MEET THE CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RACES ON MARCH 3
F E B R U A R Y 2 1 , 2 0 2 0 • V O LU M E 0 4 • I S S U E 0 8 • 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
Kipp Mueller SD-21
LA County Supervisor 5
LA County Supervisor 2
George Gascรณn LA County DA
Loraine Lundquist LA City Council 12
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk Long Beach City Council 8
EQUALITY CANDIDATES VOTE MARCH 3, 2020 Congress
CA 08 - Chris Bubser CA 10 - Josh Harder* CA 21 - TJ Cox* CA 25 - Christy Smith** CA 25 - Special Election Christy Smith CA 26 - Julia Brownley* CA 27 - Judy Chu* CA 28 - Adam Schiff* CA 29 - Tony Cardenas* CA 30 - Brad Sherman* CA 32 - Grace Napolitano* CA 33 - Ted Lieu* CA 34 - Jimmy Gomez* CA 35 - Norma Torres* CA 37 - Karen Bass* CA 38 - Linda Sanchez* CA 39 - Gil Cisneros* CA 40 - Lucille Roybal-Allard* CA 43 - Maxine Waters* CA 44 - Nanette Barragรกn* CA 45 - Katie Porter* CA 47 - Alan Lowenthal* CA 48 - Harley Rouda* CA 49 - Mike Levin* CA 50 - Ammar Campa-Najjar **On March 3rd vote for Christy twice! For the Special Election & the Primary.
California State Senate
SD 21 - Kipp Mueller SD 27 - Henry Stern* SD 29 - Josh Newman SD 33 - Lena Gonzalez* SD 35 - Steven Bradford*
California State Assembly
AD 38 - Brandii Grace AD 39 - Luz Rivas* AD 41 - Chris Holden* AD 43 - Laura Friedman* AD 44 - Jacqui Irwin* AD 45 - Jesse Gabriel* AD 46 - Adrin Nazarian* AD 48 - Blanca Rubio* AD 49 - Ed Chau* AD 50 - Richard Bloom* AD 51 - Wendy Carrillo* AD 52 - Freddie Rodriguez* AD 53 - Miguel Santiago* AD 54 - Sydney Kamlager-Dove* AD 57 - Ian Calderon* AD 59 - Reggie Jones-Sawyer* AD 60 - Sabrina Cervantes* AD 62 - Autumn Burke* AD 63 - Anthony Rendon* AD 64 - Mike Gipson* AD 66 - Al Muratsuchi*
Los Angeles County Supervisor LACSup 2 - Holly Mitchell LACSup 4 - Janice Hahn* LACSup 5 - John Harabedian
Los Angles County
District Attorney - George Gascรณn Superior Court Judge 42 - Linda Sun Superior Court Judge 72 - Robert Jacobs Superior Court Judge 76 - Emily Cole Superior Court Judge 80 - David Berger Superior Court Judge 97 - Sherry Powell Superior Court Judge 129 - Ken Fuller Superior Court Judge 145 - Adan Montalban Superior Court Judge 150 - Tom Parsekian Superior Court Judge 162 - No Consensus
San Bernardino County
Los Angles City Council
Whittier City Council
Superior Court Judge - Joel Agron*
LACC 2 - Paul Krekorian* LACC 4 - David Ryu* LACC 6 - Nury Martinez* LACC 8 - Marqueece Harris-Dawson* LACC 10 - No Consensus LACC 12 - Loraine Lundquist LACC 14 - No Consensus
LA Unified School District Board LAUSD 1 - George McKenna* LAUSD 3 - Scott Schmerelson* LAUSD 5 - Jackie Goldberg* LAUSD 7 - Patricia Castellanos
Glendale City Council Dan Brotman Ardy Kassakhian
Mayor - Victor Gordo
Seat 3 - Yasmin Ferrada
CA State Measure 13 - YES LA County Measure FD - YES LA County Measure R - YES
*Incumbent LGBTQ+ Stonewall Democratic Club @StonewallDemsLA @stonewalldemsla www.StonewallDems.org
Huntington Park City Council Eddie Martinez Graciela Ortiz* Marilyn Sanabria*
Long Beach City Council
Seat 8 - Tunua Thrash-Ntuk
Not paid for by any candidate or candidate's committee. Printed by Stonewall Democratic Club FEC C00323923. Register to vote or find your polling place at LAVote.net
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*Offer applies only to single-receipt qualifying purchases. Ashley HomeStore does not require a down payment, however, sales tax and delivery charges are due at time of purchase if the purchase is made with your Ashley Advantage™ Credit Card. No interest will be charged on promo purchase and equal monthly payments are required equal to initial promo purchase amount divided equally by the number of months in promo period until promo is paid in full. The equal monthly payment will be rounded to the next highest whole dollar and may be higher than the minimum payment that would be required if the purchase was a non-promotional purchase. Regular account terms apply to non-promotional purchases. For new accounts: Purchase APR is 29.99%; Minimum Interest Charge is $2. Existing cardholders should see their credit card agreement for their applicable terms. Promotional purchases of merchandise will be charged to account when merchandise is delivered. Subject to credit approval. ‡Monthly payment shown is equal to the purchase price, excluding taxes and delivery, divided by the number of months in the promo period, rounded to the next highest whole dollar, and only applies to the selected financing option shown. If you make your payments by the due date each month, the monthly payment shown should allow you to pay off this purchase within the promo period if this balance is the only balance on your account during the promo period. If you have other balances on your account, this monthly payment will be added to the minimum payment applicable to those balances. §Subject to credit approval. Minimum monthly payments required. See store for details. ‡‡Previous purchases excluded. Cannot be combined with any other promotion or discount. Discount offers exclude Tempur-Pedic®, Stearns & Foster® and Sealy Posturepedic Hybrid™ mattress sets, Hot Buys, floor models, clearance items, sales tax, furniture protection plans, warranty, delivery fee, Manager’s Special pricing, Advertised Special pricing, and 14 Piece Packages and cannot be combined with financing specials. Effective 1/1/2018, all mattress and box springs are subject to a $10.50 per unit CA recycling fee. †Subject to availability. Order must be entered by 4 PM. SEE STORE FOR DETAILS. Stoneledge Furniture LLC., many times has multiple offers, promotions, discounts and financing specials occurring at the same time; these are allowed to only be used either/or and not both or combined with each other. Although every precaution is taken, errors in price and/or specification may occur in print. We reserve the right to correct any such errors. Picture may not represent item exactly as shown, advertised items may not be on display at all locations. Some restrictions may apply. Available only at participating locations. Ashley HomeStores are independently owned and operated. ©2020 Ashley HomeStores, Ltd. Promotional Start Date: February 18, 2020. Expires: March 9, 2020.
Lawmakers ask Newsom to nominate LGBTQ judge Filling vacancy on California Supreme Court could be historic State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to nominate an LGBTQ judge to the California Supreme Court. “On behalf of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, we encourage you to seize the historic opportunity presented with the retirement of Associate Justice Ming W. Chin by nominating to the California Supreme Court its first openly LGBTQidentified justice,” LGBTQ Caucus chairs Wiener and Gloria wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to Newsom. “California has many highly qualified LGBTQ candidates, including appellate justices, trial judges, legal scholars, and
California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus logo
attorneys,” they continued. “Nominating an LGBTQ justice would send a powerful message of California’s leadership and values, and it would highlight the success California has achieved in making the state’s judiciary better reflect its rich diversity. The time has come for an openly LGBTQ justice to sit on our state’s highest court.” In the press release announcing the letter, the lawmakers cited the need for LGBTQ representation on the bench.
“California has never had an LGBTQ Supreme Court Justice, and it’s time to make history. The LGBTQ community depends on the judicial system to enforce our civil rights and to ensure we aren’t criminalized,” said Wiener. “Representation matters, and I urge the Governor to do what he has always done: stand up for LGBTQ people.” “In a state that is a progressive beacon of hope for LGBTQ people around the world, the time has come for this kind of representation on the California Supreme Court. Cases related to LGBTQ people are too frequently coming before the court without someone at the table who shares that lived experience,” added Gloria. “If we are steadfast in being a California for All, we urge Governor Newsom to nominate an openly LGBTQ person as our next Supreme Court Justice.” Newsom has had a track record for ensuring that California’s LGBTQ
people are given opportunities in state government. “Throughout his career, Governor Newsom has elevated LGBTQ+ leaders to ensure our government reflects the diversity of the people it serves,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “We now have an historic opportunity to put a qualified openly LGBTQ+ justice on California’s highest court and ensure LGBTQ+ people are represented in every level of our justice system.” Newsom’s office acknowledged the request. “The governor is committed to finding and vetting candidates who reflect the rich diversity of life and legal experience that is unique to California, and that will best serve the people of our state. That process is very much active and ongoing at this time,” out Newsom Press Secretary Jesse Melgar tells the Los Angeles Blade.
Trevor Project sounds alarm on LGBTQ youth New report says mental health stigma higher among young black people The Trevor Project recently released a pair of reports that shine a light on suicide in the LGBTQ community. In the last 10 years, suicides in general have increased across the U.S. population, and a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that adolescents who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are four times as likely to take their own life. Another study by the CDC also found a similar rate with transgender youth. Suicidal thoughts, meanwhile, are reported to occur in nearly 40 percent of individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Onetenth also attempted suicide at some point in the last year; depression is also high. Fully accurate data on LGBTQ suicide rates is difficult to access since death record
The Trevor Fund
databases lack accurate information on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Trevor Project’s study on black LGBTQ youth shows especially troubling numbers in mental health issues. The report found that only 39 percent seek professional help, compared to nearly half of the larger LGBTQ community. Close to 20 percent of black LGBTQ youth has attempted suicide in the last year and 35 percent have contemplated it, which is double the rates across LGBTQ youth. That
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20 and 35 percent is nearly doubled black transgender youth. The Trevor Project and CDC findings highlight the need not only for increased studies and attention on the alarming correlation between LGBTQ youth and suicide, but the importance of mental health services. “Existing models of care have failed at providing black LGBTQ youth access to appropriate and acceptable mental health services, and underscore the need for culturally competent, communityderived suicide prevention programs,” Myeshia Price-Feeney, research scientist for The Trevor Project, said in a statement regarding the findings on black LGBTQ youth. “We must move past a ‘one-size-fitsall’ approach to better serve black LGBTQ youth.” “These findings not only support investment in black LGBTQ youth mental health, but also development
and wide application of communityderived prevention programs in which key stakeholders including respected community and church leaders; parents, grandparents, and other family members; and black LGBTQ youth themselves are included in the process,” the Trevor Project says in its report. “Suicide can be prevented through comprehensive public health strategies aimed at reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors. Increased knowledge about populations at highest risk for suicide can assist prevention efforts aimed at ending suicide and enhancing well-being for those individuals,” the organization says. The results of the two studies once again underscore the need for proper access to mental health services and suicide prevention education, particularly amongst LGBTQ youth aged 18 to 25. For more information on the Trevor Project, visit their website at www.thetrevorproject.org.
Whose rule of law? LA DA race now critical as faith in justice crumbles By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org
January 2016. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a crowd in Iowa that his supporters were so loyal, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Four years later, attorney Alan Dershowitz argued: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” The Republican Senate acquitted Trump in his sham impeachment trial. Recently, more that 2,000 former DOJ officials called for Attorney General William Barr to resign after he publicly intervened in federal cases to beneﬁt Trump. On Feb. 18, after pardoning a slew of prominent whitecollar criminals, Trump declared himself “the chief law enforcement officer of the country.” Hope for the rule of law now rests locally with eyes on the critical race for LA District Attorney. All three candidates call themselves “progressive” and each is familiar with the LGBTQ community. Incumbent DA Jackie Lacey’s sluggish response to the meth overdose death of young black gay escort Gemmel Moore in Ed Buck’s West Hollywood apartment raised cries for accountability. Black Lives Matter regularly protests Lacey’s non-prosecution of deadly officer-involved shootings. To some, Lacey represents a career conservative from a bygone era; to others, she is a solid prosecutor who deserves praise for seeing the connection between mental illness and crime. George Gascón left his job as DA in San Francisco after essentially being recruited to run against Lacey by the movement for progressive prosecutors. Before he was that
RACHEL ROSSI, GEORGE GASCÓN, JACKIE LACEY - candidates for LA DA
city’s top prosecutor, appointed by thenMayor Gavin Newsom to replace outgoing DA Kamala Harris, Gascón had a long career in the LAPD, rising to assistant chief under Chief Bill Bratton. He is familiar with the inclusion of gay and lesbian officers in the Christopher Commission Report criticizing LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ reign. The San Francisco police union despises him so much, they are running independent ads against him in LA. Rachel Rossi is three decades younger than her opponents, but the former LA County and federal public defender has her own unique progressive strengths — such as asking voters to imagine the DA’s office run by someone with transgender clients who fought against the systemic problems of an institutionalized prosecutor’s office. Rossi also has direct experience with criminal justice reform policy in Congress. She wants to bring “bold, transformative change” to the LA DA’s office. If presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ popularity trickles down-ballot, Rossi may be stronger than expected in the March 3 primary. If no one secures more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two compete again in November.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2018 • 05
Jackie Lacey seeks third term as LA DA Incumbent faces tough progressive opposition By KAREN OCAMB email@example.com
In 2012, Barack Obama, America’s first black president, sought certain reelection. In Los Angeles, many LGBTQ voters joined others in celebrating the historic election of Jackie Lacey as the first woman and first African American district attorney in LA County. But others were leery of Lacey, a tough career prosecutor who joined the DA’s office in 1986 and spent 33 years rising through the ranks to become second-incommand to Republican DA Steve Cooley. The two proceeded to dismantle much of the progress made under liberal Democrat Gil Garcetti, including deflating the muchlauded hate crime prevention community network created under lesbian Deputy DA Carla Arranaga. Lacey, too, has been lauded for creating a mental health division in the DA’s office. “Really the goal is to get treatment before someone has to call the police,” Lacey says in an Oct. 28, 2019 campaign ad that concludes: “Justice for all. That’s Jackie Lacey.” But her critics say Lacey does not practice what she claims, that she’s stuck greasing the gears of old institutionalized racism. “Critics point out,” LAist notes, “that in the 22 cases in which Lacey has successfully sought the death penalty, 13 defendants were Latino, eight were black and one was Asian.” She’s not all-in on cash bail reform or Prop 47, which reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. And while she recently announced the dismissal of 66,000 marijuana convictions, critics note that the move comes two years after California voters legalized pot as she faces a tough reelection. Lacey is best known in the LGBTQ community for her failure to initially
LA DA JACKIE LACEY at a Stonewall meeting in West Hollywood in October 2019. Los Angeles photo by Karen Ocamb
charge former West Hollywood resident Ed Buck after two black men — Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean — died of meth overdoses in Buck’s apartment. After intense community pressure and allegations by young black man, Buck wound up in federal custody. While wobbling on Buck raised her profile, Lacey has also been repeatedly criticized for failing to charge and prosecute law enforcement officers in numerous questionable fatalities, according to Black Lives Matter/LA and the families of black men fatally shot by police. For instance, after LAPD Officer Clifford Proctor fatally shot unarmed homeless man Brendon Glenn, even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck called for his prosecution, which Lacey declined to pursue. The ACLU issued a statement saying, “if the evidence is clear enough for Chief Beck to take the extraordinary step of calling for prosecution of one of his officers, what more does Lacey need? Her decision suggests that
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no matter how egregious an officer’s conduct is, no matter the evidence she has before her, she does not intend to hold any officer accountable for unnecessarily and inexplicably shooting a member of the public.” A seemingly frightened Lacey endured a contentious public meeting hosted by Stonewall Democratic Club last year, during which her critics asserted that she won’t prosecute police because she wants the financial and electoral support of law enforcement for her re-election bid. “If that were true, then we would never file any case on an officer,” Lacey told the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview last November. “In fact, if you look at our records, since I’ve been here, we have filed criminal cases on 80-plus officers for both on duty and off duty conduct, including one officer-involved shooting. With regard to the Venice case, it was not Chief Beck’s job to be the prosecutor in the case. He’s the police. He’s not the prosecutor.”
“We examined the evidence and we put out a pretty detailed report with videotape indicating that we thought differently,” Lacey continued. “There was a struggle... and he had to defend himself and that Brendan Mullen was reaching for his gun ... So I disagree and I think that facts are on my side and victory will be on my side again.” The protesters and the grieving families at the Stonewall meeting in West Hollywood Oct. 28, 2019 felt there was a real disconnect between their pain and the way Lacey operates, as if she will not prosecute a case unless she is convinced she can win. It’s not that simple, Lacey said. “Our ethical duty under the law is to file cases that we believe 12 ordinary citizens from the community would find that they could convict the officer on that evidence. And it’s tough. And I do care.” There was a sincerity in Lacey’s voice when she tried to convey that sentiment to her critics. But they didn’t believe her, loudly complaining that she refuses to publicly meet with them. Lacey says she met privately in her office with mourning family members and with Jasmyne Cannick who “indicated that she had witnesses that would talk to us” about the Gemmel Moore case. But she’s still haunted by a town hall meeting several years ago which she left when it got too raucous. “I couldn’t talk. I was yelled at, criticized and after a while it seemed like no one really wanted a dialogue. No one really wanted to hear what I had to say,” she told the LA Blade. “In the LA County district attorney’s office, we are progressive — look at the things that we’ve done with regard to training officers on how to deescalate situations with someone who has a mental illness,” Lacey said. “But we are bound to follow the law and no one, no matter who you put in this position, is going to break the law in order to please folks who are angry because then they would be abandoning their duties as constitutional officers.” Lacey’s campaign did not respond to several requests for an interview for this story.
George Gascón running to unseat Jackie Lacey Former San Francisco DA known as progressive reformer By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org George Gascón seemed ebullient, as if hanging 10 on a huge wave of reform rising up from the nation’s progressive prosecutors. Even the $1 million contributed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League to a political action committee targeting Gascón with ugly ads did not seem to shake the former San Francisco district attorney seeking to unseat LA County DA Jackie Lacey. “I love Michelle Obama for many reasons and one of those reasons is saying that ‘when they go low, you go high.’ So, I’m going to stay high, okay?” Gascón tells the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. But he can’t resist pointing out that the ugly attack ads come people who “are very closely affiliated with the Republican Party” and Donald Trump. “They like to portray me as an older white man in the rumpled suit, doing some kind of nefarious type overnight carpetbagging,” he says, “trying to make it sound like somehow I was hiding evidence, which is far from the truth. The case that they’re talking about — we fired the prosecutor ... I’ve never seen Jackie Lacey fire a prosecutor for misconduct.” In 1967, Gascón, then 13, and his parents fled on a Freedom Flight from Havana to Miami. Within a week, they were in Southeast Los Angeles. Gascón dropped out of high school, finding it difficult to learn English. He joined the Army at 18, soon becoming the youngest sergeant in his brigade. He subsequently joined the LAPD, stationed in the Hollywood division but left to pursue his education. He earned a history degree from Cal State Long Beach and a law degree from Western State University College of Law. In 1987, he rejoined the LAPD and worked his way up to Assistant Chief under Bill Bratton. In 2006, he became chief of the Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department and tangled with infamous ultra-right winger Sheriff Joe Arpaio and anti-
GEORGE GASCÓN was previously DA of San Francisco Photo courtesy of Gascón
immigrant groups. Three years later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed Gascón to be San Francisco’s police chief and when District Attorney Kamala Harris vacated her seat to serve as California Attorney General in 2011, Newsom appointed him as her replacement. Harris and former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck have endorsed his run for LA DA. During his nine years as DA in San Francisco, Gascón implemented many modernizing reforms and coauthored Prop 47 in 2014 that reduced personal-use drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. That year he also convened a blue-ribbon panel to address an ongoing police scandal involving racist and homophobic text messages. Gascón was in the LAPD during the reign of Chief Daryl Gates and the uprising that resulted in the Christopher Commission Report in the early 1990s, which also included reports of
homophobia, including the cryptic “NHI” or “No Human Involved” when referring to gays. Then a young officer and sergeant, he met gay Sgt. Mitch Grobeson, who filed several lawsuits alleging anti-gay discrimination in the LAPD. “The horrendous behavior that he was subjected to — including one having to request help and nobody coming to help from the Rampart Division,” he says. “Which really obviously tells you what a homophobic police department we had back in those days.” Having a diverse staff helped create traumainformed care,” he says. “Like dealing with domestic violence, understanding that they are different nuances when you’re dealing with domestic violence involving people that are gay and people that are not gay. And having the capacity to understand the cultural nuances.” Gascón is proud of having started a major campaign dealing with LGBTQ elders in skilled
nursing facilities. “It’s a very lonely process for them, right? Because they were really the pioneers in their community,” he says. But now, getting older and needing services, “they get treated differently and discriminated against. And raising that awareness and dealing with this new issue I found compelling,” which he will “definitely address here.” Gascón also recognizes “the new wave of hate” with the Trump administration and says the district attorney “has a role” to play. He intends to be “truly proactive” and use every tool available, including community outreach. Some of his progressive reforms include not prosecuting sex workers and not using condoms as evidence of sex work. “It’s clear to me that when law enforcement uses condoms as evidence of a crime, then people do not use condoms, and then people engage in riskier activities that actually have tremendous negative impact on public health,” he says. It is important to recognize the distinction between survival sex and sex trafficking. “We need to move away from this sanctimonious, moralistic view of the world and understand that sex work needs to be decriminalized,” Gascón says. “Trafficking and the victimization needs to be treated through the criminal justice lens, but not the sex workers,” who already experience many layers of discrimination. Gascón also believes that incarcerated transgender women must be attended to properly, “not only the housing needs, but that they’re being protected and they’re treated with the same respect that anybody else that is in custody should be treated.” Gascón finds the information about the Ed Buck case “horrifying” and he’s not sure the case wasn’t prosecutable early on. Refusing to talk to the family and refusing “to look beyond the first case when you have so many witnesses that were coming forward,” he says. “They’re all black gay men and somehow that makes him less human and less credible. I find that extremely disturbing.” Gascón says he received the Stonewall Democratic Club endorsement “because I have a history and I’m not a Johnny-come-lately on this issue.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 07
Rachel Rossi wants bold reform Plans to transform the LA DA’s office with community support By KAREN OCAMB email@example.com While her opponents may want to be Los Angeles County district attorney as a career move or the advance guard of a progressive movement, former public defender Rachel Rossi is seeking the seat on March 3 as a social justice calling. What if the DA sees crime through the eyes of a public defender representing the most marginalized of victims and accused? Rossi was a sophomore or junior at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, one of three small private Christian schools she attended where her father was teaching. She did an internship at a public defender’s office — not even knowing what a public defender was and never intending to be a lawyer. “My job was to just go into the jails and interview people before they got to their lawyer, to make sure that they had what they needed,” Rossi tells the Los Angeles Blade. “And just going into the jails and only seeing black and brown people, I was just like, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I’ve got to fight this.’ And then I went to law school to be a public defender.” Rossi, 36, graduated from Pepperdine Law School in 2009 but there was a hiring freeze forcing her to wait two years to join the public defender’s office. “I never saw myself being a lawyer. And then, for sure, I never saw myself being a prosecutor. I always saw myself as a fighter for the people,” says Rossi. “And then when I saw this movement of public defenders running for prosecutors, it really excited me because it made me think, ‘Wow, you really can have justice if a prosecutor looks completely different.’ So here I am.” Attending very conservative Christian schools informed her soul, which in turn informed her job and her politics. “I honestly think that a lot of it was driven by my understanding of faith, because to me it’s
Rachel Rossi, candidate for LA DA Photo courtesy of Rossi
about representing marginalized people and standing up for marginalized communities,” she says. “Having that experience has given me some ability to be a bridge builder. I think if I had gone to UCLA or something, I would be very, very much the super progressive leftist and it would reflect that in my career and my background and everything I’ve done.” But while Rossi personally identifies as “extremely progressive,” she has found that her conservative Christian background can serve the larger cause, especially when discussing issues with ideologues in Congress. In 2018, Rossi was on detail from the Federal Public Defender’s Office to provide counsel on criminal justice policy to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She served as lead staffer on the First Step
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Act, the criminal justice reform bill that subsequently enabled thousands of prisoners being released. “When I was on the Hill, I had a conversation with this Republican staffer who was just like, ‘Yeah, I can’t trust you.’ And then when I talked about going to a Christian school, it opened the door and we had a conversation, and we were able to come to negotiations on criminal justice reform,” Rossi says. Rossi’s original epiphany as an intern to serve “the least of these” has led her to fight those society has forgotten, ignored, or trampled, including transgender clients in desperate need. “I had a client who was arrested and their case was pending and she was transitioning medically at the time that she was arrested,”
says Rossi. “There were particular medications that she needed and there was a specific bra that she needed — there were a lot of medical necessities. I went to the prosecutor, they just were like, ‘What does this have to do with the case?’ So, I went to the judge and I filed a motion and asked the court to order the jail to provide all of these necessities for my client. Even the judge looking at that motion, thinking it was frivolous and almost laughing at it, and not really understanding the pain that my client was in and the importance of treating her with dignity — it was just disgusting to see.” That experience, among many more, informs Rossi’s platform as she seeks to become the LA district attorney. “I want to increase the representation of LGBTQIA attorneys and staff in the DA’s office; to prosecute hate crimes — black and LGBTQIA communities are the top two groups most frequently targeted in LA; to advocate for prison and jail reforms that ensure the safety of those incarcerated from the LGBTQIA community; and to address the overrepresentation of LGBTQIA and gender nonconforming persons in the criminal justice system, both as the accused and as victims.” Rossi also wants “to educate not only DAs, who I think do not have an understanding of what the transgender community is facing, particularly behind bars, but also judges,” Rossi says. “I think that’s incredibly important.” Effecting change involves community outreach. “I think it starts with what has been one of the largest problems with our current DA. It starts with actually forging those relationships and having a voice in communities outside of the DA’s office,” Rossi says. “I think that is an incredible priority.” Rossi says she represents a new focus. “Having stood on the other side of the courtroom and stood with clients and stood with sometimes victims too, there is a better understanding of what the system is doing to people every day on the ground when you have a background like I do,” Rossi says. “I’m running because I don’t want more of the same. I want to change the status quo. And because of my experience, I’m the candidate with the best ability to do so.”
Becerra leads coalition to stump Trump Trump executive order would extend religious exemptions By KAREN OCAMB firstname.lastname@example.org Unpunished, unleashed and unpredictable, Donald Trump is coming for California. At the same time, he is ﬂying into Los Angeles for another round of reelection fundraising in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, the president of the United States is deploying tactical Border Patrol units into sanctuary cities such as LA to facilitate Immigration and Customs Enforcement “at-large” arrests — a move denounced by LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other LA officials. But once again, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is standing at the barricades, using the law to thwart the unhinged Trump. On Feb. 18, Becerra ﬁled two multistate comment letters from a broad coalition of attorneys general opposing two federal proposals that roll back critical anti-discrimination protections and allow faith-based providers to deny services for patients and students. The proposals originated as Trump executive orders expanding the right of religious organizations to discriminate against women, survivors of sexual harassment and violence, and LGBTQ people. In one, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would allow faithbased providers to shirk transparency requirements that help patients to understand their civil rights and access referrals to care from alternative, nonbiased religious providers. The elimination of this safeguard of accurate and impartial information particularly jeopardizes the health of women (especially those seeking contraception or abortions) and LGBTQ individuals, who — HHS knows — already disproportionately face barriers to lifesaving healthcare. The other proposal from Betsy DeVos’ Education Department vastly expands the right to claim a religious exemption under Title IX, thus enabling schools “to discriminate on the basis of sex against students or faculty based on the moral beliefs and practices of administrators, even if those practices have no connection with a
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Photo courtesy of AG’s office
religion,” according to a press release from Becerra’s office. Under the new proposal, a student “could unlawfully face discrimination for using birth control, being pregnant or parenting a child out of marriage, or for being LGBTQ, simply because of the moral beliefs or practices of school administrators,” the release says. “There’s no excuse for discrimination against patients or students, including denying lifesaving referrals or educational programs that help students thrive,” Becerra says in a statement. “Sadly, these new proposals are just the latest example of the Trump Administration’s obsession with trampling on our nation’s antidiscrimination protections. California is prepared to step up to protect the rights of the people of our state.” “The Trump-Pence administration is yet again endangering the lives of LGBTQ+ patients and students and we in California won’t put up with it,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, tells the
Los Angeles Blade. “We have long opposed the use of religious exemptions as tools to discriminate against women, LGBTQ+ people and anyone else who could be denied care or service. We are grateful to Attorney General Becerra for once again ﬁghting to uphold the civil rights of LGBTQ+ Californians.” Becerra’s coalition ﬁled the comment letter on Feb. 18 — the last day of the comment period on the proposals. But there is a possibility the comment period could be extended to encourage more input from more communities. The coalition argues that the HHS proposal is “arbitrary and capricious because the federal government failed to provide any substantive reasoning that would justify this dramatic departure in policy, which is contrary to the goals of Title IX.” Becerra and the coalition also note in their comment letters that “this kind of discrimination can needlessly and seriously disrupt students’ academic trajectories and careers and has a detrimental long-term
effect on the mental and physical health of students.” Becerra has been consistently leading the charge against the Trump/Pence administration. Late last year, Becerra co-led a comment letter urging HHS to withdraw a proposal that would eliminate explicit antidiscrimination language governing HHS’ grant programs, according to the Attorney General’s office. He also “pushed back against a proposal to undermine protections under the Affordable Care Act that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age.” And last July, Becerra joined a coalition of attorneys general to defend Title VII’s antidiscrimination provisions before the U.S. Supreme Court. The process will take a while to unfold but meanwhile, Donald Trump is in California bragging to his Republican donors about all the regulations he is cutting to reward his steady religious electoral base, caring not a whit that he is also dramatically hurting women, young girls and LGBTQ people.
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Criticized for being too gay and not gay enough, Buttigieg has unique burden Out candidate endures criticism from all sides By CHRIS JOHNSON Faced on one side with complaints from conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh about being too gay and LGBTQ activists on the other side who say he’s not gay enough, Pete Buttigieg faces a unique burden as an out presidential candidate despite the history he made with success in Iowa and New Hampshire. The anti-LGBTQ and pro-LGBTQ criticism, of course, aren’t comparable in terms of where they originate. But in the face of this dichotomy — which would seem to leave Buttigieg no option for winning — other openly gay public figures who have won public office have a singular piece of advice for the candidate: Keep calm and carry on. Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the first openly lesbian mayor of Houston, said her advice is “to keep doing exactly what he’s doing, to focus on the issues of the campaign.” “He should just keep doing what he’s always done, which is focus razor-sharp on the issues, acknowledge when there’s differences of opinion or there are venues that he might not be a expert on, and that’s what we want in a presidential candidate,” Parker said. On the anti-LGBTQ side, trouble for Buttigieg came to the fore last week when Limbaugh — who has a long history of homophobic comments — complained on his radio show about Buttigieg kissing his spouse, Chasten Buttigieg. “So I saw a political ad, where Mayor Pete, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, going on and on and on and on and on, about how parents in America are struggling to explain President Trump to their children,” Limbaugh said. Then Limbaugh held up a photo of Buttigieg kissing his husband, which was visible to subscribers watching his video feed. “You think — natural conclusion — so he
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-South Bend, Ind.) faces a unique burden over his sexual orientation as a gay candidate. Photo courtesy of PBS News Hour/POLITICO
says Trump causes problems for parents, what about that?” Limbaugh said. “If you’re not watching on the ditto cam, what it is, a picture of Mayor Pete kissing his husband, which he does frequently.” Limbaugh had more to say: “America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage president.” (The radio show host has just announced he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and received from President Trump the Presidential Medal of Freedom live during the State of the Union address, which apparently did nothing to change his hostility to LGBTQ people.) Even Trump, at least at first, wouldn’t defend that. In an interview days later with Geraldo Rivera on Fox News, Trump was asked if American voters could one day elect a gay candidate to the White House. Putting distance between himself and his ally Limbaugh, Trump replied, “I think so.” “I think there would be some that wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t be among that group to be honest with you,” Trump added. Limbaugh, however, wouldn’t let up. On his radio show on Monday, the radio show host asserted Trump had called him and told him to “never apologize” for his remarks. “Hell, the president even called me about this!” said Limbaugh on his radio talk show, according to the International Business Times. “He said, ‘Rush, I just got to tell you something.
Never apologize. Don’t ever apologize.’” “I had no idea this thing had even bubbled up,” Limbaugh reportedly added. “You know, I’m up doing the medical thing that I have to do here, and I wasn’t even aware of this.” The White House didn’t respond to the Los Angeles Blade’s request to comment on whether Limbaugh’s claim Trump had called him was accurate. Buttigieg, in the aftermath of Limbaugh’s comments and Trump’s response, delivered a cutting response at a CNN town hall when asked if he believes Trump is telling the truth when says he could support a gay candidate. “Well, not if he’s sending out his supporters to talk in this way,” Buttigieg said. “And look, I mean, the idea of the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump lecturing anybody on family values? I mean, I’m sorry, but one thing about my marriage is, it’s never involved me having to send hush money to a porn star after cheating on my spouse with him or her. So, they want to debate family values? Let’s debate family values. I’m ready.” Christine Quinn, a lesbian and former speaker of the New York City Council, said Buttigieg had the right approach when speaking with the Blade on Wednesday. “My advice to him would be to continue doing what he’s been doing, which is facing homophobes head on and responding to them in a very thoughtful, authentic way,” Quinn said. “He needs to keep doing that.” Slamming Limbaugh’s anti-gay comments, Quinn also urged Buttigieg to “not spend too much time responding to homophobes because they don’t deserve it, they don’t warrant it.” “He has made it very clear from before day one of his presidential campaign that he is a very out and proud gay man who is wildly in love with his husband and who has a lovely family,” Quinn said. “That’s the reality of who he is. He’s shared that with Americans. If some Americans don’t like it because they are full of hate, that’s really not Mayor Pete’s problem.” Parker said she isn’t surprised by Limbaugh’s homophobic comments because he made them in past and the latest remarks are just par for the course.
“He has made a lot of money by demonizing and attacking various groups, so it’s surprising, I’m shocked,” Parker said. “Why would anybody be shocked that Rush Limbaugh would say something like that?” Referencing Trump saying he’d vote for a gay president, then apparently calling Limbaugh to defend the radio show host’s anti-gay comments, Parker added Trump is “probably lying” one way or the other. “I cannot imagine any LGBT person in America legitimately saying that Donald Trump is good for the LGBTQ community,” Parker said. “Certainly no one who is trans can say he’s good for the transgender community.”
‘Queers Against Pete’ collects 4,000 signatures against Buttigieg But Buttigieg is also facing criticism based on his sexual orientation from within the LGBTQ community from those who say he’s not gay enough, which is often a metaphor for criticism saying he’s not progressive enough. One visible LGBTQ group against Buttigieg is Queers Against Pete, which touts gathering a list of nearly 4,000 signatures from LGBTQ people across all 50 states and D.C. for a petition criticizing Buttigieg. Among its complaints is Buttigieg’s opposition to universal free public college and cancelling student loan debt, having no plan to restore voting rights to felons and incarcerated people or an end to cash bail; support for an increase in defense spending and Medicare for All Who Want It Plan than that falls short of the Medicare for All and universal childcare plans proposed by other candidates. As Buttigieg struggles with support among black voters, Queers Against Pete also criticizes the candidate for his handling as South Bend mayor of a white police officer shooting a black resident, the firing a black police chief investigating racism in the police force and a housing plan that demolished low-income homes, including in minority communities.
Continues on page 19
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New U.S. Attorney for D.C.’s views on LGBTQ issues unknown Timothy J. Shea advised Barr at Justice Department By LOU CHIBBARO JR. Two weeks after U.S. Attorney General William Barr named Timothy J. Shea, one of his top advisors at the Justice Department, as Interim U.S. Attorney for D.C., Shea became embroiled in controversy surrounding his role in overseeing the prosecution of several high profile federal cases. Among those cases was that of Roger Stone, the longtime friend and informal advisor to President Trump who was convicted last year on seven charges that emerged from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Although Shea was not involved in prosecuting Stone during Stone’s trial in federal court in D.C., news surfaced last week that he may have played a lead role in the decision to overrule a recommendation to the judge in the case by career prosecutors at the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. Over the strong objection of the career prosecutors who made the sentencing recommendation, the Justice Department withdrew it and left it up to U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to decide what Stone’s sentence should be without a recommendation by prosecutors. Inside sources initially told the Washington Post that Barr was the one who overruled the career prosecutors and ordered the office to withdraw the seven to 9-year sentencing recommendation. But Barr has since said it was Shea who made that decision. Shea has declined to comment about the sentencing flap. In the midst of this and at least two other high profile federal cases in which Shea has been involved since becoming interim U.S. Attorney for D.C. on Feb. 3, little or no attention has been given to how Shea plans to carry out his role as the lead prosecutor of
Interim U.S. Attorney for D.C. TIMOTHY J. SHEA Photo public domain
local D.C. criminal cases, including the large number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes cases that have surfaced in the past several years. Many of those cases have involved transgender women of color as victims. D.C. is the only local jurisdiction in the nation in which a federally appointed prosecutor rather than a locally elected prosecutor oversees nearly all local criminal cases. Shelia Miller, the media spokesperson for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office is working on responses to questions submitted by the Los Angeles Blade asking whether Shea, 59, plans to continue the policy of reaching out to the LGBTQ community on hate crimes and other LGBTQ issues carried out by his immediate predecessor, former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu. Liu left the office on Jan. 31 after Trump nominated her to become Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes at the U.S. Department of Treasury. But in a development that drew criticism from some law enforcement observers, Trump abruptly withdrew Liu’s nomination on Feb. 11 reportedly in response to criticism by conservative Republican operatives who say Liu was too aggressive in
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prosecuting figures embroiled in the Mueller investigation. LGBTQ activists in D.C. have said Liu was among the few Trump appointees who were open to addressing concerns of the LGBTQ community. She met with LGBTQ activists to discuss her office’s policies on prosecuting hate crimes following initial concerns that the office wasn’t being aggressive enough in prosecuting hate crimes cases brought to the office by D.C. police. In keeping with her outreach policy toward the LGBTQ community, Liu agreed to an interview with the Blade in which she discussed at length her efforts to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. Liu arranged for her office to invite LGBTQ community leaders to attend meetings and participate in the activities of her office’s Bias Crimes Task Force, which worked on ways to improve prosecution of hate crimes cases. Miller, the office’s spokesperson, had not responded as of late Tuesday to the Blade’s questions about Shea’s plans for addressing LGBTQ related issues, including whether he plans to continue the activities of the Bias Crimes Task Force.
Matt Lloyd, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, didn’t immediately respond to a question from the Blade asking whether Shea is under consideration for a permanent appointment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s position. Under longstanding practice, the U.S. president officially nominates candidates to become U.S. attorneys throughout the country and the U.S. Senate confirms the nominees. Most LGBTQ rights advocates contacted by the Blade have said they are unfamiliar with Shea’s position and record on dealing with LGBTQ-related issues in his past role as a prosecutor in Virginia and Massachusetts during his long career in law enforcement and private law practice. Robert Kabel, chair of the board of the national LGBTQ GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, said that while he doesn’t know Shea he is encouraged by Shea’s past work for two LGBTQ supportive Republican members of Congress — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and former U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte (R-Mass.). Kabel noted that Shea also served as chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office where he was responsible for overseeing enforcement of state laws related to consumer protection, civil rights, environmental protection, and elder protection. At the time he worked there, the office was headed by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who was said to be supportive of LGBTQ rights. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, whose office prosecutes some misdemeanor criminal cases as well as criminal cases involving juvenile defendants, told the Blade in a statement that he plans to work cooperatively with Shea. “While I’ve not worked with Mr. Shea on criminal matters, I have worked with him on civil matters while he was in private practice and will work hard to establish a relationship with him that best serves the interests of the District and its residents,” Racine told the Blade.
Gay Cuban man moves to D.C. after winning asylum case Ray Rodríguez ﬂed Cuba after police detained him By MICHAEL K. LAVERS A gay man from Cuba who was granted asylum in the U.S. last month says he hopes to start a new life in D.C. “I like it,” Ray Rodríguez told the Los Angeles Blade on Tuesday during an interview at Colada Cuban Cafe in Logan Circle, referring to the nation’s capital. “I like it a lot.” Rodríguez, 36, is from Las Tunas, a city that is roughly 400 miles southeast of Havana. Rodríguez told the Blade last month during a previous interview in the Mexican border city of Matamoros that Cuban police detained him when he was on Havana’s oceanfront promenade known as the Malecón and kept him in custody for “almost a day for no reason … like they do in Cuba.” Rodríguez said police in February 2019 detained him once again while he was on a portion of the Malecón that is popular with LGBTQ Cubans. “This time was a bit harsher,” said Rodríguez, noting the police were even more suspicious of him because he was not from Havana. “It just became a bit traumatic for me and then I said that’s it,” he added. Rodríguez said he received a visa from the Panamanian government that allowed him to travel to Panama. Rodríguez told the Blade he ﬂew to Panama City from Havana on April 9. He said he spent the next several weeks trekking through the jungle and taking buses until he reached Matamoros, which is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, on May 12. Rodríguez said he put his name on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection waiting list in order to ask for asylum in the U.S. Rodríguez on July 31 met Jesús Dubra Bazail, another gay Cuban man, when they asked for asylum.
RAY RODRÍGUEZ at Resource Center Matamoros in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers
Rodríguez, who asked for asylumbased on persecution because of his political beliefs, and Dubra were held together at a CBP processing center in Brownsville for two days before they were forced to return to Matamoros under the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” program that requires asylum seekers to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico. A State Department travel advisory urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state in which Matamoros is located because of “crime and kidnapping.” American government employees “may only travel within a limited radius” between the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros and “their respective U.S. ports of entry” and they “must observe” a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew. “Organized crime activity — including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion and sexual assault — is common along the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria,” reads the advisory, which refers to Tamaulipas’ capital. Rodríguez and a Cuban friend shared an apartment in Matamoros. Rodríguez was a volunteer translator for the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, a group
that serves migrant children who live in Matamoros’ tent camp, and Resource Center Matamoros, a group co-founded by Gaby Zavala that also helps migrants who live in the encampment. The Blade ﬁrst met Rodríguez at Resource Center Matamoros on Jan. 14, a day before a judge was scheduled to issue her ﬁnal ruling in his case. Rodríguez’s hearing was rescheduled because the judge was sick. Rodríguez on Jan. 22 returned to the tent courtrooms on the U.S. side of the Gateway International Bridge over the Rio Grande that connects Brownsville and Matamoros and the judge granted him asylum. “I lost it,” Rodríguez told the Blade on Tuesday in D.C. “I was crying the whole time.” Rodríguez said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then took him into custody because the Department of Homeland Security reserved the right to appeal the judge’s ruling within 30 days. Rodríguez was detained at an ICE detention center in Port Isabel, which is roughly 25 miles northeast of Brownsville, until his release on Jan. 25. Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, founder of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, picked Rodríguez up at Brownsville’s main bus station. “It was not as bad as I thought, but it’s prison,” said Rodríguez. Rodríguez, among other things, visited South Padre Island while he lived with Rangel-Samporano’s family in Brownsville. “Ray is one of my best friends,” RangelSamponaro told the Blade on Wednesday in a series of Facebook messages. “He has stuck by me (and I him) through everything.” “When I wasn’t sure if I could even run the Sidewalk School it was Ray that promised to help me and telling me I can do it,” she added. Rodríguez arrived in D.C. on Sunday, and currently lives with his sponsor in Bethesda. Zavala during an interview in her office at Resource Center Matamoros that took place before she introduced the Blade to
Rodríguez acknowledged it was possible he was going to win his asylum case. Zavala said she and her colleagues were “biting our nails because he may go to the U.S. and he will go to Washington.” “I said, ‘Go ﬁght for us, Ray, go ﬁght for us,’” Zavala told the Blade. The State Department and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights are among the myriad groups that have sharply criticized Cuba over its human rights record. Cuban police last May arrested several people who participated in an unsanctioned LGBTQ rights march in Havana. A number of independent LGBTQ activists were detained in order to prevent them from attending the event, and several participants were later taken into custody. Nelson Gandulla Díaz, the former president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights who is a vocal critic of Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ-speciﬁc issues in Cuba, has asked for asylum in Spain. Leodan Suárez Quiñones, a transgender activist who lives in western Cuba, and others have told the Blade that Cuban police regularly harass and detain trans women who they suspect are engaged in sex work. The Cuban government last May detained this reporter for several hours at Havana’s José Martí International Airport before officials escorted him on to a Miami-bound American Airlines ﬂight. Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist, remains in ICE custody in Louisiana as he awaits a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia on his asylum case. As for Rodríguez, he said he plans to live with his sponsor in Bethesda “until I ﬁgure out what I’m going to do.” Rodríguez also told the Blade he has begun to get to know D.C. He said he plans to visit some of the city’s museums. Rodríguez said he and his sponsor drove around D.C. on Monday. “It was cute,” he said. “I love it.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 13
VOLUME 04 ISSUE 08
We can’t let Bernie Bros hold us hostage Each Democratic candidate is more progressive than Trump
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
Recently I blocked a number of people on my FB page who have attacked me personally for criticizing Bernie Sanders’s positions and record. They warn of the need to be careful not to offend Sanders voters who threaten to not vote for the Democratic nominee if it’s not Bernie. My response has been we can’t be held hostage by this group of individuals. They are the ones who should be called out for not understanding the repercussions to the programs they espouse, and democracy as we know it, if they help to reelect Trump by not voting for whoever is the Democratic nominee. Every Democratic candidate is flawed just as every voter is flawed. Sorry Bernie Bros you aren’t perfect and neither is your vision or your candidate. Fact is each of the Democratic candidates is more progressive than Trump by a mile and support a more overall progressive agenda than any previous Democratic nominee. The issue is about scale and scope. It is also about the American electorate. How far and how fast they are willing to support change. In many ways it is even more important to win the Congress than it is the presidency. By winning the Senate we can stop the appointment of ultra-conservative judges and if we have the Congress can stop budget cuts to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, the dismemberment of the Environmental Protection Agency and halt future tax cuts for the rich. So it is crucial Democrats have a nominee at the head of the ticket who will not be a stone around the neck of all down ballot candidates. Some of the online debate has been about whether we are really a socialist country because we collectively fund schools, our police, the military and programs like social security. Should we really compare ourselves to Sweden and Norway? When Sanders does that we must question whether the American electorate believes it and will vote for a candidate who is a self-declared Democratic Socialist? Will the average voter understand what socialism really is and the difference between
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socialism and democratic socialism? More likely they will simply fear ‘socialism’ and vote against the candidate who espouses it. Voters will buy into the ads Trump and his acolytes will surely run attacking Sanders. Trump and his minions will never use the word Democratic along with the word socialist. Because of this each of our down-ballot candidates from school board to United States Senate will be spending half their time distancing themselves from the “socialist” at the head of our ticket if our nominee is Bernie Sanders. Those defending Sanders keep pointing to how he polls well against Trump. What they conveniently disregard is the Republicans have yet to attack Sanders because they want to run against him. They are just waiting with baited breath and a billion dollars to go after him if he wins the nomination. While it may all be nonsense the commercials will come reminding people of how he spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, his support of the Sandinistas and Ortega in Nicaragua, and of Fidel Castro in Cuba. I won’t bother going into the nuances of his support because neither will the Republican attack machine nor will the American public. The president will also use Sanders call for a “revolution” against him. The majority of Americans don’t want a revolution. We are seeing that even in the Democratic primary electorate. Sanders underperformed in New Hampshire by a wide margin. He even lost one of the big college towns he won in 2016. He didn’t get the big boost in Iowa failing to bring out the hordes of new voters he predicted. He is actually running second to Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count with his 21 to Pete’s 22. In 2018 Democrats took back the House of Representatives by having moderate Democrats win in swing districts across the country. The progressives Sanders and those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supported in those districts all lost either in a primary or in the election. Primary voters in both parties tend to be more rightwing or left-wing but the general electorate when polled show the majority are middle of the road voters. According to a Gallup poll while Democrats are more liberal Americans as a whole remained center-right ideologically and therefore to win Democratic candidates need to be more moderate. If we field those kinds of candidates we can win. Simply look at Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama as examples of how we win. The goal in 2020 must be to rid us and the world of Trump.
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We need the ERA now! Amendment would add sex to U.S. Constitution
ROBIN TYLER is a Jewish, gender queer lesbian comedienne and pioneer in the LGBTQI civil rights movement.
Excuse me? I can’t hear you! Why are you not talking about the ERA? ‘What is the ERA?” you ask? It means EQUAL RIGHTS AMMENDMENT! It means “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States because of sex.” Yes, it would finally put WOMEN in the constitution! It has only taken 48 YEARS to have enough states to ratify it! Yes, the 19th Amendment granting women suffrage is the only mention of the word “woman” in the Constitution. And, the ONLY right guaranteed to women by federal law is the right to vote. (Except in states controlled by Republicans! Just kidding.) The most important effect of the ERA would be the clarification of the status of sex discrimination for the courts, decisions of which still demonstrate confusion regarding such claims. For the first time, “sex” would be a suspect classification, like race, and would require the same level of “strict scrutiny” and to have to meet the same high level of justification — a “necessary” relation to a “compelling” state interest as the classification of race. This issue is so important. Last month, Virginia became the critical 38th state to ratified it! Of course, Republicans want to say it is too late, as it took so many years to get three-fourths of U.S. state legislatures required for a constitutional amendment. Some states want to rescind their ratification because
the Republican Party has made such an extreme right turn, that if the planet were flat (which some of them still think it is), they would fall right off. Our community fights with each other over everything: “Pete Buttigieg isn’t queer enough!” Maybe — but he still doesn’t have the right to work in more than 30 states, which will make being president difficult. “Amy Klobuchar is really a bitch.” Why? Because she is a strong, forceful, highly intelligent moderate. Besides, our community loved Joan Crawford. I rest my case. An ex-lover told me “Elizabeth Warren is too aggressive. She reminds me of my old gym teacher.” “Really?” I replied. A gym teacher who is also progressive and brilliant? Perfect! And don’t get me started over the fights about Mike Bloomberg. So we spend a lot of time fighting with each other. Over everything, not just politics! Meanwhile, the most important bill to affect all women — an issue that cis and trans women might consider fighting for together — is hardly getting any press! And I don’t see organizing for the ERA going on in our community! What about those wonderful demonstrations that WEHO pulls together in eight hours — usually with all the City Council speakers, but still, inspiring! Where are you WEHO City Council? Remember when gay men loved lesbians because of how much we did for
them during the AIDS crisis? “Just let us know if there is anything we can do for you” was their grateful response. HELLO, GAY MEN! As a matter of fact, there is something you can do for us. Visibly support the ERA! Hello, queer people! You say you are the most inclusive group? Knock, knock. Who’s there? It’s us — you know, women! OK, it’s us, the L and the female B in LGBTQ! Remember us? Will you fight for the ERA? Now, to be honest, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who supports the ERA, for once has sided with the Republicans and believes we should “begin again.” Excuse me? “Begin again” in a country that is going directly toward male authoritarianism which suffocates women’s rights? OK, let’s begin again and see what happens with marriage equality, or racial justice or even social security or Medicare. Do we look stupid enough to throw ourselves under the bus when we are fighting the right wing from pushing us there? No. This is our one and only chance for the next 100 years — providing the planet lasts 100 months, let along 100 years. So, let’s see this coalition come together to fight for women as hard as we have fought for you.
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The cast of ‘These Thems’ is from left SHAAN DASANI, NICK PARK, VICO ORTIZ ad GRETCHEN WYLDER. Photo courtesy Chatter Republic
Authentic casting, authentic laughs ‘These Thems’ explores the queer spectrum through comedy By PHILIP VAN SLOOTEN
An episodic romantic comedy about a newly out lesbian journeying with nonbinary and transgender friends through New York City’s vibrant queer scene streams Feb. 27 on YouTube’s OML channel. “These Thems” follows 30-year-old Gretchen and her nonbinary friend and LGBTQ educator Vero as they navigate the increasingly-complexyet-still-inclusive world of colorful queer community. Similar to “Pose,” this series features a multitude of transgender, nonbinary and queer characters portrayed by actors who are the same. It’s run by crew members who identify across the queer spectrum. Series writer, creator and star Gretchen Wylder, who identifies as a queer cisgender femme, and director Jett Garrison, who identifies as a femme-attracted transgender man, recently spoke with the Los Angeles Blade about this show, which both called a “comedy with heart.” “These Thems” was listed in GLAAD’s “Top Trans Creatives and Stories to Watch in 2019” and has received awards at film festivals in Chicago, Austin, North Carolina and Kansas.
It was also screened at Toronto’s Inside Out festival, Atlanta’s Out on Film and Los Angeles’ Outfest. The series is set to stream Thursdays on OML through mid-April. LOS ANGELES BLADE: Gretchen, can you tell us a little about the show? How would you describe it? GRETCHEN WYLDER: The show is a queer comedy series that follows four main characters in New York City. We follow a newly out lesbian who is trying to make up for lost time, and a nonbinary/wannabe queer educator who takes Gretchen under their wings. Their best friend is a trans man who is deciding whether or not to out himself at work, and he quickly falls for Gretchen’s best friend who is a cis gay man who is lovelorn and doesn’t really have any experience within the queer world. The audience follows Gretchen’s perspective through her lens of exploring the queer world for the first time. BLADE: You also named the lead character Gretchen. Was there any special reason?
WYLDER: There’s a lot of actor/writers whom I look up to who have named lead characters after themselves. Lucille Ball, Issa Rae. … And a lot of it is based off my own personal experience. Some of it is based on my own coming out experience, even though I came out 13 years ago. The first episode is inspired by a similar situation. BLADE: Would you say you’re similar to your character? WYLDER: Oh, Lord! We’re very similar, ha! I’m a Pisces and I’ve had my run of heartbreak, so we kind of see Gretchen going through the wringer a little bit. But near the end we see Gretchen reclaiming herself, her individuality and her sexuality. BLADE: What inspired you to create a newly out lesbian navigating the queer world? WYLDER: I like to think our show draws from and was inspired by “The L Word,” and it was so important to queer representation. But something that we deliver that “The L Word” doesn’t have is a more broad scope of what the queer community looks like. I feel like as
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enjoyable as it is, it for the most part it seems to focus its lens on cisgendered and conventionally attractive characters facing relationship troubles, and this show focuses more on the broadness of the New York queer community. One thing I never related to with “The L Word” was the predominantly white, feminine, lesbian circles. One thing that I wanted to reflect was queer intersectionality and to show that sometimes it is really difficult to navigate. We all don’t have the answers and we’re all learning and we’re all growing and the characters are just trying their best and experiencing life together — even if it looks different depending on the character. BLADE: Was it a challenge writing for nonbinary cast members? WYLDER: Many of my friendships and relationships are with people who identify as nonbinary or trans and I was very active in the queer community in New York City. When I was writing the show, I had four table readings in New York City. I come from a theater background and it comes immediately across from the audience when something is working or isn’t working. I tell you what, there have been so many rewrites of the script because so much of the language was clunky at first. I would get feedback and something wouldn’t work. It was a lot of trial and error. BLADE: Jett, what drew you to this project? JETT GARRISON: I read the script and fell in love with the characters, fell in love with the story — the humor. One of the things that drew me to the project was how beautifully Gretchen wrote all of these characters. Gretchen, the character, is having her coming out of sorts, but this is not a coming out story, per se. It is a coming out for folks who are already in the queer community. We have been over the past maybe five years learning a whole new vocabulary that didn’t exist for some of us in our 30s, 40s or 50s. We didn’t have words like nonbinary or trans, so Gretchen gets a new vocabulary and is excited and overwhelmed and she’s trying her best to figure it out. And I feel like everyone, whether they are a straight cis ally or part of the queer community, has had some kind of moment where they are trying to navigate and honoring somebody’s sexuality, identity or humaness in a way that is foreign to them. BLADE: How did you become involved? GARRISON: I’ve been a filmmaker for almost 20 years, and primarily as a queer, feminist, female-forward type of storyteller. Gretchen was reaching out to transmasculine, trans
The cast of ‘These Thems’ Photo courtesy Chatter Republic
male directors because of a central storyline that she knew she wanted to have an extra set of eyes and an extra heart to pay attention to. And I really connected to our transmasculine character, Asher. I knew that I wanted to develop those stories because we haven’t been seen in these storylines or characters. BLADE: Did being a transmasculine director help with developing the authenticity in those scenes? GARRISON: When you are a director working with your actors, whether it is in theater or film, you have to build this trust. … We (two of the transmasculine actors) were able to work in my apartment and have a discussion about what each of their identities mean to them and where they come from. Shaan (Dasani) happened to be a good friend of mine and we talk a lot about different experiences and where safety comes into play about being out — whether it’s at work or in public — so we’re constantly in dialogue. So, when you’re on set, you just develop the shorthand. And when you’re asking for subtle changes in a delivery, or maybe a shading of a line, it also incorporates the writer and Gretchen knew she could trust me and our actors to collaborate and make sure it all worked together. BLADE: As a transmasculine director, what challenges did you face in the industry prior to this project? GARRISON: I directed quite a bit. I got my MFA at the University of Texas and one of my shorts was nominated for a student Academy Award. But I haven’t done much directing since I transitioned, which was just a few years ago. It’s
been a challenge for me because I identified as a butch lesbian and was a member of many female directing initiatives. But once I transitioned, I kind of transitioned myself out of those communities. I transitioned at a time when our trans sisters were doing a good job of elevating their visibility in the media. For us trans masculine folks, that wasn’t the case for a multitude of reasons. Now, a lot of it is coming out and meeting each other and helping try to elevate one another. “These Thems” came along at a perfect time. Episodic directing has been a goal of mine for a while. BLADE: Does the show include cisgender heterosexual cast and characters? Are there any funny moments that stand out? GARRISON: We wanted this to be participatory to see how cis-het connect with us and are a part of this world that we all live in. Our gender reveal party episode is hilarious and we didn’t want our cis-het people to come off as dumb or unknowing but learning about this new world along with Gretchen and the rest of us. BLADE: Gretchen, how did cisgender heterosexual audience members feel about the show? Did they get what you were trying to say? WYLDER: Cis-het friends who watch the show enjoy it and so did older lesbians and cis-gay men who are not within the trans spectrum and don’t understand it. So, this is a way to watch and learn in a fun comedic way. The character of Gretchen represents anyone, regardless of how they identify, who is new to this new world and faces its challenges in a funny, relatable way. Humor is something that everyone can relate to.
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Out under the Big Top with Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ A celebration of otherness and the power of community By JOSEPH FENITY
Given the peak physical condition of its performers, and the characteristically form-ﬁtting costumes they wear, the latest creation from Cirque du Soleil could easily have been given the title, “Abs, Abs and More Abs.” But in the case of “Volta,” which runs now thru March 8 at Dodger Stadium, the perfectly sculpted midsections on display were merely one of many powerful elements contributing to a moving spectacular about love, acceptance, and personal identity — a bold performance insisting that you come as you are, whether you have sculpted abs or not. To be sure, the perfection of the bodies on stage made sure that the beauty (and overall hotness) of mankind was a key component in maintaining the audience’s non-stop attention at last Thursday’s Equality Night performance of the awardwinning acrobatic troupe’s 41st production. While the show has no particular focus on sex, there was no doubt to anyone in the crowd — gay or straight, male or female — that the Big Top erected outside Dodger Stadium was bursting at the seams with the most purely (and most appropriate) natural sense of sexuality they had likely ever seen on a live stage. But the show delivered so much more. As we’ve come to expect from Cirque du Soleil, “Volta” is high on drama (the good kind), emotion (the introspective kind), and boundless energy (the refreshing kind). It’s also full of music, possibility-defying displays of acrobatic prowess, intricately crafted choreography, multimedia presentation, and more music — manifested with particular beauty by the gorgeous, larger-than-life voices raised in a chorus of loud-and-proud songs which also serve as a sort of ongoing narration giving shape to the action on the stage. That action, of course, is the main attraction. “Cirque du Soleil,” after all, literally translates as “Circus of the Sun,” and the Montreal-based performance troupe stays true to its roots by dazzling the audience with breathtaking, death defying displays of athletic precision. “Volta” features dazzling aerial acts, trampoline artists with unthinkably sophisticated skills, gymnasts diving through hoops with the playful grace of dolphins, a show-stopping dance routine from a performer suspended high above the ﬂoor by only her own hair, and next-level BMX bike-riding that will have you on your feet and cheering like a 10-year-old at, well, a circus. These astonishing stunts are tied together in a mostly visual concept in which gray-clad, dron-ish beings, absorbed by the images on their glowing phone screens, become obsessed with a television talent show. As the acts unfold, one hopeful contestant among them begins to shine, despite his efforts to remain as colorless as his anonymous compatriots, eventually blossoming on live TV into a uniquely fabulous free
High-ﬂying love at Cirque Du Soleil’s Volta. Photo by Troy Masters
spirit — encouraged by a rainbow-clad entourage and inspired by memories of his childhood until he ﬁnds his place among the crowd by embracing the things that make him different. It was the initially quiet voice within the soul of this lead character, named Waz, that stole the show and eventually the hearts of the mesmerized audience at Thursday night’s performance. The artist portraying Waz, Joey Arrigo, revealed some of the personal inspiration that he brings to the role: “Growing up myself as a part of the LGBTQ community, we naturally suppressed ourselves from a young age because […] you were told that who you were was wrong and that the life you are about to live is not accepted. Nowadays, kids who grow up in this community are so lucky to be fed with all this knowledge, and the fact that it is OK to be who you are. As adults who had to repress ourselves... we’re ﬁnally coming out of that and realizing […] we can embrace who we really are no matter what anyone has told us in the past.” “One of the most touching moments in the show was a scene in which Waz, having begun to venture out into a community of people like him, found himself in awe of two men who did a soaring Aerial Straps duet. The artists’ (Pawel Walczewski and Darren Trull) celebration of intimacy and synchronicity was a tour de force. The show’s message of self-acceptance seemed to
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resonate with the audience on Equality Night, from which a portion of proceeds went to support the LA LGBT Center. It was a glittering event, and several LGBTQ and allied celebrities were among the crowd, some of whom spoke with Los Angeles Blade on the “Rainbow Red Carpet” before the show. Betty Who, an Australian singer-songwriter with several #1 songs on the Billboard Dance charts, was excited for the chance to see “Volta,” saying, “Cirque du Soleil is one of my favorite things in the world ... Seeing anybody who is capable of doing things that nobody thought possible really inspires me, always ... and I’m really excited to see all of the amazing things that are obviously going to happen tonight — and being completely inspired by them!” Actor Jaicy Elliot (“Grey’s Anatomy”) said, “It’s so important to support the LGBT Center and I think anything we can do to be here and show our love and appreciation for what they do is important. I have so many friends in the LGBTQ community who lean on the LA LGBT Center and the good that they do.” Also in attendance was actor Rizwan Manji (“Outsourced,’ “Schitt’s Creek”), who told Los Angeles Blade he was there in part because of pushback that occurred on social media after the season ﬁnale of his current series, “Perfect Harmony.” “[The series] takes place in a church and our season ﬁnale episode took place in a drag club. And there was some push back from people [on social media] and personally I responded, “love is love.” I feel like you can still have a show about a church choir and still have that... feeling of “love is love”... that perfect harmony. So, I think it’s really important to be here and what better place to support love than Cirque du Soleil?” The general buzz of excitement and support that ﬁlled the air during the glittering pre-show event only increased with the evening’s magical performance, and by the time it was over, the crowd responded with an energetic and roaring standing ovation. Still, the exuberance of the audience still couldn’t match that of the Cirque du Soleil cast members, who seemed even more energized than when they ﬁrst took the stage 90 minutes earlier. As the night drew to a close, the boundless energy that had characterized the entire event seemed to have instilled a momentum into the departing crowd — but one that felt like more than merely the after-effects of an adrenaline rush. With the show’s message of living your best life by learning to embrace your truest self, there was a sense of renewed hope in the air. “Volta” may have been over, but for many inspired audience members, perhaps, the journey had just begun. John Paul King contributed to this article.
NATIONAL Continued from page 11
Being gay is not enough to earn’ LGBTQ support “Some have touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s openly gay identity as proof of progress in our politics,” the letter says. “However, being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities. We cannot in good conscience allow Mayor Pete to become the nominee without demanding that he address the needs and concerns of the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual communities.” LGBTQ public ﬁgures who spoke the Blade about the criticism were indignant over the idea the group make gay identity grounds to criticize Buttigieg, saying it validates the idea that a gay person should conform to certain stereotypes or ideals. Parker called the “Queers Against Pete” faction a “tiny group of fringe voices.” Although she acknowledged “there are important issues being raised,” she questioned why they’d focus on the gay candidate as an LGBTQ group and not others. “I’m intrigued by the idea there’s ‘Gays Against Pete,” but not ‘Gays Against Bloomberg’ or ‘Gays Against Klobuchar’ or ‘Gays Against Sanders,’ which makes me question the motivation of the group,” Parker said. In response to the list of the nearly 4,000 LGBTQ signatures “Queers Against Pete” compiled against Buttigieg, Parker said out of 7 million LGBTQ voters in the United States “that’s something like .0005 percent of LGBTQ voters.” Queers Against Pete, however, repudiates the idea their criticism is about Buttigieg not being gay enough. A Queers Against Pete spokesperson referred the Blade in response to a request to comment to the organization’s website, which states the organization has “never stated or implied Buttigieg isn’t gay enough” but has said “being gay isn’t enough to warrant our support.” “We are uniquely positioned as LGBTQIA+ people to state our opposition to Pete,” the website says. “We’ve seen Black people name the harm he’s caused them and they’re called homophobic. We stand in unity with all marginalized communities and some of us belong to more than one oppressed group.” But Queers Against Pete isn’t the only LGBTQ entity against Buttigieg. A look at social media accounts from LGBTQ progressives would reveals their discontent over the fact the LGBTQ community is being represented in the presidential primary by a white man who hasn’t endured the experience of a racial minority and
who has no background in LGBTQ activism leading to his candidacy. Parker said the idea of criticizing Buttigieg for not being gay enough is “absolutely an absurd statement” because the LGBTQ community had long fought against those constraints. “We are different, but are differences part of who are and we’re asking for you to asking to accept that, and then to turn around and attack someone ﬁt some standards of gayness that only they know exist upsets me,” Parker said. Up in arms over the idea Buttigieg should be criticized for not being gay enough was Quinn, who she said she doesn’t even understand the concept. “What the hell does that mean?” Quinn said. “What the hell does not gay enough mean? That’s ridiculous. The man is gay. Period. He is a out gay public official, elected official, former mayor who has never once done anything anti-LGBT. If he was gay and against the community, then you can attack him and should attack him, but that is not the case as it relates to Mayor Pete.” Other criticisms about Buttigieg’s “aesthetics” as a gay candidate, Quinn added, are “ridiculous.” “It just feeds into the stereotyping of the LGBT community,” Quinn said. “He needs to be himself, to be Pete Buttgieg, to be himself, to be a veteran, a former mayor, a husband, on and on. That’s who he needs to be, to be a gay veteran, a gay former elected official, a gay candidate for president, a husband. That’s what he needs to be because that’s what he is.” At the end of the day, Parker said attacks about Buttigieg based on the ground of his gay identity — whether it’s from Limbaugh, Queers Against Pete or any other critic — won’t hamper the candidate’s chances in either the primary or general election. “There’s no candidate whom everyone is going to agree with,” Parker said. “What a candidate does is get out and put forward plans, policies, express where they stand on issues and voters make choices. Voters need to make choices on who they’re preferred presidential candidate is without creating divisive and frivolous attacks based on things not related to policies and programs a candidate has put forward.” A Buttigieg campaign spokesperson referred the Blade to Buttigieg’s response during the CNN town hall when asked about challenges he faces as a gay candidate from pro-LGBTQ and antiLGBTQ critics.
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Queer history becomes ‘Visible’ on new Apple TV+ docuseries Apple delivers the brightest rainbow of Hollywood’s streaming wars By JOHN PAUL KING
Image courtesy Apple TV+
At a time when television is setting new records in terms of onscreen recognition for LGBTQ identities and issues, it might be easy – especially for the younger among us – to forget that it wasn’t always that way. There was a time, not long ago, when one might never even know LGBTQ people existed based on what they saw on TV. Such figures as Liberace and Paul Lynde, who are now seen as representing a sort of queer proto-visibility with their flamboyant onscreen personas, passed in their day as straight to the majority of their viewing public, incredible as it may seem to us now; and Stonewall, now widely known as one of the most significant moments in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, was never mentioned in a single network news broadcast when it happened, a mere 50 years ago. Partly because of the television industry’s suppression of all things queer during most of its history, most of LGBTQ history has long been invisible, preserved only in the memories of those who took part, and in greater danger of being lost forever with the passing of each succeeding generation. Fortunately, embedded within the story of television itself is an entire narrative revealing the queer history that was taking place right before the eyes of millions of viewers, even as it was happening – and thanks to “Visible: Out on Television,” a new 5-part mini-docuseries now streaming on Apple TV+, it’s a history that is now being told, out, proud and queer. Created by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave, the series combines archival footage, interviews, and narrations by community icons Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena
Waithe, to explore themes such as invisibility, homophobia, the evolution of the LGBTQ character, and coming out in the television industry. A who’s who of important queer participants lend their voices to the discussion, including Armistead Maupin, Bruce Vilanch, Wanda Sykes, Anderson Cooper, Rayven Symoné Ferrell, Billy Porter, MJ Rodriguez, Caitlyn Jenner, and many, many others. Each hour-long episode focuses on an era in the timeline of television history, paralleling the evolution of queer representation in the medium with the cultural history that was occurring around it. With the first installment, titled “The Dark Ages,” the show sets its stage by taking us back to a era that surely exemplifies what the slogan “Make America Great Again” was meant to evoke in the minds of a nostalgic older generation – at least, those among them that had been privileged enough to ignore its inequality and injustices. Even for those who were alive during those years, it’s a look back that seems chilling in retrospect, in which we are reminded that the first mention of the word “homosexual” came in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, during discussions about the security risks posed by LGBTQ government employees whose “deviant” lifestyle presumptively made them vulnerable to manipulation by Communist agents; that during the 1960s, the news media, including respected CBS anchor Mike Wallace, hosted “experts” of the day who propounded the belief that homosexuality was a curable psychological disorder; and that Lance Loud, the first openly homosexual person to appear on television when he was part of “An American Family,” the docuseries that followed his household for thirteen weeks in 1973, was demonized and vilified by a press that called him “leechlike” and described him as “an evil flower.” In each case, it’s impossible to ignore the echoes of similar homophobic rhetoric that has resurged during the Trump era. Yet in the same hour, we are also shown the signs of hope that blossomed in the midst of all this darkness, through the gradual foothold that was made by an LGBTQ presence on television, from the non-stereotypical gender presentation of coded characters like Sheila Kuehl’s Zelda on “The Many Adventures of Dobie Gillis” and Lynde’s Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched,” to the groundbreaking depictions of openly queer people on Norman Lear’s “All in the Family.” The episode ends with the glimmer of an even brighter future that appeared with the emergence of openly gay Harvey Milk as a
substantial political figure. That we know all too well how his story ends gives us all the more reason to want to binge watch straight through each of these five excellent episodes. From there, the series goes on to explore the exponential growth of LGBTQ representation in the medium, and to connect the dots between touchstone moments that chart a steady (if slow) path of progress through the decades. We watch as dueling narratives about LGBTQ experience are thrust into living rooms during the early battles of a “culture war” that still rages in our nation today, as activists like Mark Segal and Peter Staley learn to utilize the persuasive power of television to advance the struggle for equality and turn the tide of an epidemic; as LGBTQ voices find expression from ever-bolder creators, and as the era of cable brings stories about LGBTQ people of color and other underrepresented segments of the queer population; and as television’s boundaries continue to expand in the 21st century, giving rise not only to stories in which LGBTQ characters are portrayed as having normal lives, but to ever-increasing representation for trans people – and every other color of experience encompassed under the LGBTQ rainbow. Along the way, there are those big moments we all remember – or at least have heard about. There’s Ellen’s coming out, Pedro Zamora on “The Real World,” that kiss on “Dawson’s Creek,” teen-aged Wilson Cruz’ growing into his queerness on “My So-Called Life,” Candis Cane’s unprecedented trans character arc on “Dirty Sexy Money,” and dozens more such breakthroughs that rose through the fray of pop culture to become life-changing milestones for millions of queer viewers around the world. It’s this that gives “Visible” its greatest power. The cumulative effect of seeing these individual pieces of familiar lore woven together into the full tapestry of our LGBTQ history drives home what is inarguably the series’ ultimate insight – that television, the most influential medium in the history of our species by virtue of its omnipresence in our collective life, has the power to change an entire culture, simply by letting us see the world through the eyes of someone whose experience is not the same as our own. In today’s strident atmosphere of “call-out” culture and outraged backlash, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the endgame, even to question the importance of seeing queer characters portrayed on television – or of how those characters are portrayed. the true story told by “Visible” makes it an undeniable fact: representation matters.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 21
Wendy, Spidey, Del and more Daytime talk diva takes implied swipe at Billy Porter By BILLY MASTERS
“I thought, ‘Why does he have to do that?’ I mean, it seemed like he was living a fine life. Everyone who knew him knew he was gay.” Dame Joan Collins discusses UK personality Phillip Schofield coming out at 57 years old during a recap of the Oscars on “Good Morning Britain.” She added, “We take it for granted today that people are gay, or lesbian, or trans or whatever.” When she got to that last part, she gestured to fellow panelist, Perez Hilton. In news that will surprise nobody, this year’s Oscars telecast brought in the lowest TV ratings in history.That’s the bad news. The good news is that it was the most watched television special since last year’s Oscars. Yes, the Academy Awards still beat out the Grammy Awards and Golden Globes. What does that mean? That nobody is watching any of these award shows. There are too many options and the audience is too fragmented. I suppose they could boost the ratings somehow. Maybe they could introduce an audience vote. Or a swimsuit competition. During a discussion of women celebrating Galentine’s Day instead of Valentine’s Day, Wendy Williams found herself in hot water. “Well, first of all, if you’re a man and you’re clapping, you’re not even a part of this. You don’t even understand the rules of the day. It’s women going out and getting saucy and then going back home. You’re not a part.” Fine. Then she added, “I don’t care if you’re gay. You don’t get a mensie every 28 days. You can do a lot that we do, but I get offended by the idea that we go through something you will never go through.” And here comes that extra step. “And stop wearing our skirts and our heels. Just sayin’. Girls, what do we have for ourselves?” Suddenly people began accusing Wendy of being homo- or transphobic (a few supporters felt she was defending the “appropriation of womanhood”). The next day, Wendy made a video in which she apologized and expressed love for her LGBTQ fans. She didn’t mention Billy Porter by name — who, speaking of the Oscars, looked (and sounded!) fabulous as usual — but as tinseltown’s most famous gender-bender, it’s a safe bet he inspired the rant. Some sources are claiming that the next “Spider-man” film will include a boyfriend for the superhero! I have my doubts this will happen, but here’s how the rumor got started. Way back in 2013, Andrew Garfield said the following: “What if (Spider-man’s girlfriend) is a dude? Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking! So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?” Andrew brought this idea up to the producers and they balked. However, the current rumor claims that Sony is so eager for Garfield to return to the franchise, they’d now consider a bi-Spidey. We’ll see. A clip recently dropped of Robert Pattinson as Batman. Well, they say it’s Robert Pattinson as Batman, but who really knows. Were there no lights on this set? Even a flashlight? ‘Cause, for all I know, it could be J-Lo in that Batman suit! I suppose it’s possible that Pattinson has figured out how to say, “I’m Batman” in that husky, Brenda Vaccaro type of voice. But, physically, he seems to ooze all the raw masculinity of a young Kristy McNichol. It was a busy week celebrating your beloved Billy’s birthday. At long last, I got to see Del Shores’ latest play “This Side of Crazy,” which is playing at Los Angeles’ Zephyr Theatre until March 8. The play concerns a family of gospel performers — the matriarch, who writes songs for various acclaimed artists, and her three daughters, who were once a charttopping trio. Tragedy splintered the family decades ago, but now there is an opportunity for a reunion. The story is slow to get moving and lots of ground is covered repeatedly. But Shores’ ability to balance a dramatic narrative with clever dialogue keeps the audience entertained and never seems forced, even in some of the longer, complicated speeches. I felt the set design
22 • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
WENDY WILLIAMS got into hot water last week on her syndicated eponymous talk show. screen capture via Talk WW Productions Inc.
worked against the story, as did some of the direction. But the cast could hardly be bettered, anchored by Sharon Garrison as the matriarch and daytime drama favorite Bobbie Eakes as the eldest daughter. Get more tickets and info at delshores.com. The following night, I was privileged to see the great Joanna Gleason at the Renberg Theatre at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. The Tony winner (original Baker’s Wife from “Into the Woods”) constructed a show, “Out of the Eclipse,” which chronicles the pain of losing both parents in a four-month period (her father was Monty Hall). Gleason has selected a diverse array of songs to tell her story and is aided beautifully by her band and backup singers. She even brings out hubby Chris Sarandon for a duet. At the end of this musical journey, Gleason realizes that, “we are on our own out here, but that does not mean that we are alone,” which sounds a lot like something she might have picked up from Mr. Sondheim, whose work was notably absent from the setlist. The show is hitting the road, so get tickets if you get the chance. The New York and L.A. dates sold out quickly. Our “Ask Billy” question comes from Simon in London: “Will Daniel Craig really show all in his final outing as James Bond? That’s the rumor I’ve heard. And what do you hear about the film? I HATE the song.” I recently told someone that the theme song needs to be Bassey-fied. As to the film, I know very little except that Mr. Craig will not show all. However, Craig has previously shown his naughty bits fleetingly in several films — most notably “Some Voices.” I’ve always contended that it’s unfair to judge a flaccid penis running around on the set. Perhaps it was chilly. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a grower. Decide for yourself on billymasters.com.When 007’s penis is for your eyes only, it’s definitely time to end yet another column. Just to keep you all in the loop, I will be heading to South Beach for the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Winter Party Festival. The festivities take place March 4-10, and I’m told that discounted tickets are practically sold out. So what are you waiting for? Get over to winterparty.com. If you’ve got a question for me, send it to email@example.com and I promise to get back to you before Spider-man and Batman hook-up. Until next time, remember, one man’s filth is another man’s Bible.
CANNABIS CULTURE Va. passes pot decriminalization bills RICHMOND, Va. — House and Senate lawmakers have passed legislation decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses. House Bill 972, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 64 to 34, reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record. Senate Bill 2, which passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 13, reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine. It is anticipated that the two competing bills will be reconciled in conference committee. Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019. Both the Governor and the Attorney General are on record in favor of decriminalization. Senate lawmakers also passed separate legislation this week, SB 1015, by a unanimous vote. The measure states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis oil program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year.
Cessation of CBD not linked to withdrawal symptoms Virginia Gov. RALPH NORTHAM is on record supporting the decriminalization legislation.
LONDON — The abrupt cessation of CBD (cannabidiol) is not associated with physical withdrawal symptoms in healthy volunteers, according to clinical trial data published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior. A team of investigators from the United Kingdom and the United States assessed the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms induced by the abrupt cessation of CBD. Subjects in the trial were healthy volunteers who ingested 750mg of plant-derived CBD twice daily for a period of four weeks. Study participants either continued to receive CBD or received a placebo during weeks five and six. Researchers reported no serious adverse events resulting from the discontinuation of CBD. They concluded, “In healthy volunteers, no evidence of withdrawal syndrome was found with abrupt discontinuation of short-term treatment with CBD.” In 2018, federal regulators classified Epidiolex – an FDA-approved formulation of plantderived CBD – as a Schedule V substance, the lowest restriction classification available under federal law.
Cannabis associated with reduced use of ADHD meds HAIFA, Israel — The use of medical cannabis is associated with a reduction in the use of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) medications in patients diagnosed with the syndrome, according to data published in the Israeli medical journal Rambam Maimonides. Israeli investigators surveyed 59 patients with ADHD who possessed a license from the Ministry of Health to access medical cannabis products. They reported that the use of medical cannabis, and in particular products dominant in the cannabinoid CBN (cannabinol), was associated with medication-sparing effects. The findings suggest that some ADHD patients may consume cannabis as a “substitute treatment” for more conventional medications, authors concluded. They added, “These results, although not causal, might shed light on the potential beneficial effects of MC on ADHD symptom severity and motivate future prospective studies in order to validate our results and perhaps even consider making ADHD an approved indication for MC license in Israel in future.” Cannabis Culture news in the Blade is provided in partnership with NORML. Visit norml.org for more information.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 23
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Due at lease signing is $0 customer cash or trade-in equity and includes - $600 GM Select Market Incremental CCR, and $1,500 GM Competitive Lease (Must qualify for either GM Competitive Lease) FOR THIS OFFER Total Due signing $2,075 includes - first month payment, $650 Acquisition fee, $80 documentation fee, $30 Electronic license filing fee. Does NOT INCLUDE - sales tax, license fees, and any applicable government fees. MSRP:$34,355.00 Subject to vehicle availability LL193069 . Must lease through GM FINANCIAL, on approved above average credit. Lessee is responsible for Excess wear and tear plus $.25 per mile for mileage over 10,000 miles a year. Disposition fee of $595 due lease end. $_0_Security deposit waived on Tiers A+/A. Picture may not represent actual vehicle. See dealer for detail
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Sedans that sizzle Flashier looks, feistier engines enliven ’20 models By JOE PHILLPS
Palm Beach to D.C. But even though I’m feeling (and showing) my age, this Lexus seems young and refreshing. VOLVO S60 T6 AWD R-DESIGN $48,000 MPG: 21 city/32 highway Zero-60 mph: 5.3 seconds The Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design. Yes, its’ a mouthful. And yes, the name of this particular vehicle sounds nerdy. But make no mistake, this is one sophisticated hot rod. The design is lean and sinewy — a stretched hood, aggressive air dams and side panels as taut and chiseled as John Kasinski’s oblique muscles. The grille, window trim and mirror caps are all painted with a chic black-gloss finish. I forgot how much fun a true sport sedan can be until I slipped behind the wheel of this souped-up S60. Acceleration is swift, thanks to a clever four-cylinder engine that’s both supercharged and turbocharged. There’s aluminum everywhere, which makes the S60 feel light and lively. Yet those large wheels and impeccable all-wheel-drive configuration help you hug the road. Inside, the seats are satisfyingly snug, and the cabin is as quiet as a sanctuary. The 9-inch vertical infotainment screen in the center of the dash mimics an iPad, allowing you to swipe left or right to access various functions. A separate horizontal screen is chock full of digital gauges for the driver. At $48,000, the S60 R-Design isn’t cheap (a base-model S60 is $12,000 less). Toss in various option packages — a head-up display, heated rear seats, maybe even the premium Bowers and Wilkins stereo — and pricing jumps to almost $60,000. But this is still less than a comparable Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Now, if Volvo could only do something about that name.
MERCEDES CLS 450
Now that crossover SUVs are all the rage, four-door sedans simply have to try harder. That means flashier looks, feistier engines and fantabulous features. Below are three of the finest sedans on the market today. LEXUS ES 350 F-SPORT $45,000 MPG: 22 city/31 highway Zero-60 mph: 5.9 seconds The Lexus ES, long the epitome of old-school cool, keeps nipping at the heels of Audi and BMW. This mid-size ride was restyled just last year, with a jazzy grille, jagged headlights and sexy tush that would make Billy Porter blush. This isn’t your parents Lexus, and it shows — especially in the F-Sport version. While it has the same sturdy V6 as a base-model ES, the F-Sport boasts tighter steering and a huskier engine growl. Add in large 19-inch wheels, extra bolstering in the seats and a finely tuned suspension, and the result is a firm yet pleasant ride. Inside, a fluctuating wave pattern on the interior aluminum trim looks almost three-dimensional. I fell in love with the large 12.3-inch display in the center dash, though the touchpad was too touchy at times to operate smoothly. The parking camera provides a nifty split screen, with rear-view image on one side and panoramic birds-eye view on the other. And while a base ES comes pretty loaded — LED headlights, simulated leather, 10-speaker stereo and more — the F-Sport includes other niceties, such as heated/ventilated seats and poweradjustable steering wheel. It’s been five years since I drove an ES virtually nonstop from
MERCEDES CLS 450 $71,000 MPG: 23 city/30 highway Zero-60 mph: 5.1 seconds The Mercedes CLS 450 is a sport sedan on steroids. With Lexus-like comfort and the verve of a Volvo, the CLS 450 amps everything up: power, performance and panache. Launched some 15 years ago, the CLS was the first sedan marketed as a “four-door coupe.” A swooping roofline and low chassis help the CLS mimic the look, feel and handling of a coupe. Yet there’s room for five passengers, as well as decent trunk space. But backseat headroom is tight. And beware bumping your head the first time you try to lower yourself into a CLS (I learned the hard way). But just when it seemed Mercedes focused too much on form over function, a quick press of the ignition button proved otherwise. This finely tuned machine roared to life, with different drive modes ramping up the exhaust growl. The headlights immediately do a dance routine — rolling up, down and all around — before settling into a normal setting. A space-age cockpit is like something out of “Ad Astra,” with panoramic digital readouts stretching far across the dash. There’s also a choice of 64 interior colors for ambient lighting, with color-illuminated rings even on the air vents. And a built-in perfume system in the glovebox sends any scent you like wafting through the cabin. Stressed out from choosing among so many amenities or from a long commute? A builtin exercise program can guide you through muscle-relaxation exercises as you drive. But you may not need it, considering the fast acceleration, precise braking and able steering that seems to anticipate your every move (even without the semiautonomous driving assistant feature turned on). This isn’t one of Mercedes’ high-performance AMG models, but it sure feels like one. And the CLS can cost as much: over $100,000, when you tack on assorted must-have options.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 25
‘The Queen’ earns its crown in drag herstory pantheon Gender ﬂuidity pre-Stonewall was a riot too By SCOTT STIFFLER
The stunning looks! The larger-than-life personalities! The compelling personas! The last-minute wig emergencies! The shared stories of family rejection and acceptance! The stern mother hen who sets the bar high! The scathing reads from a fourth-place queen convinced the competition was rigged! No, that’s not a recap of a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” episode. This all happened long before that beloved elimination format show stoked a mainstream appetite for drag — a full year, in fact, before Stonewall. Shot in 1967 and released domestically in mid-June of 1968, director Frank Simon’s “The Queen” clocks in at just over an hour — but the ﬂy-on-the-wall documentary seems longer, and that’s a compliment. It’s dense with candid moments culled from cramped hotel room prep sessions, production number rehearsal footage, and before/after moments from the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant. Long out of circulation and largely absent from the LGBTQ+ consciousness, “The Queen” demands to be seen — and it can. Right now. “I’d read so much about the ﬁlm,” says Frank DeCaro. “It loomed out there, this lost drag artifact. The moment I realized I could stream it on Netﬂix, I did. Anyone with any sense of history — not just drag hags — needs to watch it immediately!” DeCaro name-checked “The Queen” as an “alternative classic that often gets overlooked in surveys of drag on ﬁlm,” in his meticulously researched, delightfully dishy 2019 tome, “Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business.” Placing the ﬁlm in its time capsule context, DeCaro told the Los Angeles Blade, of an era when drag visibility was largely the stuﬀ of straights baiting the audience for laughs at the mere sight of a man in a dress, “Seeing drag with any real gay truth to it was nearly impossible, unless you went to a club with no windows, in a dicey neighborhood.” That’s why “The Queen” is so amazing, says DeCaro. “They’re not in some out-of-the-way venue. They’re at Town Hall in New York City in 1967, and the judges are celebrities like Andy Warhol. You realize that there was this very rich drag culture that one could tap into, if you knew where to look. Every generation likes to think it invented being gay, but people were big queers long before any of us got here, and they were being fabulous in huge hair and high heels!” Not that those heels and hair are up to modern standards, mind you. Los Angeles-based drag queen Jackie
Beat, who began performing in 1989 and has made a career out of telling it like it is, notes, “Not to be too harsh, but ... Everyone in the movie had a ﬁve o’clock shadow. And if you have an Adam’s apple — and some of these gals had pineapples — wear a scarf or a choker. It’s so important to recognize that all the contestants were working the same brand of old Hollywood glamour.” But even if some of them were “broad-shouldered, sweaty messes with handlebar mustaches,” Beat has “respect all the queens back then, because they were true trailblazers, and simply existing was rebellious and courageous. And can we please talk about how handsome many of them were out of drag? So hot!” That said, when asked how the ﬁlm fares, compared to the Reality TV “Drag Race” format, Beat hails “The Queen” as “a true documentary, in the fact that it is not really manipulative or even that creatively edited. It’s just like, ‘Here’s what happened.’ And today’s audiences, who were raised on ‘Real Housewives,’ may get a bit restless, but stick with it. There’s deﬁnitely drama, but it comes at the end.” “So few of our stories were archived,” says Zackary Drucker, an independent artist, cultural producer, and trans woman. “I think it’s hard to understand who we are in the present without knowing where were coming from. Documents like ‘The Queen’ are crucial for trans people today, to know. It’s such a raw and authentic representation of the community, and I’m thankful it exists.” In 2014, Drucker initiated an eﬀort to organize the archives of Mother Flawless Sabrina, aka Jack Doroshow, who co-organized the pageant and presides over the Town Hall event. Of his onstage persona, notes Doroshow in the ﬁlm, “Look, I’m 24 years old. But in drag, I come on like 110, and I do this whole bar mitzvah mother things, you know, gaudy gowns and pushy.” Drucker, who ﬁrst met Doroshow when she was 18 and considers herself Mother Flawless Sabrina’s granddaughter, says the Flawless Sabrina Archive will be part of the NYU Fales Collection, and will serve as a resource for artists, activists, and scholars. The Flawless Sabrina legacy will be further expanded in late May/early June of this year, when “The Queen” gets a Blu-ray release packed with extras, including a track with commentary by Drucker and GLAAD Media Award-winning trans journalist Diana Tourjée. That commentary track is “probably the most valuable” oﬀering in the Blu-ray release, says ﬁlm historian Bret
26 • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Movie poster for “The Queen” (1968), showing “ﬂawless” Sabrina getting into drag. Photo courtesy of Kino International
Wood. Film Distributor Kino Lorber’s Senior Vice President and Producer of Archival Releases, Wood worked on sourcing and ﬁnishing restoration of “The Queen.” “They reveal so much information that’s not there on the screen,” says Wood, of Drucker and Tourjée’s commentary track. “The ﬁlm attempts to be one of these objective ﬁlms that isn’t giving you people’s last names or backstory—but to have them tell you what’s happened to the people since the ﬁlm, is a transformative viewing experience.” Wood, who was pouring over hours of deleted scenes when he spoke with the Blade, says that in addition to that never-seen-before footage, the Blu-ray will also feature an interview with Doroshow shot “pretty late in his life,” as well as a short ﬁlm called “Queens at Heart.” Made the same year as “The Queen,” it has a “very square interviewer” asking drag performers questions like, “Why do you dress like this?” That window into how mainstream media regarded 1960s drag is “very diﬀerent, very stiﬀ,” says Wood, compared to what director Frank Simon achieved with “The Queen.” Similar subjects, he says, “but totally diﬀerent styles.” CONTINUES AT LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
How Bill Cunnngham “Fit the Bill”
A special lense on the legendary New York Times Style Section photographer By DAVID EHRENSTEIN
Photo by HAROLD CHAPMAN for The Image Works, courtesy of The Times of Bill Cunningham
“It’s all right there!” say Bill Cunningham, pointing to his favorite corner (Fifth Ave and 57th Street) of New York. And for the legendary fashion photographer, social observer, and freelance sartorial enthusiast “it” was more than just the “passing parade” of the city -- it was life itself. “It’s not about what I think it’s about what I see,” Cunningham says of his work as a photographer of both the rich and famous and poor yet wildly fashionable. For while fashion may be officially based in the laps of the wealthy and “well-connected,” for Bill Cunninham it was a sensibility available to everyone with taste and the will to realize it. And he’s as relevant today as ever, something the new documentary The Times of Bill Cunningham shows that this thin, gangly bubbly smiling man, who passed away in 2016, is in spirit still very much alive. Constructed around a lengthy interview director Mark Bozek conducted with him in 1994, The Times of Bill Cunningham is designed to provide as intimate a portrait as possible of an exceedingly decorous gay gentleman of the “Old School.” Born in Boston in 1929 to a conservative Roman Catholic family, Cunningham’s interest in fashion began as a child when the hats women wore to church came to fascinate him. That instantly set him apart from his siblings and his family in a way
so many LGBT people know all too well. When the Korean War came along and he joined the army, he used his knowledge of French as a kind of queer passport to fashion. He got himself stationed in Paris, and once there made a beeline to the fashion shows. He was especially enthusiastic about Jacques Fath and his “New Look” ensembles which set the pace for 1950s fashion. Cunningham’s first connection to that world came on his return to the U.S. when, bringing his childhood hat fancy to full fruition, he began a career as a milliner -- designing hats under the moniker “William J” for a number of women, including a rising starlet named Marilyn Monroe “William J,” Cunningham explains, became useful as this moniker drew a discreet veil over his family’s knowledge of his aspirations. They didn’t think of fashion as “a proper occupation for a man,” he quips discreetly with a tiny trace of amusement. As far as the Cunningham family knew, Bill was working odd, more manly jobs -- delivering lunches, serving the counter at “Howard Johnsons,”etc. What they didn’t know was that he’d settled into what might be called midtown New York’s Bohemian Central -- the apartments atop Carnegie Hall. Marlon Brando and Wally Cox had a place there, as did over the years Leonard Bernstein,
Martha Graham, and the soon-to-be-notable fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez -- who became one of Cunnigham’s closest friends (his painted visions of beautifully clothed women matched what Cunnngham saw in his mind’s eye). There he also met Lopez’s models -- runway star-to-be Pat Cleveland and actress-to-be Jessica Lange. As hats were rapidly being “replaced by wigs” such work was over for Cunningham. But he didn’t graduate to dresses. Rather he had discovered photography as a means of expression and analysis. He went about shooting what he saw and loved on every social level for the New York Times which gave him a special berth on their Saturday pages. As Bozek’s film shows what got the Times’ attention was a picture Cunningham had taken of Greta Garbo — the great Hollywood star now enjoying a comfortable “private life” in New York — which didn’t rule out frequent jaunts though the city and visits to the many shops that dotted the east side. Now, no longer young but still beautiful, the Garbo photo was a boon to the paper. But what attracted Cunningham wasn’t her fame but the beautiful coat she was wearing so well. In fact it wasn’t until he developed the picture that he realized it was Garbo. In the same way, he adored Brooke Astor not for being the doyenne of New York society but because of her elegant style. And he found downtown drag artiste Kenny Kenny just as stylish and therefore worthy of being photographed. While the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham: New York, directed by Ricard Press is awash with lively images of its subject wearing his signature blue coat, riding about the city on his bicycle from one place, person or party to another. Cunningham had very strict rules about his conduct and interactions. He refused to eat or drink anything served at the parties he dropped in on for photographs, and declined to be ”rewarded” in any other way than a professional one by the Times. He speaks frequently of his”freedom” how monetary considerations would only serve to curtail him. Besides as we see he didn’t need much money. He had only a cot to sleep on in his studio that was filled to the brim with filing cabinets of his photographs and notations As for his “personal life” The Times of Bill Cunningham is a bit more revealing than Bill Cunningham: New York. No we don’t get an “up close and personal”interview with a boyfriend. Cunningham doubtless had his amours over the years. But being gay gentleman of that generation he never discussed them. He does however speak quite movingly of those gay friends he lost to AIDS, particularly Antonio Lopez and his lover Juan Ramos. Their deaths struck him exceptionally hard. CONTINUE AT LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • FEBRUARY 21, 2020 • 27
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