Losangelesblade.com, Volume 4, Issue 32, August 07, 2020

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A reputation in tatters as more allegations surface Page 16

A U G U S T 0 7 , 2 0 2 0 • V O LU M E 0 4 • I S S U E 3 2 • A M E R I C A’ S LG B TQ N E W S S O U R C E • LO S A N G E L E S B L A D E . C O M


Contreras picks up torch passed by John Lewis 22-year-old student has record of activism By KAREN OCAMB

After civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis died July 17, woke people around the globe sang the praises of the humble leader born to sharecroppers in rural Troy, Ala., who, at 23, became the youngest speaker at the famous 1963 March on Washington and went on to become the “conscience” of the U.S. Congress. Lewis’s spirit infused the virtual Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s JFK Awards show eight days later, with California Democratic Party icon Roz Wyman, who won a seat on the LA City Council at 22, praising another civil rights hero and LACDP honoree Dolores Huerta as “my John Lewis of California.” Wyman announced the recipients of this year’s Roz Wyman Democratic Youth Leadership Award — “our future” — as Erica Liepmann, president of the LA County Young Democrats and Digital Strategist for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Matthew Contreras, a gay student at California State University/ Northridge set to serve as a political intern through The Panetta Institute for Public Policy. Though Contreras didn’t mention Lewis during his acceptance remarks, the 22-year-old nonetheless best articulated the core principles the civil rights hero passed on to young activists in his final New York Times opinion piece entitled: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself,” Lewis wrote. “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” Contreras picked up the mantle, noting his involved participation in community matters, including serving on the boards of directors of two nonprofit organizations and promoting diversity inclusion. The “four characteristics of servant leadership that resonate with me are listening, stewardship, empathy, and valuing people. As a first generation Latinx Gen-Zer, these are the qualities I look for in people when I vote,” Contreras said. “My decisions indeed have consequences and every time I vote on an action item, I keep my community in mind. Time and time again, we see people in charge exploit vulnerable communities in their special interest.” With the critical November elections fast approaching, he pledged to continue “to have difficult conversations with peers, mentors and community members,” as well as “pushing for change” by phone banking, organizing, donating money and informing community members on how “they, too, can get involved in the democratic process.” Though people will not always agree, he said, “it is really important to move forward together” while “living through an extraordinary moment in our lives.” Politics “is very personal,” Contreras said. “I have never forgotten why I do the work. I do it for those so often left out of the conversations we have. And I want you all to practice radical inclusivity and invite people to the table and respect people’s world views that are different than your own. “You see, the political landscape is changing before our very eyes,” Contreras continued. “My generation of voters are looking for strong, community-based servant leaders that don’t just talk but act….We’re starting to hold people accountable and reevaluating concepts that we’re learning in schools. The stakes have never been higher and people are starting to wake up.” “Matthew continues to embody not only the best in Los Angeles, but the best in our Nation,” LACDP Executive Director Drexel Heard, II, Contreras’ mentor, told the Los


Los Angeles County Democratic Party honoree MATTHEW CONTRERAS (Screen grab from JFK Awards)

Angeles Blade. “Empathy, Drive, Selflessness has been his NorthStar for as long as I’ve known him. As we look to cultivate and engage more young people in our Democratic process and our party, like John Lewis, young Democrats like Matthew show us that the upcoming generation is ready and determined to set us up for a future that we can believe in. I’m proud of his accomplishments and excited to watch what’s next for him.” “John Lewis said, ‘The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.’ It is because we are now facing the ugly truth about our country that we are able to say ‘no, let’s not go down that path again,’” Contreras told the LA Blade. “People want concrete changes that involve shifting money away from the police to communities of color. It’s devastating to see communities of color, especially Black communities, disproportionately affected in areas of life ranging from healthcare to graduation rates,” he said. “The Black Lives Matter Movement is making sure the world is paying attention. If we look back in time to analyze the many forms of protests organized by people of color in this country, we will see that they all had importance in creating societal change. “John Lewis left me thinking how I want to spend my time,” Contreras said. “I will be spending my time and energy fighting for communities that need my support. It’s a calling. In truth, I have been pessimistic about my generation’s future because of Donald Trump. But I no longer dwell on that because this movement woke up so many people and sparked awareness.”


ANDY MARRA, ALPHONSO DAVID, BRAD SEARS, CARY FRANKLIN during recent Williams Institute webinar.

The trouble with Bostock The ‘ministerial’ exception to the good SCOTUS job ruling By KAREN OCAMB

LGBTQ people are not a social or cultural issue. LGBTQ people are human beings linked by love and sexual attraction who confront issues of race, gender, age, legal and economic discrimination largely in intersectional silence due to explicit and internalized systemic homophobia and transphobia. The Williams Institute, an LGBTQ legal and policy think tank, counters that silence through scholarship, collecting and analyzing data that presents the persistent need for LGBTQ rights. The data illuminates the LGBTQ community: As of April 2020, there are an estimated 13,042,000 million LGBT people age 13 and older in America. As of May, 1.7 million live in California, 15% of all LGBT adults in the U.S., Legal Director Christy Mallory told the Los Angeles Blade. Williams Institute founding director Brad Sears noted during a July 31 webinar “Are We There Yet? LGBTQ Rights and the Bostock Decision,” that each number is an individual LGBTQ person struggling amid the cacophony of the COVID crisis and the uncertain economic future. That struggle could possibly be compounded by failure to enforce the June 15 landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County affirming that Title VII protects employees nationwide from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. “We know that there are over 8 million LGBTQ people in our workforce and that half of them live in States that don’t have state laws protecting them from discrimination,” Sears said. And with the Equality Act stuck in Congress, there is no federal statute that explicitly provides that protection, either. “We know that that has consequences,” Sears said, noting numerous Williams Institute studies reporting much higher rates of LGBTQ unemployment, poverty, food insecurity and housing instability. “In this time of economic downturn, we can see really what that looks like,” along with the greater LGBTQ vulnerability to COVID-19. And while “it’s good to quantify the impact of that discrimination,” Sears said, “we also need to recognize that every one of those numbers represents thousands and thousands of individual people.” As background to the webinar, the Williams Institute released a pre-COVID paper looking at state nondiscrimination laws. A key finding: “3.6 million more LGBT people will gain non-discrimination protections if state-level sex non-discrimination laws in their states are interpreted consistent with Bostock,” said Mallory. HRC published an analysis, as well: “What the Supreme Court Ruling in Bostock Means For State Legislative Efforts.” Along with Sears, who is also Associate Dean of Public Interest Law at UCLA Law, the webinar featured Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign, Andy Marra, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), and Melissa Zahra, whose brother was a one of the plaintiffs in the Bostock case. Professor Cary Franklin of the University of Texas laid out the case. She explained how Justice Gorsuch, who wrote the positive 6-3 decision, interpreted Title VII using textualism 04 • AUGUST 07, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

which looks at the text of a law, not what the original legislators intended. Therefore, the courts have held that “any time you discriminate against people because they are gay, lesbian or transgender, you are in part discriminating against them on the basis of their sex.” (Bisexual and non-binary people were not discussed.) Dissenter Justice Alito was “apoplectic” about that interpretation, saying legislators in 1960 did not intend these sorts of protections. But, Franklin noted, the legislators didn’t then consider discrimination on the basis of motherhood or sexual harassment as forms of behavior that were discrimination on the basis of sex. “Now the court agrees that those things are sex discrimination.” Unfortunately, Franklin said, the Court didn’t end there, mentioning three possible exceptions to avoid infringements on the rights of religious people: the exemption in Title VII; the “ministerial exception;” and expanded interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RIFRA). “The ministerial exception is not part of VII. It is a court created doctrine,” Franklin said. “The court has interpreted the First Amendment to say that when religious organizations are hiring ministers, they don’t have to follow any anti-discrimination law….The ministerial exception allows you to discriminate at all the bases, race, national origin, sex, disability, and age, any anti-discrimination protections.” Franklin put it into a larger context. “It’s part of an enormous movement on the part of the religious right to blunt the effect of anti-discrimination law — courts have expanded the concept of minister. Expanded it quite far. When I say minister, you’re thinking of minister, priest, rabbi, Imam. That’s not what it means in the law anymore. It increasingly means workers for religiously affiliated organizations.” Franklin, and others on the panel, are particularly concerned that the courts might move to a maximalist interpretation so that even someone with no religious connection could be considered a minister, perhaps extending into healthcare. “This is a campaign to define an enormous swath of the American workforce as ministers and strip them of any anti-discrimination protection, certainly to protections annunciated in Bostock,” said Franklin. “Any protection of Title VII.” The third exemption the court mentions is RIFRA, originally enacted “as a shield to protect the religious freedom of minority groups who were being injured by laws of general applicability.” But now it is being used as a sword to grant religious individuals license to discriminate against others by exempting them from the entire anti-discrimination regime, says Franklin. “If the court continues to interpret RIFRA to excuse religious organizations from the mandates of antidiscrimination law, this will truly be the monster that eats anti-discrimination law,” says Franklin. “We will not have much of it left.” To view the webinar, go the UCLA School of Law YouTube series “From the Front Lines.”


‘Why are you bringing Sodom and Gomorrah here?’ A LGBTQ resource center founder’s tale By BRODY LEVESQUE

The first thing a visitor to Imperial County will notice is that it significantly culturally different than the rest of southern California, in part due to its immediate proximity to the U.S. border with Mexico. Valle de Imperial blends the cultures and the languages of both nations, and with the exception of the city of El Centro urban metroplex, is still very much a rural agricultural region. Unemployment in this border region is often the highest in the nation, and 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line with 73 percent of all residents who are Hispanic. It is within that cultural distinction that a small, but dedicated group of volunteers led by a determined former California Department of Juvenile Justice Correctional Counselor and a social worker, provides a safe haven — practically an island — for the Imperial Valley’s LGBTQ community. Rosa Diaz, the CEO of the Imperial Valley’s LGBT Resource Center, still marvels that a small group of virtual strangers was able to come together to establish the County’s only LGBTQ Resource and Outreach Center just a short five years ago in 2015. For Diaz it has been a labor of love and a way to make a difference for others like herself she told the Los Angeles Blade this week in a wide-ranging interview. The culture of the Valley, she explained, is one with deep roots in Mexican society and cultures of other countries in Latin America. A culture that is built on strong family units with strong ties to church, faith, and centuries of traditions. It is within those parameters she said that any person who is LGBTQ will eventually find themselves estranged or outright shunned and often alone. Many residents know only too well the pain of discriminationbut their traditional ideas about family and religion don’t include same-sex marriage or even being LGBTQ, Diaz noted. She remembers how difficult it was for her growing up, she says that she always played the roles in playtime normally a boy would fulfill even battling them to take those roles- and at the same time she did embrace the church and her faith partly because she knew she couldn’t reveal her true self let alone her desires and having that anchor was critical to her. The concept of being a Lesbian was foreign to her culture- her family, LGBT people didn’t exist so the church and her faith became her refuge. Yet the fact that she was different still gnawed at her conscious. Then came that one moment, as an older closeted adult in her 50s being in her church listening to the sermon and getting angered by its hateful and exclusionary message, she decided to speak out. She marched up to the front of the church and asked for the microphone then turned

ROSA DIAZ is CEO of the Imperial Valley’s LGBT Resource Center.

and faced the pews. “I had kept you know cringing during the sermon, it wasn’t right. So when I got the microphone I just told them about me. I said this has to stop. Stop blaming LGBT people for your problems I told them. Divorce, sex before marriage, babies out of wedlock, these are all sins too. They are wrong but you cannot blame LGBT people for these problems.” Diaz said that within a week or two she was persona non grata and after weeks of trying she eventually gave up going to church altogether. She said that she was determined to find a place to belong and a sense of community. There were no LGBTQ resources in the

Valley so she started visiting LGBT centers north up in the Coachella Valley to Palm Springs and west into San Diego County. In 2008, California’s Proposition 8 and the fight over marriage equality spurred on a renewed passion to establish a center in the Valley for people just like her. When the case went to trial, then-California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the measure. Diaz said that she was disheartened when local officials headed by a former chair of the Board of Supervisors joined the fight to keep same-sex marriage illegal with the anti-LGBT right-wing Christian group, The Alliance Defense Fund. The fight over marriage equality left deep wounds. The San Francisco Chronicle noted in a piece published Sunday, Aug. 22, 2010: “‘The Imperial Valley has always been very anti-LGBT,’ said Fernando Lopez, 28, who grew up in El Centro and is gay. ‘If you are gay there, there is nothing to turn to for support. It’s just really backward.’» In the spring of 2015, Diaz said that the lack of visibility coupled with a lack of a resource center for the valley drove her to borrow a building and start to build a center. She put the word out that she was establishing a non-profit and to her shock she says, people who were complete strangers to her and even to each other came together to work on establishing the by-laws, the articles and structure for the new nonprofit, working with legal firms offering their services pro bono, and critically setting its mission for serving the Valley’s LGBT community. When she told a local community leader about her goals for establishing the center, the person remarked, “Why are you bringing Sodom and Gomorrah here?” The center held its grand opening in October of 2015. “It was a long uphill fight,” she said adding, “We are here to stay.” The center has partnered with outside organizations like San Diego Pride, which has given the IVLGBT Center a free booth for the past four years. Diaz proudly said that the Center has also participated in LGBTQ awareness and sensitivity training for the IV Sheriff’s Office as well as the local California State Probation & parole office. She said that groups for youth, the trans community, drug and alcohol, mental health issues are all a part of the center’s portfolio. The principal mission is the center’s ability to connect the Valley’s LGBTQ community with resources. As the center works to provide services and resources to the Valley’s LGBTQ community that is largely still invisible and culturally at odds, Diaz says that she and her staff embrace her mantra, “Don’t expect people to always understand you. Instead, learn to understand them. Then accept, forgive, and love unconditionally. This is a sure way to be happy.”



Federal grand jury indicts Buck on four new counts Accused of enticing victims to travel for prostitution By BRODY LEVESQUE

The United States Attorney’s office announced Tuesday that a federal grand jury has returned a superseding indictment charging Ed Buck with four additional felonies that included a charge that the 65-year-old disgraced community activist allegedly enticed victims – including a man who died at his West Hollywood apartment after he administered drugs to him – to travel interstate to engage in prostitution. Buck was arrested in September 2019 after being charged in United States District Court with providing methamphetamine to a man who died after receiving the ED BUCK now faces nine felony charges following the deaths of two Black men in his apartment. drug intravenously. Agents with a federal task force continued their investigation into Buck resulting in the additional felony counts according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office. In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Blade, the U.S. Attorney’s office noted that the four additional counts charged Tuesday– bringing the total number of charges in this case to nine counts – include one count alleging that Buck knowingly enticed 26-year-old Gemmel Moore to travel to the Los Angeles area to engage in prostitution. Buck allegedly provided methamphetamine to Moore, who overdosed on the drug and died on July 27, 2017. Jasmyne Cannick a longtime community activist and blogger who has been the leading spokesperson for the families of Buck’s victims told the Los Angeles Blade in an emailed statement: “The additional indictments against Ed Buck just further prove that the men who came forward and told their stories of the white man in West Hollywood who loved to inject Black men with meth were true. “We’re happy that the Department of Justice is taking this case seriously, but we are still disappointed in L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s failure to take action against Ed Buck. Jackie Lacey’s failure to take the accounts of Black gay men seriously is the reason that Timothy Dean is dead. “We expect that as the investigation continues even more indictments will be brought against Ed Buck.” The superseding indictment also charges Buck with one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing


methamphetamine, and one count of using his residence for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gammahydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam. The indictment also charges Buck with one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing methamphetamine, and one count of using his residence for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gammahydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam. Buck also is charged with another count of enticing another man to travel with the intent of engaging in prostitution. Last year, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging that Buck “engaged in a pattern of soliciting men to consume drugs that Buck provided and perform sexual acts at Buck’s apartment,” which is a practice described as “party and play.” Buck allegedly solicited victims on social media platforms, including a gay dating website, and used a recruiter to scout and proposition men. Once the men were at his apartment, Buck allegedly prepared syringes containing methamphetamine, sometimes personally injecting the victims with or without their consent, according to the indictment. Buck also allegedly injected victims with more narcotics than they expected and sometimes injected victims while they were unconscious. Another victim, Timothy Dean also suffered a fatal overdose in Buck’s apartment, on Jan. 7, 2019, the indictment alleges. Buck is scheduled to go to trial in this matter on Jan. 19, 2021. His arraignment on the first superseding indictment is expected in the coming weeks. Each of the charges alleging the distribution of narcotics resulting in death carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a maximum penalty of life without parole. The four new charges carry a statutory maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison. Buck also faces charges, including operating a drug house, that were filed last year by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Buck is currently being held in federal custody without bond, and the federal case is expected to proceed first. The federal case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI. The investigation is being conducted with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

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Activists skeptical of Biden pledge to end HIV by 2025 Candidate’s plan is 5 years more aggressive than Trump’s By CHRIS JOHNSON cjohnson@washblade.com

Joe Biden is seeking to one-up President Trump on the fight against HIV by pledging to end the epidemic by 2025 — an ambitious goal that would beat the current administration’s goal by five years, although some HIV advocates are skeptical the presidential candidate can pull it off. Biden laid out his plan to address HIV, which relies heavily on bolstering the Affordable Care Act, in a 20page questionnaire submitted to a coalition of HIV/ AIDS groups in June. A chief component of his vision is updating the Obama administration’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy. “As President, I will re-commit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025,” Biden writes. “Updating the nation’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy will aggressively reduce new HIV cases, while increasing access to treatment and eliminating inequitable access to services and supports.” Consistently drawing on LGBTQ rights in his HIV plan, Biden asserts he’ll ensure LGBTQ people have full access to health care in his administration. That’s a sharp contrast with the Trump administration, which has scrapped Obama-era regulations against antitransgender discrimination in health care. Biden also recognizes health disparities among different communities, acknowledging LGBTQ people face stigma and disproportionate rates of HIV and Black Americans represent 40 percent of all new HIV cases, but are 13 percent of the U.S. population. Biden’s commitment to ending HIV by 2025 is five years more aggressive than the Trump administration’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic” initiative, which has 2030 as the goal. Trump’s PrEP-centric plan targets areas of the United States where new HIV infections are most prevalent to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 75 percent within five years, and by 90 percent within 10 years. Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the Affordable Care Act — which Trump has sought to dismantle, but Biden has defended — is a key difference between Trump and Biden. “President Trump put forward an ambitious ‘Ending the HIV Epidemic’ plan and helped to secure new funding to support it, which is an important step,” Kates said. “The biggest difference between the candidates on HIV policy is the Affordable Care Act, which has already led to a significant increase in coverage for people with HIV. Former Vice President Biden would build on the ACA’s foundation and work to broaden coverage. In contrast,

Former Vice President JOE BIDEN has pledged as president to beat HIV by 2025. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

President Trump has repeatedly fought to repeal the ACA and scale back coverage.” Kates added Biden’s plan “also recognizes the importance of addressing systemic racism in the fight against HIV and he would work to reinstitute nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ populations in health care, which the Trump administration recently removed.” Asked, however, if all those factors could lead Biden to end the HIV epidemic by 2025, Kates said, “I think significant progress toward that goal could be made, though the effects of COVID-19 are going to be felt for a long time, and will be tough to overcome.” Biden in his questionnaire responses leaves a lot unanswered. The candidate calls for “increased funding for HIV research” and “full funding for Ryan White” without defining what that means, nor does he call for increased funding for the Center for Disease Control’s HIV programs or specific funding to end the HIV epidemic. Carl Schmid, co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said, “I would say no” when asked if he thinks Biden can pull off his pledge to beat HIV by 2025. “We got a strategy…with Obama, but we never got any funding to implement the strategy, and the community has to be honest about that,” Schmid said. Schmid, who emphasized his assessment was based on a “purely policy” standpoint because he’s with a non-


profit, said Biden’s plan is “policy driven,” but a concerted effort in leadership, which he said was seen under the Trump administration, is needed. “We’ve had so many terrible policies, but at the same time we had this concerted effort, which everyone I’m sure in the community would agree is exactly what we need, right?” Schmid said. “More testing, more prevention more PrEP, more treatment, more workforce: There are the things that we’re doing all over the world that everyone wants.” Asked whether the key distinction between Biden and Trump on their HIV plans is funding, Schmid said it’s also leadership, asserting the HIV community has had conversations with senior health officials under Trump that haven’t happened in previous administrations. “You probably never even knew who the Assistant Secretary of Health was in any other administration,” Schmid said. “We [were always told] that office didn’t have much power they don’t have a budget they don’t have anything in [Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir] has shown that office does.” In terms of the global epidemic, Biden in his questionnaire responses identifies as a key component PEPFAR, which he says under his administration will seek to combat anti-LGBTQ stigmas overseas, but much of the focus is dedicated to generalized efforts to prepare for global pandemics amid the coronavirus crisis. Asia Russell, executive director of the New Yorkbased group Health GAP, said neither Trump nor Biden have presented credible plans to fight the global AIDS epidemic. “The global AIDS crisis is one the greatest preventable public health disasters in history,” Russell said. “Science has shown us how to finally defeat HIV in the U.S. and abroad. But neither candidate has adopted a plan the world needs to show that he is the president who can end AIDS once and for all.” Russell had particularly harsh words for Biden for what she called the absence of any global HIV plan. “While Biden recently expressed hopeful comments about the need for intellectual property barriers to be broken in favor of COVID-19 vaccine access for all, his silence on the need to massively scale up investment in treatment to defeat a leading cause of preventable death and suffering worldwide is cruel — it speaks volumes,” Russell said. The Biden campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this article on skepticism about the candidate’s pledge to beat HIV/AIDS by 2025.

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USAID fires staffer after anti-LGBTQ Tweets A Trump administration staffer unleashed a series of tweets Monday expressing anti-LGBTQ animus, prompting the U.S. Agency for International Development to fire her after her anti-LGBTQ views had once gone without reprisal, according to Politico. Merritt Corrigan, who reportedly had a short, but rocky, tenure as deputy White House liaison to USAID, tweeted, “Gay marriage isn’t marriage, Men aren’t women [and] US-funded Tunisian LGBT soap operas aren’t America First” in a tirade aimed at LGBTQ people MERRITT CORRIGAN unleashed anti-LGBTQ tweets and advances in LGBTQ rights. leading to her dismissal. Corrigan on Twitter announced (Photo via Twitter) she’d have more to say Thursday at a news conference with conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burman, notorious for making debunked attacks on progressive leaders. “The United States is losing ground in the battle to garner influence through humanitarian aid because we now refuse to help countries who don’t celebrate sexual deviancy,” Corrigan said. “Meanwhile, Russia and China are happy to step in and eat our lunch.” In an attack on transgender women specifically, Corrigan expressed frustration with USAID policies that don’t take into account whether or not a woman is transgender. “I watched with horror this week as USAID distributed taxpayer funded documents claiming ‘we cannot tell someone’s sex or gender by looking at them’ and that not calling oneself ‘cis-gendered” is a microagression,” Corrigan said. “I’m not cis-anything. I’m a woman.” According to Politico’s Daniel Lippman, USAID fired Merritt Corrigan on Monday after she began posting her tweets. Barsa told the White House of his decision and received no pushback, Politico reported. The White House and USAID didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Trump administration would repudiate her remarks. Corrigan’s reported departure comes months after CNN’s KFile reported in late June that Corrigan has a history of inflammatory rhetoric aimed at refugees, the LGBTQ community and women. “Mass deportations when?,” Corrigan tweeted in October 2019, linking to a 2010 article in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said German multiculturalism has failed, according to CNN. According to a report in Axios, USAID employee groups in June requested to meet with John Barsa, the acting administrator of USAID, over concerns about Corrigan and other appointees. Barsa, however, defended Corrigan at the time despite her history of antiLGBTQ and anti-immigrant comments. Corrigan previously worked at Hungary’s Embassy in the United States, where she repeatedly tweeted support for far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and referred to him as “the shining champion of Western civilization,” according to ProPublica. Led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), 20 Democratic House members sent a letter to Barsa in late July, urging him to demand Corrigan’s resignation because her positions are “in direct opposition to the work USAID supports.” CHRIS JOHNSON


The Blade’s CHRIS JOHNSON beat out reporters from the New York Times, USA Today and other mainstream outlets to win Outstanding Newspaper Article. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Blade wins GLAAD Award

Washington Blade White House reporter Chris Johnson won the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Newspaper Article, the media advocacy organization announced last week. Johnson won for “Military reports no discharges under trans ban — but advocates have doubts,” which examined whether the Pentagon has been kicking out transgender service members since President Trump’s 2017 tweet announcing the ban. Johnson faced stiff competition in the category, with nominees from the New York Times, USA Today, LA Times, and Dallas Morning News. He accepted the award via video. “I’m proud to represent the only LGBTQ news outlet in the White House press corps and thankful GLAAD is recognizing the exclusive news content Blade staffers work hard to produce every day,” Johnson said. GLAAD streamed its annual awards ceremony on its Facebook and YouTube channels on July 30. In addition to Johnson, the Blade’s Karen Ocamb received a special recognition award from GLAAD. Two other such awards went to “Special,” a Netflix short-form comedy series about a gay man with cerebral palsy; and Mark Segal, founder of Philadelphia Gay News. “After initially starting her career at CBS News and producing the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Ocamb joined the LGBTQ press in the 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS,” GLAAD said in a release. “She has since become a leading force and champion for LGBTQ media. She is known for her smart, fair, and professional writing style as well as her staunch dedication to shining the spotlight on underreported LGBTQ people and issues.” STAFF REPORTS

House votes to defund trans military ban The U.S. House voted late last week to approve an amendment introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to defund President Trump’s transgender military ban as part of major defense spending legislation. Lawmakers approved the amendment by voice vote as part of a block of amendments the House Rules Committee approved for consideration during debate over the fiscal year 2012 defense appropriations bill. Jennifer Dane, executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, said in a statement after the vote undoing the transgender ban would foster an inclusive military. “As our nation faces seemingly unprecedented challenges, it’s crucially important that the military return to an inclusive policy that allows any qualified patriot to serve,” Dane said. “With this vote, the U.S. House of Representatives just sent a powerful message that bigotry and discrimination should have no place in our armed forces. We urge the full Congress to ensure this critically important amendment is passed.” The vote comes nearly three years after President Trump tweeted out the policy on July 26, 2017, saying he’d bar transgender people from serving from the military “in any capacity.” Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he’d reverse the ban upon his election and allow transgender people to serve openly in the military. CHRIS JOHNSON


‘I don’t know if I will make it’

HIV-positive ICE detainee fears contracting coronavirus By MICHAEL K. LAVERS mlavers@washblade.com

“We are relieved that Iván and Ramón don’t have to spend one more day in the dangerous A person with HIV who is in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody says conditions of ICE detention, terrified of contracting COVID-19,” said Immigration Equality he is afraid the coronavirus will kill him. Legal Director Bridget Crawford after their release. “With my condition, God forbid, if I get coronavirus, I don’t know if I will make it,” the ICE A federal judge in California has ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees detainee told the Washington Blade on July 29 during an interview. with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released. The detainee has been in ICE custody at a privately run detention center in the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in April said ICE would consider the Southeast since last October. The detainee is originally from a country in Africa with laws release of detainees who are at increased risk for the coronavirus on a “case-by-case that criminalize people with HIV and members of the LGBTQ community. basis.” An ICE spokesperson a few The detainee asked the Blade not weeks after Wolf’s comments said to identify them by name to protect their agency had released upwards their privacy. They also requested of 700 detainees “after evaluating the Blade not identify the country their immigration history, criminal from which they originate and record, potential threat to public the facility in which they remain safety, flight risk and national in ICE custody because of fear of security concerns.” retaliation and any potential impact ICE in March suspended in-person their decision to speak publicly visitation at its detention centers. could have on their asylum case. ICE in previous statements says “It would be a death sentence if it continues to provide detainees I were sent back home,” said the with soap for showering and detainee. handwashing, sanitizer and masks. The detainee told the Blade there “The health, welfare and safety have been coronavirus cases in of U.S. Immigration and Customs their detention center, including a Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one man from India who tested positive of the agency’s highest priorities,” before his scheduled deportation. says ICE on its website. “Since the “They were taking him out to onset of reports of Coronavirus deport him,” said the detainee. Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE “They closed our unit down for a epidemiologists have been tracking month.” the outbreak, regularly updating The detainee said there are 96 infection prevention and control detainees in his unit. They told the protocols, and issuing guidance to Blade that ICE quarantined them ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff after another detainee tested for the screening and management positive for the coronavirus. of potential exposure among “We were not able to leave the detainees.” unit,” they said. “ICE continues to incorporate They told the Blade that staff ICE said as of Monday there were 908 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases. CDC’s COVID-19 guidance, which is brought food to the unit when it was built upon the already established locked down. The detainee said they infectious disease monitoring and are now able to access the yard for management protocols currently in use by the agency,” adds ICE. “In addition, ICE is an hour a day. actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires ICE on its website notes as of Monday there were 908 detainees with confirmed additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus.” coronavirus cases. There were 21,888 people in ICE custody as of July 31. Statistics on Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley in June told the Blade that ICE is “ignoring” social ICE’s website note 21,085 detainees have been tested as of July 31. distancing guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and not Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal are among the advocacy groups that have providing “protective gear or hygiene products” to detainees. The detainee with whom demanded ICE release detainees with HIV because of the pandemic. the Blade spoke last week also said there is no socially distancing at the detention center ICE in April released four men with HIV who had been detained at privately run where they are in ICE custody. detention centers in Louisiana and Arizona. ICE in the same month also released Iván “There’s no such thing right now as socially distancing,” they said. “It’s not safe,” added and Ramón, two Cuban men with HIV represented by Immigration Equality and Lambda the detainee. Legal, from a privately run detention center in Texas.











Pence stands in stark contrast to Biden’s VP shortlist LGBTQ people cannot take anything for granted and cannot stay home With less than three months to go until one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, all eyes are on Joe Biden. He is expected to soon reveal his vice presidential pick. As LGBTQ Americans, we are paying particularly close attention. Despite what some pundits would have us believe, the vice president matters. When Joe Biden was vice president, he pushed the administration to move forward on marriage equality. As vice president, Mike Pence has led the charge for Donald Trump and put LGBTQ people and our equality in unprecedented peril. GLAAD has tracked more than 165 attacks in policy and rhetoric from President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the administration’s appointees since they took office in January 2017. It started on day one with the removal of all mentions of LGBTQ people and policy from the official White House web site and has continued nonstop. With Pence at his side in May 2017, Trump signed the first of several so-called “religious liberty” executive orders, paving the way for newly sanctioned discrimination in public life. Later that year in a closed-door and unannounced event, Trump and Pence posed proudly for a photograph in the Oval Office with notorious anti-LGBTQ activists. Meanwhile, following Trump’s egregious attempt to ban transgender service members, Pence argued behind closed doors for the elimination of their health care benefits. Sadly, we knew the danger of a Pence vice presidency from the moment Trump put him on the ticket, so none of this came as a surprise to us. As governor of Indiana, Pence earned national notoriety for signing a so-called “religious freedom” bill that antiLGBTQ activists in his state championed for the purposes of allowing business owners the right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. After outcry and boycotts, Pence was forced to sign an amended version that made it clear the law cannot be used to discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And in his first run for Congress, he vowed to oppose marriage equality and give employers a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace. The Pence record stands in stark contrast to that of the reported leading contenders to

join the Biden ticket. When she was District Attorney, Sen. Kamala Harris established an LGBTQ hate crimes unit and as California attorney general, she refused to defend the state’s Proposition 8, which disallowed samesex marriage. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been an outspoken advocate for transgender Americans, using her platforms to shine a light on the violence experienced by trans women of color in particular. She has fought in the Senate to get justice for same-sex couples who couldn’t jointly file taxes prior to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage. In 2012, she was a leading voice in urging President Obama to support same-sex marriage. As President Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice made international LGBTQ rights a priority, and spoke out forcefully when other nations’ leaders put us in harms way. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate, has made LGBTQ equality a cornerstone of her service. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a military hero herself, has been a fierce opponent of the Trump transgender military ban. Rep. Karen Bass has been an outspoken advocate for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. Congresswoman Val Demmings has been an ardent supporter of the Equality Act and a champion for ensuring that the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in her home state of Florida is not forgotten. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms inaugurated the city’s first report on LGBTQ affairs and appointed the city’s first full-time LGBTQ Affairs Coordinator. Running for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams became the first major party candidate for that office to march in the Atlanta Pride parade, building on a lifelong record of LGBTQ advocacy dating back to her days at Spelman College. As LGBTQ people, we cannot take anything for granted, and we cannot stay home. We must use our voices to educate one another and our allies about what’s at stake and who stands with us. And we must use our votes to protect the progress we have made and lay the path for full equality. The stage is nearly set. The rest is up to us. To join GLAAD’s 2020 Election campaign to educate, engage, and activate LGBTQ and ally voters, visit GLAAD.org/vote.


Sarah Kate Ellis is president and CEO of GLAAD.

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Students shouldn’t have to pay full tuition in a pandemic LGBTQ youth disproportionately impacted by the virus

Noah Christiansen is a sophomore at California State University, Long Beach. (Photo courtesy Christiansen)

(Editor’s note: As more universities and colleges across the United States cancel inperson instruction in favor of online classes as a result of the surge in coronavirus cases, especially among younger adults, there is a growing call for deep discounts in tuition. Students, parents and some educators point out that without the in-person interaction between faculty and students, the reality is not what most say is what they are paying for and is a significant part of the college experience. The schools say that the institutions are suffering a significant loss of revenue. American University’s Sylvia M. Burwell told NBC News on Aug. 2, that AU is projected to lose nearly $27 million from increased expenses and reduced revenues as a result of its response to the coronavirus. For LGBTQ students, many of whom rely on financial aid, grants, and other assistance due to oftentimes not having parents or other family willing to underwrite or assist in expenses, not receiving a financial break is daunting. The Los Angeles Blade asked Noah Christiansen, a queer sophomore at California State University, Long Beach where he is matriculating in Political Science to offer his take on the issue.)

Life, as I have experienced it thus far, has been very difficult because I grew up knowing that I was different. I recently finished my freshman year of college at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and it was a year full of ups and downs. Although I did some amazing things this past year such as giving a TedTalk and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, I also encountered many difficulties – the global pandemic being one of them. Many people think of college students as young kids who only need to focus on keeping their grades up and to not die from alcohol poisoning, but a lot of us are facing difficult life choices that have the potential to impact us for the rest of our lives. I need to focus on my tutoring job, my rent being paid on time, my grades, and figure out who I am as a person in this world all while living through a pandemic. Attending my university (in person) was a great experience, which allowed me to engage with people from many different walks of life and it allowed me to be more comfortable with who I was, which was well worth the price of tuition. But times have changed. Who really knows when we’ll be back in person? The pandemic not allowing us to physically attend school is in itself a stressful experience, but while the world seems to be falling apart, colleges and universities all across the United States are charging full price for tuition even though most colleges and universities have transitioned to online courses. Although it is quite upsetting that all of my classes are now over Zoom, I fully understand that this is what has to happen. All of us should be coming together to combat this virus and flatten the curve, so it is something that I am willing to accept. What I do not understand is that in a world where funds are tighter than ever, I still have to pay full price tuition even though I am not given access to all of the things that my tuition covers. It is almost as if colleges and universities forgot that students still have to pay other bills in the midst of the pandemic. It is quite upsetting that I have to pay the same price for a lower quality education – and I am not just talking about the display resolution from my laptop. There is a litany of problems with teaching over Zoom. Internet problems, the condition of one’s computer, easy access to cheating, lack of social interaction, and Zoom fatigue are all problems that make a high-quality education a lot more difficult in a world of solely teaching over Zoom. Again, it is something that has to happen, but there is a big debate over whether or not tuition should remain the same. We students should not have to pay the full price of tuition for this quality of education and due to the fact that part of my tuition goes toward campus buildings, programs, etc., that I am not given access to due to COVID-19. It is understandable that the university still needs to do some renovations and potential

beautification projects, but if we are not given access to the university resources, then why should the students carry the burden of providing these things? This question becomes especially important in the LGBTQ+ community where money may be more of an issue for people. For many individuals in this community, money is something that is of high importance because they do not have the same accessibility to it compared with their colleagues. Many students in college rely on their families to help them with funding, but for many LGBTQ+ people it is impossible to receive help from their family members because they have been disowned due to their sexual or gender identity. The university only exacerbates these inequalities in a world where they charge full tuition considering that the queer community does not have access to these facilities when they need it the most. There have been many studies showing mental health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community and COVID-19 only highlights these disparities. Universities do not help with these disparities by charging full price for tuition when the queer students don’t have access to these facilities. We may not have grown up in the most loving households, so the university is a space where we have the ability to engage with people who are just like us. The queer community at CSULB is one that I think should be at the forefront of this discussion because we need to recognize who the pandemic and university actions affect the most – which is us.


Cancel Ellen? Lesbian icon faces scrutiny after allegations of toxic work environment By ROB WATSON

There are two things you do not want to be respect. Obviously, something changed, and right now, a statue of a Confederate General I am disappointed to learn that this has not or Ellen DeGeneres. Long overdue are the been the case. And for that, I am sorry.” She attacks on the former, cold images of steel vowed staff changes, and Glavin is widely and marble, and representations of a war to expected to leave, The Hollywood Reporter preserve slavery. But Ellen? said. Her top producers today appear to be facing But others say it’s unlikely DeGeneres serious allegations. The Hollywood Reporter would leave her lucrative show. She has two stated that “executive producer Ed Glavin — years left on a contract she signed in 2019. one of the show’s three EPs, and the one at The show’s senior vice president, Blake the center of many of the nastier claims — is Bryant, issued a statement announcing that among those who will be let go. ‘Once he’s out, the show would return on Sept. 9. it will be like a new day,’ says a source close to The controversy exploded in recent weeks the show, one of two who claim DeGeneres as former employees of the show have was largely kept shielded from Glavin’s daygone public with allegations of racism and to-day handling or mishandling of the staff. harassment. Others are expected to be out as well.” “That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when Buzzfeed meanwhile is eager to publish the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” one anyone who has an unkind word to say former employee told BuzzFeed News. “I about Ellen personally. They have put out a know they give money to people and help plea: “We want your help! If you have more them out, but it’s for show.” After allegations of a toxic and racist work environment, there’s speculation that ELLEN information or a tip regarding workplace In a joint statement to BuzzFeed News, DEGENERES will walk away from her lucrative show, a claim disputed by show executives. culture on the Ellen show or in Hollywood, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary contact …buzzfeed.com, or reach us securely Connelly, and Andy Lassner said: “Over the at tips.buzzfeed.com.” Their featured article “People Think Ellen DeGeneres Needs To Be course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 staff members, Held Accountable For The Allegedly Toxic Culture At Her Show” features a dozen non-viral we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” they said. “We Twitter posts with single digit “likes” blaming Ellen personally for all the infractions. are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has Speaking of “people,” People magazine piled on with tweets from celebrities Leah had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the Thompson and Brad Garrett, both of whom seem to point accusing fingers at Ellen mission Ellen has set for us. personally. “Know more than one who were treated horribly by her. Common knowledge.” “For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We Garrett asserted. “True story. It is.” Thompson agreed. take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we According to the New York Post and The Daily Mail, Ellen is ready to quit. The Post reports, need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.” “Anonymous insiders at Telepictures said the longtime host of her eponymous talk show is Amid the allegations of a toxic work environment came news that employees of the ready to hang up her microphone in the wake of recent allegations about “toxic” workplace show “were panicking because they had been told very little about their future, including conditions. A source at Telepictures told DailyMail.com that the host is telling executives whether they would continue to be paid — and the host allegedly hired nonunion tech at Telepictures and Warner Bros that she has had enough and wants to walk away from employees in the meantime to produce the show remotely from her house,” as the the show. ‘She feels she can’t go on and the only way to recover her personal brand from Washington Post and Variety reported. this is to shut down the show,” an insider told the outlet on Friday. ‘The truth is she knew Warner Bros. released a statement last week that said, “Though not all of the allegations what was going on — it’s her show. The buck stops with her. She can blame every executive were corroborated, we are disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation under the sun — but Ellen is ultimately the one to blame.” indicated some deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management. We have In a statement DeGeneres released last week, she promised her show “would be a place identified several staffing changes, along with appropriate measures to address the issues of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with that have been raised.” 16 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • AUGUST 07, 2020

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For more information visit weho.org/coronavirus

Dragging out the vote in 2020

Queens using their voices for election awareness By KAELA ROEDER

Drag queens and kings across the U.S. are set to take part in a national campaign to raise awareness on voting processes, rights and regulations. Drag Out the Vote, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization working to increase voter turnout among LGBTQ individuals and young people, was founded by Jackie Huba, an LGBTQ ally who hopes to use the art of drag to attract voters to the polls. Starting this week, drag queens and kings from the U.S. can apply to be “Drag Ambassadors” with the nonprofit, and share voting information on their social media, host voting-related events and provide voting resources to their followers. The national co-chairs of the organization, prominent drag performers who produce online content, host events and fundraise for the organization, include Jaremi Carey, who along with 30 other drag performers in Minneapolis, inspired Huba to create the non-profit by raising $80,000 to benefit Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Carey, also known as Phi Phi O’Hara, placed as a runnerup on season 4 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and was featured on season 2 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars.” He has worked with Huba since the nonprofit’s founding in January of this year. Huba said she was also inspired by the low numbers of voter turnout: 1 in 5 LGBTQ people are not registered to vote, and 100 million people did not vote in the 2016 election. This initiative is meant to help change those metrics, she said. Drag Out the Vote will provide general information and copy for the drag queens and kings, but Huba said she is looking forward to the participants taking creative liberty with the initiative. Drag artists will also customize their outreach to best suit their individual locations, and provide specific information for that state’s voting regulations and information. Carey said using drag queens and kings as the image for promoting voter turnout is powerful, and drag performers are “political beings as it is.” “It’s my job and duty to inspire people to get out there and involved, and people look to the drag queens almost like a place of safety … like we’re a helping guide,” Carey said. “That’s what a lot of people are realizing and want to work

Drag Out the Vote is a campaign that encourages LGBTQ people to vote in the general election. (Photo courtesy of Drag Out the Vote)

with us on this stuff. It just kind of comes hand in hand, natural. And I don’t know what drag queen that’s not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for people.” Drag Out the Vote also plans to educate the artists on phone and text banking to mobilize their fans. The Drag Ambassador Program will partner with national organizations that include Planned Parenthood and the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Because of the pandemic, Huba said drag performers are relying on their digital platforms more than ever — without the traditional drag brunches and night club performances, they are utilizing digital streaming platforms like Twitch to engage with their fans. “It made sense to take their microphones … in real life, megaphones on social media, and use that to help with our democracy,” Huba said. Historically, drag performers have been essential in leading social change, Huba said. The Stonewall riots were led in part by drag queens, and on stage and online, drag performers have commanded attention and spoken their minds. “I was so amazed and fascinated at how these artists were creating this really confident, bold persona that could speak their mind, who could own who they are and be supremely confident,” she said. “I was just at a point my life where I wanted that confidence, and I was so inspired by it and so I just threw myself into it.” Huba has written four books, including “Fiercely You,” a book that encourages people to “be fabulous and confident by thinking like a drag queen.” Carey met Huba by performing at a launch party for one of her books, “Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics.” When Huba approached Carey about being a leader in Drag Out the Vote, Carey said it was a “no-brainer” to join her. “I’m American first, and I care about what’s going on here in America, and I want to create change, and I want to a positive


environment for everybody here,” Carey said. “But I’m an artist, a drag artist, and it was really cool to see that not only was I being respected as an artist, but that my talents and my skills were something that [Huba] valued and wanted to use for good.” Before creating this nonprofit, Huba had never worked in the political or nonprofit world before. Through advice and help from experienced organizers and a sponsorship from the arts service organization Fractured Atlas last year, Huba was able to launch the organization. After the launch in January, Huba was humbled by the number of emails she received from people wanting to help with the initiative, like providing security for previous inperson events or planning functions for the nonprofit. Carey and Huba are most concerned with voting challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic and want to prioritize educating voters on the ever-changing voting landscape. States vary in voting protocols and Drag Out the Vote local campaigns and Drag Ambassadors are meant to help alleviate that confusion. Huba also said the dwindling number of poll workers is concerning. She plans to promote working as poll workers to prevent voting locations from mass closures. Education is the main goal for Carey, he said, and is excited to use his platform for positive and educational messaging on voting. “It’s a great time for people like me and the other co-chairs who have huge platforms, because we can share the correct information,” he said. “Because with social media, it’s just a cesspool of incorrect information, and it’s just ridiculous, so education is absolutely my No. 1 priority and getting that proper information.” Drag Ambassador applications are now open. Visit dragoutthevote2020.org to learn more.


‘Different Stars’ features a lead performance from JAMES JACKSON JR.

‘Different Stars:’ First queer COVID-19 musical is now streaming A moving piece of off-Broadway in your own home By ROB WATSON

“Different Stars” is that gem of musical theater that you would find in a comfy offBroadway house tucked in the heart of New York City. It is the type of production with the heart, intimacy, and musical nuances that an avid theatergoer eats up, delighted to have personally discovered the next Sondheim. On Saturday Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. EST, the premiere performance beams from www. differentstars.live. It is free, and any donations given are used to support QORDS, a music-centered camp for queer and transgender youth ages 12-17 in the South. “Different Stars” is both about our lives re-imagined under COVID-quarantine as well as the re-imagining of theater itself under those conditions. The story revolves around James, played by renowned actor James Jackson Jr. of Pulitzer Prize-winning play “A Strange Loop” fame, a songwriter who has hit a block because of his romantic trauma. Caught in the isolation of a COVID-19 quarantine, he goes through a box of artifacts that conjure up the ghosts and characters from his first queer love gone awry. This week, I sat down with show creator Karl Saint Lucy, director Raquel Cion and star James Jackson Jr. on the award-winning podcast Rated LGBT Radio. They shared their thoughts and experiences of being part of this new and medium-busting phenomenon. The story behind the songs and book of “Different Stars” has evolved, been developed, and reached refinement over time. Karl related their journey: “I moved to New York from Oklahoma in 2010. During my second year in New York, I fell in love. He was my first exposure to queer people, my first gay friend. We were close—best, best friends. Then we became lovers. We dated for months. It was crazy and intense. I felt like I had escaped what I had grown up under. Wow. I was finally in a place I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do. And I have this man I am in love with.” Karl continued, “Then it deteriorated so tragically over the next nine months. It was extremely dramatic. I was in the middle of writing a 90-minute musical. I was so hurt, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I would go into a room and cry and write a new song. I ended up writing 40 songs. Originally, they were songs to him, but they evolved into songs of me having a dialogue with myself. I did not really have a vision for them. He was my intended audience.” In 2013, the songs were finally performed as part of a workshop. The audience’s deep and emotional reaction told Karl that the song collection was not just for or about him anymore. “After this one performance, an actress, who was at that time playing Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, caught up with me in the lobby. She had tears streaming down her face. ‘You read my journal’, she exclaimed.” Karl had a vision to make the song collection into a theatrical piece. Along with director Raquel Cion, he planned to do that in March 2020.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Karl and Raquel closed the production nine days before they were scheduled to open. Soon they were deciding that if the quarantine had re-imagined their lives, they could re-imagine theater. Raquel knew the theatrical process itself had to be addressed and created anew. She related her experience having to direct it – in a way she had never done before, “This has been so very strange, to not be in the same room as the cast. I only met James in person once. It was odd and brand new. We had to address our aesthetic and not our obstacles. Putting it together was challenging and exciting. The performers are so capable and skilled. Their emotional journeys are exquisite—so present and willing.” As for bringing COVID into the story itself, “How does my art address the moment we are in?” Karl pondered. “We decided to develop a story around the quarantine. We looked at our actor, James Jackson Jr. and built the show around his character, James, as the lead character.” James was undaunted at the prospect. He had launched original characters before, and he knew he could take a character essentially based on Karl and make it his own. While James playing a character who was based on real-life Karl was not a challenge, the same could not be said for the actor who was chosen to play the character based on Karl’s heartbreaking ex — that actor would be Karl himself. Karl shared, “In retrospect, his experience was not all that different than mine. I think that is one of the things so scary about intimacy. When relationships end, it is two people amid profound grief, and they cannot share it with each other. I think the words I wrote from me to him also work the other way around. Saying them to the character that is supposed to be me, is essentially therapeutic.” Karl’s reflection on his painful past is at the core of the title “Different Stars.” It took him to the realization that his life was not necessarily about what he could have done differently, but rather, what life would have been if the situation had been different. Poetically, what a couple’s love would have been had it taken place under “different stars.” The theme is emphasized by the play’s quarantine setting where the character goes from dreading isolation to embracing the unique gift of reflection. Raquel mused on the theatrical situation itself, “This experience reminds me of something David Bowie said—paraphrasing: Always go further into the water than you feel capable of being in, a little bit out of your depths and when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, then, and only then, are you in just about the right place to experience something exciting.” With that said, on Saturday, Aug. 15, you can wade into your watching habits a little bit beyond. You can welcome a moving piece of off-Broadway into your home and enjoy an evening under “Different Stars.”


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