Long Beach Mayor Garcia practicing physical distancing Advises everyone to take COVID-19 seriously
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A new COVID-19 surge but a sliver of hope Physical distancing may be slowing increase of cases By KAREN OCAMB
Each day brings new numbers. And new fears. And a glimmer of hope. And then resignation as an anxious, locked down public clamors for answers, though the answers are sometimes too bleak to comprehend. On March 30, Dr. Deborah Birx, the global AIDS expert serving as the White House coronavirus response coordinator, gave a sobering projection for the trajectory of COVID-19 in the United States. “If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Birx told NBC’s Today show, though thus far, the public was not uniformly and consistently following physical distancing orders. Birx echoed a similar pronouncement issued by her mentor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, the day before. “Looking at what we’re seeing now, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000 cases... excuse me, deaths. I mean, we’re going to have millions of cases,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “As I have said before,” Fauci added, “it’s true the virus itself determines that timetable [of easing physical distancing restrictions]. You can try and influence that timetable by mitigating against the virus, but, ultimately, it’s what the virus does.” And yet, on April 1 as many people unemployed and furloughed faced bills due for rent and mortgages, Trump used the beginning of the daily coronavirus briefing to practice a little politics about gangs, drugs and The Wall – a Gallup poll shows his approval ratings have risen thanks to the showcase – but he refused to order a national “stay at home” order to governors who still think their states are immune. Vice President Mike Pence dutifully played Trump cheerleader, as well, denying that his boss ever downplayed the impact of the coronavirus, despite video evidence. “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” Pence told CNN. “He expressed gratitude and confidence in healthcare workers in this country, and the American people can be assured President Trump is going to continue to be confident that we will meet this moment.” The moment might be meeting Trump, whether he likes it or not. Globally, the coronavirus pandemic is more than 885,600 confirmed cases with over 44,200 deaths; more than 185,400 people have recovered. In the U.S., the death toll as of April 1 was 4,542 - higher than the reported deaths in China. Johns Hopkins University said 865 people died in the 24 hours from March 31 to April 1. California Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN that Trump has been attentive to California’s needs unlike Trump’s reported treatment of others. “This is not the time to bicker. I don’t care who’s up and down, whose polls are looking better than someone else’s or who wants to run for president or who doesn’t. When it comes to times of crisis, we need to [rise] above the partisanship and I’ve extended always an open hand, not a closed fist, in those circumstances. And this is no different,” Newsom told Jake Tapper. Late April 1, California officials reported 9,925 coronavirus cases, with 127 confirmed positive healthcare workers as of March 31. In his daily briefing, Newsom announced that California has about 9,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – Doubling since March 27 and increasing nearly
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Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health Director BARBARA FERRER during April 1 briefing. (Screen grab)
ten-fold since the Stay ay Home order was initiated on March 19, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There was a dramatic increase in the need for hospital beds and a five-fold jump in less than a week in ICU cases. One startling fact: there were nearly 1,000 new cases in 24 hours — and the death toll at 204. Newsom’s advisors project that the state will need 50,000 more hospital beds by mid-May and another 16,000 by month’s end. The slight silver lining is that the cases are growing slower than New York, which public officials have taken as a sign of what’s to come in Los Angeles and the state. That suggests the two-week stay home order may be working and that there is time before mid-May to staff up hospitals. However, there is also more evidence that asymptomatic people may be carrying and spreading the silent virus, leading to an unknown number of infections with testing still an issue. “This disease could impact anyone,” Newsom said. “Take this seriously.” Newsom also announced that public schools will remain closed for the rest of the year. Online teaching will improve with Google boosting Wi-Fi and broadband capacity across the state. “And not only access to the internet, but quality access to the internet,” Newsom said. Google is “providing a minimum three months free access to high quality, to broadband throughout the state of California. Those 100,000 points will help us substantially address the digital divide issues, the rural
‘When it comes to times of crisis, we need to [rise] above the partisanship,’ said California Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)
issues, the equity issues that are at play, even in the best of times.” Late April 1, Newsom signed an executive order that allows for the immediate use of $1.4 billion in emergency funding to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. “The executive order facilitates expenditures from the state’s Disaster Response-Emergency Operations Account, a subaccount of the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties in the General Fund – the state’s traditional budget reserve – as well as from any other legally available fund to help with the COVID-19 response,” reads the press release. “In addition, the Legislature enacted SB 89 prior to adjourning last month. This legislation signed by the Governor created an additional mechanism to provide up to $1 billion General Fund for expenditures related to the COVID-19 emergency.” There is one eye-raising point that may speak to Newsom’s apparently good relationship with Trump. “Most of the state’s expenditures associated with the COVID-19 response are expected to be largely reimbursed by the federal government,” says the press release. While the sliver of relative good news may help ease the acute disruption, coronavirus cases continues to surge, as predicted. The L.A. County Dept. of Public Health reported 513 new cases on April 1, bringing the total infected by COVID-19 to 3,518. Five of those new positive cases were among the homeless, said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. There were also 11 new deaths, nine of whom were over the age of 65; seven had underlying health conditions; one was between 18 and 40 years old; and one was between 41 and 65 years old, bringing the County total to 65 (64 in L.A. County and one in Long Beach). “Every day reporting these numbers is devastating,” Ferrer said. “I know it’s more devastating for the family and friends who have experienced this tremendous loss.” Ferrer cautioned against the public using N95 and surgical masks which are much needed by healthcare workers and first responders but after some local health officials recommended wearing face coverings during public outings, Ferrer eased up a bit in compliance with new CDC guidance suggesting that individuals use universal precautions all the time under the presumption that each person could potentially infect another. Ferrer suggested that using a bandanna or piece of fabric to cover the nose and mouth might be OK. But she cautioned: “Wearing a mask is not a shield.” Nor does it excuse not frequently washing hands and practicing physical distancing.
“I want to reassure the public that the L.A. County hospital system, both public and private, is doing everything it can to be able to scale up and meet the projected demand, but I would reiterate the crucial importance of respecting those social and physical distancing guidelines so that we can flatten the curve and make sure there’s not excessive strain on the hospital system in the days and weeks to come,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the LA Department of Health Services, said during a briefing. Not as much focus has been given to front line community clinics and health centers that continue to face a shortage of test kits and medical supplies. For the non-profit St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, for instance, one of the few LA-area clinics that serve transgender clients of color, the virus has created a dire situation, St. John’s gay Chief Executive Jim Mangia said in a March 24 conference call. In the previous week, St John’s saw 879 patients “who were required to be placed in triage tents to isolate them from other patients,” the LA Times reported. Of the 39 tests given, seven were positive for COVID-19 and at least three patients were hospitalized. “By the end of this week, we will have run out of protective gear,” Mangia said. “We still don’t have the tests that we need in order to contain the spread and isolate our patients. We’re essentially doing makeshift front-line work.” As of April 1, there were 64 cases reported out of the City of West Hollywood. The City of Glendale reported 86; Torrance reported 63; Santa Monica reported 53; the City of Los Angeles reported 1,580 cases, with Melrose reporting 104 cases and Hollywood 67. It is widely suspected that the high tallies in these areas reflect access to testing and healthcare. Additionally, about 80% of those who contract COVID-19 recover. Nonetheless, the loss of any person to this new virus is devastating and frightening. “Our sadness is not diminished by the daily frequency of announced deaths related to COVID-19, and reminds us of our need to work together to protect each other,” said Ferrer. “The hard truth is we have some difficult days ahead as we work tirelessly to flatten the curve of this horrible virus. Though the end may not be as close as we’d like, if we all continue to do our part to slow the spread by staying home, social distancing, self-isolating when we are positive or presumed positive, and self-quarantining if we are close contacts of a positive case, we will get to the end of the COVID-19 crisis more quickly, together.”
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Long Beach Mayor Garcia practices physical distancing Advises everyone to take COVID-19 seriously By KAREN OCAMB “Leadership, I’m discovering at this moment, can be found everywhere,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, leader of 40 million Californians and the world’s fifth-largest economy, during his March 30 news conference regarding the 25,000 health care professionals and students volunteering to fight the COVID-19 crisis. “I’ve never been more damn inspired in my life.” After President Trump downplayed the coronavirus outbreak as a “hoax,” many frightened people turned to the nation’s governors and local leaders for calm, accurate, straightforward information, including Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. By March 4 when Newsom declared a state of emergency to prepare for the broader spread of COVID-19, approximately 215 coronavirus cases had been diagnosed in 16 states. The federal government finally declared a National State of Emergency on March 13. While perhaps not as nationally visible, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has been front and center since Feb. 28 to report to his 470,000 constituents through regular newsletters and media briefings on Facebook, Twitter and local cable channels Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3 p.m. The city also has a coronavirus webpage with resources ( www.longbeach.gov/COVID19 ), as well as Alert Long Beach enabling those who sign up to receive emergency notifications to their mobile phone and/or email address. No doubt these initiatives are the result of Garcia’s bachelor’s degree in Communication from Cal State Long Beach, Masters in Communication from USC, plus a doctorate in education from Cal State. Garcia joined Newsom on March 4 in declaring a state of emergency, an important move since Long Beach has its own public health department, which now coordinates with LA County and the federal Centers for Disease Control on tracking and combatting the outbreak. “We are over about 115-120 positive cases and that number will go up today when we get the numbers,” Garcia tells the Los Angeles Blade during a March 31 phone interview. “We’ve had one death so far. We expect our numbers increasing by 50% every few days. We think we’re at where most of the state is — which is hopefully, we’ll hit that peak in a couple weeks and we’ll hopefully start to see this thing decrease. We’re still going to have to be vigilant to make sure that this doesn’t come back in the fall.” Two hours later, Garcia announced the city now had 123 positive test results, with that one fatality on March 23. “In a city that covers 53 square miles and is home to nearly half a million people, we need people to self-regulate, because the police and our health inspectors simply can’t be everywhere at once,” to enforce the Safer at Home ordinance, he says. “What’s crucial right now is that we continue staying at home, avoid contact
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Long Beach Mayor ROBERT GARCIA giving his regular COVID-19 briefing. (Screen grab)
with people outside our households and practice physical distancing and proper hygiene.” Garcia adds, “Keeping the virus from spreading literally saves lives…We are going to get through this together.” How different the world was just two months earlier as Garcia took former Vice President Joe Biden on a Jan. 9 tour of the $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project to connect the economically critical Long Beach port with the Port of Los Angeles and the Vincent Thomas Bridge. “Here’s the deal: this is the future,” Biden said on the tour, just hours after Garcia, formerly a major Kamala Harris backer, endorsed him for president. “The future of the country is overseas trade.” The project has been a major focus for the 43-year-old gay Latino from Peru, who was first elected to the city council in April 2009 to much fanfare as the council’s youngest, first Latino male, and first gay person of color. He became Long Beach’s first gay mayor in 2014 with 52.1% of the vote.
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Long Beach mayor on coronavirus, jobs, and more In addition to tourism, Garcia wanted to increase the city’s economic and technological profile. But then came Trump and now the coronavirus, impacting the second largest container port in America. According to the LA Times, Long Beach and the LA ports serve more than 200,000 businesses shipping some $500 billion in cargo a year. “The overall impact is not only on the regional economy, it is on the national economy,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, told The Times for a March 7 story. “We are ground zero for Asian imports. We were already down because of the trade war. With the coronavirus, we’ve gone from uncertainty to potential chaos.” According to The Times, “1 in 9 Southern California jobs are tied to the ports.” Garcia is trying to mitigate that through a “Work Long Beach” initiative announced on March 31 that matches people who are unemployed or underemployed with potential employers. (Visit pacific-gateway.org/longbeachworks.) Under the Safer at Home order, all large-scale events — including the highly popular Long Beach Pride —have been cancelled. Last year, the Human Rights Campaign ranked Long Beach as one of 88 cities with a 100% rating on their
Robert Garcia’s tweet with Joe Biden.
Municipal Equality Index. “Long Beach is, and will always be, a place where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can live, work, and love,” Garcia told the Long Beach Post last November. “I’m feeling the serious public health crisis,” says Garcia when asked how he’s holding up. “Everyone’s working really hard to get this thing under control and make sure that people are following the local jurisdiction and the state’s orders.” Are any measures being taken to address the vulnerable and sizable LGBTQ population in Long Beach?
“I had some communication with our center as well as some LGBTQ leaders in the community about this,” Garcia says. “I think everyone is working together, making sure that people have the resources they need. I also talked to the leaders of our hospitals. They’re aware that Long Beach has a higher HIV-positive rate than other parts of the state, in large part because of our LGBTQ population and that’s similar in other places in the state that have larger populations. That’s something that we take very seriously. “We’re trying to get folks resources and my advice to someone who is LGBTQ is the same as it would be to anyone — which is: if you can please stay home and if you need help call a doctor, call your doctor, get ahold of our health department and we’ll try to help,” Garcia says. Garcia notes that information about the coronavirus is still being developed. “I think from the research I have done, I understand that generally anyone who has challenges with their immune system — there’s opportunity for a higher infection rate,” Garcia says. “However, it’s important that the science and data on COVID-19 is barely just started and we don’t have a lot of data yet. We will a year from now, but we don’t know how COVID-19 mutates. We don’t know how it’s going to interact with certain types of medications.” Everyone should behave “with the mentality that they are as susceptible of getting COVID-19 as anyone else. It is not a senior only issue. Anyone can get COVID-19. I think that it’s important that we take care of ourselves and that we stay at home if possible,” Garcia says. “I think that we ought to be very clear that nobody should be interacting with anyone else outside of their family unit or anyone that they are already living with. Period. End of story. That’s it,” Garcia says firmly, when asked about people still hooking up on Grindr. “Nobody should be interacting with anyone else, whether that is to hang out on a Friday night, whether that is in a way that’s romantic or sexual or any other way.” The educator emerges. The LGBTQ community, perhaps more than others, “understands the tragic loss of human life that our communities experience, because of AIDS and HIV,” says Garcia. “We have an opportunity to be an example to the rest of the country and the world about taking something seriously, pushing progressive policies to expand healthcare access and then also understand that we shouldn’t be stigmatizing folks that get COVID-19. I think that’s something that we have tried to do in our community as it relates to people that are HIV positive. I think there’s lessons to be learned there. I think that there are folks getting COVID-19 and they shouldn’t be stigmatized, but we need to be responsible and not spread the virus.” Garcia says he and his spouse Matt Mendez “are both being very careful about interacting with anyone outside of our unit. I’m practicing physical distancing with anyone outside of Matthew and so everyone on my team at the city is doing that. Most folks are working from home. We are all trying to limit where we go and who we interact with and if I have to be in a location that’s outside city hall in my office or at home that’s done where it’s very safe. We also know that anyone can get COVID-19 because it lives on surfaces of some occasions. We just have to all be very careful and watch out for each other.” Garcia’s words of comfort: “Everyone’s going through this. We’re all going through this together. No one is alone. We all have to get through this. For as bad as we may feel and hard ... and the anxiety we feel, the pressure we might feel, just know that there are nurses and doctors and health personnel that are feeling much worse and are in a much more dangerous situation than we are in. We should try to do what we can to get through this and make it safer for all of them.”
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Idaho guv quietly signs anti-trans bills As the nation remains focused on the coronavirus, Idaho Gov. Brad Little this week signed into law two pieces of anti-trans legislation on the eve of the Transgender Day of Visibility. One measure, House Bill 500, is aimed at restricting transgender youth participation in sports. The other measure, House Bill 509, is aimed at banning transgender people from changing the gender marker on the their birth certificate. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the signing of the legislation is “unacceptable, and a gross misuse of taxpayer funds and trust.” “Idaho is leading the way in anti-transgender discrimination, and at a time when life is hard enough for everyone, Idaho’s elected leaders will be remembered for working to make their transgender residents’ lives even harder,” David said. “Shame on Gov. Little and the legislators who championed these heinous pieces of legislation.” Transgender advocates sounded the alarm bells as the measures advanced through the Idaho Legislature, but the warnings yielded little attention in the mainstream media, which has been consumed with the coronavirus. HB 500, dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” requires college and public schools sports teams to be designated as male, female and co-ed — and any female athletic team “shall not be open to students of the male sex.” In the event of a dispute, a student may be required to produce a physician’s statement to affirm her biological sex based on reproductive anatomy, normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone and an analysis of the student’s genetic makeup. That would effectively ban transgender athletes from participating in sports. Although similar bills are percolating in state legislatures throughout the country, Little is the first governor to sign such a bill. Idaho is now the first state with such a law on the books. Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, said in a statement Little has “pushed the transgender community of Idaho to the sidelines, further marginalizing a group that is already at high risk for harassment, discrimination and suicide.” “It is a sad day in the United States when lawmakers are more determined to stop trans young people from playing games than to provide them with the care, support, and opportunities they need to survive and thrive,” Brinton said. Little, a Republican, signed HB 500 into law despite an opinion from the Idaho attorney general opinion advising him against it. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, also a Republican, warned the legislation is “constitutionally problematic” and likely violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That viewpoint was endorsed by five former Idaho attorneys general in a joint op-ed for the Idaho Statesman. Lindsay Hecox, a transgender woman and a runner attending Boise State University,
HRC President ALPHONSO DAVID called the legislation ‘unacceptable, and a gross misuse of taxpayer funds and trust.’ (Blade photo by Michael Key)
also condemned the new law in a statement. “Supporters of this bill are attempting to fix a problem that was never there,” Hecox said. “It specifically targets people like me and all transgender female athletes and denies us the opportunity to compete in sports. It’s unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory, and it ignores the commitment we’ve made to rigorous training and the importance of athletic competition to our lives.” The other bill, HB 509, is called the “Idaho Vital Statistics Act” and prohibits any changing of the gender marker on a birth certificate from sex assigned at birth except “on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.” That would make it impossible for transgender people to change the document to reflect their gender identity. HB 509 appears to defy a court order in 2018 requiring Idaho to allow transgender individuals to change the gender marker on the birth certificates. Because the birth certificate bill disregards a court order, litigation is expected to soon follow against HB 509. CHRIS JOHNSON
LGBTQ Americans urged to ‘get counted’ in Census The D.C.-based National LGBTQ Task Force celebrated Census Day on April 1 by “mobilizing LGBTQ people across the country to get counted in the 2020 Census.” The Task Force is part of a coalition of national civil rights and progressive advocacy groups that launched the “Queer the Census” campaign last year to encourage members of marginalized communities to make sure they are counted in this year’s Census. “Starting today, the National LGBTQ Task Force will host a series of educational webinars, host office hours online where people can find answers to their questions, and work with volunteers to make thousands of phone calls to LGBTQ people to make sure they know how to fill out the Census,” the group said in a March 27 statement. “The Census helps LGBTQ communities access billions in federal funding for social programs, helps us build political power and helps us enforce civil rights protections,” Meghan Maury, the Task Force’s policy director, said in the statement. In a development that some LGBTQ activists view as a positive change, the 2020
Census questionnaire explicitly asks couples living together to define their relationship to their partners in a new way — as “same-sex” or “opposite sex” spouses or partners. The 2000 and 2010 Census counted same-sex couples indirectly through questions about gender and relationships. But the newly worded question in 2020 is expected to provide a more accurate count of the number of same-sex couples in the United States. To the disappointment of LGBTQ advocacy organizations, Census officials under the Trump administration declined to include in the 2020 questionnaire questions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity so that non-coupled LGBTQ people could be counted. The 2020 Census question that asks about same-sex couples is part of a larger question that asks about the relationship between two adults living together in a residence and who are referred to in the question as Person 1 and Person 2. CHRIS JOHNSON
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VOLUME 04 ISSUE 14
In praise of Cuomo’s leadership Governor’s transparency stands in contrast to Trump’s lies
PETER YACOBELLIS is the former director of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office. He lives in Montclair, N.J., where he is a councilman-at-large candidate.
As the global health crisis being caused by Covid-19 and the coronavirus escalates in our communities, so too does the level of fear and distress among our families and neighbors. While the crisis has prompted an unprecedented response by governments around the world, it has also presented unprecedented challenges for our leaders. In times of crises like these, we turn to our government for answers, for protection and for solutions, but most importantly, we turn to them for assurance. We are reminded of the crucial role that government serves. Unfortunately, these times of crises also serve to expose the fractures and weaknesses within our leadership, the catastrophic consequences of their failures, and the separate and stand-alone crisis of widespread fear, uncertainty and panic that results when we do not trust our leadership. When a response that seems extreme on day one is inadequate on day three, when the spread of misinformation is being fueled by fear and political agendas, it is crucial that we have confidence in the competency, preparedness and transparency of our government. When we find ourselves dependent upon a government we do not trust, our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability intensifies. If we do not trust or disregard the government’s leadership in a crisis, we may act in a way that exacerbates the situation. We are seeing this in our individual responses to the coronavirus, and in addition to impeding our ability to contain the virus, it is threatening to turn neighbor against neighbor. For many years, I had the privilege and opportunity to work for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the director of his NewYork City office, so it does not surprise me to see him emerge as a true leader in this crisis. He has spoken frankly and honestly about the severity of the threat so that we can understand the urgency
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of protecting ourselves, while his transparency, command of facts and detailed reports about the virus and his government’s response has provided, in as much as it is possible right now, the assurance necessary to contain panic. He has validated the legitimacy of our fears with facts but has been equally authoritative in using facts to quell disinformation. This balance has inspired confidence. He is also coordinating with neighboring states, such as New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy is also providing exemplary leadership. This was also Gov. Cuomo’s approach following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. After the storm surge wiped out the facility being used as New York’s command center, Gov. Cuomo directed me to turn his administration’s New York City headquarters into the joint federal, state and city storm response command center. We worked with the National Guard, various state commissioners, key administration officials and the Bloomberg administration to run this operation. Paramount among all the functions was communication with the public. My experience working with Andrew Cuomo taught me the importance of leadership and public service. Observing his exemplary leadership during this unprecedented crisis has been humbling and comforting and has stood in stark contrast to the frightening and confounding lack of leadership we are seeing from the White House. While it is not usually the purview of a local government to deal with a global pandemic, this crisis is requiring leadership at all levels of government. It is teaching all of us how urgently our communities need competent, transparent, responsive and trustworthy leadership, and a government we can trust to be prepared and to take responsibility for the present, future, longterm and emergency challenges we face.
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Sean Hayes on new film, saying farewell to Jack Actor plays female lead in ‘Lazy Susan’ By BRIAN T. CARNEY
SEAN HAYES stars as Susan in ‘Lazy Susan.’ (Photo courtesy Shout Studios)
Even though he’s sheltering in place with his husband Scott Icenogle, this April is going to be a very busy month for award-winning actor Sean Hayes. He’s starring as the lead female character in “Lazy Susan,” a movie he also co-wrote and co-produced, which drops on VOD and streaming channels on April 3. Then on April 23, Hayes’s role as the exuberant Jack McFarland on “Will & Grace” comes to an end when the long-running NBC series broadcasts its final episode. The press tours for these projects have been cancelled, but Hayes is promoting the projects from the comfort and safety of his own home. “Luckily,” the multi-talented star says, “we can do interviews over the phone to get the word out about shows that you can watch at home, so this whole process adheres to the rules of this horrible virus.” When he’s not promoting his latest projects, Hayes has been watching some of his favorite movies and shows with his husband. “I’m a big sci-fi fantasy nerd,” he says.
APRIL 03, 2020
“I like all the classics like ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Stranger Things,’ but I’m always on the lookout for great new shows.” He also admits that he’s a big fan of “This Old House.” Hayes and Icenogle, a music producer, have been together for almost 14 years and have been married since 2014. He says the secret to their relationship, and to surviving social distancing together, is respect. “You have to fall in respect with somebody, not in love. Love will happen if there’s respect.” Hayes’s latest project, “Lazy Susan,” has its roots in his career as a stand-up comedian (he’s an alumnus of Chicago’s famed Second City improvisational theatre troupe). “When I was 21 years old and living in Chicago,” he recalls, “I got a call from my agent for an audition to replace ‘the white guy’ on the sketch show ‘In Living Color.’” “They were talking about Jim Carrey,” he adds. “I went in with a bunch of character ideas and voices and
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wigs and things like that. One of the characters was Susan, who was just a girl who couldn’t get her life together. She always had excuses and she was never really happy. She dreams about having it all, but she does nothing to get it.” “Decades later,” he continues, “a friend of mine suggested that I resurrect the character because we had so much fun with her. She came up with the name ‘Lazy Susan,’ and I thought ‘what a genius title.’” Hayes developed the script with two old friends, Carrie Aizley and Darlene Hunt, both of whom also appear in the movie. Aizley plays Corrin, Susan’s long-suffering bandmate, and Hunt, who created the Showtime series “The Big C” and appears as Maggie in Apple TV’s “Dickinson,” plays Wendy. The image of the kitchen turntable helped Hayes and his co-writers turn the character sketch into a full-length movie script. Continues on page 12
Continued from page 11
When Sean met Susan “We loved the built-in metaphor of a ‘lazy Susan,’” Hayes says, “of someone spinning around in circles, who can’t get their life together.” Hayes notes that alert viewers can spot lots of spinning motifs in the film, like when Susan and her friend Corrin are in the playground. As the script took shape, Susan became Susan O’Connell who idly spends her days stealing magazines from her neighbors to create elaborate collages of her dream life while borrowing money from her mother to pay her rent. She’s looking for someone to take care of her, but when her world starts to crash around her, she finally finds a job and starts to take care of herself. Working closely with director Nick Peet (“Grimm”), Hayes decided to play the character straight. Usually, when a man puts on a dress to play a female character, it’s played for laughs. Hayes and his colleagues wanted the comedy to come from the character and her outrageous life, not from the fact that he was wearing a skirt. “I always enjoy an acting challenge,” he says. “I like finding new voices. I wanted the challenge of playing a woman, not a guy in drag, not a transgender person. I wanted to play her as a real person, and not get laughs just because I was a man dressed as a woman.” In addition to Aizley and Hunt, Hayes was able to recruit his dream cast for the movie. “It never, ever happens that the people you have in mind when you are writing the script say yes to being in the movie,” he says. “But we were very lucky to get the cast we wanted.” The cast includes Allison Janney as Susan’s nemesis Velvet (“she is brilliant in everything she’s in,” gushes Hayes) and Margo Martindale as Susan’s mother (“who is such a funny, wonderful person”), as well as Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for “The Descendants” as Susan’s love
SEAN HAYES co-wrote and co-produced ‘Lazy Susan.’ (Photo courtesy Karpel Group)
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‘Lazy Susan’ starring SEAN HAYES drops on VOD and streaming channels on April 3.
interest and Matthew Broderick as Susan’s landlord. Hayes thinks that audiences will be drawn to the offbeat movie and that the time is right for a movie that’s just trying to entertain. “I’m very proud of “Lazy Susan,” he says, “and very proud of everyone involved. I think it’s super fun and quirky and odd and a little creepy and hilarious. For me, it’s a throwback to the old independent movies of the ’90s like ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ that I’m such a fan of.” He could also add his first full-length film, the delightful “Billy’s First Hollywood Screen Kiss” (1998) to that list. While Hayes was working on “Lazy Susan,” he was also filming the final episodes of the groundbreaking NBC sitcom “Will & Grace.” Hayes originated the award-winning role of Jack when the series was initially released in 1998 (months after the premiere of “Billy”) and recreated the role when the series was revived in 2017. The actor is proud of the legacy the show leaves in its wake. “I think it had a very positive impact,” he says. “It opened up a dialogue in America about LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. A lot can be accomplished through the power of comedy. We succeeded in educating Americans without them even knowing it.” Looking back over the experience, Hayes says, “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to play Jack and especially for the audience’s desire to see the show come back. That’s the only reason we did it, but now it feels like it’s time. I think the timing is perfect.” The energetic star is working on two exciting new projects. Through his production company Mills Hazy, he’s developing an animated series for Netflix. “It’s about a spy who happens to be gay,” he says, “the
gay James Bond. There’s a great cast involved, but I can’t say anything about it yet.” He’s also in the midst of casting for a new play by out playwright Doug Wright called “Good Night Oscar.” Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for his one man-show “I Am My Own Wife;” he also wrote the books for the musicals “Grey Gardens” and “War Paint” and the play “Quills,” which premiered at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre. The play will be helmed by out director Leigh Silverman. Drawing on his own experience as a talk-show host and classical pianist, Hayes will play composer and raconteur Oscar Levant. Known for his rapier wit and encyclopedic recall, Levant was a regular on quiz shows and variety hours on both television and radio; he also had featured roles in classic Hollywood musicals like “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris” and “The Band Wagon.” The production was slated to premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in January 2021, with an anticipated transfer to Broadway, but plans are currently on hold. The unplanned break gives Hayes extra time to practice Levant’s quips, including the infamous line, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Hayes has an impressive theatrical resume. He played Mr. Applegate (the Devil) in Encores! Concert production of “Damn Yankees” and appeared as God on Broadway in the play “An Act of God” and with Kristin Chenoweth in the Burt Bacharach musical “Promises, Promises.” Hayes also hosted the Tony Awards in 2010. In the meantime, fans can also enjoy “viral music video masters” Sean Hayes and Scott Icenogle on their official YouTube channel “The Kitchen Sync,” where they perform a hysterical mix of lip-sync and parody videos.
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More books for your COVID downtime Something for all tastes, from true crime to women’s studies By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
This is part two of a three-part series spotlighting some of the best books to read while passing time during the COVID-19 quarantine. TRUE CRIME True crime fans will want to have “Highway of Tears” by Jessica McDiarmid in their laps while being quarantined. It’s a deep look into a tragedy: along a highway in British Columbia, officials have discovered dozens of murdered Indigenous women and girls through the decades. How this happened, what is being done about it, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. Also look for “The Lost Brothers” by Jack El-Hai, a missing-boys mystery that’s nearly seven decades old but still a very active case. Here’s one to whet your True Crime whistle: “Assassinations: The Plots, Politics, and powers Behind History-Changing Murders” by Nick Redfern. The title says it all, except “you’ll like it.” Another book you’ll like: “The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia” by Emma Copley Eisenberg, the story of a crime that impacted an entire geographical area. If you’ve always wondered what it might be like to be in a high government crime-fighting position, then you’ll want to read “The Unexpected Spy” by Tracy Walder with Jessica Anya Blau. It’s the story of Walder’s years with the FBI, the CIA, and the life of one woman inside the world of taking down terrorists. And if you’ve always wondered how crime-fighters do their work, then look for “American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI” by Kate Winkler Dawson. It’s a book about the man who helped set the stage for the way forensics is done, even today – and that includes the things he got all wrong. BIOGRAPHIES Biography fans take note: “The Less People Know About Us” by Axton BetzHamilton is one you’ll want to read. It’s a tale of stolen identity and betrayal, family turmoil, and a perpetrator you won’t believe. Another bio to find: “My Time Among the Whites” by Jennine Capó Crucet, who writes of being a Latinx woman in a world that’s mostly Caucasian. It’s always time to hunker-hunker down with some burning love, and “Elvis Through the Ages” by Boze Hadleigh is the book you want. Filled with pictures, quotations, and tales of The King, it’s great if you’re so lonely, baby. Here’s another book about a king (to-be): “King Charles: The Man, the Monarch, and the Future of Britain” by Robert Jobson is all about William’s father, the man who’s next in line to the British throne. WOMEN‘S STUDIES Who doesn’t want the most fabulous life ever? If that describes you but you think you’re “too old,” then read “A Woman Makes a Plan” by Maye Musk. It’s a book of advice, but also a bio by a woman who’s had an interesting life and is willing to share it. Hint: speaking of share, it’s a great story to share across the ages. If you’re the type of person who likes light, short reading, try “The American Women’s Almanac: 500 Years of Making History” by Deborah G. Felder. This
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Royals fans will enjoy ‘King Charles: The Man, the Monarch, and the Future of Britain’ by Robert Jobson. (Photo public domain)
book is full of short biographies of women who changed history, and how they did it. Read it yourself – and share it with your teenager. For the reader who’s concerned about health past the current situation, look for “The Queen V: Everything You Need to Know About Sex, Intimacy, and Down There Health Care” by Dr. Jackie Walters. Read it – and share it with your partner, if you dare. If this quarantine has you in a reflective mood, look for “How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books” by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer. It’s a tale of self-help, support, friendship, and knowing that you’re on the right track in your life. And speaking of pals, look for “Friendship” by Lydia Denworth, a book on the science and cultural history of friendship.
A hookup isn’t worth your life in COVID era Find other ways to pass the time in quarantine By MICHAEL RADKOWSKY
Holding my infant son to soothe him at 3 a.m. today, I thought about how important the touch of another human is. It helps us feel safe and loved and cared about and connected. And not just when we’re teeny. The feel of my son’s chest rising and falling with his breath soothed me as well, in this grim time. No wonder this social isolation feels so terrible. Without touch, we really feel alone. Of course, once we’re past a certain age, sex enters the picture as a form of touch that has the power to make us feel amazing in all sorts of ways. Having sex gives many of us the feeling that we’re attractive, desired, even valuable. And those feelings are pretty awesome. While this is true for people of all genders and sexual orientations, I often hear from my gay male therapy clients in particular how important sex is to their identity. This makes sense. We’re a group that is defined by and organized largely around our erotic and affectional preference. Much of gay culture encourages the message that to be a successful gay man, we should be sexually desirable, open to sex, and have frequent conquests. I’d also posit that many gay men have grown up feeling defective because of their sexual attractions. Sex and its companion feeling of being desired can soothe this wound. So my heart has been going out to some of my gay male therapy clients this week as I listen to their descriptions of how they’re struggling not to have sex in the current coronavirus situation. “I have to keep hooking up or I won’t feel good about myself,” one man told me. “I’ve had sex a few times this past week, but only with guys I know and they didn’t have any symptoms,” said another. “Hooking up is what I do for fun,” said a third. “I don’t know what else to do in my free time.” Well, now is the time to learn. It is not worth impairing our health or losing our lives for sex. Taking a risk with your health is not actually a route to feeling good about yourself or improving self-esteem. Sadly, it is likely to reinforce the belief that you aren’t worth much. What to do instead? It is for each of us to discover what else we care about, to look for what intrinsic value we have other than our attractiveness as sexual partners, to find additional ways to connect with others and to respect ourselves. And just as we have had to struggle against the larger society telling us who we should be and how we should act, some of us may want to challenge ourselves to transcend the expectation that as gay men we “should” always be interested in and ready for a hookup. Expectations and shoulds can be restrictive. When we decide for ourselves how we want to behave, we have a lot more power over our own lives. Don’t get me wrong—I’m certainly not “sex-negative.” I’m just concerned that many of us are now putting our lives at risk to keep hooking up. My bottom line: This awful crisis is giving us an opportunity to keep our pants zipped and discover some other ways of taking care of ourselves that don’t endanger our health and our lives. And when we behave in ways that are respectful of ourselves, our self-respect increases. Hoping all of us get through this! Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples. Reach him via michaelradkowsky.com.
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