MIGRANTS MET IN CARAVAN IN MEXICO AND LATER WED IN D.C., PAGE 10
D E C E M B E R 2 7 2 0 1 9 • V O LU M E 0 3 • I S S U E 5 2 • 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 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
LA LGBTQ politicos react to Democratic debate No ‘wine cave’ controversy here By KAREN OCAMB email@example.com Local LGBT politicos reacted much as the rest of the country to the sixth and final Democratic presidential debate of the year at Loyola Marymount University on Dec. 19. The two most striking observations were the dearth of people of color candidates on the stage, given the diverse demographic strength of the Democratic Party, and that LGBTQ issues were finally raised as a party concern. Most of the attention, however, was focused on the dramatic flareups as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar attacked out South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is leading in Iowa, over fundraising transparency and his comparable lack of experience. Local LGBTQ politicos are still assessing the field but starting to hone in on top choices. “California will play one of the most crucial roles in deciding the next president of the United States, and we were proud to welcome seven of our candidates to Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles,” out LA County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Blade. “As a proud gay, Latino Angeleno, it’s great to see one of the most diverse fields in history crisscross the country. My only hope is that we will get a chance to see more of our black and brown leaders on future debate stages. We’re just over 40 days away from the first votes cast, and as we’ve continued to see over the past few months, our candidates are ready to take on this president and present a strong case to the American people for Democratic leadership.” Determined to make a difference in the primary winnowing process, California moved its primary to Super Tuesday, March 3. Early vote-by-mail starts on Feb. 3, ironically the same day as the Iowa Caucuses. “Perhaps it’s the afterglow of democracy
Assembly member Miguel Santiago and out LA County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez Photo courtesy Gonzalez
at work - the orange fascist is IMPEACHED! (thanks to our work building the Blue Wave last year), but I felt really positive about our Democratic field at the debate,” longtime lesbian political organizer Torie Osborn, a senior adviser to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, told the Los Angeles Blade. “I really missed [Sen. Kamala] Harris, [former HUD Sec. Julian] Castro and [Sen. Cory] Booker but overall I like us! I really like us!” Recently, Osborn announced her endorsement of Warren. “I love, love, love her bold populism,” she said. “Even [former Vice President Joe] Biden is so damn nice, compared to the chaos and cruelty and corruption emanating from the White House. I’ll work my ass for any of them. I believe we must have a woman and person of color on the ticket. But I’m dedicated to winning the Senate and Presidency next year.” Entertainment attorney Patrick Ryan Blood, a huge #KHive Harris fan, thought Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded like a “broken record” but Biden “flexed his experience across the board, enjoyed a gaffe free night and showed us that he very much so is a candidate who on day 1 would be ready to assume the office of presidency.” But Blood’s heart is trending toward Klobuchar. “It is fairly clear Amy Klobuchar
won the night, easily. She made her policy, experience, and plan for America front and center, took aim at Trump being weak, and took aim at the inexperience of Pete Buttiegieg (which so many seem willing to overlook),” Blood told the Los Angeles Blade. “Pete has a weird way of escaping unharmed even when factual failures or shortcomings are illuminated. I am curious how the media will cover the exchanges with Warren and Klobuchar against Pete because if Kamala did the same it would have been the ‘angry black woman’ rhetoric.” Longtime gay politico Fred Karger, who seriously ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, now supports fellow gay political pioneer, Pete Buttigieg. “Sens. Warren and Klobuchar took some cheap shots at frontrunner Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage, but that’s bound to happen when you’re in the lead by double digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire,” Karger told the Los Angeles Blade. “Pete deflected the hits well and went on to wow millions more Americans with his smart answers and closing statement on ‘belonging.’” Klobuchar gave a shout out to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was sitting in the front row. But when asked in the spin room who he is going to endorse now that Harris has dropped out, Newsom demurred.
“The problem is legitimately, I have a lot of friends up there ... so it’s hard. Kamala Harris was easy for me,” Politico reported. “I just feel pretty good and proud that these are good choices the American people can look forward to have. And we’re going to see how big a role we’re going to play here in California.” Newsom also threw some shade at Warren in her use of the Hall Wines cave fundraiser against Buttigieg. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” she said. “There are literally hundreds of Democrats that have been in that same cave. Some of the most enlightened progressive voices in American politics today,” Newsom said, according to AP reporter Kathleen Ronayne. The Warren vs Buttigieg “wine cave” spat didn’t bother Osborn. “I work daily against Trumpism,” she said. “Every single day, I either organize door-knocking in the Antelope Valley or north Huntington Beach to hold those newly flipped House seats or I work for our March 22 $50 fundraiser with [shooting victim, former Rep] Gabby Giffords for [her husband] Mark Kelly to flip that Arizona Senate seat. From my perch they all look good.”
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04 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Meet Imani Rupert-Gordon, NCLR’s new leader Kate Kendell is ‘over the moon’ about her By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org Laughter. Full-throated, hesitancyclearing, energetic laughter. Thirty seconds into Imani Rupert-Gordon’s inaugural phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade, the new executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights poofs away old ideas of protocol and power differentials and launches into a conversation between two humans living in a shared space. Kate Kendell, the LGBTQ icon RupertGordon is replacing at the helm of NCLR after Kendell’s 22 years of service, had a similar experience. “Apart from her substantial resume, experience and gravitas, the thing I most remember when I first met Imani in San Jose was a smile that had a wattage unlike most I had ever seen and an open heartedness that made me feel like we had been friends for years, rather than this being our first meeting,” Kendell tells the Los Angeles Blade. “You cannot teach that kind of openness and generosity of spirit. It is something one either possesses or never gets. And she had it and that quality is one of those intangibles that marks a leader for the ages.” Rupert-Gordon’s humor and humility are evident immediately, disarming in a context where leadership generally implies an air of assumed arrogance. But her way of being reflects an apparent larger trend in new leadership at other national LGBTQ organizations, where the character derived from lived experience is as important as a resume packed with prestigious degrees and power-punch relationships. “Do they know that I’m a social worker?” Rupert-Gordon asked when told NCLR’s head-hunters wanted to meet her. “I went into this thinking OK, obviously they’re looking for something different and I said, so I’m just going to talk about where I think the movement is, where I think the movement should go next, and NCLR’s place in that,”
New NCLR Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon Photo courtesy Rupert-Gordon
she tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I think what really stood out to them was my understanding of intersectional issues and the way that I look at the movement. I think it probably provided a unique perspective, as well as someone that’s not a lawyer. Something that I’ve been telling people over and over again — they have a lot of lawyers at NCLR and they are at the top of their fields. Perhaps they don’t need another lawyer. I think that they really saw and appreciated my vision. I’ve always been very impressed by the work at NCLR. NCLR was created to be intersectional. That’s something I really value in the movement, and so, I feel really good about moving to
this organization.” When Rupert-Gordon settles into her new San Francisco-based job next March, she will be coming home to California. Born in Bedford Heights, Ohio 40 years ago last April, Rupert-Gordon grew up in Yucca Valley, very briefly attended school near San Diego, transferred to Santa Barbara, and started her career in Santa Cruz. “My experience was very much in the Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley County where I grew up, went to elementary school and high school,” she says. Upon graduation, she went to school near San Diego until her sister went to UC Santa Barbara. “I transferred to UC Santa Barbara with her by the winter. My
sister and I are very, very close,” she says. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Rupert-Gordon went to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she worked in residential life for almost eight years, lectured, and cofounded the Social Fiction Conference, which uses science fiction as a lens through which to view bias and injustice. Though happy there, she started thinking about going to graduate school. “When I was thinking about what it is that I loved, I really enjoyed working with folks as they’re sort of working through things themselves,” something she experienced as a student navigating life without a cohesive bridge between her academic and non-academic worlds. Rupert-Gordon intended to get her master’s degree in social work through an online program but her then-girlfriend, now wife Derah (38) encouraged her to go to graduate school and have a great experience as she had. Derah promised to move with her to a big city where advertising jobs were more readily available than in Santa Cruz. “When there’s this person you want to spend your life with who just wants more for you than you do with yourself in that moment — and that’s how I really thought of that — we went to Chicago,” where she earned her master’s degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. But upon graduation, Rupert-Gordon found it hard to find a job. She landed at Broadway Youth Center providing therapy to LGBTQ youth. But she grew restless. “I felt like I still had things to give, but I didn’t feel like the things that I had to give were as unique in such a way that no one else could do that,” she says. Fortuitously, the executive director of Affinity Community Services — the nation’s oldest Black LGBTQ social justice organization — was leaving and encouraged her to take the job. She’s been there for four years. Now Rupert-Gordon thinks she has Continues on page 6
06 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
New NCLR leader to ensure movement is ‘for the entire queer community’ Continued from page 4
something to give the national movement. “I think that as we’re working to do more inclusive and more intersectional work, that I have something to provide here,” she says. “I’m really excited about working specifically at a law firm where we’re going to be integrating litigation and legislation and policies and public education. I think working to create an integrative approach is something that social workers do often. So, I’m excited to bring that perspective to NCLR.” That includes frank discussions about social justice issues. “I’ve experienced overt racism before,” though that experience is not always as relevant to the way she approaches race politics, Rupert-Gordon says. “Overt racism is sometimes easier to confront because most people understand overt racism as racism. For instance, if someone says ‘the N-word,’ most people recognize that as racism. “What I experienced growing up,” she continues, “is people explaining that ‘You’re not like other Black people, you’re cool,’ or saying something like, ‘You don’t sound Black.’ I knew that these people were trying to compliment me, but it didn’t feel like a compliment. What they were saying hurt and I didn’t always have the language to explain why it hurt. “Systemic and institutional oppression often requires a more thoughtful and nuanced analysis because not everyone recognizes it as oppression,” Rupert-Gordon says. “I’m interested in the systems in place that support oppression. For example, the G.I. Bill made it possible for folks to really buy homes for the first time, but loans from the FHA were given to people based on race and subsequently the equity in those homes were then attached to race—and that is just one example of how generational economic mobility is attached to race in this country. “So when people talk about people with low incomes being ‘lazy,’ I’m frustrated because there is something systemic being ignored —and that is not a little thing.
Imani and Derah Rupert-Gordon Photo courtesy Rupert-Gordon
That’s a big thing. And that narrative is untrue, and dangerous,” she says. “So when I think of racism, or any oppression, I don’t necessarily think about individual events that happened to me but systematic ways that people experience oppression based on identity. I’m not saying that racism is the exact same as heterosexism or sexism. I’m saying that we are missing something if we don’t think about the institutional, systemic dynamic. And, says Rupert-Gordon, “if we don’t consider institutional oppression within the LGBTQ movement, then folks that experience multiple jeopardy or oppression
because of multiple parts of our identity, will not be able to fully benefit from the wins of the LGBTQ movement. Our movement has to be intersectional if we are going to achieve equality.” Kendell is “over the moon” about RupertGordon leading NCLR into the future. “What she brings is a lived experience of what we popularly call ‘intersectionality.’ It’s not an experience that is intellectual, although it might have pieces of that. It’s not an experience that is scholarly, although it likely has that. It’s not an experience that is born of empathy, although certainly there will be some of that, too,” Kendell tells the
Los Angeles Blade, as if rhetorically handing off the mantle. “It is an experience as a Black lesbian, of understanding that the world every LGBTQ person deserves is a world where every piece of themselves is integrated, seen, valued and acknowledged and appreciated,” says Kendell. “And it is a unique life experience that queer people of color possess and that is so much about where the movement is headed next that will make Imani exactly the kind of leader to keep NCLR current and relevant and to assure that the movement is a movement for the entire queer community, not just certain segments.”
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Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride held their annual Toy Giveaway on Dec. 15 at their headquarters in Long Beach. Toys were available for children from newborn to 18 years old, one toy per child with a parent or guardian. LBLGP also had snacks for the kids. “At least 200 kids were there,” longtime trans activist Karina Samala, who was invited to the event, told the Los Angeles Blade. “They had a long line around their building and on the street waiting outside.” Community care counts, especially on the holidays. – Karen Ocamb (Photos courtesy Karina Samala)
10 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Alex and Felipe: Migrants’ desperate journey ends in love Couple survives harrowing swim across Rio Grande to wed in D.C. By ARMANDO TRULL Alexander and Felipe are gay immigrants from Nicaragua and El Salvador living in D.C. Their home is one bedroom festooned with Barbie dolls, rainbow flags and their national flags. How they made it to this small brick rowhouse off of Georgia Avenue, N.W., is a journey fueled by violence, fear, desperation and ultimately love. In early 2018, the young men left their respective homelands because of homophobic violence. Alexander, who owned a successful fried food kiosk called a fritanga in his hometown of Ayapal, Nicaragua, was forced to flee because he says neither his parents nor siblings accepted his homosexuality. The neighbors in his small community were equally intolerant. “I was threatened with machetes and knives,” he recalls. Alexander says he abandoned his home, business and country because “I thought they were going to kill me.” Felipe’s story is similar, with the added twist of gang or mara violence that is the “daily bread” of many Salvadorans, especially those living in his hometown of Sonsonate. “You live in constant fear,” he says. “More so when you are part of … ” He pauses and says quietly “… the gay community.” It’s almost as if proclaiming his sexuality out loud could still cause his death. Each youth left on his own and headed north. Their only companions on the road were hardships. “I had to sleep on the side of the road and in parks. I endured heat, cold, hunger and thirst,” says Alexander. For Felipe, leaving El
Salvador was equally tough. “I placed myself in God’s hand and in his will,” he says softly. They say their trip to Mexico was fraught with danger. Cartels and criminal gangs are everywhere and immigrants are easy prey. “They see Central Americans as merchandise,” says Alexander. “If they catch us they kidnap you and hold you for ransom. If you can’t pay, they kill you.” The youths met in Tapachula, Mexico, near the country’s border with Guatemala and became friends. Unable to find work or get asylum in Mexico, they soon joined one of the caravans of Central American migrants trekking north to the U.S. border. They faced the same homophobia in the caravan that had forced them to flee their homes. “They mocked us, threw rocks at us,” recalls Alexander. The couple sought safety in numbers and joined a group of several dozen other LGBTQ youth who were part of the caravan. They hoped that banding together would spare them from even worse homophobic violence from within the caravan. By the time the ragged group arrived at the Mexico-U.S. border they were exhausted, had run out of money and were still at risk of being kidnapped by the cartels or attacked by homophobes. Alexander, Felipe and the others say they were unnerved by the chaos of thousands of migrants waiting their turn on the bridge and living in camp cities on the border. Felipe says they feared the Trump administration would soon close the border, which it would do a few months later. The group made a fateful choice. “We decided we would all try to swim across or die trying,” says Felipe. The youth on Feb. 23 jumped in the Rio Grande as a group but Felipe, who can’t swim, soon began to struggle in the murky waters.
“About halfway through I started to drown,” he says. Alexander saw this and returned from the American side of the river and rescued Felipe. “I told him to hold on to my neck and that I would get him across,” says Alexander. Border Patrol agents arrested the 15 soaking wet youth but were at a loss with what to do with such a large LGBTQ group of detainees. They were shuttled from one detention center to another in a space of three days. “No one wanted us, we were rejected everywhere, one day here, then somewhere else, another place,” says Felipe. Homeland Security contacted Ruby Corado, a transgender activist and Salvadoran-American immigrant who runs Casa Ruby in D.C., and asked her to sponsor them. She didn’t hesitate. “I understand very well the dangers of being in detention centers, many of them die, some of them are very sick,” says Ruby. Ruby flew to San Antonio where she took custody of Alexander, Felipe and the other 13 youth on Feb. 28. She bought food, loaded the immigrants into a van and began a 1,600-mile trek to D.C. At least 24 immigrants have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since the Trump administration began, including seven children and two trans women. Scores of others have complained of physical and sexual abuse while in ICE custody. Ruby tapped into her contacts within welcoming congregations across the country and arranged support for her small caravan, explaining what was at stake. “I knew somewhere down the line we were going to save lives,” says Ruby. The shell-shocked youth, who hours before were shivering in an immigration cell were now being driven across the country
and being warmly welcomed at multiple stops, including Houston and Atlanta, where congregations cared for them physically, emotionally and spiritually. For many of these southern congregations, headed by African-American pastors, it was an opportunity to validate their all-embracing vision of Christ’s teachings. “God told me to love and I show my love for God by serving God’s people,” said Pastor Marvetta Walker of Progressive Open Door Christian Center in Houston while she laid out steaming platters of eggs and bacon along with smiles and hugs in her home. It was also an opportunity for these congregations to re-enact a seminal moment in the plight of enslaved Africans’ own journey to a promised land. “We all answered the call, so that we could be here and be a part of this underground railroad, to get these wonderful beautiful souls to Washington, D.C. to really experience the freedom that we have,” said Dr. Elijah Nicholas, pastor of Kingdom International Ministries in Atlanta. “This is what America is about.” At one point toward the end of the journey, Ruby started playing Spanish ballads from Mexican torch-singers, the kind of sad songs usually heard at drag shows in Central America. Ruby began bellowing out the words to “A Prueba de Todo” which means “Able to Withstand Anything.” Her bellowing rendition was off-key but with drama to spare, and soon one-by-one the youth started to sing as well. It was a “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” moment as the van made its way through the darkened interstate. It seemed the words of resilience and love were triggering a cathartic group experience. “At first, I didn’t believe any of this was real, but by the time we were driving in the van toward Washington and singing I started to hope that maybe my life might get better,”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • 11
Alexander Flores Olivas and Felipe Aguilar hold their marriage license after their wedding at Casa Ruby in D.C. on Dec. 6, 2019. Photo courtesy of Casa Ruby
said Felipe. Three days later, they arrived at Casa Ruby at 3 a.m. where the exhausted youth were lovingly welcomed by staff, volunteers and clients. In the past year, Alexander, Felipe and the others enrolled in English classes and secured pro-bono attorneys for their
asylum cases. They’ve shared their stories with federal, state and local lawmakers and with LGBTQ activists from places as far away as Israel. “It was so nice so beautiful that people from so far away wanted to share time with us, wanted to know about us,” says Felipe. “I feel good, I feel at peace, I feel happy in
a free country,” adds Alexander. Alexander and Felipe are living in a free country where they were able to do something they never imagined in their wildest dreams: Get married, and on Dec. 6 they did just that at Casa Ruby with Larry Villegas as their officiant. Nine months after clinging to each other
in the murky waters of the Rio Grande, Alexander and Felipe held each other just as tightly and celebrated their new life as a married couple, an embrace made possible by their determination and the kindness and decency of the people and the principles that truly make America great. Michael K. Lavers contributed to this article.
12 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Supreme Court could deliver bad news for LGBTQ parochial school teachers Catholic institutions seek expanded rights in hiring and firing staff By CHRIS JOHNSON Cases the Supreme Court has recently agreed to take up on the right for religious non-profits to hire and fire employees consistent with their faith could have major implications for LGBTQ workers at those institutions, LGBTQ legal advocates are warning. Last week, the Supreme Court announced it had a granted a writ of certiorari, or agreed to hear, the two cases now consolidated as one: Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, Agnes and St. James School v. Darryl Biel. In both cases, Catholic schools are seeking an expanded right to conduct employment practices — such as the hiring and firing of employees — consistent with their religious beliefs under the ministerial exemption granted by the First Amendment. Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said a ruling for the Catholic schools “could significantly expand the ability of religious schools and other religious employers to disregard anti-discrimination laws when hiring and firing employees.” “In practice, the impact of any such broadened exemption would be especially serious for LGBTQ workers, since many religious employers view being in a same-sex relationship or undergoing a gender transition as contrary to their doctrines and beliefs and thus grounds for termination,” Minter said. On their face, the litigation has nothing to do with LGBTQ workers and instead is about former teachers alleging wrongful discrimination on the basis of age and disability. • In the Our Lady of Guadalupe School case, the Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based school refused to renew the contract of Agnes Morrissey-Berru, a fifth-grade and sixth-grade teacher, who’s now alleging age discrimination under the Age Discrimination Employment Act. The school has said it refused to renew her contract because she didn’t fulfill her cathecist certification requirement. That was established in 2012 years after Morrissey-Berru was first hired in 1999.
Cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear from Catholic schools could impact LGBTQ people working at parochial institutions. Blade file photo by Michael Key
After filing a complaint with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015, Morrissey-Berru sued in district court. The judge, however, determined her claim was barred under the ministerial exemption and granted summary judgment in favor of Our Lady. A panel on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, which led the school to file a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court. • In the St. James School case, the Torrence, Calif.-based school refused to renew the contract of Kristen Biel after she disclosed she had breast cancer. (She is now deceased and is represented by Darryl Biel.) The school declined to renew Kristen Biel’s contract after telling her she would be unable to keep her job because she couldn’t maintain order in her classroom. The EEOC granted Biel a right-to-sue letter in 2015. However, a trial court ruled she was serving in a ministerial position, thus the school was in its right to terminate her. A divided panel on the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision, prompting the school to file a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the same non-profit behind high-profile litigation that sought exemptions under the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court in the Hobby
Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, is behind both lawsuits. “Parents trust Catholic schools to assist them in one of their most important duties: Forming the faith of their children,” said Montserrat Alvarado, executive director at Becket. “If courts can second-guess a Catholic school’s judgment about who should teach religious beliefs to fifth graders, then neither Catholics nor any other religious group can be confident in their ability to convey the faith to the next generation.” Although the Supreme Court has previously ruled religious institutions under the ministerial exemption are absolutely free to hire and fire whomever they want as ministers, it has not specified what position, exactly, is a “minister.” The decision in these cases will determine whether the jobs at stake in the lawsuits — teaching positions at parochial schools — qualify as ministers. As such, the ruling could impact whether gay teachers have a legal right to sue a Catholic school if they’re terminated for entering into a same-sex marriage, or transgender teachers if they’re fired for undergoing a gender transition. It’s true LGBTQ people, as of now, have extremely limited explicit non-discrimination protections under federal law, and none in the
workforce, but the EEOC has been accepting charges from LGBTQ workers alleging discrimination, and the entire situation could change soon. At the same time the Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the Catholic school cases, it’s considering cases that will decide whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The two cases alleging anti-gay discrimination are Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County and the one case alleging anti-trans discrimination is Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. It’s possible the Supreme Court could rule for LGBTQ inclusion under Title VII, then essentially undercut that decision by determining in the Catholic school cases the ministerial exemption enables religious institutions to engage in antiLGBTQ discrimination under federal law for an array of positions, including teachers. If, on the other hand, the Supreme Court ends up ruling against LGBTQ inclusion, Title VII would end up providing no protections whatsoever for LGBTQ workers, making a ruling for an expanded ministerial exemption under Title VII irrelevant for LGBTQ workers in terms of federal law. Nonetheless, such an outcome would still undercut employment protections for LGBTQ people as they exist under state laws and local ordinances. Twenty-one states explicitly ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workforce, and numerous municipalities prohibit anti-LGBTQ bias. Jon Davidson, chief counsel for Freedom for All Americans, said a ruling for the schools would allow for a “greatly expanded exemption” under all non-discrimination measures — and not just laws barring discrimination against LGBTQ people. “That would include laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity, as well as those prohibiting discrimination based on race, national origin and sex,” Davidson said. The next step in the case is for the scheduling of briefings and oral arguments. Although the Supreme Court elected to take up the litigation half-way through its term, it may well render the decision before the term ends in June 2020.
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14 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Chicago activist to lead Nat’l Center for Lesbian Rights
Robert Gilchrist was confirmed U.S. ambassador to Lithuania. Blade file photo by Michael Key
Senate confirms Trump’s fifth out gay ambassador Just before adjourning for the holidays, the U.S. Senate confirmed Robert Gilchrist as the next the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, making him at least the fifth openly gay person to serve in an ambassadorial role under President Trump. The Senate confirmed Gilchrist — who’s a former president of GLIFAA, the affinity group at the State Department for LGBT employees — to the position by voice vote on Thursday along with a slew of other Trump ambassadorial picks without any floor debate or controversy. Nominated by Trump in July, Gilchrist — who most recently served as director of the operations center at the State Department — is a career Foreign Service officer, not a political appointee like other ambassadors. During his confirmation hearing in October, Gilchrist faced tough questions on Russia, which continues to seek hegemony over former Soviet states like Lithuania. Amid ongoing concerns about Russia’s interference in elections worldwide, Gilchrist said Lithuania has set up protections that could serve as a model elsewhere. “I think if you look through, through some of the recent press, you’ll see how the Lithuanians really in a masterful way have gotten out ahead of an issue before it became an issue domestically,” Gilchrist said. “And so, they are indeed at the forefront in many ways I think there’s some things that we could possibly learn from them as well.” Other roles in which Gilchrist has served are deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Sweden, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Estonia and the director of Nordic & Baltic Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs. Gilchrist is at least the fifth openly gay person Trump has selected for a position as U.S. ambassador. Others are U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell; U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry; U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Eric Nelson and U.S. Ambassador to Cabo Verde Jeff Daigle. Gilchrist’s confirmation comes the same week Grenell went to the United Nations to promote the Trump administration’s global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality, which he has spearheaded. CHRIS JOHNSON
The new head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights will be a Chicago-based activist who has served as a voice in the LGBTQ movement for black women, the organization announced last week. Imani Rupert-Gordon, who currently serves as executive director of Affinity Community Services in Chicago, is set to take the reins of the San Francisco-based LGBTQ group on March 16, 2020. “I’m thrilled to join the team at NCLR and to help expand their incredible work,” Rupert-Gordon said in a statement. “As we continue the fight for legal protections to achieve LGBTQ equality, I’m excited to be part of creating a more inclusive LGBTQ movement that centers racial, economic and political justice.” As the result of her activism in Chicago, the Illinois Human Rights Commission gave RupertGordon its 2019 Activism Award. In a previous role, Rupert-Gordon served as the director of the Broadway Youth Center at Howard Brown Health, which has served more than 1,500 LGBTQ youth homeless youth. According to her bio, Rupert-Gordon earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rupert-Gordon also worked as a lecturer and developed campus-wide programming for eight years at University of California Santa Cruz. In that role, she co-founded the Social Fiction Conference, which helps students examine issues of social justice through science fiction, gaming and fantasy. The position was vacant at the National Center for Lesbian Rights after Kate Kendell, who led the organization for 22 years, made the decision in March to step down. Emily Doskow, board co-chair for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement Rupert-Gordon is “the perfect fit for NCLR’s mission, culture and commitment to bold leadership.” “She is a dynamic leader with a wealth of experience and a strong vision for the organization’s future,” Doskow said. “We could not be more fortunate to have her joining NCLR.” CHRIS JOHNSON
Schmid to depart AIDS Institute A longtime advocate in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who has overseen the Trump administration’s plan to beat the epidemic by 2030, has left the AIDS Institute, the Blade has confirmed. Carl Schmid, who served as deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, has left the organization after being part of the non-profit for 16 years, a spokesperson for the organization told the Blade last week. “Carl told us he wanted to travel and think about doing something new or different. We respect that,” AIDS Institute spokesperson Nick Armstrong said. “Sixteen years is a long time in the same job and HIV advocacy is changing, the populations we reach are changing, attitudes toward the disease are changing, even political leaders change. As an organization we embrace changes and are excited about the changes in our team and the new leadership throughout the organization.” Schmid’s work on HIV/AIDS advocacy at the AIDS Institute has spanned the course of three administrations: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Most recently, Trump named him co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council of HIV/AIDS as his administration seeks to implement a plan to reduce new HIV infections by 90 percent by 2030. At the same time as Schmid’s departure, the AIDS Institute announced a restructuring among its remaining staffers as well as new hires. Rachel Klein, formerly the health policy manager, is set to take Schmid’s role as deputy executive director. The new board president, David Reznik, is director of the Oral Health Center, Infectious Disease Program, at the Atlanta-based Grady Health System, a program he founded in 1991. Michelle Scavnicky, formerly the associate executive director, will now also serve as chief human resources officer; Kim Molnar is the new director of the Center for Convening & Planning; Donna Sabatino, is set to lead state policy and advocacy work. In a public Facebook post, Schmid said he signaled on Dec. 2 he’d depart the AIDS Institute, but will continue to serve as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and a member of the PEPFAR Scientific Advisory Board. “It truly has been a remarkable experience to grow the organization into a national leader in domestic HIV and hepatitis policy and be a strong advocate for people with serious and chronic health conditions,” Schmid wrote. CHRIS JOHSON
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16 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
VOLUME 03 ISSUE 52
My only wish from Santa this year Blade contributor seeks freedom from ICE detention this Christmas
Yariel Valdés González, a Washington Blade contributor from Cuba who remains in ICE custody in Louisiana. (Screenshot courtesy of Michael K. Lavers)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Yariel Valdés González is a Blade contributor who won political asylum in the U.S. on Sept. 18. He remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La., because ICE has appealed Judge Timothy Cole’s ruling in his favor. PLAIN DEALING, La. — In my homeland of Cuba, Santa Claus has never been very recognizable. The Communist dictatorship does not think much of this fat and jolly character who it says only indoctrinates children in order to cover up the “capitalist consumerism” the U.S. sustains. Cuban children and adults, nevertheless, adore the Christmas spirit that Santa brings each December. We decorate trees, we get together to eat and share with family and even the little ones — and others not so much — receive and give presents to each other before the end of the year or on Epiphany. Stores in Cuba, which are all run by the government, are, contradictorily, decorated with lights and fake pine trees not for Christmas, but to celebrate the end of the year and to mark a new anniversary of the Cuban revolution’s triumph on Jan. 1. This is what matters! The regime maintains its anti-Christmas façade, a kind of “parallel world” in which it only lives because Cubans are tired of
such a false and ridiculous display. So much so that I had to bite my tongue many times while working as a radio presenter in my city because I could never mention the word “Christmas.” This vocabulary provokes terror among the directors of any official media outlet, where you cannot legitimatize this anti-Communist tradition. Santa never appeared on Cuban television or in newspapers. The spirit of Santa, to the government, and all that it represents brings with it too many frivolities that are typical of the “enemy of the North” and can ideologically “contaminate” the people. Cuban Christmas is a bit clandestine, quasi-illegal, underground, present for the people and non-existent to those who govern the country. My Cuba is so complex and ambivalent. Despite this reality, I always enjoyed Christmas in my own way in my country. It was an opportunity to visit my family and partner and surround myself with feelings of happiness and love. I am, however, looking forward to my first Christmas in the U.S. and not just for the presents as many may think. I came to this country at the end of March to ask for political asylum because of the persecution that I suffered in Cuba as an independent journalist. I faced work and ideological sanctions in the island’s official press, expulsion from the staterun media system, interrogations and arbitrary detentions, travel bans that did not allow me to leave the country for journalism events. State security officials also carried out voracious and excessive interrogations against my family and friends in my neighborhood. All of this is part of a strategy to persecute and instill fear against independent reporters, those who can neither be controlled nor censured. Freedom of expression, and freedom of press even more so, does not exist in Cuba. Only the Communist Party, with an absolute reign of more than 60 years, is responsible for controlling each written and spoken word. The relationship between the party and media is like the relationship between a master and slave. The consequences will be harsh if you don’t follow orders. These are the rules of this unjust and totalitarian power game.
I was able, with a lot of luck, to escape such a hell and on Sept. 18, six months after I arrived in this country, Judge Timothy Cole determined I was worthy of asylum. He granted me the protection for which I had searched so much and for which I fled my country, leaving behind my family, my boyfriend, my friends and colleagues who are still living through a real witch hunt for the simple reason of telling the truth about Cuba. Repression against independent Cuban media professionals has increased to extremely worrying levels with house arrests, illegal detentions that last several days, physical and psychological violence, registration and confiscation of work equipment, assaults and personal threats or those made on social media by an army of digital combatants who engage in so-called cyberbullying. Prohibitions on traveling from the island to professional events and conferences under the absurd pretext the independent press is doing the bidding of foreign powers that finance it to force a regime change in Cuba and other barbarities have also increased. This and much more is what awaits me if I am forced to return to Cuba. The possibility of being deported is once again hanging over my head after ICE appealed the asylum granted to me in September. I remain incarcerated at this moment while an appeals court (the Board of Immigration Appeals), comprised of three judges in Virginia, considers my case for a second time. My life and my future is literally in their hands. Many people may think I am too dramatic, but those who think differently than the Cuban dictatorship and publicly show it in digital journalism outlets unleash the most ferocious anger. Us freelancers are considered a “national security threat,” dangerous and subversive traitors who don’t even deserve the air they breathe and the punishment will be double if they are part of the LGBTQ community because the island recently has not been afraid to
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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • 17
It’s now Trump’s Republican Party ‘Moscow Mitch’ has bent over for him
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
The only reminders of what we once knew as the Republican Party are a few out-of-office politicians like former Govs. William Weld, Tom Ridge, and John Kasich. Those Republicans in office like Moscow Mitch (R-Ken.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have totally given away any sense of personal dignity or the semblance of independent thinking and become willing slaves and sycophants to the disgusting pig in the White House, Donald Trump. They have become handmaidens to their king willing to bend over and even welcome the consequences.
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reveal itself as it truly is: An intolerant and homophobic tyranny. The government has deemed me persona non-grata because of my collaboration with publications branded “counterrevolutionary and subversive” like Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, CubaNet and others like YucaByte or this weekly, whose international news editor, Michael K. Lavers,
It is a sad time for the nation when a political party disappears. There were once impressive members of that Republican Party who fought for a better country. From Abraham Lincoln to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. Those like Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York and vice president. Women like Jeannette Pickering Rankin (R-Mont.), the first woman elected to the House and Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) elected to both the House and then the Senate. Those men and women could hold their heads high as Republicans. The party they helped build no longer exists. We have just gone through a process, impeachment, in the House of Representatives envisioned by our nation’s founders as rare but potentially necessary. What they didn’t envision was what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just said, “Our Founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don’t think they suspected that we can have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.” They didn’t envision ‘Moscow Mitch’ as Majority Leader. They believed those elected to Congress would fight to defend the Constitution based on the oath they took. To
ensure what is written there ,which is that Congress is an equal branch of government, and not give in to a president who wants to dismiss them as subservient. We are at a crossroads in our nation’s history. It’s up to Congress, and if they fail, the voters to determine which road we will take. Will we stand up and hold accountable a president who defies our Constitution or will we give in to that president who says, “I can do whatever I want?” Most will find that frightening but apparently Moscow Mitch and the other Party of Trump members of Congress do not. The Party of Trump likes to say Democrats are defying the 63 million people who voted for Trump — conveniently forgetting that 66 million people voted against him for the Democratic candidate and another eight million for other candidates. We are a divided nation and Trump is playing on those divisions. Those members of what was formerly the Republican Party are helping and abetting him in doing that. They are turning a blind eye to his sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and willingness to cozy up to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and foreign despots. They excuse every outrageous policy emanating from his administration including caging immigrant children and saying that in his
administration science no longer matters. During the 2016 campaign it was reported Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Trump, “citing the Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan used to sum up his feelings on negotiating with the Soviets — ‘Trust but verify’ — the group said in a written statement that it was not yet prepared to fully support Mr. Trump’s candidacy.” They went on to say “Should Mr. Trump become our nation’s next president Log Cabin Republicans welcomes the opportunity to work with his administration. Until and unless that happens, our trust would be misplaced.” Today after he has displayed his enmity to the LGBTQ+ community attacking transgender people, including saying they should not be allowed to serve in the military and encouraging anti-LGBTQ organizations and those who would have us back in the closet they endorsed him. There is no way that can be considered rational. They abandoned what was once the Republican Party to join the Party of Trump and bent over for him. My trust is in the American people in 2020. That in the few states Trump won by a mere 78,000 votes to win the Electoral College voters will reach a different conclusion ensuring Trump will not be in the White House as of noon on Jan. 20, 2021.
is on the list of those who are “prohibited” from entering the country. I am afraid of how I will be treated if I were to set foot on the island. You can rest assured that I would have never given up my mom’s hug or my elderly grandparents’ affectionate kiss if my fundamental rights as a human being were not viciously trampled and my life was not in danger. I guess it was a survival instinct that made me close my eyes and suddenly abandon these bonds of blood and love. I have fought for my salvation from inside
a prison for nine months. From detention at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Louisiana, the Deep South, I intend to remain optimistic and keep the faith, even though my hope withers a little with each passing day of this confinement. The constant support of my family in Miami and Cuba, my lawyer, as well as my closest friends and colleagues in this country and on the island are the only things that have kept me from an emotional collapse and a dead end. Each night before I go to sleep I pray that
justice will once again be done, because these judges are considering whether I deserve the opportunity to live without fear in this great nation. I only hope they uphold Judge Cole’s decision that he issued more than two months ago. It would be, without a doubt, the best gift that I could receive this Christmas. Like an excited child, I hope Santa Claus brings his sled to Louisiana and gives me the only present for which I fervently ask each minute: Freedom. Freedom!
Better late than never, and right on time: Jackie Beat brings her holiday show to LA, Dec. 27-29. Photo by Austin Young
Holiday must-sees, for the very merry Mary And a naughty New Year By SCOTT STIFFLER
That period between Thanksgiving and Greek Orthodox Christmas used to be so simple: Shunned by our families and bereft of legally sanctioned mates, we’d drown our sorrows in booze and boys, in bars and back alleys. Steamy Santa role-play scenes with strangers, and 4 a.m. pinot grigio-infused booty calls to estranged exes, were giftwrapped presents we gave to ourselves. Good times. Fast forward to the present, and what a world we live in: Straight people nail “RuPaul’s Drag Race” trivia questions, and mom calls your husband by his name, as the whole clan sips cocoa, while watching “Call Me by Your Name.” It’s enough to make you run to a place where the lights are dim and everybody keeps it gay, the old school way. Hence, our little holiday roundup. We even snuck in a familyfriendly show, for LGBTQs with kids of their own. That’s a thing now, right?
Seriously, though, good for us. Onward and upward. But first, a bit of transgressive fun.
Jackie Beat’s “Illuminati or Nice?” NYC’s loss was LA’s gain, when devilishly clever drag queen Jackie Beat made the City of Angels her home. But last week saw Beat return to those deep Gotham roots, for the premiere of her 21st annual holiday show. Strutting the stage of the Laurie Beecham Theatre in a defiantly unseasonable black ensemble, the foul-mouthed legend did not disappoint, delivering a non-stop barrage of obscene observations her capacity crowd gobbled up like cookies left for Claus. The self-identified “secular soldier,” who “has obliterated just about every holiday song ever written,” drew on her deep well of cutting classics—including a cocaine-laced corruption of “Let It Snow” (whose refrain advised weary holiday shoppers and hosts to, “Do some
blow, do some blow, do some blow.”), and the rape-accusation-cum-consensual-sex confessional, “Santa’s Baby,” which charts the consequences of a Christmas Eve rendezvous, after the Jolly Old Elf himself unloads a sack of goodies inside our positively glowing Jackie. Of bringing “Illuminati or Nice?” to her home turf, Beat told the Blade, “I’m very excited to be returning home to Los Angeles after touring Australia and New Zealand with Dita Von Teese’s ‘Glamonatrix.’ I’ve never had to do my holiday show after Christmas, but—just like I say about the Trump impeachment— better late than never!” Beat’s new material includes a parody of Lizzo’s “Juice,” reconfigured as “Jews,” to celebrate “how I convert to Judaism this time of year, to take advantage of everything Hanukkah has to offer!” Elsewhere in the show, the Aqua classic “Barbie Girl” becomes an anthem for insatiable carnivores, as Beat’s “I Love Barbecue” offers “an alternative to
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BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon are studies in scripted shows, and sisterhood. Image courtesy of the artists
a traditional Christmas menu. And ‘White Christmas’ is now ‘White Privilege.’ Keeping it light and PC as usual, LOL!” Fun fact, and not just for the front row: While keeping one’s head down is productive protocol for a certain type of lusty pursuit, doing so to avoid eye contact pretty much guarantees you’ll become a target of ridicule. No song is safe at a Jackie Beat show—so why should you be? “Illuminati or Nice?” is performed Fri., Dec. 27 and Sat., Dec. 28 at 8 PM & 10PM and Sun., Dec. 29 at 7 PM & 9 PM, at the Cavern Club Celebrity Theatre (1920 Hyperion Ave). For tickets ($27.50; $29.87 with service fee), visit missjackiebeat.com/schedule.
BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon’s “All I Want for Christmas is Attention” Emboldened by the success of their virgin stab at a collaborative holiday extravaganza (2018’s “To Jesus, Thanks for Everything!”), those quirky, contrasting queens BenDeLaCreme (sugar) and Jinkx Monsoon
(spice) are back, confronting this pressurefilled period of the year with, their publicity material assures us, “a little song, a lot of eggnog, and theaters full of people looking at them… Yup—all they want for Christmas is attention!” And they’ll get that attention the oldfashioned way: By earning it. Memorization and rehearsal, concepts that elude many a queen who thinks she can just wing it, are standard-issue skills for this duo. “It’s definitely more structured than the average drag or cabaret experience usually is,” says Jinkx. In the mode of “To Jesus,” this new show, says DeLa, is “a mostly scripted, two-person play, with dancers and puppets and everything in between.” But there’s ample room for spontaneity. “We’ve found a balance between strict script work and pockets of improv,” notes Jinkx. “It’s scripted enough that there’s quality control and you’ll get what you pay for, but improvised enough that each show is unique and honest to that specific night.” As for themes, Jinkx says they’ve been mulling it over since last year’s show, and
settled on “what I think will be the through-line of our holiday shows forever. Essentially, the holidays are a hard time of year for everyone.” And so, they note, this entry in what Jinkx just implied will be an annual ritual resolves to answer that thorny, age-old question: How do you balance having holiday cheer with knowing it’s also a tough time for some folks? “The disconnection from Christmas is what connects us,” says DeLa. “We set out to list everything that’s wrong with the holiday season, and then explain why it’s still ok to love all of it… The show is about those two strong feelings about the holidays clashing, and trying to find a way to have the other understand and co-exist in those feelings.” “We’re making Christmas great again,” says Jinkx, with DeLa merrily noting, “We’re excited to share our trauma with you.” Coming together to “muddle through somehow,” as a certain Garland once sang, may be the greatest gift of all. “All I Want for Christmas is Attention” is performed Sun., Dec. 29, 8 PM, at the Continues on Page 20
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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
20 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Don’t miss these must-see holiday shows
John O’Hurley (center) stars as Captain Hook with the company of “Peter Pan & Tinker Bell: A Pirates’ Christmas.”
From Company XIV’s “Nutcracker Rouge,” L to R, Nicholas Katen, Ben Green, Jacoby Pruitt.
Photo courtesy of Lythgoe Family Panto
Photo by Deneka Peniston
Continued from Page 19 Montalbán Theatre (1615 N. Vine St., Hollywood). For tickets ($25-$70, with VIP/Meet & Greet option available), visit jinkxanddela.com.
“Peter Pan and TinkerBell: A Pirates’ Christmas”
This “singing, swashbuckling adventure performed in the high-flying style of a British holiday Panto” sees Tinker Bell, Wendy, and Peter Pan on a quest to foil the dastardly pirate plot to kidnap Pan, thus giving Captain Hook the only gift he really wants. Family-friendly humor, more than a dollop of dance, and songs by “everyone from Taylor Swift to The Bee Gees” enliven the proceedings. John O’Hurley (of “Seinfeld” fame) as Hook and Clarice Ordaz (of “So You Think You Can Dance”) as Tiger Lily are among the cast. “This show offers fun for the entire family,” says Becky Lythgoe, of the play’s presenting entity, Lythgoe Family Panto. “From dancing in the aisles to singing along, there’s something for everyone! The casts are inclusive and represent the diversity in our community, with local kids in addition to the adult ensemble.” Cool gay uncles and LGBTQ+ parents will also appreciate Captain Hook’s cover of The Village People’s “In the Navy” (because he’s, you know, captain of a ship). Through Dec. 29. Friday, Dec. 27 at 3 PM & 7 PM, Sat. & Sun., Dec. 28 and 29, at 12 PM & 4 PM. At the Laguna Playhouse (606 Laguna Canyon Rd. in Laguna Beach). For tickets ($41-$76), visit lagunaplayhouse.com or call 949-497-2787.
Company XIV’s “Nutcracker Rouge”
“The Inheritance” on Broadway
Those who find themselves in New York City and yearning for a theatrical experience both mind-blowing and eye-popping will find it through Jan. 26, deep in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn. That’s where Austin McCormick’s scantily clad Company XIV is ensconced, and ready to stun your senses with the sexiest “Nutcracker” this side of Sodom. Described as “a unique blend of circus, Baroque dance, ballet, opera, live music and lavish design,” Company XIV is tightly packed with nimble aerialists, chillinducing vocalists, and gravity-defying dancers (whose lithe male members werq their sky-high heels with a ferocity that puts past, present, and future “RuPaul’s Drag Race” girls on notice). Their annual beefy run of “Nutcracker Rouge” may well be Company XIV’s crowning achievement. Unabashedly hedonistic, the erotic energy transfers well to the audience, and qualifies as foreplay—so as you leave the theatre with that special someone, possibly buzzed by the imaginatively mixed libations they serve at the bar, you’ll have ample inspiration to get cracking on that nut of your own. Through Jan. 26, 2020. Performances are Thurs.Sun., plus select additional evenings, with a special New Year’s Eve show at 10 PM. At Théâtre XIV (383 Troutman St., Bushwick, Brooklyn). Tickets are $105-$195, and champagne VIP Couches for two people are $375-$565. Purchase at CompanyXIV.com or by calling 1-866-8114111. The show contains nudity, partially and at times nearly complete, so 21 and over only.
Also in NYC’s must-see category is the current Broadway production of Matthew Lopez’s awardwinning, 2018 West End hit. The two-part play has been likened to “Angels in America,” for its emotional heft and narrative sprawl—a fair comparison, if only for those surface area similarities. Although both works bring HIV/AIDS to the forefront, “The Inheritance” does its heavy lifting by smashing the atoms of those who survived the plague years with contemporary Manhattan gays whose attitudes and ambitions are alternately informed by, and independent of, those who came before them. A notso-loose adaptation of E. M. Forster’s “Howards End,” the extent to which that calls to mind the 1910 novel or the 1992 Merchant Ivory film is as good a marker of any, to note where one’s generational loyalties lie. Forster himself walks among the proceedings, as a dream guide, audience stand-in, and “professorial presence who guides a group of young writers through the creation of the work that will become the play we’re watching (subject to revision, as we go along)”— according to this reporter’s review for Los Angeles Blade’s sister publication, which can be read in full via a search for “The Inheritance,” at washingtonblade.com. Plot points and character intel await, for those inclined to find out more. Short version: “The Inheritance” should be seen, and seen in full. At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 W. 47th St., NYC). Prior to Jan. 3, you can order $59 orchestra seats and $39 front mezzanine seats for all Wed. matinees and Thurs./Fri. performances, through Feb. 27. Offer also applies for all performances through Jan. 5. Purchase at telecharge.com, or by calling 212-239-6200. No special code is required.
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22 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
All the big, dom tops of 2019 Blade film critic offers his favorites of the year By BRIAN T. CARNEY
The downstairs cast of ‘Downton Abbey,’ one of the year’s best movies. Photo by Jaap Buiterdijik; courtesy Focus Features
Movies are multi-faceted to begin with; with queer auteurs, casts and crews, it gets even more complicated. Look in the Blade’s Jan. 3 edition for a full “year in review” roundup in film and many other categories, where I’ll recap more thoroughly the year’s LGBT cinematic highlights. This, however, is my official 2019 “top 10” list. The number one movie of the year was undoubtedly the magnificent “Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria)” by queer auteur Pedro Almodóvar. In this deeply moving story based loosely on the filmmaker’s own life, longtime Almodóvar collaborator Antonio Banderas plays gay filmmaker Salvador Mallo whose physical and psychological ailments have kept him away from the camera. Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; Almodóvar veterans Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano turn and a great supporting cast turn in richly nuanced performances. The rest of the Top 10 include (in alphabetical order): “Downton Abbey.” Creator Julian Fellowes seamlessly moved his elegant television serial to the big screen without missing a beat. The sumptuous high-class soap opera included fun new characters (Imelda Staunton as the formidable Maud Bagshaw), delicious quips from the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and a visit to a gay pub by butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). A special mention goes to “The Chaperone,” a side project by Fellowes, “Downton” director Michael Engler and “Downton” star Elizabeth McGovern which offers a delightfully subversive look at Midwest American life in the 1920s. “End of the Century.” With bold and exciting artistic choices, first-time director Lucio Castro creates a steamy mystery about two men who meet on the streets of Barcelona. “Frankie.” In a transcendently luminescent performance, the brilliant Isabelle Huppert plays a dying French actress who has gathered her large complicated family together for one last holiday. Working with coscreenwriter Mauricio Zacharias, gay filmmaker Ira Sachs skillfully guides the large international cast through complex physical and emotional terrains building to a powerful final tableau. Marisa Tomei is great as Frankie’s best friend Ilene. “Little Women.” Writer/director Greta Gerwig offers a fresh, dazzling and thoroughly contemporary take on the beloved classic by Louise May Alcott. Gerwig’s powerful queer adaptation focuses on the rivalry between Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her sister Amy (Florence Pugh). Gerwig writes with a confident flair and directs with a steady hand; the supporting performances are all wonderful. “Marriage Story.” Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s incisive and insightful examination of a dissolving marriage features searing performances by Adam Drive and Scarlet Johansson (who also get to perform two numbers from “Company,” Stephen Sondheim’s musical about marriage). “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” This sumptuous French period drama tells the story of a young female artist who falls in love with her subject. The richly sensuous and thoughtful exploration of art and romance won the Queer Palm at Cannes where lesbian filmmaker Céline Sciamma also won the screenwriting award.
“Rocketman.” Using the pop superstar and gay icon’s own music, director Dexter Fletcher leads audiences on a fantastic journey through Elton John’s early life, including his childhood, his rise to international stardom, his coming out, his addictions and his decision to enter rehab. Taron Egerton is fantastic as Elton and the costumes by Julian Day are, of course, fabulous. “Us.” Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut feature “Get Out” was a penetrating analysis of racism in America. His second feature is a devastating critique of the American Dream with indelible performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss. “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” In this excellent documentary, long-form journalist turned documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer profiles Roy Cohn, the closeted gay lawyer who was the mastermind the Lavender Scare of the 1950s and who served as a mentor to Donald Trump. Honorable Mentions go to “1917,” Sam Mendes’ technically dazzling and emotionally devastating World War I tale; “And Then We Danced,” a deeply political story about the romantic relationship and artistic rivalry between two male dancers; “Ask Dr. Ruth” a thoughtful and clever documentary about the Holocaust survivor and pioneering sex therapist who became a fierce LGBT ally; “Booksmart,” Olivia Wilde’s funny and sensitive story about two high school best friends, one lesbian and one straight; and, “By the Grace of God” a clear-eyed and piercing denunciation of clerical abuse in the French Catholic Church by queer auteur François Ozon. The list of honorable mentions continues with “Harriet” featuring a riveting by Cynthia Erivo as freedom fighter Harriet Tubman; “Knives Out,” the clever all-star whodunit helmed by Rian Johnson; “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s visually stunning and searing satire on class warfare in South Korea; “The Two Popes” with splendid scenery and memorable performances by Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Frances and emeritus Pope Benedict; and “Waves” a visceral exploration of an affluent African American family in crisis by Trey Edward Shults. The (Not So) Guilty Pleasure of the Year was the thoroughly enjoyable “Charlie’s Angels.” Camp goddess and queer icon Elizabeth Banks (who served as producer, director, writer and star) provided a stylish, suspenseful and clever reboot of the ’70s TV series. The movie had a delightfully queer and feminist sensibility (with Kristen Stewart as a pansexual Angel) with strong central female performances, a great supporting cast and delicious cameos by Laverne Cox, Danica Patrick, Ronda Rousey and Jaclyn Smith, one of the original Angels. Finally, a word on the passing of a cinematic era. With the release of “Star Wars” (now called “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope”) in 1977, creator George Lucas changed the way movies are filmed, scored, marketed and merchandised. Since then, the Skywalker sage has gone through some significant ups and downs, but it has remained an inescapable cultural milestone. With the release of “Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker,” the big-screen cinematic franchise will come to an end, even though the theme park attractions will go on forever.
24 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
CGI-laden film adaptation of ‘Cats’ is ugly, annoying and inconsistent J-Hud’s ‘Memory’ interpretation among few highlights By BRIAN T. CARNEY
Taylor Swift in ‘Cats.’ Need we say more? Photo courtesy Universal
This year, some of Hollywood’s holiday presents, like Great Gerwig’s “Little Women,” are movie treasures. Others, like the bizarre “Cats” and the disappointing new “Star Wars” are the cinematic equivalent of getting coal in your stocking. Although “Cats” was roundly derided by critics when it opened in London in 1981, the fan favorite ran for decades on Broadway and in the West End and spawned countless national and international tours. Now director Tom Hooper (“Les Misérables” and “The Danish Girl”) has brought the musical to the big screen; it wasn’t worth the effort. With a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Cats” is based on a rather slender book of light poetry by T. S. Eliot with additional lyrics, including the song “Memory,” supplied by director Trevor Nunn. The songs introduce the various “Jellicles,” members of a tribe of alley-cats who have gathered for the “Jellicle Ball” where one of them will be chosen to ascend to “the Heavyside Layer” and be reborn. The paper-thin plot of the stage musical is “enhanced” for the movie with an inconsistent focus on the Kitten Victoria who is presented as a new arrival in the alley; she gets to sing “Beautiful Ghosts,” a dull new song by Lloyd Webber and cast member Taylor Swift. On stage, Lloyd Webber’s light-weight score was at least supported by John Napier’s clever costume designs, Gillian Lynne’s endlessly inventive choreography and Nunn’s confident direction. Unfortunately, without a strong hand on the helm, the movie musical is an unsightly mess. The numbers were performed live by the cast on a soundstage; costumes and sets were digitally added afterwards. In theory, the CGI should work fine; in practice, as Disney also learned this summer, CGI is still not very lifelike. The sets, which are supposed to show human objects from a feline perspective, are poorly rendered and inconsistently lit. The digital costumes are a visual nightmare. The color palette is ugly; the ears and tails move at random and are distracting; the hands and feet look human instead of feline and the design is annoyingly inconsistent. Some of the cats wear coats, hats, jewelry and even a jumpsuit (!) and others just have basic faux-fur. It’s confusing and distracting. The choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is generally lackluster and the cast can’t quite agree on how to best impersonate a cat. The acting is uneven and generally weak. Rebel Wilson and James Corden pander shamelessly (and ineffectively) for laughs; Francesca Hayward, a principal ballerina at the Royal Ballet, moves divinely but needed a much better acting coach on set. One of the few actors to offer an effective performance is Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap, who serves as an emcee of sorts throughout the evening. Despite all of this, there are some memorable moments in “Cats.” Taylor Swift turns in a powerhouse performance of “Macavity” and Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” soars into the stratosphere. Sir Ian McKellen is quite touching as Gus, the Theatre Cat, especially in his interplay with Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy; they somehow manage to bring deep emotion and sly humor to shallow lyrics. But don’t bother to watch the entire movie; you can catch these moments on YouTube. A final word of warning. The songs of “Cats” are terrible earworms. Since the lyrics are very repetitive and the derivative melodies are generally undeveloped and unresolved, they can echo in your brain for a long time.
26 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
All-male ‘Swan Lake’ still packs a punch Visionary’s work is timeless, worth experiencing over and over again By JOHN PAUL KING
Will Bozier (upstage center), Andrew Monaghan (downstage center) and company in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” Image courtesy Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz
It’s been nearly a quarter century since Matthew Bourne’s bold reimagining of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet “Swan Lake” turned the dance world on its collective ear. His bold choice to recast its famous Swan Princess as a Swan Prince instead, with an attendant corps-de-ballet of male dancers replacing the traditional female ones, was near blasphemy in the deeply traditional world of ballet at the time, for no other reason than because it simply wasn’t done; more than that, of course, it meant that the doomed romance at the center of the ballet was transformed into a love story between two men – and in 1995, that was an unprecedented idea, and a controversial one, to say the least. That controversy was at least partly responsible, no doubt, for turning Bourne’s audacious spectacle into the longest-running ballet in the history of the art form – but only partly, because the electrifying brilliance of the choreographer’s staging made it clear that this was a young upstart with more than enough talent to elevate his cheeky concept to the level of a world-class dance masterpiece. It made him arguably the most famous choreographer in the world, and he’s gone on to a career full of hits and accolades that almost any other creative artist could only dream of achieving. The world has changed in the intervening decades, and much progress has been made in the struggle for LGBTQ visibility and acceptance – but that doesn’t mean that “Swan Lake,” remounted by Bourne (SIR Matthew Bourne, now) and now onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre, doesn’t still pack a punch. Yes, it’s true that the power of its gender-swapped casting has mellowed somewhat – watching two impossibly beautiful, impossibly athletic, and impossibly graceful men dance together with smoldering chemistry no longer feels transgressive (thank goodness) – and that AIDS, which cast a long and overt shadow over the ballet when it debuted at the height of the epidemic, no longer seems like such an inevitable part of the subtext. Nevertheless, to see it is to be reminded that the work of a visionary artist is not only timeless, but also worth experiencing over and over again. The new incarnation retains the iconic elements of Bourne’s original production, in which the ballet’s traditional fairy-tale story is translated into a roughly modern, decidedly English allegory about the conflict between love and duty through the story of a discontented young prince, pressured by a cold and distant mother and the apparatus of her state to find a suitable bride; he falls in love with an enchanted swan, but since the original tale’s evil sorcerer is nowhere to be found in Bourne’s version, it remains tantalizingly unclear whether the swan is a human being that has been cursed or some figment of the prince’s wishful imagination – or if the malevolent doppelgänger that invades the royal ball in the second half is an imposter sent to torment him, as in the original, or merely the dark
flip side of his fantastical delusion. The ambiguity, far from undermining the story, serves to illuminate its underlying psychological and sociological themes in a way that renders intellect irrelevant, and allows us to experience them on a purely visceral, emotional level. Upon this groundwork, the presence of a same-sex couple in the center of it all evokes an almost primal longing that will be familiar to anyone who has ever wanted something they are not “supposed” to want – but for LGBTQ audiences, it takes on an additional power, serving as an assertion against the forces of “propriety” that would deny their right to exist. Simply put, it’s the openly gay Bourne’s way of saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” There’s no point in attempting to describe the visual delights of this “Swan Lake.” It’s enough to say that the gifted choreographer weaves his magic against a spectacular, huge-scale scenic design that is almost as majestic as the remarkable prowess of his dancers. The joy of Bourne’s approach – in which he blends ballet with a wide and eclectic array of other dance styles to tell his story with an almost cinematic flow of breathtaking imagery – is that he infuses his work with delicious whimsy even as he gives full weight to its drama; there are countless little moments of delight throughout, manifested through details of costume and set, cultural nods incorporated into the movement and staging, and above all through the expressiveness he cultivates in his dancers, who continually amaze us with their acting abilities even as the perfection of their physical performances takes our breath away. The cumulative effect is a sense of wonder, as we watch the players move seamlessly across the stage, our eye being led to follow the action from one heartstopping piece of visual poetry to another. In the end though, what is most unforgettable about Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” is the thing that made it famous. His once-shocking same-sex conceit allows us to witness an incredible display of masculinity at its most heightened and idealized, transcending notions of sexuality and existing in the realm of pure expression. Nowhere is that more profoundly employed than in the ballet’s most iconic sequence, in which a posturing, aggressively masculine gang of swans wield a threatening presence that provides a stark contrast against the tenderness of the pas de deux between the two star-crossed (and species-crossed) male lovers. In a very real way, it expresses the oppression that LGBTQ people have faced for time out of mind – but it also expresses the beauty, the purity and the absolute inevitability of love, no matter what outward form it takes. If you’re looking for an entertainment experience to celebrate the spirit of the holiday season we are currently in, you can’t ask for a more appropriate message than that. “Swan Lake” continues at the Ahmanson Theatre through Jan. 5.
28 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Sheraton screws up royally in gay wedding refusal Social media and Hilton save the big day for Mr. Gay Canada By BILLY MASTERS
Vancouver vlogger and groom-to-be Josh Rimer Image via YouTube
Mobile is HOTTER THAN EVER CHECK OUT: sexy member videos, hot user stories, and new search filters.
“Girl, please stop talking. Please stop talking right now.” – Whoopi Goldberg snaps at Meghan McCain on yet another episode of “The Hunger Games”…I mean, “The View.” For now, I’m using this as my ringtone for certain “friends.” Every once in a while, someone champions the belief that gay roles should only be played by gay actors. Richard E. Grant (Oscar-nominated last year for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) recently pushed this agenda in an interview with the Sunday Times in London. “The transgender movement and the #MeToo movement means, how can you justify heterosexual actors playing gay characters?” So, ﬂipping it around, does Richard also wonder “how can you justify homosexual actors playing straight characters?” ‘Cause, y’know, it’s a slippery slope. Do you remember when Marvel announced plans for its ﬁrst openly gay superhero, which would be cast with an openly gay actor? It was rumored that the character would be “Ikaris.” However, recent reports indicate it will be Phastos in “The Eternals,” as played by Brian Tyree Henry. You may know BTH for his Emmy-nominated turn as rapper Paper Boi in the series “Atlanta,” or his guest-starring role on “This is Us” (also Emmy-nominated), or his Broadway turn in “Lobby Hero” (a Tony nomination). Although Brian hasn’t spoken about his sex life, there have been rumors – particularly after his convincing portrayal of a drag queen in the play “Wig Out,” which was staged at the Sundance Theatre Lab in 2007. Josh Rimer is the reigning Mr. Gay Canada. His dream was to get married at the Sheraton Buganvilias in Puerto Vallarta. Then he received a strange e-mail from the wedding sales executive: “Our hotel and our staﬀ is not specialized to carry out an equal wedding and we would not like to take your wedding as a trial and error.” When going public, Rimer said, “I don’t know if she thinks we’re going to show up in Speedos with go-go dancers and we expect the oﬃciant to be wearing leather chaps.” I dunno about you, but that sounds like MY dream wedding! Happily, Rimer got the following message via Instagram: “We’ll gladly host your wedding ceremony and feast for FREE for you and your 45 guests at the Hilton Puerto Vallarta!” In a silly story out of the UK, Nicole Scherzinger (of the Pussycat Dolls and various talent shows) was apparently out with a group of people at Freedom, a popular gay club in London. Her group included Sam Smith, Joe McElderry, and Nicole’s rumored beau, rugby player (and recent contestant on “The X-Factor: Celebrity”), Thom Evans. According to a civilian named Ben, “Sam was oﬀering their poppers around.” Ben added, “I got to sniﬀ the same bottle that Nicole used.” I would be far more interested in sharing a bottle with Thom Evans, who is one of the most spectacularly beautiful men to have graced the world. You may recall that he and his lookalike brother Max posed nude for the “Dieux Du Stade” calendar. Their nude photos can be found on our website, BillyMasters. com. BYOP (bring your own poppers). During bygone years, little gay boys around the globe could purchase their gay fashion and ogle scantily clad male models thanks to a mail-order company called International Male. Even I eagerly awaited each catalogue, ﬁlled with some stunning models, including many who later became good friends, like Brian Buzzini, Shemar Moore, and the late Spencer Garbett. The brand may be forgotten, but not for long. A documentary, “ALL MAN: The International Male Story” is being produced by Peter Jones. You can get more details at theﬁlmcollaborative.org. Mark Wahlberg certainly could have held his own for International Male – after all, he held it for Calvin! Now, a quarter of a century later, he posted a shirtless photo that seems to indicate he’s able to turn back time. “Six months of performance inspired nutrition Aquahydrate and F45 training! Clean eating inspired to be better team training / life changing.” Ah…so that’s the secret. Now, if anyone could explain in English what this means (I suspect it’s something along the lines of eat less, move more). To see the racy results, check out BillyMasters. com. Continues at losangelesblade.com
30 • DECEMBER 27, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
N.J. voters to decide on marijuana legalization
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation into law facilitating the expungement of low-level marijuana crimes and other offenses.
TRENTON, N.J. — Super-majorities of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate decided last week to place a marijuana legalization ballot question before voters in 2020. The question will appear as a constitutional amendment on the November election ballot. Senators voted 24 to 16 in favor of the effort, while members of the Assembly voted 49 to 24. State law requires that three-fifths of lawmakers in both chambers approve a resolution to place an amendment on the ballot. The ballot question will read: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.” Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had previously backed a legislative effort to regulate the personal use and retail sale of cannabis, but the proposed measure never received a Senate floor vote. NORML Northeast Political Assistant Tyler McFadden said that expeditious legislative action would have been preferable, but expressed confidence that “New Jersey voters will overwhelmingly support the legalization of cannabis in the Garden State” in 2020. According to a statewide Monmouth University poll, 62 percent of New Jersey adults support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. If voters approve the amendment in 2020, lawmakers will still have to finalize its language prior to implementing the new law. In a related development, Gov. Murphy signed legislation into law facilitating the expungement of low-level marijuana crimes and other offenses. The measure establishes an expedited process for expunging the criminal records associated with minor marijuana-related violations, among other changes. An analysis of nationwide arrest data published last year reported that New Jersey was third in the nation in total marijuana arrests and second only to Wyoming in per capita marijuana arrests. “This ... will make it possible for thousands of residents now and in the future to truly be able to turn the corner and not have long forgotten mistakes marking them like a ‘scarlet letter’ for the rest of their lives,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, one of the bill’s sponsors. In August, the governor issued a conditional veto to similar legislation, opining at that time that it did not go far enough to streamline the expungement process. While some provisions of the new law will take immediate effect, other parts of the measure will not
be enacted for 180 days. Gov. Murphy also signed separate legislation into law (A 5823) restoring voting rights to 80,000 people who are currently on probation or parole.
Near-record support for cannabis legalization: polls More than six in 10 U.S. adults support legalizing marijuana nationwide, according to a pair of public opinion polls released last week. According to a new Fox News survey of registered voters nationwide, 63 percent of respondents endorse “legalizing the recreational use of marijuana on a national level.” The total represents an increase in public support of four percentage points since the last time Fox polled the issue in 2018. A second national poll, conducted by NPR/PBS and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, reported that 62 percent of U.S. adults believe that “legalizing marijuana nationally” is a “good idea.” The poll results are consistent with those of other recent national surveys — including those conducted by Gallup, the Public Religion Research Institute, Pew, and Axios — all showing greater than 60 percent public support in favor of legalizing cannabis.
Topical CBD shown to mitigate neuropathy SAN DIEGO — The topical administration of CBD oil is associated with reduced pain in patients with peripheral neuropathy, according to clinical trial data published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology. A team of investigators affiliated with Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego and Des Moines University in Iowa assessed the efficacy of topically delivered CBD oil in the management of neuropathic pain in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Twentynine patients participated in the study. Each patient received both treatment and placebo at various intervals of the four-week trial. Authors reported: “There was a statistically significant reduction in intense pain, sharp pain, cold and itchy sensations in the CBD group when compared to the placebo group. No adverse events were reported in this study.” They concluded: “Our findings demonstrate that the transdermal application of CBD oil can achieve significant improvement in pain and other disturbing sensations in patients with peripheral neuropathy. The treatment product was well-tolerated and may provide a more effective alternative compared to other current therapies in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.” Cannabis Culture news in the Blade is provided in partnership with NORML. For more information, visit norml.org.
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