O C TO B E R 0 4 2 0 1 9 • V O LU M E 0 3 • I S S U E 4 0 • 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 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Mother settles lawsuit against hospital after trans son’s suicide Staff allegedly ridiculed 14-year-old patient FROM STAFF REPORTS Katharine Prescott, the mother of a 14-year-old Vista, Calif., trans boy who took his own life after allegedly getting ridiculed by staff at Rady Children’s Hospital, has settled her discrimination lawsuit against the hospital. “14-year-old Kyler Prescott had experienced suicidal thoughts and selfharming behaviors related to his gender dysphoria. Alarmed, his mother Katharine took him to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, where she believed he would receive competent medical assistance,” wrote Atlanta, Georgia-based attorney Sarah Gehring in an October 6, 2017 article for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Instead, hospital staff inflamed Kyler’s distress even further. Even though they knew that Kyler was a transgender boy and that — particularly in this vulnerable point in his life — recognizing his gender identity was critical for his health and well-being, the staff refused to treat him like a boy. Instead, they reminded him again and again that, as far as they were concerned, he was
Katharine Prescott holds photo of her trans son Kyler. Photo courtesy National Center for Lesbian Rights\
a girl, repeatedly and intentionally calling him ‘she’ even after his mother begged them to stop putting her son’s well-being in danger. One employee, for example, told him, ‘Honey, I would call you “he,” but you’re such a pretty girl,’” Gehring wrote. After Prescott took his life on May 18,
2015, his mother filed a 2016 discrimination lawsuit against the hospital. She was represented by Amy Whelan with the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “He ended up getting worse, not better, and they ended up discharging him early,” said Whelan in an interview with KNSD,
NBC7 San Diego. “We just need to do better as a society to support these kids and make sure they are safe,” added Whelan. “Even here in California there are widespread problems of medical providers and offices not being informed about and skilled at treating transgender patients.” Whelan told NBC 7 that “Katherine Prescott’s chief motivation in filing the lawsuit was to improve treatment of transgender kids in healthcare settings.” Although Prescott declined to comment on the settlement, Whelan told NBC 7 that she is relieved to have this case behind her and that she continues to advocate for transgender children and their families in her son’s honor. A spokesperson for Rady Children’s Hospital wrote in an emailed statement: “While we cannot comment further due to confidentiality requirements, our top priority is providing the highest level of care to our patients and families. We are particularly proud of our expanded Center for Gender Affirming Care where we seek to provide comprehensive, compassionate, up-to-date care and support to transgender and gender diverse youth and their families.” Whelan says the lawsuit was settled in September.
LA LGBT Center Culinary Arts Program wins major grant Inter-generation program teaches new skills FROM STAFF REPORTS The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Culinary Arts program was awarded a two-year, $300,000 grant to support its intergenerational training program for homeless LGBTQ youth and low-income LGBTQ seniors. “Our unique Culinary Arts program is helping our youth and seniors thrive in the food and hospitality industries—thanks to the generosity of The Eisner Foundation,” said Center CEO Lorri L. Jean in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Blade. “Nearly a quarter of the 65,000 LGBT seniors in Los
Angeles County live on $999 or less each month, and many of them are faced with the decision to re-enter the job market. On the other side of the spectrum, nearly 60 percent of our youth members experiencing homelessness have told us they remain on the streets primarily because they cannot secure employment.” The program is the brainchild of LA LGBT Center Board of Directors member and celebrity chef Susan Feniger. It is taught by Executive Chef Janet Crandall, Executive Sous Chef Shirley Cho, and Sous Chef Arlita Miller, with Nick Panepinto serving as the program’s Director of Culinary Training and Operations. Taught at the Center’s commercial kitchen in the Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood, the 300-hour program engages youth, ages 18–24, to learn basic culinary
skills alongside students from the Center’s Senior Services programs. The program participants then assist with the preparation of up to 450 meals a day for the Center’s youth and senior clients experiencing food insecurity. Participants finish the program by completing a 100-hour internship at local restaurants, catering companies, and other food service businesses. “We’re so pleased that the Los Angeles LGBT Center has embraced intergenerational connection as a core value at their new campus,” said Trent Stamp, CEO of The Eisner Foundation. “This culinary training program is a great example of how inter-generational efforts can enhance an organization’s impact in a creative new way, and we hope others are inspired to follow the Center’s lead.” “To date, more than 40 students (both
youth and seniors) have already enrolled in the unique program—and they’ve been feeding hundreds of our clients every day from our kitchen,” LA LGBT Center spokesperson Gil Diaz told the LA Blade in an Oct 1 email. Last August, the Center was awarded a $159,973 grant from Cedars-Sinai to benefit its inter-generational Culinary Arts program. “Cedars-Sinai is particularly proud of the work we are doing among transition age youth in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Cedars-Sinai Chief Community Engagement Officer Jonathan Schreiber. “It’s critical to provide support and hope for this very vulnerable group to help alleviate both homelessness and economic insecurity.”
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04 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Equality California raises $1 million at 20th anniversary gala ‘We’re here, we’re queer and we’re Californians’ By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org There was something comforting about Equality California’s 20th Anniversary Awards ceremony Sept. 28. The soldout crowd of 1,200-plus people in the JW Marriott/LA Live ballroom not only applauded the notable honorees and the LGBTQ lobbying organization’s successful legislative history but celebrated a political and creative unity that has historically changed American culture in the midst of an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Transparent creator and new non-binary spokesperson Jill Soloway cheered the “wonderful young TikTokers complaining about their non-binary dysphoria” as she accepted Equality California’s Equality Visibility Award. Introduced by trans activist Alexandra Billings, who will make Broadway history in January taking over the role of Madame Morrible in Wicked, Soloway talked about how “queer and trans people are magic” and noted trans pioneers lost to history whose stories deserve to be told. “I am so privileged to walk this road paved by my transcestors,” Soloway said. The evening closed with a standing ovation for 27-year old trans pop star Kim Petras. CNN Republican commentator Ana Navarro served up some red meat, dishing on Donald Trump during her Ally Leadership Award acceptance speech after a saucy appetizer relaying how Gloria Estefan chastised her for going without hair and makeup. Navarro riffed on her gay friends and on how getting an award for supporting LGBTQ people in 2019 was like “getting a straight man an award for peeing inside the toilet bowl instead of the sink.” She got serious, too. “Prejudice against the LGBTQ or any group is about ignorance and insecurity and political gain,” Navarro said. “Bigotry, it’s like shoulder pads or bell bottoms—it’s an ugly trend that really should never come back, but it does. And its
Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur toasting the organization’s supporters Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Equality California
name is Trump.” Amy Quartarolo and her team at Latham & Watkins received the Community Leadership Award for their work representing Equality California in its Stockman v Trump lawsuit against Trump’s transgender military service ban and contributing almost $3 million in pro bono services. The award was presented by plaintiff Nicolas Talbott from Lisbon, Ohio who recounted his dream deferred by bigoted politics. “The Obama Administration’s decision to lift that ban told me and the transgender Americans across the country that we were worthy of serving our country, that we would be valued and supported like any other service member,” Talbott said. “But as powerful as that message was, so too was President Trump’s tweet just a little over a year later, which told me that I would no longer be allowed to serve. So alongside Equality California and six other transgender Americans, I joined one of four lawsuits to challenge this unfair, unconstitutional ban.” In a powerful and moving speech, attorney Andres Meyer, the President Emeritus of Equality California who formulated the organization intersectionality strategy, got real. “I believe we are faced at this particular moment in time with the great war of our movement. Our enemy has become more
cunning than ever. He’s cloaked himself in our rhetoric of tolerance and civil rights and in the same breath, incriminates us with false cries of religious persecution. And he is persuasive,” Meyers said. Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur drove home the deep commitment to full equal rights for LGBTQ people. He framed Equality California’s historical mission courageously leading on marriage equality and enumerated a number of bills that have impacted national attitudes and policies, such as enabling trans and nonbinary folks to up update their official state gender markers and banning so-called “conversion therapy.” “Yes, we face threats from the White House and an administration that’s hell bent on rolling back the progress we’ve achieved. But at every turn we keep moving forward because we in California have a special role in leading this movement – and doing so boldly. As my friend Congressman Mark Takano likes to say: ‘We’re here, we’re queer and we’re Californians,’” Zbur said. “We cannot and we will not rest knowing that members or our community or the diverse communities to which we belong don’t have full lived equality.” Echoing the late Harvey Milk, Zbur said, “Still, with so much work ahead of us, I have hope” because “we Californians have the courage and will to do it” until the work is
done. Then, sounding like an activist parent during the 1960s civil rights movement, or paraphrasing the Crosby, Stills and Nash song about teaching your children well, Zbur shared how the core principles of equality and social justice have been inculcated into his 10-year old twin boys, Ryan and Raffa, resulting in a call to the principal’s office. “Ryan and Raffa decided they were going to circulate a petition and when they didn’t get what they demanded, they decided they wanted to organize a walk out of their fourth grade class,” Zbur said. “When they complained later on that they were punished for fighting back against what they perceived to be super extreme injustice, and after explaining that It doesn’t quite wok that way in school, I explained to them that most people are punished for fighting injustice and that during the civil rights movement, the freedom fighters who marched on Selma were beaten and jailed and even worse. And Dr. King said, ‘freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.’ Or as Speaker Pelosi says, ‘No one gives you power. You have to take it from them.’” Zbur hopes that the next generation of leaders “don’t give a damn what the cynics have to say.” He later told the Los Angeles Blade that the gala had raised $1 million and counting.
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06 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Who can defeat Trump? The seriousness of the HRC/ CNN LGBTQ town hall By KAREN OCAMB email@example.com To paraphrase Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost,” democracy, you in danger, girl. This profound and dreadful moment in American history is worse than Watergate and far worse than the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinski because President Donald Trump has undermined public confidence in the very institutions of American democracy in his unquenchable thirst for unrestricted and unquestioned power. But a Democratically controlled House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s behavior and fitness for office does not mean the Republican controlled Senate will convict and vote to remove him from office. Trump has admitted to stopping congressionally authorized money to Ukraine to purchase weapons in their desperate war against Russia, which has already militarily annexed Crimea. That was before Trump called the president of the Ukraine and asked him, as a favor, to re-investigate his chief 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. An earlier investigation into the Bidens found no illegality, nothing untoward. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr also appear to have been caught up in this presidential abuse of power, as well as apparently trying to find evidence to support a right-wing conspiracy theory exonerating Russia from interfering in the 2016 elections. Twice on Oct. 2 Trump publicly ranted about his critics, insisting the impeachment inquiry is a “hoax” and a Democratic “coup” and dangerously targeting Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, saying Schiff should be arrested for treason. Schiff and other favorite Trump targets such as Rep. Maxine Waters have reported receiving death threats since 2017. Former CIA Director John Brennan has slammed Trump for not caring about protecting the security of the nation’s elections. On Oct. 2, Brennan tweeted: “Press conference with Finnish President shows @realDonaldTrump is a national disgrace
Vice President Joe Biden with Jewel Thais-Williams at a Pride event at the White House. Photo by Jamie McGonnigal
who deserves impeachment, conviction, & ouster from office. Republicans in Congress must abandon him now if they care about our country & have any hope of salvaging a political future for GOP.” In an interview with MSNBC while attending a March For Our Lives/Giffords Democratic presidential candidates forum on gun safety in Las Vegas, out South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed Trump’s latest rants. “The simple fact is that these rantings are not the words of the leader of a democracy. When you are being criticized, let alone when you are being called out for wrongdoing, responding by describing somebody who is calling you out or disagreeing as being ‘disloyal’ to the country because they’re being critical of you – this is the stuff of tinpot dictatorships, not the presidency,” Buttigieg said. “And it’s sad, not just for the president but for the presidency itself, for the country. Remember, this is the president
of the United States – your life and mine depend of the wisdom and judgement of the president of the United States. And these rants are a bad sign for all of us.” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had intended to participate in that gun violence forum but after an Oct. 1 event in Las Vegas the night before, he was hospitalized for treatment of chest pains that proved to be a blockage in one artery. Though the campaign said he was “feeling good” the next day, all appearances were cancelled “until further notice,” raising questions about whether he could or should attend the LGBTQ HRC/CNN Democratic presidential town hall on Oct 10. The “2020 Gun Safety Forum” was held the day after the second anniversary of America’s deadliest mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival that left nearly 60 people dead. It is another in a series of “issue-themed” forums and town halls sponsored by activists and hosted by
media outlets dealing with race, climate change and pay equity. The LGBTQ town hall will be held on the eve of a significant LGBTQ historic milestone—the 31st anniversary of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 That day was selected to commemorate the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. “This town hall comes at a critical time in our fight to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in this nation,” said HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “Today, in 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who we are. Thirty-five states have yet to ban the dangerous and debunked practice of ‘conversion therapy,’ which is harming our young people. Hate crimes are rising, and more than 100 transgender people — most of whom are transgender women of color — have been killed in the United States in the last five years.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • 07
March on Washington in 1987 Blade Photo by Doug Hinkle
Despite House passage of the LGBTQ civil rights bill, the Equality Act, a top priority for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take it up. Meanwhile despite empty promises to protect LGBTQ Americans that earned Trump a re-election endorsement from Log Cabin Republicans, the Trump administration continues to roll back much of the progress on equality made under the Obama administration. “Although the federal government should be protecting all residents, the TrumpPence Administration is directly attacking our community by banning transgender troops from serving our country openly, undermining health care services for people living with HIV, and seeking to erase LGBTQ people from protections under law,” said HRC’s David. The press release announcing the partnership between HRC and CNN included some polling data to help frame
the forum. “A Gallup poll conducted in May showed that 53% of Americans believe new laws are needed to protect the LGBTQ community’s civil rights, while 46% do not. Those numbers have stayed steady since the Gallup last asked the question in 2017,” the press release said. “The latest poll showed that 63% of Americans support legal same-sex marriage; that has risen substantially since 1999, when only 35% of Americans backed it.” Polls showing public support or lack thereof are often taken into consideration when elected officials and politicians make policy decisions. Public opinion also impacts reaction to Supreme Court decisions. Strong religious conservatives, for instance, still think Roe v Wade, which gave individual women autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive health instead of the government or their husbands, was wrongly decided or decided too soon for the public to accept. Brown v Board of Education
decided in 1954 that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, but institutional racism still flourishes. Though the Supreme Court ruled positively in granting marriage equality to same-sex couples, actually being equal is a different thing. Two days before the HRC/ CNN forum, on Oct. 8, the high court will hear three cases about LGBTQ employment discrimination that “will determine if federal law protects LGBTQ people,” writes Freedom For All Americans Chief Counsel Jon Davidson. “These are the most important cases in LGBTQ history since we won marriage equality. But, even if we win them, we still will need Congress to finish the job by passing the Equality Act, which would ensure express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.” It will be no surprise that the CNN moderators and invited guest questioners will ask Biden, former Housing and Urban
LOCAL Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer if they support and will sign the Equality Act. Nor will it be a surprise to hear them say they will end AIDS in our lifetime, reinstate trans military service, and stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people. But the donkey in the room is whether or not any of the candidates—including gay Mayor Pete—fully grasp that LGBTQ people are officially second-class citizens, officially subhuman—including white rich privileged gay men who think discrimination doesn’t affect them, until they are beaten up by some white supremacist who doesn’t care about their privilege. It’s worse, of course, for LGBTQ folks who are also a racial minority or an immigrant or disabled. Will CNN and the candidates treat LGBTQ people as if we are just another “issue” like climate change and gun violence? Here’s an illustration, substituting “Black” for “LGBTQ” in the paragraph about polls. “A Gallup poll conducted in May showed that 53% of Americans believe new laws are needed to protect the BLACK community’s civil rights, while 46% do not. Those numbers have stayed steady since the Gallup last asked the question in 2017.” Should LGBTQ civil rights be left up to how the majority feels about “the other,” the minority? That’s not far-fetched, as LGBTQ Californians know. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality after a four-year series of legal battles. That November, the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 initiative passed and suddenly what the state high court deemed was a “fundamental constitutional right” was stripped away from same-sex couples by the majority of California voters, though marriages between June and November were not voided and domestic partnerships remained, thus creating another discriminatory and painful two-tier status. When challenged, the California Supreme Court subsequently said the will of the people through the state’s initiative process superseded the rights of individual gays and lesbians who are not officially protected under federal law. So — when scrutinizing the Democratic candidates to see how they respond to specific questions — some expected to be crafted specifically for them
Continues on page 8
08 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Will CNN’s LGBTQ town hall address our second-class status? Continued from page 7 such as Harris and Warren on the rights of transgender prisoners to have medical coverage for transition and other health, wellness and safety needs—consider also whether that candidate would not only stand up to Trump but stand up against a backlash when taking an unpopular position in the polls but one that is morally and constitutionally pro-LGBTQ equality. Additionally, also consider if, as an LGBTQ voter, there is a certain responsibility to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. For instance, National Coming Out Day was conceived during the 1987 March on Washington when activists and regular people around the world came to the nation’s capitol to plead for help for people dying of AIDS. Many in the march that day were in wheelchairs or using the buddy system to hold on for one more day. Now the community crisis is visibly hitting the trans community, especially trans women of color who are still seeking their voices and rights without being killed. And the LGBTQ issue of identity will only get more intense. According to a new survey by The Trevor Project, more than 1 in 5 LGBTQ youth in the United States identify as a sexual orientation other than gay, lesbian or bisexual. How would the candidates protect non-binary individuals who refuse to be categorized by the government according to some pre-ordained, easy to count square box on a form? Who decides what is culturally competent in each of the administration’s departments? More than likely, the Democratic candidates showing up for the HRC/CNN town hall are there for more than chits at the LGBTQ ATM in SoCal. Looking at how Cory Booker affectionately hugged and lifted The Advocate’s Zach Stafford at the LGBTQ Iowa forum, for instance, one can tell he feels very much at ease with LGBTQ people. Same with Kamala Harris and of course, Pete Buttigieg. Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke’s youth and Elizabeth Warren’s teacher’s core suggest they, too, are comfortable with LGBTQ people without having to think about it.
Pete Buttigieg at The Abbey in West Hollywood Photo by Karen Ocamb
But for Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tom Styer, there’s a sense they very consciously evolved. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But with even the hint of “otherness” in the back of the brain as an “issue” and not thinking of LGBTQ people as flesh and blood human beings, LGBTQ people can be invisible, ignored, left out of a conversation, policy decision, left behind – even with a “we’ll come get you, we promise.” Trans folk and people of color have heard that one before ,even within the LGBTQ community. But, with assumed promises made to be included in policies, the most significant question LGBTQ voters must ask themselves is: who can defeat Donald Trump? Or even who can defeat Mike Pence, if Trump is impeached and Pence survives? Which candidates, if any, will use Trump’s hypocrisy and Pence’s religious cruelty toward LGBTQ people as part of their campaign to win the presidency? And how will they do it? “I look at the field of candidates and I can’t imagine a more qualified, electable, decent candidate than Joe Biden,” Michael
Lombardo tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m sure there are others there but in terms of my experience, I have utmost faith in him and I hope he gets the nomination. And I hope he wins.” Lombardo’s experience is having Biden meet his children with Sonny Ward, Johnny and Josie Ward-Lombardo, in 2012, where then-HRC President Chad Griffin asked Biden about his personal views on same-sex marriage and Biden “went over his skis,” to the surprise of the Obama administration. That same year, 2012, gay Republican political consultant and activist Fred Karger became the first LGBTQ person to seriously throw money, time and talent into running for president, hoping to square off against Mitt Romney in a debate. Now he’s backing Pete Buttigieg. “It was a tremendous honor to endorse Pete Buttigieg for president after meeting with him in Brooklyn in February of this year. He is so smart, thoughtful, reasoned and has the innate ability to get along with people on both sides of the aisle,” Karger tells the Los Angeles Blade. “Pete’s candidacy shows just how far
this country has come that an openly gay married man can raise the most money of all the Democratic candidates and be embraced by millions and millions of Americans. He has more centrist positions on many issues making him an ideal candidate to take on Donald Trump and win. While I am still a member of the Republican Party (barely), l see Pete’s election as our 46th president as the absolute best way to bring our divided nation back together.” But if Trump succeeds in ensnaring Biden in the muck and mire of the Ukraine scandal and if click-bait seeking pollsters ask if the public really wants to elect a gay man as president, could they defeat Trump? And if not the front runner and the smartest, then who? LGBTQ voters have an opportunity and a responsibility to seriously consider all the ramifications because, as Buttigieg said: “Remember, this is the president of the United States – your life and mine depend of the wisdom and judgement of the president of the United States. And these rants are a bad sign for all of us.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • 09
Rev. Elder Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, the ﬁrst Christian denomination dedicated to the LGBTQ community, is donating a collection of artifacts from the church’s 51-year history to the Smithsonian Institution. Perry and other church officials will present a 12-item collection of artifacts to Smithsonian History Museum official Katherine Ott Rev. Troy Perry and husband Phillip De Blieck at CSW at an Oct. 6 ceremony at the Pride parade. Photo by Karen Ocamb Metropolitan Community Church of D.C., one of the many MCC churches around the world that emerged following Perry’s founding of MCC in Los Angeles in 1968. “The artifacts include Rev. Perry’s Book of Common Prayer used in the ﬁrst Service of the Metropolitan Community Church held in his home in 1968, the ﬁrst same gender wedding ceremony, and for later HIV/AIDS funerals,” an MCC press announcement says. “Another artifact is a small cross made of stain glass from one of the destroyed windows of the original Los Angeles mother church [in an] arson ﬁre in 1973,” the announcement says. “There are twelve items in all in the collection.” In 2005, Rev. Perry retired from his position as moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches after 34 years of ministry. Perry “continues to strive for LGBTQ social justice,” the announcement says, including cheering on the Christopher Street Pride Parade that he cofounded with Morris Kight and Rev. Bob Humphries in 1971. The artifact donation ceremony for the Smithsonian will be part of a service at the MCC D.C. on Oct. 6 to celebrate the 51st anniversary of the MCC churches and will be presided over by MCC D.C. Pastor Dwayne Johnson. — LOU CHIBBARO JR.
“Just because you think it’s cute or funny to make somebody embarrassed or humiliate them, think again. Because if somebody would have realized that, my son would not be dead.” - Crystal Smith, mother of bisexual teen Channing Smith who took his life on Sept. 23 after being outed and bullied online, via the New York Times.
“Our community is inextricably linked to the biggest issue facing all of humankind today. It’s necessary for climate change to be a part of the LGBTQ platform, and for our community to make sure the candidates we support are unwavering backers of addressing this critical crisis.” - John Casey, Adjunct Professor at Wagner College, in Sept. 30 Advocate.com op-ed.
“Crosswalk art has a potential to compromise pedestrian and motorist safety by interfering with, detracting from, or obscuring official traffic control devices.” – Ignored letter from Federal Highway Administration telling Ames, Iowa city council their rainbow colored crosswalks violated federal rules, via LGBTQNation.com.
10 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
High stakes for LGBT Americans at Supreme Court Justices to determine if Title VII bans anti-LGBT discrimination By CHRIS JOHNSON The U.S. Supreme Court is set Tuesday to hear a trio of cases that will determine not just whether firing workers for being LGBT is legal under federal law, but will also have ramifications for LGBT people in education, health care and housing. At issue is whether anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, but says nothing explicitly about sexual orientation or gender identity. At a time when only 20 states have complete laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination, a Supreme Court ruling affirming Title VII prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination would guarantee federal protections across the board — even for LGBT people who live in states with no protections. But if the decision goes the other way, the ruling would leave LGBT people in those states with nothing. Ria Tabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a briefing with reporters the outcome of the decision will “in many ways” have greater impact than the marriage cases. “We’re talking about the ability to earn a living, the ability to support our families [and] the ability to secure a safe place to live,” Mar said. “I mean, this goes to the very heart of what it is to live and work in this country.” The Supreme Court agreed to take up the cases alleging anti-LGBT discrimination in April after they ended up with varied outcomes in the Second, Sixth and Eleventh circuits. Whichever way they rule, the decision will have a profound impact on civil rights law protections for LGBT people, particularly in employment. For starters, a decision against the LGBT workers would uproot the practices of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accepts LGBT charges in its enforcement of Title VII as a result of
The Supreme Court will hear three LGBT cases next week. Blade photo by Michael Key
changes made in the Obama administration. LGBT workers have made good use of these changes. According to data from the EEOC, LGBT workers have filed about 1,800 charges alleging anti-LGBT discrimination each year in recent fiscal years. Those charges, the latest data show, have resulted at least 1,300 merit resolutions in favor of the workers and at least $22.2 million in monetary benefits awarded since fiscal year 2013. That opportunity to obtain relief for workplace discrimination would be in jeopardy, if not outright eliminated, if the Supreme Court were to rule Title VII doesn’t cover LGBT people. But because other federal rights laws besides Title VII bar discrimination on the basis of sex without explicitly banning antiLGBT discrimination, the Supreme Court’s ruling will have an impact on areas besides employment. Among the federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination are the Fair Housing Act, the Affordable Care Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That means non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, health care and employment are at stake in the resolution of these cases. The ACLU’s Mar said, “civil rights laws often run in tandem with Title VII,” noting the Supreme Court decision will impact not just employment. “If the court says it’s perfectly lawful to fire someone for being LGBT, that is going
to have trickle down consequences as to how lower courts interpret similar federal statutes and prohibit sex discrimination in housing, and education and in health care,” Mar said. The high stakes for the Title VII cases are making many LGBT legal observers nervous amid a perception the Supreme Court has tilted to the right under the Trump administration. During oral arguments, all eyes will be on three justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — to determine which way they’re leaning. Roberts is a justice of interest because he’s considered the new moderate and swing vote in the aftermath of former U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy stepping down from the bench. Moreover, during the Obergefell arguments on same-sex marriage in 2015, Roberts included in his questioning a line suggesting he has at least considered the idea of sexual orientation discrimination being a form of sex discrimination. “I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts said. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?” (Roberts ended up ruling in the minority of the court, concluding that bans on samesex marriage are constitutional.) Observers will be watching Kavanaugh because he’s new to the court and doesn’t have a developed LGBT record. (The
exception is joining with the majority in April to allow the Trump administration to proceed with the transgender military ban.) Kavanaugh will be under scrutiny because many progressives are angry he won confirmation last year despite Christine Blasey Ford testifying he sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Kavanaugh continues to face calls for impeachment over this allegation and other reports of sexual misconduct. Finally, Kavanaugh suggested during his confirmation hearing he’d oppose anti-gay discrimination at the Supreme Court when he read a statement from the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “In Masterpiece Cakeshop, and this is, I think, relevant to your question, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice Gorsuch and Justice [Stephen] Breyer, the days of discriminating against gay and lesbian Americans as inferior in dignity and worth are over,” Kavanaugh said. When Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he agreed with that statement, Kavanaugh declined to answer on the basis that he couldn’t comment on court rulings during his confirmation process. For Gorsuch, expectations may be low given his previous support for religious freedom in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the expense of LGBT rights, but he has built a legal career on being a textualist. “Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best,” Gorsuch wrote in 2016. LGBT rights advocates have argued their belief Title VII covers anti-LGBT discrimination is a textualist argument, so will be looking to see if Gorsuch holds true to his convictions in the Title VII cases. Mar insisted the LGBT side in the cases “really have the more conservative side in the argument because we’re the textualists here.” Continues at losangelesblade.com
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12 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
‘They fired me because I came out as transgender’ Plaintiff Aimee Stephens talks pending Supreme Court case By MICHAEL K. LAVERS Aimee Stephens was working at Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, Mich., when she began her transition. Stephens said she was fired in August 2013 after she told her boss she is trans. “When they actually fired me, they said, ‘This is not going to work,’ meaning me transitioning into a woman at work,” Stephens told the Blade on Sept. 27 during a telephone interview with her lawyer, Jay Kaplan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT Project. “They basically fired me because I came out as transgender.” The ACLU notes Stephens’ wife, Donna Stephens, “became the sole provider for
A Michigan funeral home in 2013 fired Aimee Stephens after she told her boss she is transgender. The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8, will hear oral arguments in her case. Photo by Charles William Kelly; courtesy ACLU
their family, including Donna’s daughter in college” after Aimee Stephens’ termination. The family also had “to sell a number of possessions in order to make ends meet.” “Aimee eventually found another
job, but then her kidneys failed and she became dependent on dialysis treatments costing $21,000 a week,” said the ACLU in a backgrounder about Aimee Stephens’ case. “She no longer had insurance from her employer to cover the expense, but Medicaid and a foundation began to cover the expenses after the first month.” Aimee Stephens filed a complaint against the funeral home with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on grounds her termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bans discrimination based on sex. A trial court ruled Aimee Stephens was discriminated against based on gender stereotyping, but said Tom Rost, the funeral home’s owner, was exempt from Title VII because of his religious beliefs. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned the lower court’s decision. Rost, who is represented by the anti-LGBT
Alliance Defending Freedom, appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Aimee Stephens. The justices on Oct. 8 will consider Aimee Stephens’ case and two others with gay plaintiffs who were fired from their jobs. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether Title VII protects LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. Aimee Stephens told the Blade she is unsure she will be able to attend the oral arguments because of her poor health. She said her case has “been an eye-opening experience.” “You always wonder what goes on, what happens, what makes (things) tick, how do things get done,” she said. “One of the things I’ve noticed is the wheels of justice grind very slowly.” Continues at losangelesblade.com
Trans march on D.C. called ‘first major step’ in visibility campaign ‘There is a crisis raging across our country’ By LOU CHIBBARO JR. Organizers and observers said up to 3,000 people turned out on Saturday for the first ever National Transgender Visibility March on Washington in which scores of participants held signs proudly declaring their status as transgender or gender nonconforming Americans. The march kicked off at 11:35 a.m. on Sept. 28 from Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C. following the completion of a twoand-a-half hour rally. It traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., from 13th to 4th Streets, where the march ended four blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Among the speakers at the rally was trans actress of “Pose” and “American Horror Story” fame Angelica Ross, who made an impassioned call for unity, inclusiveness and compassion within the transgender and overall LGBT rights movements and those movements’ allies. Also expressing strong support at the rally for the march and trans rights were
Actress Angelica Ross made an impassioned call for unity, inclusiveness and compassion at the National Transgender Visibility March on Sept. 28. Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Alexander-Reid read an official proclamation issued by the mayor declaring Sept. 28, 2019, Trans Visibility Day in D.C. Many of the marchers carried signs saying, “Trans Lives Matter.” Several told the Washington Blade they were moved and
inspired as they walked past the buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue that they said symbolize the people and the institutions they are calling on to change to ensure their equal rights and dignity. Among the buildings the marchers walked past were the FBI Headquarters, the Trump International Hotel, and the Justice Department, which, under the administration of President Trump, has taken positions against transg rights in pending federal court cases. “This is amazing,” said trans activist Maggie Downs, who said she traveled from Florida to attend the march. “I’m here for black trans lives and trans children’s lives, and then my own rights,” she said as she walked past the Trump hotel. “We’re here not to be invisible, which is what this administration is trying to do to us,” she told the Blade. Marty Drake, an official with the Montgomery County Pride Center who marched with the group Maryland Trans Unity, said this was not the first time he has walked past the Trump hotel in a protest march. “It’s always a treat going by the Trump hotel in any march,” he said. “This group was
very polite. The shouts of ‘shame, shame, shame,’ were a lot politer than some of the other marches I’ve been at,” he said. “It was remarkable that a lot of people simply waved at the Trump Hotel.” Several speakers at the rally, including Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director at the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, said an important objective of the trans rights movement is securing passage by Congress of the Equality Act, an LGBT civil rights bill that includes strong protections for trans people. “Today’s march is about the power and visibility to get us equality,” he said. “At a lightening pace, Americans have seen our power at work as transgender people have moved from a side issue that our neighbors didn’t even know a lot about to a priority in the halls of power and the presidential campaign,” he told the rally. “A community long forced into the darkness is now finally stepping into the daylight,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “But what the grassroots organizers of this march and what you know is that progress for any of us is not enough unless it is progress for all of us.” Continues at losangelesblade.com
TO W N HALL
Tune into HRC Foundation’s Power of Our Pride town hall event co-hosted with CNN on October 10th. This historic Democratic presidential town hall devoted to LGBTQ issues will feature former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary Julián Castro, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, businessman Tom Steyer and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo. Find a watch party near you, or sign up to host a watch party at: hrc.im/TownHallWatchParties
14 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
LGBT issues a high priority for some Iowa voters Presidential forum highlights violence against trans women By CHRIS JOHNSON CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — LGBT issues, particularly issues facing black transgender women, ranked high among several LGBT voters in early primary states in choosing a Democratic candidate to take on President Trump in the 2020 election. LGBT people who spoke to the Blade in Iowa, the first state in the country to hold a contest in the presidential primaries, each ranked LGBT rights at the top of their lists in their decision for a Democratic nominee. Nicholas Schnerre, a gay 20-year-old teacher who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, said LGBT issues will be “the biggest thing” in his decision in backing a presidential candidate. “I think a candidate needs to fight to end conversion therapy, needs to fight for teachers experiencing LGBT discrimination within education, and fight for Truvada access,” Schnerre said. “So those are very important things that I’ve always cared about. But if you want to be the nominee, you have to show me that you’ll come to our spaces, and you will speak with not only words, but action.” Schnerre said he’s faced discrimination himself on the job in Iowa as a result of his sexual orientation, recalling a time when he said he spoke out for transgender students and was terminated. “I got called aggressive for speaking up for transgender students,” Schnerre said. “And that’s fine. Call me aggressive about my students are more important than transphobia.” Later on, Schnerre said he made overtures to get his job back, but said he was rebuffed and was told it was because he “didn’t respond like most gay people do.” Iowa is one of 21 states in the country where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is against state law. “So that’s here in Iowa, and that was supposed to be in a progressive space,” Schnerre said. “Obviously, we have issues with the conservative side being whiny homophobic, but I’m more worried about within our own party what things are going on because that was a Democrat that told me that, that fired me because of that.”
Nicholas Schnerre is among the voters in Iowa who backs Julian Castro. Blade photo by Chris Johnson
Based on those views, Schnerre said his top choice in the primary is Julian Castro, who as secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration implemented a rule barring discrimination against transgender people in federally funded homeless shelters. “Right now, it’s going to be Julian Castro for me,” Schnerre said. “I just believe in his message as a Black Lives Matter activist who’s marched with a lot of queer people that started that movement.” Schnerre said Castro’s history of activism and LGBT record during the Obama administration demonstrates his support for black transgender women, which he said “is a big thing for me.” “He’s advocated for years…being an ally to that community,” Schnerre said. “And I just trust him as a queer person based off what he did as former secretary of housing.” At least 18 transgender people have been killed this year alone, 17 were black transgender women. In a recent interview with the Blade, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said Trump is responsible for the anti-trans violence in the United States. The LGBT voters who spoke to the Blade for this article were present at the LGBT presidential forum on Sept. 21 at Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium, which was hosted by the LGBT media watchdog GLAAD. Bruce Teague, who’s gay and was elected in 2018 as counselor for the Iowa City Council, spoke to the Blade after the forum
wearing a Cory Booker T-shirt underneath a jacket. A Cory 2020 campaign button was pinned on his lapel. “I love Cory Booker,” Teague said. “He was a counselor, and then he was mayor and now senator. And so for me, If you look at his history, just what he’s done within the community, he’s been very progressive and outspoken for LGBT [issues] and so many other things.” Teague, who’s black and serves on Booker’s steering committee in Iowa City, said the candidate’s decision to continue to live in Newark, N.J. — a predominately African-American neighborhood “that is not the hoity, rizty area” — appeals to him. “And so he’s really been connected to the people,” Teague said. “I find that to be very of [a] quality that means a lot and it speaks a lot.” Teague said LGBT issues, which he said are related to issues facing black Americans, have been “extremely important” in his decision-making on whom to back in the 2020 election. “Not only do I think of the LGBT community being an oppressed community, but there are so many other communities,” Teague said. “I’m African American. And so, I really do believe whoever is our sitting president, or even the candidate that I will support has to have that within their umbrella.” Andrew Lenz, a gay 38-year-old who lives in Golden Valley, Minn., said LGBT issues will be “very important” in deciding his pick
for the Democratic nominee.. “I do believe that anybody who is up on that stage tonight would offer their full-throated support and endorsement to LGBTQ rights, much more so than the current occupant of the White House,” Lenz said. Lenz, who works in business intelligence, said his current pick for the Democratic presidential nominee is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg based on “his ability to articulate specific policy plans be they for housing equality, or for ending endless war.” “I like the fact that he is for Medicarefor-All-Who-Want-It as opposed to trying to push a specific policy proposal toward Americans who might be happy with their employer-provided health insurance,” Lenz said. Aime Wichtendahl, a 39-year-old transgender person who serves on the Hiwatha City Council, said every candidate at the LGBT forum — with the exception of Marianne Williamson — has an understanding of LGBT issues. “This is the first time, really ever, that we’ve actually had presidential candidates talk about LGBT issues, and more than just a single throwaway line or a single issue,” Wichtendahl said. “And the fact that we had a lot of discussion on transgender issues speaks to the degree that a lot of these candidates are interested in learning about the issues and enacting policies for them.” Wichtendahl said her priority for LGBT issues in deciding comes down to how he or she sees them in the context of civil rights issues across the board, including issues facing black transgender women. “I’m glad to see that we’re able to get a discussion of transgender women of color,” Wichtendahl said. “Basically, any candidate that doesn’t have knowledge of it or just rattles off talking points will lose my support in the caucuses.” During the LGBT forum, Wichtendahl said Buttigieg and Booker as well as Elizabeth Warren — who read the names of transgender people killed in 2019 in her opening statement — had strong performances. “You can’t bargain on civil rights,” Wichtendahl said. “It’s freedom and justice for all. Not for some, so anyone who can’t commit to improving justice won’t have my vote at the end of the day.” Iowa will hold its primary caucuses on Feb. 3.
16 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
VOLUME 03 ISSUE 40
My gratitude for a lifetime of service Jewel Thais-Williams being honored with square at The Catch
Jewel Thais-Williams will be honored at 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 5 when City Council President Herb Wesson officially dedicates the ‘JEWEL THAIS-WILLIAMS SQUARE’ at the former Jewel’s Catch One, 4067 W. Pico Blvd. (at Norton Avenue, three blocks east of Crenshaw Blvd.) for her many years of service to underserved communities. This event is free and open to the public.
The desire and ability to give is a gift. This gift is not given to everyone. And many who are called upon to serve do not answer the call. I am grateful that I was a chosen servant and thankful that there were many hearts and souls that chose to take this journey with me. My lifetime of service was motivated as a young child. One of seven children who grew up with very little, I watched my hard-working parents share the little we had with neighbors, family, friends and even strangers. It was a time in life where neighbors and neighborhoods were different. We shared with and looked out for each other. As a result of growing up in that type of caring environment I knew early on that acquiring a family of like-minded folk was something that would keep me going through the adversities of my internal crises – being Black, female, lesbian and the dreaded ‘darker skinned child’ – and all that
went with that. My first instinct to rid myself of all of the stigmas attached to the ‘who’ I was centered on becoming an entrepreneur in order to make money. I figured that with money I didn’t have to care about what people thought about me. After spending years working my way out of several jobs — a stint as a boutique owner, and finally opening up the Catch in 1973, which I’m proud to say grew to become the largest Black-owned nightclub in the country and the largest gay club in Los Angeles — I finally came to the realization that it wasn’t about the money. I truly found solace in helping others. And, the desire to help others ultimately led to activism. During the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s, I was led to help co-found the Minority AIDS Project and the Imani Unidos Food Pantry. We set up cots in the parking lot behind the Catch primarily to provide refuge for infected folk who had been turned away by their families and had no place else to go. With my long-term spouse, Rue ThaisWilliams, I co-founded Rue’s House, the first housing facility for women with AIDS and their children in the United States. Many lived and died there. It was a horrific time, but we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to impact the crisis facing us. Confronted with the continuing health crisis challenging the less fortunate, in 1998 at age 60, I earned a Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine and in 2001, I opened the Village Health Foundation. In addition to offering alternative healing methods for many of the preventable illnesses like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, we also offered a safe haven for those already impacted with chronic HIV/AIDS disease. Services at the Village expanded based upon need. Besides all of the health disparities facing the disenfranchised, including HIV/AIDS, herpes and the wide array of other sexually transmitted diseases,
we soon found that sexuality choices also brought with it a range of other problems including poverty, homelessness, and mental health concerns related to homosexuality, homophobia and transgender issues. Sometimes, dealing with these issues also led to drug use and abuse, alcoholism and other reckless behaviors. We had our work cut out for us. My ‘children’ needed help. But we were up for the task. As the family continued to grow, I became mother, father, sister and cousin to my many daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, employees and friends. In addition to treating and educating my ever-expanding family, through the Village we also offer services that include nutrition counseling and pain management. I discovered and reconfirmed over and over that giving to others actually is also giving to yourself. I never worried about giving. And, everything that I have given I’ve gotten back 100-fold. This has and continues to keep me going. Growing older I learned to take seriously the African proverb: When elders are lost, adults are lost; When adults are lost, youth are lost. We can’t afford to lose. There is too much at stake. Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to be remembered as a Champion for Justice. And as Dr. King also once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” I take that as an ongoing personal challenge to myself. I am grateful to have been allowed to play my part in positively impacting the lives of many by allowing my steps to be guided and by answering the call to serve. And, by the grace of God, I am thankful that I didn’t have to take this journey alone. Thank you to all who have been there with me.
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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • 17
‘Like I had the right to be here’ Title VII cases test court’s textualism
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Reach him at email@example.com.
The importance of the gay and transgender employment discrimination cases being argued before the Supreme Court on Oct. 8 is demonstrated by the wide array of amicus briefs submitted by legal groups, civil rights groups, advocates, academics, labor unions, religious groups, 21 states and the District of Columbia. Lacking space to list, much less analyze, them all, I will discuss just one brief affirming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, speciﬁcally its prohibition against discrimination “because of...sex,” protects LGBTQ employees. The brief was written by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz
(a member of Roberta Kaplan’s law ﬁrm) for four former Solicitors General and Acting Solicitors General and a former Associate White House Counsel. Tribe and Matz ground their argument in textualism and cite Justice Scalia in Oncale, regarding a man sexually harassed on an oil rig. They quote Justice Kagan, “we’re all textualists now.” Regarding claims that Congress did not have LGBTQ folk in mind when it passed Title VII, they write, “A statute’s meaning is distinct from how people may have expected the statute would apply when it was enacted.” They quote Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner explaining that, “the presumed point of using general words is to produce general coverage—not to leave room for courts to recognize ad hoc exceptions.” Tribe and Matz defend gender identity coverage: “Few forms of sex-based discrimination are more fundamental than ﬁring someone on the premise that they have misapprehended their own sex.” They defend sexual orientation coverage: “Even if Title VII is read as prohibiting only discrimination because of a person’s ‘sex’— understood as the status of being male or female—it bars employment discrimination based on sexual orientation because a person’s ‘sex’ (and that of his or her desired partners) is a motivating factor in such
discrimination.” Despite a clear textualist basis for applying Title VII to LGBTQ cases, I fear the court as currently constituted will apply an “original expectations” approach that better serves its conservative members’ animus, barring another legacy-preserving moment from Chief Justice Roberts or an unlikely epiphany in one of the Trump-appointed justices from Georgetown Prep (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh). The work that LGBTQ advocates are doing on these cases matters regardless of the hazardous prospects caused by Sen. McConnell’s refusal to consider Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland and Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016. The law lives, if at all, in its defenders and interpreters, as it does in those who seek its protection. Justice Blackmun’s bracing dissent from the Court’s anti-gay 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick ultimately prevailed 17 years later in Lawrence v. Texas. A decade later came marriage equality. Now we face a renewed backlash. As Langston Hughes asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Fifty years after Stonewall, black trans women are murdered, and cyberbullied students kill themselves. They have no timeless ShangriLa where they can wait, as Billy Porter recently quoted James Baldwin, to “walk
around this earth like I had the right to be here.” America will be a long time recovering from Trump-era vandalism, especially if Justices Ginsburg and Breyer are replaced with right-wing justices half their age, as would almost certainly happen in a second Trump term. In that case many of us will not live to see the victory. Let us remember that the National Museum of African American History and Culture has artifacts that were passed down by six, seven, and eight generations before reaching the hands of its founder, Lonnie Bunch, who surely felt the ancestors with him as he was named Secretary of the Smithsonian. 45 and his mob would plunge us into a dark age of know-nothingism and civil strife. I imagine a future explorer discovering forgotten legal battles, reading, wondering, nodding, experiencing a ﬂash of recognition—an old light ﬂickering on again. We never know when the time will come to pass the torch. Let it suffice that we carry it for a time, like those who plant trees in whose shade they will never sit. But as Monty Python said, we are not dead yet. Duty beckons. Win or lose, we have a country to defend. Copyright © 2019 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ at 20: rethinking trans actors Cis actress Hilary Swank won the Oscar playing a trans man but would it happen today? By JOEY DiGUGLIELMO
It’s been 20 years ago this month since the release of “Boys Don’t Cry,” the Fox Searchlight movie that depicted the true story of Brandon Teena, a trans man played by Hilary Swank, who adopts a male identity in Nebraska but is murdered in a hate crime. Directed by Kimberly Peirce, whose interest was piqued by a 1994 Village Voice article about Teena, the film was made for $2 million and made $20 million at the box office. It premiered Oct. 8, 1999 at the New York Film Festival and went into wider release later in the month. Swank won a bounty of awards for the role including prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Independent Spirit Award, the Golden Globe and the Oscar. It was both widely praised in reviews at the time and holds an 88 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s unlikely, though, that Swank would get cast in the role were it made today. With trans actresses Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross having been cast on the Ryan Murphy FX drama “Pose,” and Scarlett Johansson all but forced to withdraw last year from her planned movie “Rub & Tug” (she was to play a trans character based on Dante Gill, who ran massage parlors in the ‘70s and ‘80s that were brothel fronts) after a backlash ensued, many say it’s a new day for trans actors. Of Johansson, trans actress Trace Lysette (Shea on “Transparent”) who wrote on Twitter, “Not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived.”
CISGENDER BACKLASH Elle Fanning drew ire the year before for being cast in “3 Generations” as Ray, a female-to-male trans teen. A groundswell had been building with actors like Matt Bomer in “Anything” (2017), Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” (2015) and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) drawing muted but
Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her work in the 1999 movie ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’ Photo by Bill Matlock; courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures via Blade archives
present backlash. Conversely, on TV, trans actress Candis Cayne earned the distinction of being the first trans actress to play a recurring trans character on a primetime show when she played Carmelita on ABC’s short-lived “Dirty Sexy Money” (2007-2009). Trans actress Nicole Maines plays the first trans superhero as Dreamer/NiaNal on The CW’s “Supergirl.” In its latest report, GLAAD says there are 26 trans characters currently on TV, vs. 17 in its previous report. Leto ended up winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role. Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his and back in 2005, Felicity Huffman was nominated for playing trans in “Transamerica.” A trend was clearly at play — playing trans is Oscar catnip for cisgender actors. That’s a problem, working trans actors today say. “The Academy seems to see it as some heroic transformation, but is it any more a feat of acting than what, say, Daniel DayLewis did as Lincoln, or any number of great performances you could name,” says Samy
Nour Younes, a trans male stage and screen actor in New York. “Beyond the fact that they’re playing another gender identity, the roles are usually not that good. If you watch ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ ‘Transamerica’ or ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ which is the worst among them, they’re not particularly well written characters period, not because they assumed a marginalized identity, but we think there’s something inherently taboo or exotic, but in a stigmatized kind of way, about it. Like, ‘Oh, you’re so brave, you deserve an Oscar,’ when it actually wasn’t that great.” Younes says “Transparent,” the hit 20142019 (it just wrapped with a musical finale on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 27) show on which he guested twice in its fourth season, was a game changer just before “Pose” hit big. Although cis actor Jeffrey Tambor played Maura, a retired college professor who comes out as trans, creator Jill Soloway enacted a “transfirmative action program” for the show (cast and crew) where trans applicants were hired in preference to cis applicants. Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “Arrested Development”) left the show in late 2017 amid
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Indya Moore as Angel on ‘Pose.’ Moore is one of several trans actors in the cast, which has been a game changer for trans representation on TV. Photo by JoJo Whilden for FX
sexual misconduct allegations. “Just letting trans people in the room — directors, writers, consultants — makes a huge difference,” Younes says. “That’s when we start getting layered and nuanced characters that tell stories beyond their transitions, with interesting people. We’re seeing less and less of a need for the Eddie Redmaynes of the world who say, ‘Oh, I did so much research,’ which I call bullshit on that because if you’d really done so much research, you’d have an understanding that we’re not just some costume you can slip on which just helps solidify the Academy’s thinking that that’s all it is and playing trans becomes a farce.”
THE CASTING CONUNDRUM Tammara Billik, a veteran Hollywood casting director known for her work on “Married … with Children” and the famous coming-out episode of “Ellen” in 1997, says things have come a long way since the “Boys Don’t Cry” era. For one, she says, TV has come into a “golden age” that has “provided a lot more
opportunities for all kinds of inclusive roles.” “Not just with ‘Pose’ and ‘Transparent,’ but now there are a number of trans actors,” Billik, a lesbian, says. “I just read something about their being a trans actor in a series regular role on ‘The Politician’ with Ben Platt. I didn’t know anything about that. It’s happening without a big splash, it’s happening on weekly shows, so I think there is tremendous progress in terms of the trans actor community, particularly on TV.” Film, she says, is different. “When ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ came out, gosh, I don’t think I knew a trans actor at the time. … It certainly wouldn’t have been a time when a trans actor would have been cast. Now you would be hard pressed to cast that role with a cis actor,” Billik says. “You just wouldn’t do it, right?” She says the Johansson episode was “a giant shift.” “In both a good and bad way,” Billik says. “It’s good for the actors and a good way to show more diversity on television but we’ve also seen a backlash against particularly trans women of color. I’m not saying ‘Pose’ is
responsible for it, but people get angry when you show them the truth. We’re all wondering why so many trans women of color are being targeted for violence. Is it because we’re seeing their images more on TV, is it because people have been emboldened by Trump? I don’t know the answer to that.” It’s an issue GLAAD has been working on for years. Nick Adams and Alex Schmider, GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program team, work with TV networks, production companies, showrunners, script writers, casting directors and agencies as well as PR firms to help bring what it calls “fair and accurate representations for transgender people to the screen.” They say things are improving dramatically. “Hollywood is beginning to tell more accurate and well-rounded stories about transgender people and casting trans characters more authentically,” Schmider said in an e-mail comment to the Blade. “Not only are trans characters starting to be written with more nuance, complexity and humanity in the worlds in which they exist, but casting has also begun to evolve in positive ways.” By their count, there’s only one cis actor still playing a trans role on TV. The issue is a bit more complex, casting vets say, than “casting more authentically.” Alexa L. Fogel, casting director for “Pose” and a slew of HBO shows such as “Oz,” “The Wire,” and others, says it’s “a really complicated issue” that has multiple angles. “TV is easier in that you’re creating characters, you’re creating roles, you’re creating stars,” she says. “In the case of ‘Pose,’ none of these people were known before. A lot of them hadn’t really acted before. These roles could be crafted around these people’s strengths to some degree, not so much in the character of Elektra, with her we had to find someone who could deliver what was on the page, and that was challenging for sure, but I think the other side of it is that certainly with films, there are certainly situations in which you need to sell tickets to things. Certain things might not get made without movie stars. These are complicated questions and I don’t know that anyone knows the answers to them all yet, but it’s a conversation.” The decision to cast trans actors on “Pose” was made prior to Fogel’s involvement with the show. She says that added a layer to the casting process, but she didn’t see it as an extra burden on her. Continues on Page 20
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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
20 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Days of A-listers nabbing Oscars playing trans may be over
‘Boys Don’t Cry’: problematic in retrospect?
Continued from Page 19 “It’s part of the joy of the job,” says Fogel, who declined to state her own sexual orientation or gender identity. “It’s about rising to the challenge. I never considered that it couldn’t be done. It was just about, you know, doing the research, getting ambassadors to the community, making sure I had enough time to meet enough people. Anytime you do something that’s less visible, it’s more time consuming.” How deep was the talent pool? “I wouldn’t say it was a huge talent pool, but I’ve done a lot of projects where you just have to really put your head down and do extra research and this was one of them,” she says. “It was challenging but it never felt that it was going to be impossible. It just meant we had to do extra work.” She’s not aware if the Screen Actors Guild tracks its members’ gender identity (SAG did not respond to requests for clariﬁcation on that). Fogel says membership is easy to secure once she casts a lead role.
COULD ‘POSE’ BE A FLUKE? Is “Pose” a one-oﬀ or a game changer? “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think yeah, the ground is certainly shifting in terms of the conversation,” Fogel says. “I think it’s ultimately about the writing, about the culture and what people feel like they want to see. People want real representation and that seems to be happening across the board.” Billik agrees. “‘Pose’ is telling a story that’s really spectacular and a lot of people are really responding to it, so I don’t think it will be a one-oﬀ,” she says. “I think we’ll see a whole slew of trans actors cast because of it.” Aneesh Seth, a trans actress on the Netﬂix show “Jessica Jones,” says there’s still “a long way to go.” “Athough trans folks have gained some control over the types of trans narratives out there, they can still tend to be reductive and focused on our trauma,” she said in an e-mail. “Where are the stories of trans folks winning? Falling in love? Having successful marriages and careers?” Is this the end, at least, of the big stars taking home Oscars and nominations for all
Cis, straight actor Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing trans in the 2013 movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’ Photo courtesy Focus Features via Blade archives
the major trans movie roles? And how realistic is it — theoretically — for a trans actor to have given the caliber of performance Swank gave in “Boys Don’t Cry”? Some say it’s a chicken-or-the-egg argument. If trans actors had been given time to build up their resumes on equal footing with a Swank or a Jared Leto, who knows what they might have achieved? That’s not to say they had easy rides — Swank and her mother, for a time, lived out of a car upon moving to Los Angeles as Swank pursued her dream. But inarguably, upon starting her acting career, she got cast in varied roles far faster and more regularly than any trans actor would have fared, especially in the ‘90s. Fogel, especially, says it’s hard to account realistically for “what ifs.” “You can’t really know the answer to that without doing the work,” she says. “I couldn’t have answered any of these questions about ‘Pose’ before I’d done it. The process is so important when it comes to casting. You really have to do the work to ﬁnd the people, it’s all about the process.”
LOOKING AHEAD The path ahead, many agree, is bright. “I actually think Time magazine jumped the gun a little bit when they put Laverne Cox on the cover for ‘Orange is the New Black’ and said it was ‘The Transgender Tipping Point,’” Younes says. “Not to take anything away from her, but I think the tipping point is actually now because it’s not just one, it’s multiple
roles. There’s a brand new pool of talent and we’re more open to the fact that it could come from anywhere.” Several folks interviewed for this piece mentioned bit parts they’d seen trans actors cast in of late. Billik just saw “Moulin Rouge” on Broadway and said one of four ladies in the opening number was trans. Younes knows a trans colleague in the ensemble in “Tina: the Tina Turner Musical,” which opens at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway next month (previews are in October). He also cites two trans actors with brief speaking parts in this summer’s “Spider Man: Far From Home.” GLAAD reps helped cast Zoey Luna, a trans Latina actress, in “The Craft” reboot from Sony as Lourdes, one of the lead girls in the coven who happens to be trans. In 2018, not one of the 110 major studio ﬁlms released included a trans character, according to GLAAD. “So this casting and character are game changers in the ﬁlm landscape,” Schmider says. Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon on Showtimes “Billions,” is another positive step, many agree. And Daniela Vega made history in “Fantastic Woman,” a 2017 Chilean drama that won an Oscar. Vega was the ﬁrst trans presenter in the history of the Academy Awards when she presented in 2018. “This isn’t a trend, this isn’t just the topic du jour,” Younes says. “For decades, all we could get were playing the dead hooker on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ … I hope it’s a continuing trend for trans people making inroads in entertainment.”
Although it was seen as fairly groundbreaking in its day, the 1999 ﬁlm “Boys Don’t Cry” hasn’t aged particularly well, some argue. Donna Minkowitz, the writer of the original Village Voice story that inspired the movie, apologized last year in a piece she wrote (also for the Voice) called “How I broke, and botched, the Brandon Teena Story.” “For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit antitrans framing,” Minkowitz wrote. “Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated ‘her’ body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape. … “At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an eﬀort to stave oﬀ queerness and lead ‘easier,’ more conventional heterosexual lives.” The trope of the butch lesbian who takes things “just a little too far” and comes out as trans, is a recurring one, trans actor Samy Nour Younes says. He, too, found the ﬁlm adaptation “problematic.” “There was a similar storyline on ‘The L Word,’ when Max Sweeney starts taking hormones and becomes this raging mobster, a really awful storyline. Seeing some of those things and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ were the ﬁrst representations I saw of a trans masculine storyline and stopped me from coming out sooner.” JOEY DiGUGLIELMO
22 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
‘Judy‘ somewhere over the Rainbow Zellweger is admirable but the erasure of gay history is not By DAVID EHRENSTEIN
Renée Zellweger in Judy Photo © Pathe UK
Frances Ethel Gumm, aka Judy Garland died 50 years ago in London. But she remains in the spotlight everywhere, particularly the LGBT everywhere, to this day, and that ain’t likely to change. Ever. Judy Garland is a “gay icon” like no other. Her life bridges the gap between the pre-Stonewall world when gay was “in the closet” to the postStonewall one, filled with the “out and proud” whose attentions are longed for gay icon wannabes like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift (good intentions sometimes aren’t good enough). That Stonewall took place on the day of Judy’s funeral was mere coincidence, but like the film’s failure to mention Stonewall — even in a closing crawl — something crucial is missing from her performance, a sense of magic How is it then that Stonewall isn’t mentioned at all in “Judy,” the new Renée Zellweger-starring biopic — it doesn’t even count as a blip on the gaydar? It’s a well-meaning, competently made film and Zellweger gives it her all, but like the film’s failure to tie her to Stonewall, something is missing. While she’s capable of perfectly reflecting Garland’s facial tics and physical stance, she can’t reproduce her vocal power. No one can. Judy, adapted from the play “End of The Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, is an attempt to reproduce Garland’s last days but wanes bathos rather than insightful. And in no matter more so than when it touches on LGBT history. “Judy” features an entirely fictional British gay couple who come to know her. Clearly they’re meant to stand in for her many gay fans. But two men won’t do. Nor does the film explore the fact that her fifth and last husband, hustler/promoter Mickey Deans was gay. You could make an entire film about Judy’s many gay husbands alone. You could also make a film about the gay men so important to her career like producer-songwriter Roger Edens, directors Vincente Minnelli, Charles Walters and George Cukor and many actors including Tom Drake who played “The Boy Next Door” in one of her greatest films, Minnelli’s “Meet Me in St. Louis.” And then there’s the film that might be made about her gay appeal, which in her lifetime won her both adulation and opprobrium that has morphed her into a goddess. In a chapter of his book “Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society Devoted to Garland,” gay scholar, activist Judy-adept Richard Dyer notes that while “Garland was the image of heterosexual family normality” in the films that made her a star she worked “in an emotional register of great intensity which seems to bespeak equally suffering and survival, vulnerability and strength, theatricality and authenticity, passion and irony.” And it’s within this range she connected to gays at a time when so much as acknowledging our existence was controversial. And she knew it. On “The Jack Paar Show,” which aired from 1957 to 1962, she declared her undying love for her gay fans.
She could also tease about it. In the climactic hospital scene of her last film “I Could Go On Singing,” she acknowledges to an ex-beau played by Dirk Bogarde (no you can’t get any gayer) that not only is she drunk but, “I’ve had enough to float Fire Island.” That line like much of the entire scene was an ad lib, providing a quite insightful portrait of how insightfully Garland was about her gay fans. How they reacted to those subliminal callouts is something of a story all by itself. Dyer quotes a gay British friend who with scores of other gays flocked to her concerts discovering “it was as if the fact that we had gathered to see Garland gave us permission to be gay in public for once.” This “permission” enraged homophobes like writer William Goldman who in his foaming-at-the-mouth antigay screed “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway,” declared, “If homosexuals have an enemy it is age. And Garland is youth, perennially over the rainbow. And second, the lady has suffered. Homosexuals tend to identify with suffering. They are a persecuted minority group, and they understand suffering. And so does Garland. She’s been through the fire and lived — all the drinking and divorcing, all the pills and all the men, all the pundage come and gone — brothers and sisters she knows.” This suggests that Garland was little more than a crying towel. But gay activist and dedicated Garland fan Vito Russo said, “She had the guts to take a chance at dropping dead in front of a thousand people, and won.” And that for the gays who loved her was the point. As for the straights who hated her, Goldman, whose “bromance” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” hovers right on the edge that “Brokeback Mountain” finally lapsed into, quotes another screenwriter friend who observed Garland at a Hollywood party: “I’m in the corner now, and she’s sitting all alone in the center of this patio and for a minute there was nothing. And then this crazy thing started to happen: every homosexual in the place — every guy you’d heard whispered about, all these stars, they left the girls they were with and started a mass move toward Garland. She didn’t ask for it. She was just sitting there blinking in the sun while this thing happened: All these beautiful men, some of them big stars, some of them not so big, they circled her, crowded around her, and pretty soon she disappeared behind this expensive male fence.” One can only ask “Your point?” In “As Time Goes By,” a play about gay life by Noel Greig and Drew Griffiths produced in England in 1977, one of its many characters says of Judy Garland, “When they said she was fat, when they said she was thin, when they said had fallen flat on her face ... People are falling on their face every day. She got up.” No, Judy Garland didn’t “die for our sins.” She got up instead, until she could no longer stand. Her passion set an example. Zellweger’s womanlike skill is strikingly admirable but the passion of Judy Garland just didn’t zing the strings of my heart.
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24 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
‘The Politician’ problem New Netflix series muddled by inconsistent tone, continuity issues and more By BRIAN T. CARNEY
Ben Platt in ‘The Politican.’ Photo courtesy Netflix
If a camel is what a horse designed by a committee looks like, then the “The Politician” must be what a television show designed by a committee looks like. With three writer/ creators (Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan), six directors and a squadron of producers, the new eight-episode series now streaming on Netflix never finds a consistent tone or steady pace. Instead it lurches awkwardly from incident to incident without finding a satiric target or a dramatic story arc. “The Politician” is about the electoral ambitions of Payton Hobart, a wealthy high school senior in Santa Barbara who decided when he was a young child that he was going to be president of his high school class and then attend Harvard on the way to his ultimate goal of becoming president of the United States. The series references several pop culture milestones (including “Election” with Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick and “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross), but never establishes an identity of its own. It’s not clear if the show is supposed to be a satire, a comedy or a drama. A satire would require faster pacing and a sharper point-of-view; a comedy would require a lighter touch and regular laughs; a drama would require more serious themes and fully developed characters. Given the moody pacing and heavy subject matter (including teen suicide, kidnapping, abusive parents, murders and attempted murders, and Munchausen-byproxy syndrome), the production team seems to be leaning toward drama, but it’s hard to identify with the inconsistent and unsympathetic characters. The problems with tone and pacing get emphasized by some odd writing choices. The show begins at the start of Payton’s senior year of high school, but he’s simultaneously running for office (an event that normally takes place in the spring of junior year) and getting college admission letters (an event that doesn’t happen until spring of senior year). Further, Payton and his rival are obsessed with polling data, but it would be impossible for the student pollsters to generate any meaningful information, especially with the frequency that Payton demands. In a satire, these inconsistencies would be part of the fun; in a drama, they undermine the believability of the characters and the situation. Without a strong show runner, there are also minor but annoying inconsistencies between (and even within) episodes. Character accents come and go, as do Payton’s glasses. It’s also odd that the election takes place in the middle of the series. This makes the final episodes seem superfluous, especially the last episode which serves as a spoilerladen trailer for what appears to be the series’ second season. The series also has an oddly sex-negative tone. The students at St. Sebastian High School all talk a good game about inclusivity, diversity and sexual and gender fluidity, but all of the characters (teen-aged and adult) are trapped in manipulative and transactional relationships. Love of any sort is an empty promise and sex is at best a guilty pleasure. Payton even blackmails a former male lover. The production team does get credit for pulling together a diverse cast, which includes a trans actor and several actors with disabilities. The cast is led by out actor Ben Platt (the “Pitch Perfect” movies and “Dear Evan Hansen” at Arena Stage and on Broadway), but the lack of a strong vision for the series undermines his performance. It’s not clear if he’s supposed to be Frankenstein (as is implied in the clever opening credits) or Hannibal Lecter (Payton accuses himself of being a sociopath) or Pinocchio (the puppet who needs to get in touch with his emotions). It also doesn’t help that Platt and his castmates are not particularly believable as teenagers. Despite these problems, some of the cast members do turn in fine performances. Lucy Boynton (who played Freddie Mercury’s girlfriend in “Bohemian Rhapsody”) shines as Astrid Sloan, Payton’s political and romantic rival. Her finely detailed performance creates an interesting three-dimensional character that offers a tantalizing glimpse of what the series could have been. Boynton is given great support by Dylan McDermott (“American Horror Story”) and January Jones (“Mad Men”) as her materialistic parents. Rahne Jones also brings great energy and sly humor to her role as an opportunistic student politician. Unfortunately, Jessica Lange is wasted as Dusty Jackson, the monstrous grandmother of Payton’s running mate. She’s reduced to playing yet again the standard Ryan Murphy role of the evil Southern mama/nana who gives long expository monologues and dances to golden oldies. Despite some enjoyable moments, “The Politician” does not live up to the promise of its interesting premise. Since Murphy signed a two-year deal for the series with Netflix, let’s hope Payton’s future campaigns are more exciting than this one.
POINT HONORS LOS ANGELES
OCTOBER 12TH, 2019 THE BEVERLY HILTON 6:00 reception
7:30 dinner & show
RHEA BUTCHER Comedia n
With Special Performance by
DEBBIE GIBSON Pop Icon a nd Broa dw ay Sta r
26 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Questioning Kenworthy’s acting cred And Billy Porter shows up to support a ‘Pose’ co-star By BILLY MASTERS
Dawn Wells Photo by kathclick / Courtesy Bigstock
Gus Kenworthy Photo by kathclick / Courtesy Bigstock
“I spent the first 23 years of my life playing a straight man.” — Gus Kenworthy’s response to criticism about him playing Emma Roberts’ boyfriend on “American Horror Story: 1984.” He adds, “A gay actor playing straight is a big deal. There aren’t many openly gay actors getting cast in straight parts.” He adds that some people wondered, “Gus has no credits, no experience. How did he get this role?” Too easy - not the question, the subject. If you saw the film “Pacific Heights,” you know it’s pretty hard to evict someone in California. Here in West Hollywood, a prominent political activist and donor wasn’t evicted when a random person died in his apartment. He also wasn’t evicted after a second suspicious death in that same apartment. Everything changed when a third person nearly died in the apartment. If you don’t know the story of Ed Buck, it’s a doozy. In 2017, someone died of an overdose in his apartment. But this is West Hollywood, so most people didn’t bat an eye. When an eerily similar incident occurred 18 months later, many saw a pattern. Both victims were black men who overdosed on methamphetamine. But the police
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • 27
said insuﬃcient evidence. When a third African-American man survived a similar scenario a month ago, Buck was arrested and charged with three counts of battery and allegedly injecting the third victim with methamphetamine. He also was charged with operating a “drug den” in his apartment, which is probably against the rules of his lease. The eviction paperwork was ﬁled last week. Fresh oﬀ his historic Emmy win, Billy Porter went to the Pasadena Playhouse for the opening night of “Little Shop of Horrors” to support his “Pose” co-star, Mj Rodriguez. She made theatrical history as the ﬁrst transgender actress to play Audrey. So, for those of you who wondered if trans people could only play trans characters: the answer is no - they can play whatever roles they are suited for (and, obviously, the converse is true). Aside from some key changes and awkward harmonies, it worked just ﬁne. BTW, Billy Porter’s voice was used for the opening narration. And here’s a bit of trivia - Porter was the voice of the plant, Audrey II, in a 2003 touring production of “Little Shop” which closed just prior to opening on Broadway. In this production, Amber Riley played the plant. The innocent little sprout in Act 1 remained throughout - except during feeding when puppeteers swung giant tentacles (I initially wrote giant testicles.... Freudian slip). George Salazar was a solid Seymour, while Matt Wilkas’ portrayal of Orin’s death scene took on operatic proportions - not that there’s anything wrong with that. While it was a good, solid, stripped-down and basic production with admirable performances, I didn’t think it was special - aside from the non-traditional casting. It runs through Oct. 20, and you can get tickets at PasadenaPlayhouse.org. Someone I saw at “Little Shop” was an ebullient Alexandra Billings. The trans actress has reason to celebrate. She’ll be joining the Broadway cast of “Wicked” as Madame Morrible. The press release announcement states, “Alexandra is the ﬁrst openly trans actress to play the role.” Her ﬁrst night will be Jan. 20. Last week, I went to two events at the acclaimed Hollywood Museum. First was a combination 55th anniversary celebration of “Gilligan’s Island” and book release party for Dawn Wells’ updated edition of “A Guide To Life: What Would Mary Ann Do?” Before you ask, no, Tina Louise didn’t show up. However, Ruta Lee was there - and she actually auditioned for the role of Ginger. Other luminaries on hand included Susan Olsen and Judy Tenuta. Or, as I like to refer to them, “and the rest.” But what got me so excited was a reunion of the three living Pointer Sisters. Ruth and Bonnie were on hand to support Anita’s exhibit, “Ever After...A Pointer Sister Collection.” This enormous installation celebrates 50 years of The Pointer Sisters through fashion, awards, and memorabilia. Not only did I get an exclusive interview with the sisters, but also got a scoop - the exhibit has been so successful, it’s gonna stay through the end of the year. You can get more information at TheHollywoodMuseum.com or AnitaPointer.com. Our “Ask Billy” question comes from Karl in Chicago: “I just heard that Tuc Watkins and Andrew Rannells are a couple. Is it true? Really?” As people online are saying, they are an “Instagram couple” - whatever that means. Cheyenne Jackson chimed in, commenting, “You’re Insta-ﬁcial now” - and he knows a thing or two about online love aﬀairs. Tuc and Andrew co-starred as combative lovers in the Broadway revival of “The Boys in the Band”, and they’re currently shooting a ﬁlm version for Netﬂix with the same cast. So, needless to say, they’re “close.” Perhaps that’s why they’ve both posted several steamy pix together on their social media accounts. While I’m happy to see two hot shirtless guys, I’m troubled that all of these photos feature Rannells embracing Watkins from behind. Oh, the humanity. When I’m presenting real and/or fake couples, it’s deﬁnitely time to end yet another column. And if they’re hot, who really cares? Far more important is that we must acknowledge the passing of Linda Porter, who played Myrtle on “Superstore.” Happily, her hologram will live on. If you need a bit more life for your viewing pleasure, check out www.BillyMasters.com - the site that has its ﬁnger on...well, on something you want. If you have a question, dash it oﬀ to Billy@BillyMasters.com and I promise to get back to you before I ﬁnds me an Instagram husband! So, until next time, remember, one man’s ﬁlth is another man’s bible.
Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins Photo Courtesy Instagram
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28 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Underage gender identity is a family matter in ‘A Kid Like Jake’ It’s no longer safe to assume this show will be welcomed with open arms By JOHN PAUL KING
‘A Kid Like Jake’ continues its Pasadena Playhouse run through Nov. 3.
When Daniel Pearle’s “A Kid Like Jake” was first performed in 2013, the world was a very different place. Early in the second term of the Obama administration, the play – about two young Brooklyn parents grappling with the possibility that their 4-year-old son’s fondness for playing dress-up might be an early attempt at alternative gender expression – was met by a progressive and open-minded cultural climate that was ready and willing to welcome it into the growing public conversation about gender identity. Nevertheless, six years after its debut, as Pearle’s re-tooled version is poised to make its West Coast premiere in an IAMA Theatre Company guest production at the Pasadena Playhouse, it’s no longer safe to assume the show will be welcomed with open arms. That’s not because understanding about gender dysphoria has evolved, although it certainly has; the playwright himself has commented that when he first wrote the script, “it was before ‘Transparent,’ before Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, before ‘gender expansiveness’ was part of our cultural lexicon.” The changing landscape around the subject, however, was always part of the dynamic that made the play tick, and the rewrites undertaken by Pearle after his work on the film version (which debuted at Sundance in 2018 and went on to a limited theatrical run) presumably bring the conversation up to date for a new production. What makes its reception an uncertain proposition is the shift that in the culture since 2016, the regressive backlash from conservatives that has reminded us that the struggle for LGBTQ acceptance – especially with regard to trans and other gender non-conforming individuals – is a long way from being over. Discussion about the issue becomes particularly virulent when it relates, as it does in Pearle’s play, to someone who is underage. Consider, for example, the case of Desmond Napoles, better known as “Desmond Is Amazing,” the now-11-yearold drag performer who has been in the public eye since an appearance at 6 in a Jinkx Monsoon music video. Identifying as gay and genderfluid, Desmond has gone beyond the fame of his popular Instagram presence and his public performances to become a widely recognized advocate and spokesperson for LGBTQ issues. Yet he has also been met with criticism from social conservatives, who claim that his supportive parents are “sexualizing and exploiting” a minor. Social media is rife with other such cases, where online bullying and even death threats are a daily occurrence, arising from the kind of outdated thinking that conflates gender identity with sexuality, and being queer with pedophilia. With that kind of heated tempest as part of the social backdrop, it’s easy to imagine that “A Kid Like Jake,” might be returning into a political firestorm of its own. Yet according to director Jennifer Chambers, speaking to the Blade in advance of the show’s October 3 opening, it’s a play that slips past the political to focus on the personal. “The play is about Jake, but it’s also not,” she explains. “We never see Jake, at all. He’s talked about, but he never appears onstage as an actual character. It’s about his parents, and how they work out where they are with their son.” She elaborates. “They are considering getting him into special programs for kindergarten, and as they’re going through the school application process, things start being
revealed about who he is, or who he might be. It becomes a discovery about gender identity, and how as parents… when you think things are one way, and your child is finding their own self and their own voice… how as parents, you navigate that. And then when that hits upon your old belief systems, your old ways of thinking, how that affects your relationship with your son, and your marriage, and how you navigate through that.” Reflecting on how the play handles the situation, Chambers adds, “I think these parents really begin from a place of ‘we’re doing absolutely the best things for our son, we know what’s best for our kid and we’re making exactly the right decisions for him’ – and then as things progress, as things get to revealed, that gets called into question. There are the older blind spots, and biases – fears, really – about who your kid is, or might be, and about how because of it he… or she or they… is not safe. You want to protect your kid, but you also need to allow my kid to be who they are. It’s really all about the parents’ journey, and how they open up and fall apart and get put back together inside of that conversation.” As for many of the hot button-issues surrounding young people who grapple with their gender identity – the prejudice, the bullying, the sexualization – the director says the play doesn’t really go there. “We do touch on a few of those boundaries, of where, inside of our biases, we might go; Alex, the mom, out of her own fear, out of her sense of feeling the ground being pulled out from under her feet – there’s a time when she says things that, if she were thinking and were not fueled by that fear, she would absolutely never say. It touches into that – but otherwise no, it’s very much contained inside the family, and inside of the process of just applying to kindergarten.” By keeping the focus squarely on the people directly involved in the process of discovery depicted in the play, “Jake” keeps the situation free from the complications imposed by a larger world, allowing its characters to explore the limits of their own boundaries – a process that is complicated enough on its own. It’s this breaking down of what has become a public issue into the private, the setting of the conflict in an intimate arena instead of a social one, that made Chambers – who is herself the mother of two children, seven and nine – want to jump at the chance to direct this new production. “More than anything I really love Daniel’s writing,” she says, “I love his rhythms, I love his humor. But also, I’m a parent, myself, and my kids are growing. It’s a process – how you support your kids, when they’re your babies and they’re so much a part of who you are, and then they grow and they differentiate. It’s brutal, and it’s beautiful, and it’s heartbreaking – and I don’t think there’s an easy way to navigate it, as they become their own self. The essence of that is what hooked me into this and what keeps pushing me. It’s so simple and so complicated at the same time, which is what is so exciting to me.” Given the involvement of a director with such a deeply felt personal connection to the material, working with a talented cast that includes Sharon Lawrence, Olivia Liang, Tim Peper, Sarah Utterback, “A Kid Like Jake,” is likely to carry much of that excitement to LA audiences as it continues its Pasadena Playhouse run through Nov. 3. For performance schedule and tickets, visit iamatheatre. com.
30 • OCTOBER 04, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Del. expands doctors’ ability to authorize medical cannabis DOVER, Del. — Democratic Gov. John Carney has signed legislation into law expanding physicians’ discretion to recommend medical cannabis therapy to patients. Senate Bill 24 amends the state’s medical marijuana access law by permitting physicians, under specific circumstances, to issue cannabis recommendations to patients who are not diagnosed with a pre-approved qualifying condition. In such circumstances, an authorizing physician must attest that the patient possesses a “debilitating condition, [that] current standard care practices and treatments have been exhausted, and [that] there are grounds to support that the patient may benefit from this treatment.” The physician is also required to perform ongoing evaluations of the patient’s progress with regard to whether the treatment is efficacious. The new law took effect upon signing. An estimated 6,000 patients are registered with the state to obtain medical cannabis products.
Congress votes to legitimize retail cannabis sales
Gov. John Carney has signed legislation expanding physicians’ discretion to recommend medical cannabis therapy to patients.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week in favor of legislation, HR 1595: The SAFE Banking Act, explicitly amending federal law so that financial institutions may work directly with state-licensed marijuana retailers and other related businesses. House members voted 321 to 103 in favor of the legislation, with 229 Democrats and 91 Republicans casting ‘yes’ votes. Commenting on the vote, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: “This vote is a significant first step, but it must not be the last. Much more action will still need to be taken by lawmakers. In the Senate, we demand that lawmakers in the Senate Banking Committee hold true to their commitment to move expeditiously in support of similar federal reforms. And in the House, we anticipate additional efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act — which is sponsored by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana. Federal law currently defines all marijuana-related business endeavors as criminal enterprises, including those commercial activities that are licensed and legally regulated under state laws. Therefore, almost no state-licensed cannabis businesses can legally obtain a bank account, process credit cards, or obtain loans for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Australian territory is first to legalize pot for personal use CANBERRA, Aust. — Members of the legislative assembly for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have enacted legislation depenalizing activities related to the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis. An estimated 400,000 people reside in the ACT, which includes Australia’s capital, Canberra. Under the new law, which takes effect on Jan. 30, 2020, adults may possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants per household without penalty. Public cannabis consumption, or use within close proximity to children, will remain prohibited. Under the territory’s existing law, low-level marijuana offenses are punishable by civil fines. The ACT’s policy conflicts with Australian federal law, which defines cannabis-related activities as criminal offenses. Between 2017 and 2018, Australian police made over 72,000 marijuana-related arrests – 92 percent of which were for personal possession.
Mass. regulators vote in favor of cannabis deliveries Boston — Members of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission decided this week in favor of regulations to establish licensing for retail cannabis deliveries and for limited on-site consumption facilities. Members voted 4 to 1 in favor of the provisions. Regulators in May had previously advanced the idea of permitting social use spaces. A separate provision approved unanimously by the Commission eliminates the annual fee associated with patients’ medical cannabis registration cards. Regulators anticipate accepting applications for home-delivery licenses within “a couple of months.” Applicants will first need to gain the approval of local communities prior to seeking a state-issued permit. Deliveries will not be permitted after 9pm or before 8am, and retailers are prohibited from delivering cannabis to college dormitories. Regulators expect the rollout for the licensing of consumption facilities to be slower, and legislative changes to existing state law may be required before the program can become operational. To date, only Alaska has finalized statewide regulation governing on-site facilities. In May, Colorado lawmakers enacted legislation regulating both marijuana deliveries and “hospitality spaces.” Those laws take effect on January 1, 2020. In a separate action taken this week, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker instituted an emergency ban on the retail sale of all vapor cartridge products. The retail ban took immediate effect and will remain in place until January 25, 2020. Massachusetts in the first state to enact an explicit ban on the sale of any vaping-related product. Cannabis Culture news in the Blade is provided in partnership with NORML. For more information, visit norml.org.
Kyle T. Hester & Daniel Chung. Photo: Jordan Kubat
A NY TIMES & LA TIMES FALL PICK
by Adam Bock eda Castañ directed by Jaime
Life is good in Port Alison, Manitoba—Thursday night hockey, beers in the Peg, nice people. But lately Gordy’s interests lean more toward The Magic Flute and pottery classes. When his pal, Brendan, is gifted two all-expense paid tickets on a cruise, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime—to experience life far from Canada! In this quick-change comedy where five actors play a ship-load of characters, small chances might lead to big changes. But can Gordy step out of his comfort zone? RECOMMENDATION: High school & above. Contains adult language, sexuality & strobe effects. Honorary Producers: Susan Shieldkret & David Dull • Sarah J. McElroy
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