Losangelesblade.com, Volume 4, Issue 13, March 27, 2020

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Ignore this man See inside for fact-based coverage of the pandemic

M A R C H 2 7 , 2 0 2 0 • V O LU M E 0 4 • I S S U E 1 3 • 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


John Duran: Calm voice in a crisis Council member’s Facebook updates a key resource in WeHo By RANCE COLLINS In the middle of a crisis, West Hollywood Council member John Duran has been the calm voice the city needs. His daily updates on Facebook have quickly become the go-to for residents looking to navigate uncertain waters. “I’m sitting at home,” said Duran. “I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a public heath officer, but I know how to write. I can’t do it in a tweet. I need to write mini-essays.” Each morning, Duran updates citizens with a publicly accessible post. Each post starts with the Los Angeles County cases and death totals. As of Tuesday, those numbers were 536 and 7, respectively. He then list updates, general information and recommendations for his readers. On Tuesday’s post he suggested that people stay home if they have mild symptoms in order to avoid exposing others and clogging the emergency rooms. When does he suggest going to the ER? “When you are having trouble walking around the apartment and can’t breathe — that’s when.” “If I get a cough or a fever, I’m not going to the ER and demanding a test,” he said. “Why would I want to take up resources at Cedar’s when there are people struggling for ventilators?” Duran understands that common sense updates are what people need in a desperate time. He lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s and knows all to well what wading through the waters of an invisible disease can be like. “We have to treat everybody as if they’re infected,” he said. “We are at the stage where we should assume everybody’s positive and act accordingly. That means social distancing. That means no kiss or no handshake. It means having to act differently. It means acting as if you have it and could spread it.” This kind of basic, unfiltered information is what Duran professes people need right now. “I know historically going through AIDS that people are craving information so they can make informed decisions about risks and risk-taking. People want truth in a crisis and not spin.” He is also looking ahead to the immediate and long-term impacts that COVID-19 might have on residents. He notes that many in West Hollywood leadership positions were around for the dark days of AIDS, including council member John Heilman and Mayor John D’Amico. “We have management in place that went through the last epidemic,” he said. “A lot of people who have been through this kind of thing before and know how to respond.” This includes not only the impacts on health, but also the impacts on the city’s economy. “We have so many non-traditional workers, so many people in the service industry. We have so many people who are going to fall through the safety net, and we are focusing on them to make sure we have the main resources they need: food and shelter.” “Anybody who lives in West Hollywood shouldn’t have to worry about food and shelter.” In stark contrast to when Donald Trump was asked to address America’s fears by Peter Alexander, when the president chastised the reporter, Duran offered words of hope to this reporter when asked a similar question.


WeHo Council member JOHN DURAN is posting daily Facebook updates about the coronavirus crisis.

“We’ve been through this before. We’ve learned how to separate fear from fact. A cough and fever doesn’t mean we’re going to die. Eighty percent of people do get better. Just like when the doctor told me, ‘John, you’re HIV-positive,’ and I just got on it and took care of my health. The fact is more people are going to survive exposure than die from exposure.” He also encouraged everyone to continue to practice safety guidelines and stay home.

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COVID-19 factors in hate crimes spike Critics fault Trump’s use of ‘Chinese virus’ By BRODY LEVESQUE LOS ANGELES — As the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases increases daily in California there has also been a sharp increase in incidents of racist or hateful comments directed at Asian-Americans, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. These incidents represent a spike in an already worrisome trend of anti-LGBTQ animus, Lecia Brooks, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC) tells the Los Angeles Blade. A significant factor fueling the frequency of this trend is the racist rhetoric of President Donald Trump, Brooks says. Trump has refused to refer to the virus and the accompanying pandemic by its given scientific label, instead referring to it as ‘the Chinese Virus,’ in press briefings and photo opportunities. This has also caused some members of the West Wing staff to label it inaccurately and in a seemingly racist way. On March 17, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jang, a Chinese-American tweeted, “This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back,” she wrote. In a press briefing later by the White House Coronavirus Response Task Force, when pressed by the assembled press corps, Trump deflected on the question of evading personal responsibility instead insisting that his label was accurate because the now global pandemic’s epicenter was China. During another briefing, in a moment captured by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford that showed Trump’s notes and remarks laid out on the podium, the word “coronavirus” was marked out and replaced with “Chinese Virus” in Trump’s trademark black Sharpie. Throughout the pandemic, Trump has been unrepentant in his labeling, which gives white nationalists and others freedom to be deplorable and racist toward other Americans the SPLC’s Brooks says. In California, the rise in hateful incidents, especially those directed at Asian Californians, caused California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra to post his own push back on Twitter. “Bigotry is not the cure to this public health crisis. Racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated — and in fact, they only make this moment worse. Let’s work together and listen to our public health officials,” he wrote. But other minority communities have also been the targets of hateful commentary, the LGBTQ community being targeted by religious fundamentalists including notoriously homophobic Rev. Rick Wiles, a pastor, and presidential ‘spiritual’ adviser from Vero Beach, Fla. “Plagues are one of the last steps of judgment,” Wiles said in a broadcast of his TruNews program at the end of January. He then went on to say that China is a “godless communist government” and “the United States is not much better.” “Look at the spiritual rebellion that is in this country, the hatred of God, the hatred of the Bible, the hatred of righteousness,” he warned. “Just


PRESIDENT TRUMP has refused to refer to the virus by its given scientific label, instead referring to it as ‘the Chinese Virus.’ (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

vile, disgusting people in this country now, transgendering little children, perverting them. Look at the rapes, and the sexual immorality, and the filth on our TVs and our movies.” More worrisome than the elevated number of hate/racist incidents directed at others during the COVID-19 pandemic says SPLC’s Brooks, is the overall disturbing trend of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and incidents, which has seen a 43 percent increase even as the overall numbers of hate groups actually have been in decline. The primary factor and consideration Brooks points out is the president’s close relationship with anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Washington D.C.based Family Research Council, and homophobes like Wiles. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual Year in Hate and Extremism report released on March 18, the white nationalist movement that was emboldened by the election of President Trump grew for a second straight year in 2019, as the number of hate groups in the movement, rose to 155 – a 55 percent increase since 2017, However, Brooks told the Blade that the SPLC had identified 940 hate groups operating across the country in 2019, which represented a slight decline from the all-time high of 1,020 in 2018. Yet she said, the fact remained that even with a number of significant neo-Nazi groups dropping as the result of leadership turmoil, Brooks cautioned that the groups remaining behind adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology.


Addressing the rise of anti-LGBTQI+ animus, Brooks pointed out that actions by the Trump administration, including recent actions stripping LGBTQ federal workers of equality rights, especially trans workers, has also been accompanied by a number of anti-trans legislation in 12-plus states. Idaho’s recent bill set to become law as well as Alabama’s legislation would effectively criminalize transition by youth, she noted. “Basically, [Trump’s] relationship with anti-LGBTQI+ organizations and individuals has caused the uptick,” Brooks said. “That 43 percent number includes the murders of trans women of color and attacks on gay couples, which is directly because Trump has elevated the voices of these homophobes masquerading as ‘Christian leaders,’” she added. “This important new report shines a light on the explosion of anti-LGBTQ groups across our country,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, wrote in a press statement. “The resurgence of these groups poses a real danger to LGBTQ people and to the progress we have made, which feels increasingly precarious in the face of this administration’s shocking support for anti-LGBTQ hate groups and apparent determination to roll back even the most basic legal protections for LGBTQ people. Now more than ever, we must push back against these hateful narratives and call on elected officials and others to stand up for our common humanity.” “Stoking the fires of intolerance is unacceptable, especially during this time of crisis” a spokesperson for California Attorney General Becerra told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday. “Every effort will be made to address those actions promptly — hateful behavior cannot be tolerated.” “Blaming an ethnic group, or the LGBTQI+ community right now for the COVID-19 crisis is immoral,” Brooks said. “The SPLC will continue to monitor the crisis especially with an eye toward Asian Americans, but also immigrant groups as the white nationalists place blame there for the outbreak,” she said.

‘This important new report shines a light on the explosion of anti-LGBTQ groups across our country,’ said SHANNON MINTER, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.



Coronavirus is like an STD Biggest concern is asymptomatic folks, says Celina Alvarez By MICHAEL KEARNS “He hit me up,” my friend said on FaceTime to create some semblance of intimacy while social distancing. “Hit you up? As in hook up? Meaning have sex?” I ask. “Does he know that the coronavirus is a sexually transmitted disease?” I ask, flummoxed. “He doesn’t even have to take his hoodie off. He can catch it before walking into the apartment.” Because the virus is silent for a period of time, the young and the old alike may not be aware they have it or are spreading it – and they apparently don’t know they could die from it. Peter Cashman, a co-founder of ACT UP/LA, sits in his car at Trader Joe’s while a friend does his shopping. He is fuming at how the the National LGBTQ Task Force made the “suicidal decision” to green-light its recent “White Party” fundraiser on Miami’s South Beach. “The event allegedly took extra precautions for attendees, handing out 10,000 hand sanitizer bottles and hygiene information guides for festival goers,” The Hill reported. “Reports from organizers say that none of the attendees experienced symptoms during the festival.” Executive Director Rea Carey told The Hill that “the real story” was not how many attendees might have been infected but rather “that millions of people across the country would like to get tested, and the government has not done its job to make testing available.” No, the “real story” is that Task Force did not cancel the event, says Cashman. “What people with HIV/AIDS need right now is specific medical/scientific information related to their positive status and COVID-19,” which, Cashman says, he has not received from his HIV specialist. Richard Ayoub, executive director of Project Angel Food, has been delivering facts with food. “Because people with HIV/AIDS are immune compromised, it makes them more susceptible to the virus that is highly contagious,” he tells the Los Angeles Blade. “Project Angel Food continues to serve the 1,600 people living with critical illness who rely on us every day, and we have added three weeks of shelf stable meals for every client, just in case we can’t reach them in an emergency. We can’t close down— we are a vital service.” The general public doesn’t realize how much income from fundraisers sustain the budgets of organizations like Project Angel Food or those who fund others. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, for instance, is the single largest financial supporter of The Actors Fund. In February, Project Angel Food received $40,000 from the Actors Fund to “reach out to L.A.’s LGBTQ homeless,” says Tom Viola, BCEFA’s Executive Director. But Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is taking “a huge hit” because of COVID-19. “Last year’s campaign raised over $6 million. We’ll take a $5 million hit on this one, likely forcing us to suspend the last two grant rounds of our annual National Grants Program,” Viola says. “As you can imagine,” says Darrel Cummings, chief of staff at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, “providing the amount of services we do and to such a large number of people has presented lots of challenges that we have been working to resolve. It has been my goal to maintain the vital services — medical, mental health, pharmacy, housing, etc.— that are most needed while at the same time reducing the numbers of people — clients, staff, and volunteers — in our physical space as much as possible.


The Center deals with a variety of situations from medical and mental health issues to age and homelessness that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. “Each day brings a new challenge that we have to learn how to properly manage but we are staying nimble enough to respond as best we can,” says Cummings. Housing Works Executive Director Celina Alvarez is working to maintain their satellite program, Young Burlington Apartments, a 20-unit permanent supportive housing building for 18-24-year-olds who generally distrust adults. “We are doing what we can to stay in consistent communication with these young people who are scared and unsure about what the future holds,” she says. “The onsite support services staff, including myself, have been in contact with the tenants at YB to check on them and assess their needs and any health symptoms they are experiencing at this time. Our job is to educate, educate, educate them about COVID-19 so that they can make informed decisions as we all learn to walk through this new era.” But testing is scarce. “Unless you come from a certain income/social status bracket, the rest of us don’t have a chance at really finding out who amongst us is a carrier,” she says. “My biggest concerns are the asymptomatic folks.” Cashman notes that summoning the strength to fight yet another herculean battle like the coronavirus and its spawn will not be easy for LGBTQ community. And this on top of all the other many ancillary battles. Now there will be even more complex emotions to disentangle on a daily basis. “But overwhelmingly there is a special place in hell for our utterly failed White House leadership whose negligence, greed and criminality is now killing us,” Cashman says, adding not so metaphorically: “Bring back the guillotine!”

TO OUR LGBTQ COMMUNITY AND ALLIES In these dark and uncertain times, I know it is ever more important to be grateful for what sustains us. And what sustains me — what drives our work at the Human Rights Campaign and inspires, enriches, and gives us hope every day — is you. I draw inspiration from the giants who came before us — footsoldiers for justice like Bayard Rustin and Sylvia Rivera who wrestled with discrimination and oppression and a government who did not care about our lives. These leaders built our movement and drew strength from each other in the face of incredible obstacles.

We must draw strength from this legacy — and know that we can never stop fighting. We cannot stop fighting a federal administration that treated COVID-19 like a political stunt and endangered the lives of millions — an administration that continues to invoke xenophobia and division at the very moment unity is so essential. We cannot stop fighting anti-equality lawmakers who — while we are facing a national crisis — are moving ahead with dangerous, discriminatory legislation in the states that harms our most vulnerable. We cannot stop fighting until all communities achieve equity and equality. Now and always, we are going to do our very best to make sure that our community at large gets the resources and support that it needs. We are creating and sharing resources about this pandemic and its impact on our community — as well as drawing attention to incredible work being done by our partners in the movement. We are advocating for federal government relief for our community as legislation moves through Congress. And we continue to work on defeating Donald Trump and Mike Pence in November. For more resources and information, please go to hrc.org. Our thoughts are with you and your loved ones during these unsettling times. Together, we will weather this crisis as we have weathered crises before — by taking care of one another, by supporting each other, and by ensuring we are doing all that we can to protect and empower the most vulnerable among us. In Unity, Alphonso David President of the Human Rights Campaign He/Him/His

For more resources and information, please go to hrc.org


PrEP may be tested on coronavirus if HIV meds shown effective Remdesivir being studied in clinical trials By CHRIS JOHNSON cjohnson@washblade.com

PrEP may be tested against coronavirus if HIV medications are shown to be effective.

With the coronavirus claiming thousands of lives across the globe, medical experts are throwing any and all medications they can against the disease, including drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS that — if effective in clinical trials — may turn attention toward Truvada, commonly used as PrEP for HIV prevention. One medical expert told the Blade if the early promising results for the HIV drug Remdesivir hold out in clinical trials, the drug Truvada — the more standard medication against HIV/AIDS — could also work against the coronavirus. David Hardy, adjunct professor of medicine for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said if Remdesivir works, Truvada could be shown to be effective because the two drugs are in the same family of medications. “If Remdesivir works, because it falls into

the same class of medication as Truvada, then Truvada may be able to be tried as well,” Hardy said. Hardy said Remdesivir and Truvada — both developed by Gilead Sciences — work by the same “mechanism of action,” hitting the virus in a susceptible point in the virus’ replication cycle. “I would wager to say that if the clinical studies that are studying Remdesivir in China and then in the U.S. now show some promise, then there’s gonna be a very quick look at Truvada to see if it works,” Hardy said. Although Hardy said he’s unaware of any clinical trials underway for Truvada against coronavirus as of last week, he predicted that would change soon if Remdesivir is shown to be effective. Hardy said there’s a key difference between the drugs: Truvada as a pill can be administrated orally, in contrast to Remdesivir, which requires intravenous injection. “That can be much more complicated for treating large numbers of people than pills are,” Hardy said. As reported by NBC News, there’s hope for Remdesivir, a drug used to fight HIV, which is still being studied under clinical trials. Based on early tests, the drug “may start working within 24 hours of the first dose” against the coronavirus. According to anecdotal reports, at least two hospitalized patients who received Remdesivir started to improve by the next day. One was a man who traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, then after coming back to his home in Washington State became the first person in the United States diagnosed with COVID-19. And Chris Kane, 55, was diagnosed with the coronavirus and given the drug during his hospitalization


at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash. In both cases, the patients started to improve after taking Remdesivir within one day. But with this limited sample, questions remain about whether it was the drug that led to health improvement, or whether these two patients would have gotten better anyway. The drug’s use against coronavirus is now officially in clinical trials at Providence Regional Medical Center and first results are expected in late April, according to NBC News. The hospital didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment and offered limited information to NBC News, citing an inability to discuss the drug before trials are complete. As scrutiny on Remdesivir’s potential grows, Gilead Sciences announced on Monday in a statement it will eventually expand access to the drug, but — for the time being — suspend acquisition under early compassionate use. “During this transition period, we are unable to accept new individual compassionate use requests due to an overwhelming demand over the last several days,” the statement says. “We are focused now on processing previously approved requests and anticipate the expanded access programs will initiate in a similar expected timeframe that any new requests for compassionate use would have been processed.” Another exception Gilead Sciences set for compassionate use requests for Remdesivir was for pregnant women and youth under age 18 with confirmed COVID-19 infection and severe manifestations of the disease. Remdesivir was among the drugs potentially effective against the coronavirus mentioned by President Trump, who touted the medication at a White House news conference last week.

Hardy warned despite reports HIV medication may be effective against the coronavirus, patients taking the drugs either for prevention or treatment may still be susceptible to COVID-19 and able to transmit it. “People have misinterpreted when they have read this that HIV drugs work against the coronavirus that this means that they are somehow protected against the coronavirus by virtue of taking HIV drugs, and that is not something that anyone should assume at this point in time,” Hardy said. “We have no idea whether they work against the virus in any great numbers of people who have been taking the medications.” The HIV drug Truvada is used not only for HIV treatment, but also prevention and in the form PrEP is seen as a key tool to ending the HIV epidemic. Asked by the Blade if HIV drugs are, in fact, proven to be effective in treating the coronavirus, that also would mean they would be effective in prevention, Hardy cautiously replied, “Maybe. Maybe.” “There’s many, many factors that are involved when we study the same medication for two different infections,” Hardy said. “You know the dose of the medication that may work in HIV may not be enough. So, we don’t know whether or not the dose of medication that works for HIV is going to be the same.” Medical experts across the board are cautious about raising hopes about potential medications against the coronavirus. For example, Trump’s public mention of drugs tested against the coronavirus without clinical determination they will be effective has inspired criticism from political opponents and from medical professionals. CONTINUES AT LOSANGELESBLADE.COM


Coronavirus claims life of Terrence McNally Beloved playwright won four Tony Awards By JOHN PAUL KING

The theater community, alreadyhard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has been dealt a painful blow with the news that Terrence McNally, the four-time Tony-winning playwright whose work portrayed a rich range of human emotional experience and broke barriers in its depiction of gay life, has succumbed to complications from COVID-19 at the age of 81. McNally, who was a survivor of lung cancer and lived with chronic COPD, died on Tuesday at the Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida. Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., McNally grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where his New York-born parents instilled in him a love for theater from an early age. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Columbia University in 1960, he developed a relationship with author John Steinbeck, who hired the young playwright to accompany his family on a worldwide cruise as a tutor to his teenage sons. Steinbeck would later enlist McNally to write the libretto for “Here’s Where I Belong,” a musical stage adaptation of the author’s classic novel, “East of Eden.” During his early years in New York, McNally also developed a relationship with fellow playwright Edward Albee, whom he met when the two shared a cab; the pair were essentially a couple for four years, during the period in which Albee wrote “The American Dream” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” two of his most important works. It was a romance that would cast a shadow over McNally’s early career, when some critics dismissed him as “the boyfriend” after the premiere of his Broadway debut, “And Things That Go Bump in the Night.” The play, which was McNally’s first effort in three acts, flopped due to poor initial reviews – attributed by author Boze Hadleigh in his book, “Who’s Afraid of Terrence McNally,” to homophobia from conservative New York critics – even after subsequent critical reaction and audience response proved to be more favorable.

Terrence McNally died Tuesday at age 81. Photo by ReadingReed43 via Wikimedia Commons

After the failure of his foray onto the Broadway stage, McNally rebounded with an acclaimed one-act, “Next,” which featured James Coco as a middle-aged man mistakenly drafted into the army and was directed by Elaine May, and was presented Off-Broadway in a double bill with May’s “Adaptation” in 1967. Several other oneacts followed, and the playwright gained a reputation for tackling edgy subject matter with sharp social commentary, biting dialogue, and farcical situations. He also attracted early controversy for featuring onstage nudity (from actress Sally Kirkland) for the entire length of his kidnapping drama, “Sweet Eros.” Success came his way in the 1970s, when he racked up an Obie award for 1974’s “Bad Habits,” and a Broadway hit with “The Ritz,” a risqué farce set in a gay bathhouse where a straight middle-aged business man unwittingly goes into hiding to escape

his wife’s murderous mafioso brother. Adapted from his own earlier play, “The Tubs,” it was subsequently turned into a 1976 film version (directed by “A Hard Day’s Night” filmmaker Richard Lester), starring original stage cast members Jack Weston, Jerry Stiller, F. Murray Abraham, and Rita Moreno (reprising her Tony-winning role as bathhouse chanteuse Googie Gomez), as well as featuring a blonde-dyed Treat Williams in an early appearance as an undercover cop. After another series of career setbacks, McNally rebounded again in the 1980s with more Off-Broadway acclaim for his play, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” which starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham. The playwright has said that it was his first work after becoming sober, telling the New York Times in 2019, “There was certainly a change in my work. It’s hard to know who you are if you’re drunk all the time. It clouds your thinking. I started thinking more about

my people — my characters.” It was in the 1990s, however, that McNally blossomed into a master playwright, with plays like “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” which placed AIDS squarely in the backdrop of its story about two married couples spending a weekend on Fire Island, and “Master Class,” a tour-de-force one-woman show about Maria Callas, which featured Zoe Caldwell in a widely acclaimed performance. It was also during this period that McNally wrote “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” an expansive play about a group of gay friends who spend three successive holiday weekends over the course of a summer together at a lake house in upstate New York. Transferring to Broadway after a successful debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club – with which McNally had a long association, and where he developed several of his important works – in a production directed by Joe Mantello, it was a pastoral, introspective, Chekhovian drama that offered deeply drawn, non-stereotypical portrayals of gay characters confronting the various issues in their lives and their relationships; it was also a snapshot of life at the height of the AIDS crisis, exploring the ways in which the specter of the disease was an unavoidable part of day-to-day life that encroached upon every aspect of gay experience. McNally’s script, bolstered by the richly human performances of an ensemble cast that included Nathan Lane, John Glover, John Benjamin Hickey, Anthony Heald, and Justin Kirk, countered the potential for moroseness with warmth and humor, and the play is now widely seen, alongside plays such as Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey,” as one of the most important theatrical works of the AIDS era. A film version in 1997 reunited most of the original stage cast, though the notably straight Jason Alexander replaced Lane in the role of Buzz, the most outwardly flamboyant of the play’s eight gay characters.



Coronavirus sweeps through Italy, Spain LGBTQ activists on lockdown as disease ravages countries By MICHAEL K. LAVERS

Italy and Spain remain two of the countries hardest hit by the global coronavirus pandemic. The latest statistics from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine indicate there are 69,176 coronavirus cases in Italy. The disease has killed 6,820 people in the country. Statistics from John Hopkins University of Medicine as of Wednesday note 47,610 confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain. The disease has killed 3,434 people in the country. Tiziana Fisichella, coordinator of Milan Pride, spoke with the Blade on Tuesday from her home in Milan, a city in Italy’s Lombardy region that remains the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak. She noted Italy has been in a “total lockdown for a few days.” Fisichella also told the Blade via WhatsApp she lost her job three weeks ago. “Most citizens have not left their house for a few weeks,” she said, using Google Translate to speak with the Blade in English. “Lombardy, where I live, is one of the two regions with the most cases and victims. Almost all commercial and manufacturing activities are stopped.” Marco Cacciato Insilla is an LGBTQ activist, author and teacher who lives in Florence with his boyfriend. Insilla told the Blade on Monday he sends video lessons to his students from his home because Italian schools have been closed since March 5. Insilla said his boyfriend is a mechanic and the government has deemed his job essential, but he has not gone to work since last Thursday because “there is little work.” “Cities are almost empty,” Insilla told the Blade, noting he uses a grocery delivery service so he does not have to leave his home. “The government has ordered everyone to stay at home, and many people are sticking to the rules.” Cathy Renna, a long-time LGBTQ activist who lives in Montclair, N.J., on Monday told the Blade during a telephone interview from her home that members of her extended family in

A quarantined Italian enjoys the sun on a balcony during the coronavirus lockdown in Milan. Photo by ML Watts via Wikimedia Commons

Conversano, a medieval town in southern Italy’s Puglia region, remain isolated in their homes. Renna said her cousin was studying at the University of Milan and “fled” to southern Italy “right before the very serious lockdown.” Renna told the Blade her cousin has been selfquarantined alone in an apartment her family uses as an office since she returned home. “She went in there,” said Renna. “She’s probably coming out I think sometime this week; the two weeks is up. She’ll get tested and then she’ll be able to join family.” “It’s like prison,” added Renna, noting her family leaves food for her cousin outside of the door of the apartment in which she is selfquarantined. “They take this very, very seriously and it’s because up north it wasn’t taken seriously and we’ve seen what happened.” Renna said another cousin is a doctor who has been transferred to the emergency room in anticipation of more coronavirus cases in Puglia. “They’re braced down south for what has been slowly, but surely spreading from the north,” she said. The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association has postponed its annual


convention that was to have taken place in Milan from May 6-9. Axel Hotels, which caters to LGBTQ travelers, has closed its property in Venice because of coronavirus. Milan Pride is scheduled to take place from June 19-27. Fisichella told the Blade organizers have not made a final decision about whether to postpone the event, but she said they “are ready to make the best one for the welfare of all.” “We would like to able to announce that everything remains as expected, but I fear it is a utopian vision,” said Fisichella. Meanwhile, LGBTQ Italians are doing their best to cope with the coronavirus lockdown. Arcigay, an Italian LGBTQ advocacy group, posted to its Facebook page a video that shows men how to properly use a condom. Insilla said he and his neighbors everyday at 6 p.m. walk out to their balconies or go to their windows and sing together. Insilla also told the Blade they clap for doctors and nurses “who are doing an extraordinary job.” Fisichella said she is using the lockdown to work on future projects. Fisichella added the only way to stop coronavirus from spreading further is “by limiting social contact as much as possible.” “This is what all people can and should do,” she said. “Nobody is immune, but we must all feel responsible for the health of others. We stay at home, we go out only if really necessary.” “There will be a time to hug again,” added Fisichella. Coronavirus in Madrid is ‘very bad’ Activists in Spain are also trying to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that has prompted Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to place the country under a near total lockdown. Madrid remains the epicenter of Spain’s coronavirus epidemic with 14,597 cases. Statistics indicate 1,825 people in the Spanish capital have died from coronavirus. A source in Madrid with whom the Blade

spoke on Saturday said the situation in the Spanish capital is “very bad.” Uge Sangil, president of Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (FELGTB), a Spanish advocacy group, agreed. “People who live in Madrid are even more scared,” Sangil told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from the Canary Islands. “There is a lot of uncertainty because we don’t know what our future will be, when this is going to end, how we are going to incorporate it (coronavirus) into our day-to-day life.” Upwards of two million people were expected to attend Madrid Pride that was scheduled to take place from June 27-July 5. Organizers on Tuesday announced they have postponed it. Uge Sangil, president of Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (FELGTB), a Spanish LGBTQ advocacy group, on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from the Canary Islands that Madrid Pride was postponed “out of responsibility.” “It is a decision that was made with a lot of pain, but we also understand it was the responsible thing to do,” said Sangil. FELGBT has launched Línea Arcoíris, a hotline that allows LGBTQ Spaniards and other vulnerable groups to call or email while they are isolated in their homes. FELGBT has also created Espacio Arcoíris, an online platform that allows LGBTQ Spaniards to participate in events that focus on a variety of topics that include HIV prevention and literature. “It is a space where the federation offers cultural programs through its social media pages,” Sangil told the Blade. “It is a tool to talk about certain issues that worry us and also get in touch.” Coronavirus has also had a significant impact on other Spanish LGBTQ advocacy groups. CONTINUES AT LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

THE CITY OF WEST HOLLYWOOD IS WORKING TO ACHIEVE A COMPLETE CENSUS COUNT IN CENSUS 2020. It’s important that we’re all counted in order to ensure our community’s fair share of federal funding for vital services and to determine California’s accurate apportionment in Congress.


Learn more at weho.org/census2020


Blade’s mission continues amid crisis We have been here before and must persevere

KEVIN NAFF is national news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

Despite the economic chaos and uncertainly unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Blade staff continues to work hard bringing our readers the local, national, and international news needed to navigate this crisis. On Tuesday, the White House pool report for the world’s press was written by the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson, who spent the day shadowing President Trump, even as Trump continues his reckless attacks on journalists. Also this week, Michael K. Lavers is interviewing LGBTQ activists around the world, including in hard-hit Spain, to assess the unique impacts on our community overseas. Here in LA, Karen Ocamb continues her award-winning work (her upcoming GLAAD Media Awards honor will be rescheduled). Sure, we’re all in this together, but the LGBTQ community suffers unique challenges. Our elders are more likely to live alone and suffer from isolation and depression; our youth are more likely to be homeless and thus susceptible to the disease; we are disproportionately entrepreneurial, putting many of our businesses in jeopardy; the HIV-positive among us are more susceptible to infection; LGBTQ and HIV-positive migrants face considerable risk. We’re working to cover all of these stories and more impacting the LGBTQ community. Small businesses, including the Blade, are particularly vulnerable right now, as the government ponders massive bailouts for undeserving cruise lines and airlines, while tossing crumbs at small businesses, the backbone of the U.S. economy. If you are in a position to donate to support our work, please visit bladefoundation. org. Indeed, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Los Angeles Blade’s Ocamb last week, “This community has been through tougher days than this and the most important thing is to not only be resilient but to be calm … The overwhelming majority of people are going to not only make it


through this but we will come back, but we can be leaders.” He’s right. When the world turned its back during the height of the AIDS crisis, it was LGBTQ activists who led the way, fought for new drugs, held the government accountable, and shamed religious and political leaders into action. We must take up that role again today, telling the truth about President Trump’s irresponsible and dangerous approach to coronavirus. He uses the power of the bully pulpit to spout misinformation that proved fatal to one man who ingested chloroquine based on Trump’s ill-informed recommendation. Worse, Trump ignored warnings in his security briefings about COVID-19 for weeks in January and February, costing us precious time that has led to the deaths of more than 600 Americans as of mid-week. The final toll will be far higher and likely more than the death toll of our deadliest war, the Civil War, which claimed roughly 750,000 American lives. He talks about being a “war-time president,” yet refuses to invoke the Defense Production Act to procure desperately needed personal protective equipment for hospital staff and first responders. His failure to supply adequate tests for the virus is an inexcusable dereliction of duty. We are seeing the full scope of what it means to elect a realty TV show host with no government experience to run the country. We can only hope the latest polls showing Joe Biden with a landslide-scale lead hold up. In the meantime, stay safe and off the streets and practice social distancing. The Blade will publish in print as long as is feasible as well as online. Stay informed via our social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sign up for our e-mail newsletters at losangelesblade.com/ subscribe. Advertise if you can (email my colleague Troy Masters at tmasters@losangelesblade.com). Most importantly, don’t panic. We’ve survived a pandemic before and will persevere again.

ADDRESS 5455 Wilshire Blvd #1505, Los Angeles, CA 90036 PHONE 310-230-5266 E-MAIL tmasters@losangelesblade.com INTERNET losangelesblade.com PUBLISHED BY Los Angeles Blade, LLC PUBLISHER TROY MASTERS tmasters@losangelesblade.com 310-230-5266 x8080 (o), 917-406-1619 (c) SALES & MARKETING BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER BEVERLY DENICE SPARKS bsparks@losangelesblade.com 310-230-5266 x8072 SALES EXECUTIVE ROMAN NAVARRETTE roman@losangelesblade.com 310-435-3022 PALM SPRINGS ACCOUNT EXEC BRAD FUHR, 760-813-2020. brad@gaydesertguide.com NATIONAL ADVERTISING RIVENDELL MEDIA sales@rivendellmedia.com, 212-242-6863 MARKETING DIRECTOR STEPHEN RUTGERS srutgers@washblade.com, 202-747-2077 x8077 EDITORIAL CALIFORNIA EDITOR KAREN OCAMB karenocamb@losangelesblade.com NATIONAL EDITOR KEVIN NAFF knaff@washblade.com, 202-747-2077 x8088 INTERNATIONAL EDITOR MICHAEL K. LAVERS mlavers@washblade.com CONTRIBUTORS



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‘The Godfather of the Rainbow Flag’ Paying tribute and clarifying history

ADRIAN BROOKS is a longtime LGBTQ rights advocate. (Photo courtesy Brooks)

In the 1970s, San Francisco had a largely gay and free radical underground. Where else would straight men go to gay bars in dresses to attract women? Lee Mentley was part of that creative, sexy culture and Lee inspired others. Naïve as it may sound, back in the day the impetus was commitment to community in a spirit of love. Enriched by the cross-pollination of the Civil Rights, anti-war and ‘Women’s Liberation’ movements, ‘gay lib’ emerged from the riotous Sixties in the dizzying period following Stonewall and San Francisco was the world capital of a revolution. At its most loopy, a rigid orthodoxy held that artists seek no personal credit and accept no profit from anything created for community. For that reason, some pivotal people remained obscure while others who talked-the-talk persuasively juiced career opportunities. A close friend of Harvey Milk, activist Lee Mentley stood at the epicenter of the gay community and the local art scene. Aside from founding the Castro Street Fair with Harvey, from 1973-1978 he hosted seasonal salons in his 14-room flat at 590 Castro St., where he showcased artists, poets, performers, community leaders and shamans. He also ran a gallery — “The Top Floor Gallery,” at 330 Grove Street, in the Gay Community Center. There, on June 24, 1977, a year before the parade where the rainbow flags first flew, Harvey announced his candidacy for the Board of Supervisors in the first iteration of his celebrated “Hope Speech.” In 1974, Lee had inspired an 18-year-old new arrival from Southern California: Lynn Segerblom or Faery Argyle Rainbow as she was widely known (that name being on her California driver’s license). A tie-dye artist, she’d been making clothing often embellished with rainbows, since 1971. Lee helped her integrate into the local scene where she flourished. In 1977, she rented a workspace at 330 Grove but lived above the Castro district with Gilbert Baker and James McNamara, longtime friends. Lynn and I met in 1976 when she joined the “Angels of Light” free theater (an offshoot of the campy “Cockettes”), of which I was a member. In March 1978, she was in an Angels’ extravaganza; I was writing; Lee was curating art shows and Harvey was engaged in a ‘take-noprisoners’ war with Anita Bryant, who demonized gays and lesbians in ways that smacked of McCarthyism and Donald Trump’s tactics today. The battle was national news since a California State initiative on November’s ballot would determine if gays and lesbians would, or should, face legally sanctioned discrimination. In April 1978, a month after being in the show, Lynn told me about her concept for eight-stripe rainbow flags as has been affirmed by

some of the 30+ volunteers who worked on the project and who recognize her as originator of the design. In May, Lee and Paul Hardman (president of the Pride Foundation, with Lee on its executive committee there being no formal parade committee), approved the rainbow design Lynn submitted at a meeting certified by two others present on that day. When Paul and Lee asked for money to fund the project, Harvey Milk gave them $1,000 after which Lee and Lynn went shopping for materials. Lynn’s studio became ‘ground zero’ where fabric was dyed while Lee’s gallery space and the roof were used to dry great lengths of cotton; when hung from rafters, these became a splendid and lyrical installation. Solitary gold or silver lame stars on the indigo stripe on both sides of Lynn’s signature ‘American flag’ came from “Angels of Light” costume fabric as radical artists, politicos and neighborhood folk who just dropped by to pitch in coalesced in a collective fusion. Out of San Francisco’s fabled diversity and its freewheeling culture celebrating liberation arose the inspiring images symbolizing gay freedom and universal human rights. Lynn supervised dying and did the tie-dye stars while a team of three oversaw the sewing. These included: Lynn, Gilbert Baker and James McNamara. James’ then-partner, Paul Langlotz who was present at this historic moment, calls Lynn, “the woman who came up with the idea of a rainbow flag.” Gradually, the rainbow gained traction as a potent symbol but Lynn had moved to Japan before Gilbert began devoting himself to promoting the flags. Still, a doubt existed about their genesis since Lynn had obeyed the “Angels of Light” diktat to act anonymously. In fact, Gilbert didn’t conceive or design the 1978 flags. His accomplishment lies in transforming what began as local parade decorations into a global icon. But the ubiquitous flags he popularized so brilliantly were his own six-stripe variants of Lynn’s original eight-stripe designs. In contrast to Harvey, Lee, Lynn, Gilbert, James McNamara and many others who did the work, I was a tangential witness and friend, but on June 25, 1978, I was onstage reading my poems to an estimated 400,000 people who packed the City Hall plaza, a crowd said to be the largest in San Francisco’s history, so huge that TV news stations had to send up helicopters to try to convey its scale. High overhead, the splendid rainbow flags were billowing in a blue sky as the afternoon sunlight illumined their prismatic colors. This was to be Harvey Milk’s last parade. Still, he saw the flags he helped midwife serving those he nurtured whole-heartedly, acting in concert with his walk-thewalk friend, Lee Mentley, Godfather of the Rainbow Flag.


COVID-19 drags queens from the club to digital The show must go online By SCOTT STIFFLER

You can’t drag a good queen down—not even if she finds herself suddenly bereft of incomegenerating live performance gigs and, like the rest of us, advised to shelter in place. While clubs and bars and all other public gathering places are closed until COVID-19 concerns crest, our nation’s queens aren’t putting their tails between their legs—they’re finding new ways to engage with fans, and generate some coin. In a socially distanced March 22 social media message, Los Angeles-based foulmouthed national treasure Jackie Beat tweeted that she was working on “hilariously horrible new material for my digital drag show, & so far I am doing ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Corona?’ from ‘Sound of Music,’ Queen’s masterpiece ‘Killer Queen’ as ‘Quarantine’ & the Bette Midler schmaltz-fest ‘From A Distance’ as ‘Social Distance!’ ” Beat’s best-laid plans come to fruition when that new show airs as part of the “Digital Drag Fest” series. Visit stageit.com/digitaldragfest for tickets, dates, info (there’s a slew of quality queens slated for DDF shows). Beat is also available for “very reasonably priced Cameos, either as my clowny self or as everyone’s favorite wise and logical Golden Girl, Dorothy Zbornak.” At MissJackieBeat.com/store, fashionforward end times merch includes “cozy T-shirts— just perfect for quarantine, and sleep masks that can also be worn over one’s mouth when you venture out. Remember, laughter is the best medicine.” Fast friend and frequent live performance Beat collaborator Sherry Vine, also based in Los Angeles, says she plans “on cranking out a lot of content” while hunkered down for the duration, including “ a new solo show, and tons of ideas for parodies. I am writing a series for my new variety show, working on a pilot for a show starring Jackie Beat and me, and Jackie and I are writing a new show for the stage.” As for stirring up some income, Vine notes she is “on Cameo, a platform where people can request a personal video that they pay for. Jackie and I are also going to start one together where we can ask for more money and donate a portion to charity…

Jackie Beat’s new show airs as part of the ‘Digital Drag Fest’ series. Visit stageit.com/digitaldragfest for tickets.

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‘Tune into the online shows and support artists that way,’ advises Marti Cummings. To tip this queen, visit martigcummings.com.

We are all in this together and have to make the best of it. I’m a show whore so if there’s even one person watching I’ll perform!” Get more info at thesherryvine.com. When the dust settles and the pandemic is relegated to herstory, Bob The Drag Queen will be among the most memorable early adopters of quarantine-necessitated digital broadcasting. The NYC-based producer/performer launched what promises to be an ongoing series last Thursday, when “The Only Quarantine Drag Show” debuted, via Bob’s Facebook page. Free to watch, $10 was the suggested donation. Out of drag, broadcasting from his kitchen, and quite possibly not wearing pants, Bob laid out the premise, then pitched it over to “one of all-time favorite drag queens… the amazing the wonderful and the talented miss Pepper-mint.” Peppermint, “not in full drag, barely in drag,” was coming to us from her “quarantine bunker in Harlem, feeling very very good,” and promising “to give you a real New York City drag show… Drag queens

have always been on the cutting edge of innovation,” proudly noted Peppermint, “and we will not be left out here, honey. We’re coming for your digital.” And come they did, in full-on information and entertainment mode, as Peppermint presided over a roster of remote guests including Marti Gould Cummings. Wearing a muumuu and broadcasting from her Hamilton Heights abode, Cummings—a 2021 candidate for City Council—had just returned from a meeting at Community Board 9. “Local government,” CB9 member Cummings told the Blade, “is so important, especially in times like now… I am calling on Gov. Cuomo to suspend rent for small businesses and home renters.” Asked by Peppermint for sources of information that are reliable, Cummings recommended following, on Twitter, NYC’s Council Speaker Corey Johnson, NY Attorney General Tish James, and NYC Council member Mark Levine. “They are all reliable, factual sources,” said

Cummings. “Don’t listen to Trump. He’s a moron and an idiot, and we have to stand up to the bigotry that he’s turning this into.” As for helping our queens get through this, “Tune into the online shows and support artists that way, and by buying merchandise if you can,” advises Cummings. To tip this particular queen, visit martigcummings.com. “I think many artists are being inventive with their time, and asking how it is they would like to utilize their art,” said Peppermint, of the burgeoning trend toward digital-based pandemic period live performance. While some artists, she notes, are creating COVID-19/quarantine-influenced work whose fruits we won’t see for months or years to come, others “are of the mindset they want to express themselves now. So they are beaming live from their living rooms.” Count Peppermint among them. “I’m working on new music as we speak,” she said. “I started just when this hit, and was in the process of recording some stuff.” With social distancing putting the kibosh on sequestering one’s self in a studio, alongside a band and technicians, “I’m recording everything at home, and I have much more time to do it. My ‘album’ has now turned into possibly two or three. A lot of material, I’ll be trying out on the fourth.” That’s April 4, as in, the date of Peppermint’s own one-woman show, broadcast live from her living room—another “Digital Drag Show” presentation. “It’s still a week away,” said Peppermint, at the time of our March 24 interview, “which in quarantine speak may as well be two months from now. Things change so drastically from day to day… I don’t have a mansion, so I won’t have a full band in my room. There’s a chance I might play the songs myself or have a fellow musician join me, or if I have a recorded version, I might sing them to track… maybe a combination of all three.” You can get more info by following Peppermint’s social media, and purchase merch at peppermintonline.com. “There might be some artists who are not working,” notes Peppermint. “So if there’s someone who you like and whose work has made you smile, don’t underestimate the power of just reaching out to them, or just anonymously sending them something. Because they depend on their art to make a living.”

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Boredom-busting books Suggested titles to get you through the COVID-19 blues By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Hunker down. That’s what you’ll be doing for the immediate future: trying to stay well or get well or just waiting. You’ve had enough TV and the pantry’s as clean as it’ll ever get, so maybe it’s time to find something to read. Here are some suggestions: FICTION If you’re a fan of unusual thrillers, look for “Please See Us” by Caitlin Mullen. It’s the story of two dead women who have not yet been found in their marshy grave. But they know what’s going on, and they know they won’t be alone for long. Oh, and they know who killed them. Also, thriller fans, get “Journey of the Pharaohs” by the late Clive Cussler and Graham Brown. If you’ve ever read a Cussler book, you know what you’re in for. “The Love Story of Missy Charmichael” by Beth Morrey is a sweetheart of a book. It’s about a 79-year-old woman who’s largely alone; her children are scattered or estranged and she’s old enough to believe that reflection on her past is all she has left. And then she meets a dog. The fan of historical fiction will love having “Westering Women” by Sandra Dallas on the sofa. It’s the story of a young seamstress and her small daughter, both of whom travel with a caravan of other women to answer the call for “eligible women” out west in the 1800s. Adventure, love, action, can you resist? NON-FICTION Music fans will love hunkering down with “The Beatles from A to Zed” by Peter Asher. It’s an easy-breezy book on the Fab Four, but indirectly, which means you’ll get some little-discussed, little-known tales that fans will need to know. Here’s another book that’s perfect for the music fan: “She Can Really Lay It Down” by Rachel Frankel, a book about music’s female rebels and rockers. Or look for “1973: Rock at the Crossroads” by Andrew Grant Jackson, a book that’s part history, part music history and all perfect nostalgia. For the reader who loves a good true-medicine tale, try “The Open Heart Club” by Gabriel Brownstein. Written by a man whose life was saved by cardiac surgery when he was just a small child, this book looks at heart surgery in the distant past and what’s being done to cure the heart now. Another book to look for, whether you’re thinking it’s time to quit smoking, you’re fascinated about why anyone would start or you’re just plain in need of something different is “The Cigarette: A Political History” by Sarah Milov. For parents or parents-to-be, how about something different: “Designing Babies” by Robert L. Klitzman, M.D. is a guidebook of sorts, filled with choices that potential noms and dads can make when taking that big step

toward parenthood. But it’s also a book about how tomorrow’s generations are being affected by technology today. Also, try “9 Months In, 9 Months Out” by Vanessa Lobue, a scientific look at pregnancy and being a parent, written by a scientist. The reader who hates the fact that church has to be missed will enjoy having “The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History” by Andrew T. Walther and Maureen H. Walther around. It’s a large, beautiful retrospective on the “K of C,” its contributions, and many of the leaders who influenced the Knights through the decades. Hang on to hope that this will be over soon, but reading “Nomad: Designing a Home for Escape and Adventure” by Emma Reddington. This heavy, beautiful book is filled with ideas for the person who wants to convert a bus, van, or boat into a permanent living space that’s movable. You can dream, can’t you? While you’re reading that one, keep “Making a Life” by Melanie Falick nearby; it’s a book on crafting, art and subsisting on that which you create. Depending on the view from your bed or sofa, “On Flowers” by Amy Merrick might be something to lift your spirits. It’s filled with photos and its words reflect an appreciation for all things colorful. The book to read after that: “White Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows” by Bernd Heinrich, and learn about your feathered friends. Another book to find, one that’s perfect for environmentalists, is “Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther” by Craig Pittman. Filled with humor, action, and a pretty kitty, it’s great for animal lovers, too. And this: “Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall is a story of a donkey and you know you want it. If you’re thinking that now’s the time to consider a good break and a new business, “Discipline Strategy” by Timothy L. Coomer, is a worthwhile read and a good place to start. It’s about decision-making, goal-setting, and doing the best work you can offer to your customers. Sports fans, there’s no doubt that you’re feeling bereft without your favorite team on TV, so why not pick up a sports book instead? One like “Games of Deception” by Andrew Maraniss. It’s the tale of Nazi Germany, World War, and the United States’ first Olympic basketball team. Another book for the sports fan is “The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant:” by Bertrand Hėbert and Pat LaPrade. It’s a tale of wrestling and the real man who made it fun to watch. If this quarantine is compounded by loss, look for “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” by David Kessler. It’s a book for healing that takes things just one step beyond old, conventional grieving. If you’re already tired of the same old meals, look for “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen” by Alexander Smalls. There’s really only one thing you can say about it: yum.



‘Almost Love’ almost jells Actors do what they can with underdeveloped characters in so-so gay rom-com By BRIAN T. CARNEY

The amiable new rom-com “Almost Love” suggests some guidelines for fledgling feature filmmakers like writer/director Mike Doyle. The first is: find the right title. Doyle and his team nailed this the second time around. “Almost Love” played the queer festival circuit last year under the awkward title “Sell By.” That title yoked the movie to the unpleasant premise that relationships, like ground beef, have expiration dates. It’s not a romantic notion and didn’t capture the movie’s bubbly spirit. The second is: casting is crucial. Doyle, an actor with an impressive list of credits, gets this one absolutely right. The appealing and diverse ensemble cast blends together seamlessly. It’s an effective and inclusive combination of veteran character actors, rising stars and fresh new faces. The third is: balance. That’s where Doyle gets in trouble. He creates pleasant characters and interesting scenarios, but none of them are strong enough to carry the movie. The cast is great, but there’s only so far they can go with underdeveloped roles. Doyle’s direction is strong, but his writing doesn’t give him enough to work with. The central couple is Adam and Marklin. They literally seem to be a picture-perfect couple. Marklin (the under-used Augustus Prew) has struck it rich as a social media “influencer.” He fills their luxurious apartment with brand name baubles and documents every moment of their lives for his followers. Adam (the excellent Scott Evans, a member of the Evans acting dynasty) is a frustrated artist. He makes an excellent living as a “ghost painter” for the famous Ravella Brewer (the wasted Patricia Clarkson) but wants to create his own art. Adam’s best friend is Elizabeth (Kate Walsh of “Grey’s Anatomy”). She’s been married to Damon (Chaz Lamar Shepherd) for 15 years, but they’ve hit an impasse. He wants kids; she doesn’t. Marklin’s best friends are Cammy (the delightful Michelle Buteau of Netflix’s “Tales of the City”) and Haley (the effervescent Zoe Chao). Haley is a teacher whose student Scott James (the absolutely adorable Christopher Gray) has become infatuated with her. Cammy (occupation unclear) has stumbled into an improbable relationship with a homeless man (Colin Donnell from Broadway’s latest “Anything Goes” with Sutton Foster and the CW’s “Arrow”). The acting is strong, but some of the cast members are more successful than others in fleshing out their underwritten roles. Buteau is dynamite. Without overshadowing her castmates, she dominates the screen with her boisterous energy and crackerjack timing. She has an exciting chemistry with Donnell and smoothly balances the character’s brassy lust for life with a genuine concern for her friends. The chemistry between Evans and Prew is also strong and Evans nicely underplays the cliché of the frustrated artist. He’s appropriately brooding but never too whiny. But the relationship between Adam and Marklin is not strong enough


The cast of ‘Almost Love.’ (Photo courtesy Vertical Entertainment)

to hold the movie together. We never get a good sense of who they are and what holds them together, or what brought them together in the first place. They’re the lynchpin couple who draws everyone else into their orbit, but their bond doesn’t have the gravity to hold the film’s social system together. The characters end up drifting in space. The movie also lacks a strong point of view. Is Doyle making fun of Marklin’s social media empire? Is Marklin in on the joke or has he been caught up in the wave of Internet fame? Is Ravella Brewer a ravenous monster who is devouring Adam’s talent or is she an amiable hack coasting on her fame and making a quick buck for herself and her collaborators? It’s too bad the screenplay doesn’t give the talented cast more to work with. While Doyle’s screenplay doesn’t quite jell, his work as director is solid. The movie looks lovely (kudos to cinematographer Ludovic Littee from “Orange is the New Black”) and moves along with a confident pace. Hopefully he’s already developing his next film. “Almost Love” is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. While writer/director Mike Doyle has some trouble with the script, he and a great cast deliver a fine rom-com that embraces diversity and sparkles with humor and warmth. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the theatrical release of “Almost Love” has been delayed, but the movie will be available through VOD and other streaming sources.


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The City of West Hollywood has proclaimed a local emergency in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). The City recommends social distancing. Seniors 65+ and people with underlying medical conditions should self-isolate. It's essential that we all take action and stay informed. Follow @wehocity on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and turn on notifications for up-to-date information. Subscribe to the City’s E-Notifications at www.weho.org/email. For regular updates, visit www.weho.org/coronavirus.

BOLETÍN INFORMATIVO DE LA CIUDAD DE WEST HOLLYWOOD La Ciudad de West Hollywood ha declarado una emergencia local en respuesta al brote de coronavirus (COVID-19). La Ciudad recomienda mantener un distanciamiento social para evitar nuevas infecciones. Personas de 65 años o más y aquellas con condiciones médicas preexistentes deberían autoconfinarse y aislarse. En este tiempo de crisis, es esencial que todos tomemos precauciones y nos mantengamos informados. Siga las redes sociales de la Ciudad de West Hollywood @Wehocity en Twitter, Facebook e Instagram y suscríbase a las notificaciones para recibir información de ultimo momento. También puede suscribirse para recibir emails de la Ciudad en www.weho.org/email. Para recibir actualizaciones sobre el nuevo coronavirus, por favor visite www.weho.org/coronavirus

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