as we move through our daily lives. First, build our opinions upward from core values, not downward from tribal interests. Conservative, progressive, democrat, republican, independent, white, American,
Christian, and the like are not core values. At best such terms are fuzzy generalizations, Rorschach blots interpreted in widely different and often irreconcilable ways. At worst they are gang signs devoid of substantive content, deployed for personal advantage. Core values are far deeper, less elastic, and more operationally powerful than political, tribal, or cultural labels. The best starting point is, in my view, the Golden Rule articulated in Matthew 7:12 and embedded in the teachings of most world religions. If the Golden Rule is applied generally and without regard to whether someone is an ally or rival, or “like me” or “very different,” it carries us most of the way back to decency. Second, view personal responsibility as extending beyond our own lifespans. Perhaps the most indecent aspect of our current era is the looting of future generations to feed current appetites. Exploding the deficit to pump cash to the richest political donors. Deconstructing legal and regulatory infrastructure to evade accountability. Denying climate change – in the face of overwhelming evidence – to avoid mild inconvenience because dengue fever won’t arrive and the first major city won’t submerge until after we’re safely dead and buried. Look into a child’s eyes and try to imagine how what we currently support or tolerate will impact her children’s lives. If your response is “they’ll figure it out” (i.e., “f--- them”), go back to step one above. Third, speak up when we encounter indecent behavior. I cannot reverse the current government’s cynical defunding of programs to combat violent white nationalist extremism, but I can and should respond when I encounter someone verbally abusing people for speaking Spanish in public … denigrating black athletes as ungrateful “animals” for kneeling … or haranguing a trans person that each sentence of the Bible must be obeyed strictly (while eating a bacon burrito purchased while shopping on Sunday at a mall owned by atheists). Bullies, bigots, and grifters thrive in the “safe” space created by our polite or timid silence, and appropriately challenging their self-presumed dominance in the public commons is a powerful act of decency. Fourth, recognize and reflect on privilege. So much of the contentiousness of the current era, including the supposed “culture” wars, is not
about values or God or public policy but about privilege, about who is entitled to be heard … to make decisions … to exclude or control others. Like evolution and subatomic particles, privilege is a pervasive reality, and it takes many forms. Unlike evolution and subatomic particles, however, privilege can be seen acting in real time and with the naked eye … whether it’s D-list celebrities stealing other children’s educations by bribing their own kids’ way into universities … politicians laboring with decreasing finesse to extend minority rule by hook or crook … or clergy abandoning supposed values in exchange for appointment of judges who will help launder bigotry, tax advantages, and bare-knuckle politics as religious faith. Recognize it. Understand that it’s usually unspoken and assumed. See that it can be cynically weaponized to create and exploit false affinity (e.g., “I’m a white guy born into immense wealth who has never shopped for groceries or met a tradesman I didn’t cheat, but I wholly understand and will fight just for white workingclass you”). There is no road to decency without the insight that comes from reflection, self- and otherwise. Fifth, hold bad actors accountable. Indecency thrives when it carries no personal consequences. If you kidnap and “lose” children, defund programs for handicapped kids to finance billionaire tax cuts, spend your day shamelessly lying into a camera, molest scores of minors, facilitate the rich rapist’s escape from justice, dedicate your career to stripping health insurance from the sick, poor, and elderly, or promote race-based supremacy for political gain or personal profit … you shouldn’t be allowed to settle comfortably back into lucrative sinecures or polite society when you get tired or fired. Decency cannot and will not be restored until truly bad actors and the entities that shelter and enrich them are held accountable. Full stop. If privilege thwarts legal and political accountability, then continuous free speech must be deployed to fill the void. If you feel a surge of sympathy, direct it toward victims, not unrepentant perps. The arc of history does not bend toward justice – or decency – by itself. It is bent one way or the other by the application of pressure. By many people, powerful and not. In everyday life. Every day. Reach out, grab on, pull hard, and don’t let go.
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17 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Impeachment: Is it worth the time and effort now? Democrats should focus on legislation and 2020 elections
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
The act of ﬁling Articles of Impeachment is the role of the House of Representatives should they decide to do it. There is a continuing debate as to whether this is worthwhile at this time. Clearly, Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and the nation would be best served if he were convicted and removed from office. But to impeach a president requires not just a vote in the House to enact Articles of Impeachment but a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict. Rational people looking at the current make-up of the Senate must
agree that will not happen. When Articles of Impeachment were ﬁled against Bill Clinton in 1998, some of the initial charges failed to get the needed votes in the House and eventually they voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath and on obstruction charges. The Senate after a trial by a vote of 55 for impeachment and 45 against was not able to convict as 67 votes are needed to convict in the Senate. Again it is clear today with Trump’s sycophants in the Senate there is no way 20 Republicans would join with Democrats to convict Trump on any charges. What that would mean is prior to the election, Trump would once again have headlines and be able to say he was cleared of wrongdoing and exonerated. Many, even those who would like to impeach, question if giving him that opportunity is worth it. We must ask what a trial in the Senate, if we could get that far, would accomplish. Will anything new be brought out by such a trial and convince even one Trump voter to not vote for him? It seems impeachment, though tempting, at this time would be an exercise in futility and Democrats’ time would be much better spent working to pass good legislation in the House and focusing on defeating Trump and other Republicans at the polls in November
of 2020. There are many issues and charges potentially still pending against Trump and his minions. Some sealed indictments await action and New York State is looking to ﬁle charges. There are issues that could still be brought to fruition and he could be criminally charged and face trial once he is out of office if we can defeat him in 2020. New York State is looking at tax evasion issues. Many are disappointed in how Mueller ended his investigation and of course how Attorney General Barr, clearly a Trump sycophant, chose to interpret Mueller’s report. I hope Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N,Y,), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, will bring Mueller, Barr and many of the people who spoke to the Special Council to testify in front of his committee under oath. Let that committee keep the focus on what they said and how the investigation clearly implicated Trump. Mueller decided to lay out the facts but not to make a determination on obstruction; not because he didn’t have enough to present to a jury, but because he determined Department of Justice policy precluded him from making a determination unless he was able to conclude there was no crime, which he could not conclude. The political role of the Congress is clearly different. Barr was clearly acting for Trump
and not the nation when he determined there was no obstruction. We all know Barr determined this long before he saw the Mueller report in the paper he wrote. Trump won big when he got Republicans to conﬁrm Barr as his attorney general. So let the Judiciary Committee do its work and there is plenty to do before there is a ﬁnal decision on whether impeachment is the way to go. While the Judiciary Committee is doing its work, the rest of the Democrats in the House should be working on passing legislation. They don’t need Sen. Elizabeth Warren telling them what to do. Democrats need to show the voters what they will get if they return full control of the Congress, both the House and the Senate, along with the White House to them. The issues they need to work on include immigration with a focus on Dreamers; infrastructure; ﬁxes to the Affordable Care Act; tax reform; climate change; voting rights; the Equality Act, and a myriad of others. These are the issues voters in 2020 will be basing their decisions on. Democrats need to bring out every voter who thinks Trump is a disgusting lying SOB and an embarrassment to the nation. There are enough voters who already think that. It is the issues I mentioned not impeachment that will likely get them to the polls.
Three decades of style and substance Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams positions itself for the future under watchful eye of its namesakes By JOEY DiGUGLIELMO
It’s a Monday morning and Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, the visionaries behind the Taylorsville, N.C.-based, eponymous company that bills itself as “classic modern home furnishings,” are looking at another long work week ahead but excited about the weekend’s events. It happens to be the day after Pete Buttigieg announced his presidential campaign and Gold especially is excited. “I think he’s really terrific,” Gold, 68, says. As a long-time outspoken proponent for LGBT rights and author of the book “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America,” Gold’s enthusiasm is not surprising. “I think when he first came on the scene I was kind of dismissive,” Gold says. “Oh, this is some gay guy from the Midwest, he’s mayor of a small town, you know, who does he think he is? But the more I saw him, especially on a CNBC town hall, for me what he’s doing is standing up against the evangelicals, against the Mike Pences of the world. … In my wildest dreams as a kid, I would never have thought yesterday would happen so I was really touched by it.” The occasion is the 30th anniversary of Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams and a lot has changed since the Blade profiled the company and men (Williams is 57), longtime business partners and at one time romantic partners as well, on their 25th anniversary five years ago. It’s been a season of significant growth. Five years ago, they had about 700 employees. It’s near 1,000 now. The majority are full time. Then they had 17 stores. There are now 33. The most recent opened last year in Fort Worth, Texas. Their headquarters five years ago was about 600,000 square feet It’s now close to 1 million. Sales have doubled in that time as well to about $230 million for all their holdings, which include a contract business that sells to hotels and an office supply arm. For more information, visit mgbwhome.com
They were chatty — Gold especially — during a 45-minute phone interview. Their comments have been edited for space.
unsettling but I think what we’re seeing is a lot of people want to be happy and as Bob often says, the colors that we do are happy colors.
LOS ANGELES BLADE: What’s going on these days with Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams? It sounds like a lot has happened since we last spoke. MITCHELL GOLD: We are really working to position our company for the future to get the team really in order to take the company into the next decade and we’re super optimistic because the style sense that we have, the modern sensibility, whether it goes to pure American modern or more of a traditional modern, really seems to resonate with a lot of customers.
BLADE: What other national trends affect what you guys do? Over 30 years, for instance, the middle class in this country isn’t what it was yet your sales are up. Has the one percent made up the difference? WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t say it’s the one percent making up the difference. I would say it really depends on the mood of what’s going on. People need to buy furniture no matter what’s going on with the economy. They move into a new house, something’s changed … so it’s kind of a tricky situation. GOLD: People in our community categorize us as aspirational luxury … and you’d be amazed how many people just starting out in their career tell me, “Oh, I bought a sofa from you, I waited ’til the floor sample was on clearance so I could get a price I could afford,” or they bought something at more of an opening price point, all the way to people who are in charge of stuff like global retail for Nike. There are a lot more people at our more entry level price point who aspire to have our stuff and we try to make it available to them at different times of the year.
BLADE: How have trends changed from five years ago? GOLD: We’ve had a lot of new competition in the last five years and a lot of our older competition has moved toward making more modern furniture. I think consumers have really moved toward the style sense we’ve had for well over 20 years. BOB WILLIAMS: The other thing we’ve seen is color. Five years ago it was a lot more neutrals and a lot of it had to do with the 2008 recession. After about 2016, people were tired of that and wanted some freshness. That’s the other big thing we’ve noticed. BLADE: Have you seen trends like that before over the years? WILLIAMS: Yes, we saw it after 9-11. People were much more hesitant and conservative and not feeling as bold and colorful. It took a few years after that before we started seeing color back on the floor. BLADE: What does that say about our national psyche? WILLIAMS? I think when things get tough and people don’t feel secure, they get a little bit more reserved in their thinking and buying habits. GOLD: Now things are a little chaotic and
BLADE: You had a spate of events at your various stores for your 25th anniversary. Are you doing that again for 30? GOLD: We have a few. We just had one in New York with Elle Decor magazine that benefited the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Lady Bunny DJ’ed … she’s fantastic. …We’re doing a big event in September in our Beverly Hills store with Architectural Digest and in our Texas stores next week. So yes, we have things going on all over the country for the year. BLADE: What other causes are you passionate about besides LGBT ones? GOLD: We work with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, an environmental group for the home furnishings industry.
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Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold say their line of aspirational luxury furniture has resonated with consumers and their numbers back it up. Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams
And Exodus Works, headed by Rev. Reggie Longcrier that helps homeless people get into their first apartments. BLADE: How do you decide where you’ll open new stores? GOLD: There are a lot of factors — what the household incomes are, what the education levels are, what the style sense is. We also try to cluster our stores in big markets because they do more business than you would get in a remote market … Another big factor is just what’s available in commercial real estate. It’s much different than residential. We really want to be in great locations, great buildings and have it be the right size for us so there are always four or five balls we have up in the air looking for the right place. BLADE: Will you open any more in 2019? GOLD: No. We’re working more on our website this year, then we will start back expanding in 2020. BLADE: Does your expanded headquarters space make up for more overall volume or are there other things you’re doing there? GOLD: It’s mainly a factor of volume but we have a large distribution center now. We used to ship certain categories out of different locations but we’ve brought it all together to one distribution center and we took the other space and used it to expand
our manufacturing abilities. BLADE: What are the downsides of so much growth? Are there headaches involved that the average person wouldn’t think of? GOLD: You have to do everything very carefully. One of the difficulties is hiring the right people, hiring them quickly … WILLIAMS: Office space … GOLD: … moving people around, we’re going through that again. Every time you hire somebody, you have to have a space for them. Even though we try to have extra office space available, it never seems to be enough. BLADE: Five years ago, you estimated your employees were about 15 percent LGBT and clientele about 15-20 percent LGBT. Would you say those numbers have changed? GOLD: Those are close enough I would say. BLADE: Mitchell, almost exactly a year ago you were on the cover of The Washington Post (Sunday) Magazine in a piece called “The Last Frontier for Gay Rights,” and spoke of your work with the P.R.I.D.E. Club at a high school in your community. How was it received? GOLD: The reaction was generally very good. … I got virtually no negative comments that I know of, to my face. The only disappointing thing was I wish the writer had focused a bit more on people who have changed their minds
(on LGBT rights). She seemed a bit more focused on people who have dug in their heels, who still believe, quote-unquote, that homosexuality is a sin. There are people, whether they’re evangelicals, Mormons or Catholics, who have started to change like Rev. Stan Mitchell in Tennessee or David Gushee in Atlanta … who stand up and say, “I don’t believe it is a sin.” BLADE: Do you feel the rate at which that is happening is encouraging or will we still be debating this in 20 years? GOLD: Mayor Pete has the opportunity to create a seismic shift and he has that opportunity because he’s willing to talk about it in a way that people understand, in a way that our LGBT advocacy groups don’t talk about it. It’s not enough to win an election or win a court case, we have to continue educating people and getting them to understand the harm they’re doing to people … to understand why they have to change their voting habits. BLADE: Bob, do you follow these issues as closely as Mitchell? WILLIAMS: Not quite as closely as Mitchell but my husband is on the board for OUTright Youth so I hear a lot of things that are going on because of him and also being out in the community, being a big part of that.
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Continues at losangelesblade.com
Yards to ‘Envy’ One of the stars of Bravo’s “Backyard Envy” talks about working with friends, making backyards beautiful and supporting LGBT people By CRYSTAL SCHELLE
From small intimate New York backyards to sprawling hills In the suburbs to transforming a Manhattan parking lot into a tropical oasis — complete with live palms — the trio from Manscapers New York have tackled almost every space imaginable. James DeSantis, one-third of the exterior and interior design team, hopes that those who tune in to watch the three friends get their hands dirty in Bravo’s “Backyard Envy” can take away some helpful gardening tips, but also see three best friends. Check local listing for air times. To catch up on this season, watch full episodes at bravotv.com/ backyard-envy.
It started with a party Manscapers NY got its start when DeSantis was living with his best friend Melissa “Mel” Braiser in New York. The two had met while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and were both pursuing careers in interior design. They were also known to throw some good parties for Garrett Magee, their best friend who had an extensive landscaping background. And it was transforming Braiser and DeSantis’ small backyard into an outdoor living space that was the talk of the party more than the drinks. DeSantis said they would hear remarks from “fabulous people” about their designs. Then those people started asking them to redesign their backyards. “One of our first clients was in fashion. Most of our first clients came from that world of design and fashion because those were the people that we know,” DeSantis says. “They let you have a little more of creative freedom and are more understanding of the creative process and trial and error. We really are not trained landscape designers. We consider ourselves exterior designers. I think that’s what makes us different. Because we had practiced interior design for so long, we just translated all of those things and all the elements and principals of good design as
well, and we took them to the outside.” By that time they had had successful careers in their own right: DeSantis worked for Ralph Lauren, Braiser worked for elite clients in construction and design and Magee was a respected landscape designer. But as more jobs came in, the friends decided that maybe they had found something that allowed them to work together. That’s when they founded the Williamsburg, Brooklynbased Manscapers New York.
Go for green Transforming outdoor spaces in a fourseason climate where backyards are notoriously tiny has had its challenges, DeSantis says “Number one, New York City is a very small space-driven design palette. There are those constraints and then the actual constraints of the weather here,” he says. That means understanding the type of plants that can survive a brutal New York winter, but still give their clients some greenery doing those cold months. “There’s definitely a learning curve there. Garrett is really our plant expert, which that’s what helps our relationship. We all are experts in this sort of exterior design and we all do know a lot about design and we all do know a lot about plants, but also let each other shine on certain issues,” he says. “Like I have no problem deferring to Garrett and saying, ‘Hey, what plant is good for this shady backyard?’ or asking Mel, ‘What type of stone is going to look great with this oak tree but isn’t going to stain?’ I do my business and clients relations and design stuff. We pick up each other. … That’s what’s kind of amazing of three people running a business.”
We are family At the core of the show, and their real life, is their friendship. And although some might say getting in business with friends is a bad
idea, DeSantis says for them it’s never been an issue. “I don’t think it hinders us, because we do know how to approach each other. We’ve known each other for so long and so well that like we know when someone’s buttons are being pushed, so we know when to back off too. Some of us — I’m not going to mention any names — have a hard time shutting off business sometimes, remembering that when we’re not working we’re still friends. Sometimes we have to say, ‘OK today’s not a work day, today’s a friend day. And that’s trial and error, too.” Their friendship existed before their business and subsequent show and DeSantis says it always will continue long after the show. “I don’t think these two people are ever going to be anyone I cannot see in my life or that it’s ever going sour,” he says. “You know that when you work with people. We have supported each other through everything. Once you’re friends and you also share a bank account, it could change things, luckily for us it’s always been very positive.” In this season of “Backyard Envy,” DeSantis’ father, David, a well-respected metal works artist, makes an appearance on the show. He builds a special light for a wedding arch for one of Manscapers’ clients. “It was amazing. I’ve worked with my dad on and off for 12 years, since I’ve been in design,” he says. DeSantis says his father has always been his go-to person when he needs anything in metal. “When I used for Ralph Lauren, he would build a lot of custom furniture for us, and he still has Ralph Lauren as one of his clients still today,” he says. “It’s been great. We just did this huge event last week for the New York Botanical Garden as contributing designers this year, and we did a big installation and my dad built a bunch of furniture for us, which all got purchased, which was great.”
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James DeSantis says it never occurred to him not to be out on TV. Photo courtesy Bravo
Gay pride DeSantis, who’s openly gay, says it never crossed his mind to worry about exposing his private life on TV. Mostly because of reality shows like the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and the rebooted “Queer Eye” allowed he and his castmates to be who they are on and off the screen. “I actually thought of it always as a selling point,” he says. “In my mind it was just two fabulous gay men and a beautiful woman in New York who have an interesting relationship.” That means all types of audiences will find something in the show. “I think we have something for everyone. Garrett has that ‘70s porn star look, and I’m like a funny bear and Mel’s is an amazing looking contractor and she’s straight, appeals to everyone. To me, it was like, ‘Oh we’re checking all the boxes,”’ he says. It also helped, he says, that they were going to be aired on Bravo, which has always been known as an LGBTQ-friendly network. “ I wanted ours to be a LGBT TV show because that’s how we consider our business,” he says. “We started catering to gay men in Chelsea. We have hot guys who wear tank tops (called the Mannies) to work who dig your bushes and plant your holes. Our entire
staff is gay, actually like 95 percent are gay. Not because for any reason, it’s just that those are the people that we know and who works for us.” They also had the support of their producers World of Wonder. The production company produces other LGBTQ-friendly shows such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” “We knew we were in the right hands, if we were going to have a show with two main characters who were gay it would be with World of Wonder,” he says.
Giving back With their newfound celebrity, DeSantis says it has encouraged them to give back even more to the LGBTQ community and using their new status to help. “I think anytime you become a public figure or a person in media and you have attention on you, you have to step up a little bit,” he says. One of their newest projects is working with the South Hamptons estate of the late LGBTQ activist Edie Windsor. Many fundraisers that benefited the LGBTQ causes were held on her estate and with the new project, Manscapers NY are hoping to give it new life as the fundraising continues. DeSantis says they hope to feature the project next season. On
April 25, they also are doing a charity event for Housing Works for AIDS research. All three give back as much as they can to the community as much as they can. “Mel’s straight but she’s a huge supporter, she gives up a lot of money and her time because everyone in her life is gay except her husband,” he says with a laugh.
Changing minds Sure, DeSantis says they want people to watch their show for great design tips, but he also wants viewers to see stereotypes broken. “My goal always for this show was to show a reversified gender roles on the way we do things. Mel is such an amazing strong character as a woman that does building and constructing projects. She really does. It’s not bullshit, it’s not just for TV, that’s always been her role in her company,” he says. And in the media where gay men are portrayed as either flamboyant or drag queens, DeSantis says he and Garrett show that gay men come in all types. “It just demystifies for some people in Middle America that a gay guy can pick up a hammer or dig holes or do work with their hands,” he says. “We’re not all just hairdressers and fashion stylists. … I hope it can show people we’re not all the same.”
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Revisiting ‘Falsettos’ Classic early ‘90s Broadway hit feels both dated and honorific By JOHN PAUL KING
Max Von Essen and Nick Adams as Marvin and Whizzer in ‘Falsettos.’ Photo by Joan Marcus
When William Finn and James Lapine won Tony Awards for “Falsettos” in 1992, their musical already had a performance history dating back more than 10 years. The show began life as a trilogy of Off-Broadway one-acts (“In Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” and “Falsettoland,” in 1979, 1981 and 1990, respectively) that centered on an upper-middle-class New York Jewish man named Marvin, who leaves his wife for a male lover but wants to raise their son together as one large, unconventional family. It’s worth bearing that history in mind as you watch the National Tour of 2016’s revival production, currently onstage at the Ahmanson. Thinking of “Falsettos” as a theatrical snapshot of an era helps remind us there’s a reason for its enduring significance — something that might be helpful when confronted with the petty, willful, vicious and insufferably selfcentered characters that inhabit it. During the first half, we watch as Marvin tries to navigate (in song, of course) the twists and turns of raising his son Jason, whose neuroses are already developed to near-Woody-Allen level, with both his ex-wife Trina and his male partner Whizzer at his side. Trina is not entirely sold on the arrangement and has a hard time keeping all her resentments at bay; Whizzer is vain, shallow and perhaps promiscuous on the side, and his tumultuous relationship with Marvin is as much a competition as a love affair. Then there’s Mendel, a therapist who treats both Marvin and Trina, but who’s also in love with Trina and on his way to becoming part of this already-complicated family himself. By the time we reach intermission, we might be wondering why we should care about such an unlikable crew. In act two, it’s two years later. Mendel and Trina are now together, Marvin and Whizzer are not, though Whizzer is still a part of the picture, thanks to his close relationship with young Jason. Now included are Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia, the “lesbians next door,” who provide a welcome representation of healthy relationship goals. As plans for Jason’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah consume the family conversation, Whizzer falls ill with the mysterious illness Dr. Charlotte has been seeing lately in her gay patients and suddenly the family is pulled together by something bigger than their petty squabbles. Sticking with them all the way, we get to see them redeemed by their discovery of the importance of love and family over the self-centered, fear-based concerns that tend to tear us apart. The “falsetto” motif helps evoke a theme of fragile, emotional immature masculinity (something that drives the show) and the bittersweet experience that finally unites Marvin’s family affords them (and us) the opportunity to grow. It’s a grueling journey we’re asked to go on with these people, though. While each have their endearing traits, it’s sometimes hard to care enough about them to want to see them all the way through. Finn’s clever, funny and biting score fills the show with superlative moments that go a long way toward earning the
emotional power of its climax, though it might be argued that once it comes, it pushes a little too far into “tearjerker” territory, but that’s a matter of taste. It’s the historical perspective, though, that makes this “Falsettos” resonate more deeply than expected. Seeing it as a product of an era liberated by the “sexual revolution” but also known as the “Me” decade, the story of a married man who comes out of the closet but wants to keep both his family and his boyfriend was obviously part of a groundswell of groundbreaking narratives documenting cultural change; in addition, if Marvin and his loved ones bruise themselves and each other in their efforts to build an “alternative family,” knowing they live in a time before that was even a “thing,” makes it possible to forgive them, a little, for being so terrible at it. Likewise, the raw immediacy of emotion with which the show evokes the dawning of the AIDS epidemic has the unmistakable authenticity of springing from the very heart of that historical moment. These characters once went through these experiences in front of audiences who were going through the same things; watching them now, so many years later, permits us to reflect on how much has changed (or not changed), while still reconnecting us with the tragic realities of that time. This revival, directed by Lapine himself (he also directed the original Broadway production), plays hard to the show’s strengths, which almost makes up for some of its weaknesses. The theatrical staging, utilizing a giant “puzzle cube” of interlocking pieces which are continuously reconfigured by the players throughout the story, keeps us constantly in mind of the show’s presentational nature and the surprisingly intricate, often athletic choreography by Spencer Liff springs out with larger-than-life vigor. The cast is a talented ensemble of heavy hitters who acquit themselves well with the difficult material. Eden Espinosa, as Trina, is the show-stealing standout; her brassy belt is behind some of the evening’s biggest moments, like her kitchen soliloquy song, “I’m Breaking Down.” Also worth singling out is Nick Adams, whose rakishly charming Whizzer manages to be the show’s most sympathetic character despite his seeming selfishness; a bonus is his chemistry with Max Von Essen’s Marvin, also deftly played. Ironically enough, the quality of the production underscores another of the show’s inherent flaws. It’s a piece that began life as intimate theater, performed in small venues where every nuance could be seen; blown up to the level of Broadway spectacular, it feels a little overstuffed — ingenious modular set notwithstanding — and the need to play “to the back of the house” sometimes bulldozes over the smaller subtleties. Even so, it’s an honorable rendering of “Falsettos.” It may never rise to the level of the musical’s ambitions, but it creates some beautiful moments as it tries; perhaps more importantly, it serves as a kind of historical marker in the landscape of queer culture, and as such, it’s worth a visit.
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Asian Pacific Film Festival blooms with queer offerings ‘Halwa,’ ‘Swimming,’ ‘Zero Park’ and ‘NORMAL’ among standouts By JOHN PAUL KING
‘Engaged,’ follows Darren as he stumbles to engage to his partner Elliot. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
One of the best things about being a movie lover in Los Angeles is the rich, diverse array of film festivals that convene in our city every year. We get to experience the cinematic expressions of artists all over the world and we’re afforded the opportunity to see things that most other cities will never see, at least on the big screen. One of the most revered of these is the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, dedicated to showcasing films by and about Asians and Pacific Islanders around the world. Named by MovieMaker Magazine as one of “The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017,” it makes its 35th annual return to L.A. from May 2-10, when it will be screening a wide variety of movies as various venues around the city. This year’s festival showcases several short films in its LGBTQ category and while there are a multitude of worthy entries participating in the festival overall, it’s some of these that might be of particular interest to Blade readers. “Halwa” is a short by co-writer/directors Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta about an emptynester who attempts to find some joy in her broken marriage, until she learns about the passing of her childhood companion’s spouse on Facebook. Having been disconnected from this woman for over 30 years over a misunderstanding, she finds the courage to reach out to send her condolences. They reconnect, sparking friction when her controlling husband finds out. “Swimming,” from director Anna Chi, follows an American-born Chinese teenager trying to handle her possible homosexuality, who struggles when her 3-month-old half-sister seems to have stolen the attention of the entire family. “Zero Park” is a coming-of-age story from director Nick Neon about a young man who visits home for the first time in years with nothing to show for his time overseas. Old tensions come to a head when he confronts his homophobic sister over a deeply dysfunctional family dinner, before he learns that the first step to finding your path is admitting you are lost. “Rani” comes from writer/director Hammad Rizvi, and focuses on its title character, a socially outcast transgender woman as she sets out to take care of an abandoned child in the streets of Pakistan. Determined to do the right thing, she persists amid waves of challenges. “Gentleman Spa” is director Yu Jhi-han’s film about Hao, a chubby gay man, who works as a janitor at a gay spa. For him, romantic relationships are an unreachable dream. One day, an attractive customer, Kai, walks into the place, and Hao has the opportunity to massage him. However, things do not go as smoothly as Hao expected. “Engaged” is a film from David Scala, which follows Darren, who keeps trying and failing to propose to his boyfriend Elliot. When their relationship is put into an uncomfortable spotlight during a friend’s outrageous engagement party, Darren realizes he actually might be selfsabotaging himself due to unresolved insecurities about his sexuality. “Glorious Mrs. Kim” is an exploration by director Monica Cho of the gap between immigrants who leave their identities behind to adapt to a foreign country, versus their children, who as second generations, freely pursue what they want. It raises questions about whether the Internet’s community-building nature can be relevant for older immigrants and LGBTQ acceptance. “Spinsterhood” is a short from Jhanvi Motla, exploring the clash between cultures, beliefs and generations. Sara Chatterjee, a 29-year-old first generation, Indian-American, is terrified of coming out to her parents. Meanwhile, her parents are horrified she’s single at 29. Sara navigates coming-out, Indian traditions and her parent’s obsessive matchmaking. In addition to the shorts, there are a couple of LGBTQ features. “Leitis in Waiting” is a documentary about Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of native transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in their South Pacific Kingdom. Their emotional journey reveals what it means to be different in a society ruled by tradition. “NORMAL.” is the story of a couple’s struggle to find an intimate connection when a husband is unable to have sex with his wife after watching her give birth to their child. Director Mragendra Singh’s uses his feature film debut to explore the evolving notion of returning to the status quo, of adjusting to life when the specifics of being “normal” have changed. “Song Lang” is director Leon Le’s “stylized paean to cải lương (a form of modern Vietnamese folk opera)” which is also “a queer romance and gangster film.” Set in Vietnam in late 1980s, it’s the story of a thuggish debt collector who becomes fixated on a young performer in a troupe that owes him money, leading to an unlikely quasi-courtship that takes root just as fate intervenes. For a complete list of films at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, along with information on venues and tickets, visit festival.vcmedia.org.
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Within moments of Netflix’s new dark comedy “Bonding,” you might well be ready to break out the bull-whip, visit a sex dungeon and/or indulge in some non-vanilla fantasies wearing your best black latex outfit. The series profiles Pete (Brendan Scannell) a young gay man in New York City, who stumbles into the world of BDSM when his dominatrix bff Tiff (Zoe Levin) asks him to be her assistant. The series is loosely based on the real life of gay writer/executive producer/ creator Rightor Doyle, who at the age of 22, stepped into a world he was not quite ready for. “I had a friend who had become a dominatrix, so for extra cash I would go with her as her bodyguard/assistant,” Doyle told The Blade at the series’ premiere. “It wasn’t something I thought to write about until it became a very popular ‘dinner party story’ for me to tell. As I got some distance from the experience, I also saw just how much it had shaped and changed the ways I thought about sexuality and shame. So the seed for the show began to form there.” Doyle, who also stars in HBO’s “Barry,” wrote the pilot in some form three years ago now and then pitched the concept around. “Once we got funding, I had only two months to write the whole show before filming. So it was a fast and furious process,” he says. Writing and directing started as a way of gaining some control over Doyle’s acting career. “Stepping into other people’s worlds and exploring them. Getting into not only the character’s brain, but the brain of the creator to find tone, story and surprises. But the downside to being an actor is a real lack of control. ‘Will you get the job? Will they cut your lines? Will you be asked to do something you can’t do?’” This is why writing and producing eventually became Doyle’s passion. “I love the creativity and collaboration of being at the helm of a project. I love having my actors and my crew inspire me. That’s the most exciting part.” Doyle is still friends with his dominatrix pal. “She was a wonderful resource and fact-checker for things I was unsure of. She read all the scripts and has been so supportive of the show.” While have been many versions of the BDSM world on TV and film, most often times, it’s depicted as salacious and scary, acknowledged Doyle. “I wanted to approach it in a more fantastical way. ‘Bonding’ is attempting to invite people into a conversation about sexuality, kink and power, rather than scare you away. We all have a kink, we just may not call it that. I wanted to shed light on that part of the world.” Gay/queer actor Brendan Scannell steals every scene he’s in — yet another refreshing aspect of the well-written series. “We shot in New York and finished the whole thing in a month,” Scannell says. “We got to shoot in all these fun sex dungeons in Chelsea that are actually used in the evenings, so it was pretty wild. We were all running around exploring the different rooms while the dungeon workers who let us were very unimpressed by our film crew and kept shrugging and saying (Showtime’s) ‘Billions’ was here last week.” Working with Doyle was a privilege for Scannell. “The story is based on a true experience of his, so it felt like the whole shoot was very special. Also, we shot on a microbudget, so you could tell the whole cast and crew was committed to the story more than the paycheck.” Scannell equally loved working with the Mistress Mae aka Levin. “Zoe Levin is a force, and she and I really connected. The chemistry you see on screen is real: I love her and she sort of terrifies me. The rest of the cast were all pleasures to work with, and I especially enjoyed scenes with Theo Stockman, who plays Pete’s love interest.” Scannell’s character gets to do some surprising things that might shock viewers. But the biggest challenge? Getting into the leather pants. “It takes a lot of lube FYI,” he says. “Other than that, shooting in New York was a new experience for me. In Los Angeles, you’re often in a studio far away from the world, but we shot in the streets of Chelsea and people would walk by either completely unfazed or shouting at us.”
Netflix takes it to the limit with ‘Bonding’ New series loosely based on true events follows young gay guy on BDSM New York adventures By SUSAN HORNIK
In ‘Bonding,’ best friends from high school Tiff (Zoe Levin, left) and Peter (Brendan Scannell) reunite in New York City after years of growing distant. Tiff offering Peter a job happily agrees. Unbeknownst to Peter, Tiff hides a sexy secret and she soon reveals the job he’s accepted is to be her assistant … but as an assistant to her Dominatrix persona. Photo courtesy Netflix
26 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Multi-edged humor Playwright John Bunzel’s ‘Boxing Lessons’ plumbs thorny family secrets By JOHN PAUL KING
Bruce Nozick, Stephen Tyler Howell and Luke McClure in ‘Boxing Lessons,’ written by John Bunzel, at The New American Theatre. Photo by Enci
John Bunzel says of himself, “I’m an equal opportunity offender.” Formerly a writer on TV shows like “The Wonder Years,” among others, Bunzel has built a solid reputation in the local theater scene for his black comedies about sex, money and bad behavior. “I find humor in love, sex, sexual orientation, family, money and neuroses,” he says. “I make fun of it all.” His newest play “Boxing Lessons” is having its world premiere run at the New American Theatre beginning April 26. Offered by the critically acclaimed theater company as a celebration of its one-year anniversary in its new home on Wilton Place, it’s directed by theater founder Jack Stehlin and features a top-flight cast in the company’s newly refurbished space. Bunzel’s multi-edged humor is this time turned toward a story about the family and friends of a famous writer, who gather in his cabin after he dies under mysterious circumstances. As they go through the clutter he’s left behind, hidden family secrets come to light that shake everyone’s understanding of their relationship with him and with each other. “The core of the play is about a family that comes together to deal with the death of its patriarch,” Bunzel says. “And he happens to be a famous writer, so I think there’s one dimension of the play that’s about how to deal with when a famous person passes away, how the stakes get a little bit higher, but really, though, it deals with the things they find out, the truth about their the man their father really was that they only learn after he’s gone.” The play was “certainly influenced,” he says, by the conflicted feelings he had around his own parents dying, feelings that were based in “knowing about the world they came from, that I was raised in.” “It was a privileged type of upbringing,” he says, “that had its roots in a WASP-y New England. There were dos and don’ts about what you do with your life and what kind of a man you were going to become.” He built his play around unpacking the secret life of a man from that same privileged mindset. “Part of what this is about,” he says, “is how toxic secrets can be. There’s an unwinding of a multitude of secrets, that ultimately lead to a really big secret about the father.” Much of the play hinges on revelations, so it wouldn’t be fair to go into much detail about what any of them are. “This man, who has passed away, was someone who was locked into that world, where despite being enlightened — despite being a liberal, an artist, a progressive thinker — he was still full of all sorts of shame and guilt around his sexuality. What we’re really putting in front of people is that even in 2019, with so many people who are liberal in their thinking and their politics, they’re accepting of a gay and lesbian lifestyle, who voted Democratic their whole lives, who believe in a diverse world, but they still have a lot of shame and guilt around who they
are sexually.” Bunzel says the show is not just about sexuality. “I’m delving into a lot of different topics,” he says. As the truth comes out about dad, so do the various truths about the rest of the family and that opens the door to a lot of other topics, one of which he says is “the thin line between love and hate.” “It’s also about the anger and resentments we hold against our parents,” he says. “I think a lot of people struggle to be able to forgive.” He’s quick to add that the play is most definitely a comedy. “This should not be some heavy lecture or melodrama. I’m trying to attack it so that it has emotional resonance also makes people laugh at their own insecurity, their need to keep things secret. Dark comedy is a very difficult genre to tackle,” he says. “Essentially, it’s a tragedy that’s funny and if it isn’t funny, it doesn’t work. It actually seems kind of sick and gross.” With “Boxing Lessons,” the performers have an even more precarious tightrope to walk because the play is grounded in realism. What he hopes will connect audiences to the tone of the piece, which he calls “surprising and fresh,” is the universal nature of the characters’ experience. “I think people are going to be taken by how non-judgmental this play is,” he says. “It’s not commenting at all, beyond the fact that this family has spent years dealing with shame and wanting to hide the truth about themselves, for a multitude of different reasons. And the father — this was a guy who spent his life being a ‘man’s man,’ who everyone saw as being overtly heterosexual. I think this is something that people are going to identify with, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, OK, I knew a man who was like that,’ or they knew a family who found out something like that.” Ultimately, Bunzel says, despite its darkness, the play sounds a note of hope. “Without having an ending that wraps everything up,” he says, “where everything gets solved and everybody feels good, it gets to this place where we can take ownership of who we are and what we’ve done. Once we really admit that, we can take responsibility. Then there’s a path forward for us to get better.” In a time when our headlines are dominated by emerging secrets and our culture divided over how to reckon with them, does the playwright hope audiences will take home any kind of political message about taking ownership and moving on together? “If it helps them to think beyond the play into the world and our society,” he says, “then that’s terrific.” ‘Boxing Lessons’ New American Theatre 1312 N. Wilton Place April 26-June 2 newamericantheatre.com
323-347-7000 959 Seward St Los Angeles, CA 90038 located on the corner of Seward and Romaine in Hollywood
28 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
“Together” Photo courtesy SEEFF
Queer to Queer: A Live Comedy Read from the Lesbian Diaries of Anne Lister is tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Greenbar Distillery (2459 East 8th Street). Join Autostraddle and HBO for a very lesbian live read that is sure to make you swoon (and blush). Anne Lister lead quite a life. Born in 1791, Lister bucked all manner of 19th-century norms. She traveled abroad frequently and ran the family business herself, both of which would seem odd to her peers. Add to that her style of dressing — all in black, sans petticoats or stays — and her determination to marry a woman, and Lister really made waves. Times have changed and today she’s hailed as a lesbian pioneer. Cameron Esposito, Jasika Nicole, Rhea Butcher, Brittany Ashley, Gaby Dunn and Brittani Nichols will appear. “Gentleman Jack”-themed cocktails at Greenbar Distillery is what’s really guaranteed to make your day. Open bar serving beer, wine and signature cocktails from 8:30-10:30 p.m. Show begins at 9 p.m. For ages 21 and up only. Free.
SATURDAY, APRIL 27
Los Angeles Day on the Ride is today from 6 a.m.-4 p.m. at John Ferraro Athletic Fields (5101 Zoo Drive). Day on the Ride is a fully supported ride that simulates an actual day of AIDS/LifeCycle. Complete with themed rest stops, lunch and more, you won’t want to miss out. Check in opens at 6 a.m., ride out on the brand new route out of Griffith Park at 7:30 a.m. and pedal to the scenic foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, then back through Pasadena. Jersey Mike’s will be serving boxed lunches and burritos will be waiting for you at the finish line. Oh and did we mention themed rest stops and massages? Plus so much more. Don’t miss out on the most important prep day of the year. Just be serious and show up. Free. Homophobia’s Roots in the Aftermath of World War II is tonight at 7 p.m. at One National Gay and Lesbian Archives (909 West Adams). On the battlefields of World War II, with their fellow soldiers as the only shield between life and death, a generation of American men found themselves connecting with each other in new and profound ways. Back home after the war, however, these intimacies faced both scorn and vicious homophobia. The Mourning After makes sense of this cruel irony, telling the story of the unmeasured toll exacted upon generations of male friendships.
John Ibson draws evidence from the contrasting views of male closeness depicted in WWII-era fiction by Gore Vidal and John Horne Burns, as well as from such wideranging sources as psychiatry texts, child development books, the memoirs of veterans’ children and a slew of vernacular snapshots of happy male couples. In this sweeping reinterpretation of the postwar years, Ibson argues that prolonged mourning for tenderness lost lay at the core of midcentury American masculinity, leaving far too many men with an unspoken ache that continued long after the fighting stopped, forever damaging their relationships with their wives, their children and each other. “Simply Divine” is tonight from 6-9 p.m. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Blvd). Following its successful inaugural run at Hollywood Forever last year, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 14th annual Simply diVine will return to the fascinating landmark, best known as the final resting place to more of Hollywood’s founders and stars than anywhere else on earth. Guests will sample extraordinary food and drinks from L.A.’s most popular restaurants, wineries, distilleries, breweries and more. All proceeds support the center’s life-changing and life-saving programs and services. Looking for a more intimate experience? Get a onehour exclusive early entry to the main event at 5 p.m. with a Club VIP Lounge ticket, which includes private bartenders; tastings of rare wines and Tito’s Handmade Vodka; live music; celebrity chef experiences and more. Complimentary drive-on VIP parking included. Some of the restaurant partners include Border Grill, Bourbon Steak, Gracias Madre, Hinoki and the Bird, Hock+Hoof, Huntington Dining, Jaffa, Kismet, Lovely Eats, Pizzeria il Fico, Rossoblu, and Salazar. $150-500.
SUNDAY, APRIL 28
25th Annual Lavender Celebration: LGBTQ+ Commencement Ceremony is today from 2:30-6 p.m. at the University of Southern California (West 36th and Pardee Way). Celebrating our graduating LGBTQ undergraduates and graduate students by joining the LGBT Resource Center for Lavender Celebration at Argue Plaza.During this special ceremony, students’ identities are honored, their achievements are recognized and the community is brought together in celebration. There will be free refreshments and catering as well as gift bags for all graduating students. Everyone is welcome to attend this free event.
THURSDAY, MAY 2
“Together” is tonight at 8 p.m. at Lammele Music Hall (9036 Wilshire Boulevard). The Slovenia entry into the 14th annual South East European Film Festival features the North American premiere of Director Marko Šantic’s emotionally charged story of a gay Slovenian man who fights for custody of his deceased partner’s daughter tackles persistent prejudice and social obstacles facing same-sex couples. This screening is made possible by the RTV Slovenia. More programming info at SEEfilmla.org.
FRIDAY, MAY 3
“Valley of the Dolls,” A Benefit Staged Reading is tonight at 8 p.m. at The Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, Renberg Theatre (1125 North McCadden Place). High camp and quelle dramatique is an understatement as Steve Tyler Presents Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls,” a benefit staged reading of the screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley and Directed by Richard Hochberg. All proceeds benefit Alcott Center for Mental Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Join the following cast members: Steve Bluestein as Ted Casablanca/Claude Cardot, Wilson Cruz as Neely O’Hara, Joely Fisher as Narrator (Fri), Mo Gaffney as Bellamy, Robert Gant as Kevin Gilmore, Tom Lenk as Mel Anderson, Greg Louganis as Tony Polar, Alec Mapa as Anne Wells, Laraine Newman as Narrator (Sat), Sheryl Lee Ralph as Helen Lawson, Gordon Thomson as Lyon Burke, Joan Van Ark as Miriam Polar, Bruce Vilanch as Jennifer North, Marissa Jaret Winokur as Miss Steinberg. It doesn’t get gayer, OK?
SATURDAY, MAY 4
An Evening With The Clintons is tonight at 7:30 p.m. at The Forum (3900 West Manchester). Love ‘em or hate ‘em this is bound to be a newsmaking super event. The “I” word and all the arguments for and against are bound to be center stage as the world’s most powerful couple meets and greets and shows up for Los Angeles.
E-mail calendar items to firstname.lastname@example.org two weeks prior to your event. Space is limited so priority is given to LGBT-specific events or those with LGBT participants. Recurring events must be re-submitted each time.
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30 • APRIL 26, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
NYC may limit drug testing for cannabis in employment
A measure barring employers from drug testing certain job applicants for the presence of marijuana awaits Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s signature. Blade file photo by Michael Key
NEW YORK — Members of the New York City Council have approved a pair of municipal bills limiting situations where those seeking employment or on probation may be drug tested for the past use of cannabis. Council members overwhelmingly voted in favor of a municipal proposal (No.1445) barring employers from drug testing certain job applicants for the presence of marijuana. The proposal states, “[I]t shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer, labor organization, employment agency, or agent thereof to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.” Council members passed the bill by a vote of 40 to 4. Under the plan, employees seeking certain safety sensitive positions — such as police officers or commercial drivers — or those positions regulated by federal drug testing guidelines, would be exempt from the municipal law. The measure now awaits final approval from Mayor Bill DeBlasio. The new rules would take effect one year after being signed into law. Studies have identified the presence of the inert carboxy-THC metabolite in the urine of former marijuana consumers for periods of several months following their last exposure. Council members also advanced separate legislation (No. 1427) to the mayor’s office limiting situations in which persons on probation may be drug tested. Once signed, the new rules will take immediate effect. A resolution (Res. 641) calling on the New York City officials to expunge the records of all city misdemeanor marijuana convictions is pending. New York City police made over 78,000 marijuana possession arrests between the years 2014 and 2017.
Israel: Private cannabis use no longer criminal JERUSALEM — Israeli adults may possess or cultivate personal use amounts of cannabis in their homes, under new policies that took effect earlier this month. Under the amended law, which took effect on April 1, the private possession of cannabis is no longer classified as either a criminal or a civil violation. The possession or use of cannabis in public is punishable by a fine. In cases where an adult is in repeated violation of the law, police at their discretion may pursue a criminal investigation. The Times of Israel newspaper quoted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan as stating that the new limited legalization policy is an “important step” that “shift[s] the focus from the criminal process to fines, education, public information and rehabilitation.”
Portsmouth, Va. to dismiss all pot possession cases PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Officials for the city of Portsmouth (population 95,000) will no longer seek to criminally prosecute low-level marijuana possession offenses. “Effective immediately, please be advised that this office hereby moves for dismissal ... on all possession of marijuana charges in the Portsmouth General District Court,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie N. Morales stated in an April 8 correspondence to judges. In comments to local news media, Morales said that prosecutors ought to focus their limited resources toward more serious crimes. “It is really time we think about how we start to decarcerate as opposed to incarcerating for every type of crime,” she said. Under state law, first-time marijuana possession violations are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Her actions are similar to those recently taken in Norfolk, Virginia (population 255,000), as well as in a number of other major cities throughout the country, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Cannabis Culture news in the Blade is provided in partnership with NORML. For more information, visit norml.org.
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