Losangelesblade.com, Volume 05, Issue 31, July 30, 2021

Page 1

(Created by Max Huskins as adapted from a Facebook Cover by Akbar LA)



Battle lines drawn over proof of vax as Delta variant explodes ‘A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic’ By BRODY LEVESQUE

For the owners of Akbar on the edge of Hollywood, self-described as a neighborhood oasis cocktail bar and nightclub, the reality of the effect of the highly contagious and rapidly transmitted Delta variant of coronavirus forced them to require proof of vaccination against COVID. Last week the bar notified its customers on social media and at the door that proof of vaccination and a mask are now required to gain entry into Akbar. The notification helpfully added the message that “CA.gov has launched a way of downloading your vaccination record so you have a digital copy of it on your phone.” The bar also noted, “We will also accept your vaccination card (photo of it is acceptable) and valid ID together. We value our community health and feel we all must accept the responsibility to keep each other safe while socializing. Thank you for understanding.” Thirty-nine miles and 43 odd minutes away in Huntington Beach in Orange County, the owner of Basilico’s Pasta e Vino posted flyers outside his business and on social media requiring proof that customers are not vaccinated. The flyers read: “Notice: Proof of being unvaccinated required. We have zero tolerance for treasonous, anti-American stupidity. Thank you for pondering.” KABC 7 reported, “Many people are bothered, according to reviews on Yelp. Dozens left low ratings for Basilico’s with comments like one that read: “What a slap in the face to all those who died from COVID-19.” The increased public attention led to Yelp temporarily disabling posting on the page.” After the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the restaurant, the owners responded on their Facebook page: “‘LOS ANGELES TIMES’ PRINTS AN ARTICLE ABOUT US, AND AGAIN HERE COME THE HATERS, AND WITH IT, THE HARASSING NON-STOP PHONE CALLS, THREATS AND HUNDREDS OF ONE STAR REVIEWS. AND GUESS WHAT? WE AT ‘BASILICO’S PASTA E VINO’ WEAR IT ALL AS A BADGE OF HONOR!ATTENTION: TINY TYRANTS, WANNABE LITTLE DICTATORS, PROLOCKDOWN / PRO-MASK / PRO-MANDATORY VACCINE MINI GESTAPO AMERICAN TRAITORS AND SNITCHES, AND YES ESPECIALLY ‘GAVIN PELOSI’ AND ‘STRONZO FAUCI’ … WE FEEL BLESSED TO GO INTO BATTLE AGAINST ALL OF YOU IN DEFENSE OF AMERICAN LIBERTY AND (Graphic courtesy of Max Huskins with original artwork from the Facebook page of Akbar) FREEDOM, SO BRING IT ON!” In the past two weeks as the number of cases exploded, Los Angeles County issued a first in the nation indoor mask order for residents in an attempt to contain what one health official described as drinking from a fire house as the number of cases rose by nearly 2,000 per day at one

point crossing over to nearly 3,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing increasing concern around the fast-spreading and highly contagious delta variant on Tuesday, reversed its earlier mask guidance to specifically target areas of the country with the highest levels of the coronavirus and recommended that everyone in those areas, vaccinated or not, wear a mask as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the U.S. However, city and state officials realized that the co-mingling of vaccinated and nonvaccinated Californians was the primary driving factor especially the 20% of the state’s residents who have yet to take the vaccination or have refused. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced California is implementing a first-inthe-nation standard to require all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week. “We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” said Newsom. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same.” The new policy for state workers will take effect August 2 and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks. The new policy for health care workers and congregate facilities will take effect on August 9, and health care facilities will have until August 23 to come into full compliance. Appearing on MSNBC and CNN, Newsom claimed that individuals who refused to take the vaccine posed a risk to the public similar to drunk driving. “It’s like drunk drivers, you don’t have the right to go out and drink and drive and put everybody else at risk including your own life,” the governor said. Newsom also denounced high-profile conservatives, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In a harsh exchange on Twitter, Newsom aggressively put down an attack by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) a noted QAnon and conspiracy afficando. One day after state officials announced that state and healthcare employees will soon be required to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated or must undergo regular testing for COVID-19, the City of Los Angeles will require city employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing for the virus. As more bars, nightclubs, and restaurants are poised to require proof of vaccination for entry, the question has been posed as to whether that is in fact legal. According to Michele Goodwin, a professor of law at UC Irvine and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, in a May 25 2021 interview with CapRadio’s Sasha Hupka, also a contributor to PolitiFact California, a business has the right to refuse entry. “If a person refuses to disclose their vaccination status, a business cannot search their pockets or vehicle for proof they are vaccinated. However, it can ask for the information to be voluntarily disclosed. If it isn’t, a business has the right to refuse entry,” Goodwin said adding; “Businesses can establish standards for entry that do not violate statutory or constitutional provisions in a state or federal law.” “In fact, even government entities like schools and the Army have historically been able to require vaccinations based on legal precedent set by Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905. The case upheld the power of states and other government entities to enforce compulsory vaccinations in the interest of public health,” Hupka reported noting; “A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in the majority opinion in the case.



Ed Buck guilty in drug deaths of two Black men Barely four and a half hours after being handed the case for deliberations, a federal grand unconscious. jury convicted former West Hollywood resident and Democratic political activist/donor Ed “I know this has been an arduous, lengthy and difficult process,” U.S. District Judge Buck on the nine-count indictment of charges that he supplied the methamphetamine Christine A. Snyder told jurors after she read the verdict shortly after 2 p.m. that killed two Black men during ‘party-and-play’ Christopher Darden, a lawyer for Buck, told the jury encounters at his apartment. his client was on trial “for conduct that millions of Buck was also convicted on charges of maintaining people engage in.” He dismissed the witnesses against a drug den, distributing methamphetamine and Buck as manipulative escorts and drug abusers who enticement to cross state lines to engage in used Buck for his money, the Los Angeles Times prostitution. reported. The conviction could mean that Buck, 66, will face a “The evidence is going to show that these grown sentence where he could spend the rest of his life in men made a conscious decision to go to Ed Buck’s prison for his actions that killed Gemmel Moore, 26, apartment for whatever reason,” Darden said in his in July 2017, and Timothy Dean, 55, in January 2019. opening statement. The convictions for supplying the meth that resulted Ludlow Creary II, another of Buck’s attorneys, in death each carry a minimum sentence of 20 years argued that his client did nothing more than enjoy in prison. party-and-play sessions involving drugs and sex The verdict concluded a two-week trial that with men he met online. Buck could not be held featured harrowing testimony of Buck’s accusers and responsible for the serious medical conditions that ED BUCK at the time of his arrest by a Federal Task Force. victims that was shocking. Prosecutor’s use of Buck’s caused the deaths of the two men at his apartment (Blade file photo) seized videos offered jurors a disturbingly graphic 18 months apart, Creary argued in court. look at the chilling indifference displayed by Buck as “This is a subculture, a lifestyle that may be shocking he victimized those unfortunate to enter his apartment. to some of us,” Creary said during his summation. “Everyone involved was there voluntarily.” Buck would solicit his victims on social media platforms, including Grindr, and on The Times noted that Assistant U.S. attorney Chelsea Norell called the defense’s strategy Adam4Adam, a gay hook-up site. Buck’s profile solicited men who shared his underwear “despicable victim shaming.” fetish and wanted to “party and play.” His profile also contained a ‘Rose’ emoji, which Buck showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts. symbolized that he was generous or in plain terms, willing to pay cash for his “party and U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder did not set a sentencing date, but scheduled postplay.” trial motions on Aug. 9. Jurors heard testimony from several of the Black men victimized that Buck’s preference “It was a tremendous honor to vindicate the rights of the victims,” Norell told reporters was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims to let him do after the verdict was read. so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree to an injection BRODY LEVESQUE or additional injections. At other times, Buck simply injected victims while they were

Voters give Newsom thumbs down on homelessness response In a new poll released Friday conducted by Inside California Politics and Emerson College of more than 1,000 registered voters, half rated Governor Gavin Newsom’s response to the homelessness crisis in California as ‘poor.’ Newsom’s low marks comes after an announcement earlier this week at a Project Homekey site located in Sebastopol, West of Santa Rosa, where he signed the largest funding and reform package for housing and homelessness in California history as part of the $100 billion California Comeback Plan. The package includes $10.3 billion for affordable housing and $12 billion over two years towards tackling the homelessness crisis headon – helping tens of thousands of people off the streets while also demanding greater accountability and more urgency from local governments. The new homelessness funding includes $5.8 billion to add 42,000 new housing units through Homekey – a national model for homeless housing. $3 billion of this investment is dedicated to housing for people with the most acute behavioral and physical health needs. This investment is the biggest expansion in decades in terms of clinically enhanced behavioral health housing in California. “I don’t think homelessness can be solved – I know homelessness can be solved,” said Newsom. “We are going all-in with innovative solutions that we know work – with a focus on creating housing to support people with severe mental health challenges, and with more money than ever to move people out of encampments and into safer situations.” California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless people with an estimated 161,000 people are experiencing homelessness, according to federal government data, and it has reached crisis proportions in many cities, especially in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in his annual State of the City address on 04 • JULY 30, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

April 19, 2021 that he will seek to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as allocate $235 million for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance p r o g r a m , intended to help up to 100,000 households and other critical needs. There are deep disagreements in how to solve a problem that goes beyond economics, advocates claim they can’t house people quickly enough with a shortage of housing units and high rents. The issue is also further exacerbated by the complications of mental illness and addiction issues that require treatment and can make people resistant to accepting shelter. BRODY LEVESQUE



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Newsom signs HIV & Aging Act Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday the Gavin Newsom for signing the HIV & Aging Act signing of Senate Bill 258, the HIV & Aging Act, into law, making California just the second state authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz). to ensure older Californians living with HIV don’t Senate Bill 258 will ensure HIV+ seniors are just continue to survive, but thrive.” included in the definition of “greatest social need”. “Thanks to effective treatments, people with “When I was the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency HIV are living longer than we could have ever Director in the 1980’s, it was our dream to imagined just a few decades ago and now a have people living with HIV live into old age,” majority of people with HIV in California are over said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group 50 years old. Unfortunately, our current health was not supposed to age. Governor Newsom and social service systems are not yet prepared signing the HIV & Aging Act is a historic moment to address the unique needs of this population,” for the LGBTQ community, and all those who have APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. been affected by the HIV crisis.” Thompson said adding; “Many older people with With the recent advancements in HIV treatment, HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. people with HIV can keep the virus suppressed They have lost countless loved ones and entire and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the networks of social support. They also continue to number of HIV positive older people is increasing. face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. According to a 2018 California HIV Surveillance We thank Senator Laird for his leadership on this Report published by the California Department of historic bill to ensure that people aging with HIV Public Health, over half of the people living with have the resources and support they need to the virus in California are now aged 50 years or thrive and age with dignity.” Sen. JOHN LAIRD speaking at Pride with the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus in June. (Blade file photo) older. This same report shows that 15 percent of “We must ensure that LGBTQ seniors have the newly diagnosed patients were age 50 and older affirming care and support so they can age in in that same year. peace with dignity,” stated Laird. “It’s incumbent Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, upon us to not force individuals back into the closet for them to access adequate care. Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Once again, I’d like to applaud the Governor for his continued support of the LBGTQ Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin notes, “After surviving the darkest community and to my colleagues for making this a priority bill.” days of the AIDS epidemic, many Californians living with HIV are now over the age of 50, but The HIV & Aging Act received unanimous bipartisan support through both chambers in dire need of support. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird and HIV advocates, of the Legislature and is a legislative priority for the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. the Golden State will now make sure that our elders living with HIV have access to food Senate Bill 258 will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. assistance, job training, transportation or any other vital services. We applaud Governor FROM STAFF REPORTS

COVID claims life of anti-vaxer from SoCal church A Corona, Calif. man who tweeted about his refusal to get a coronavirus vaccination and mocking the severity of the disease died from complications of COVID-19 after being intubated at Corona Regional Medical Center, about an hour east of Los Angeles in Riverside County. Stephen Harmon, 34, in what was his last tweet from his now-protected Twitter account was written Wednesday, just before he was intubated: “I’m choosing to go under intubation, I’ve fought this thing as hard as I can but unfortunately it’s reached a point of critical choice & as much as I hate having to do this I’d rather it be willingness than forced emergency procedure. Don’t know when I’ll wake up, please pray.” In the weeks leading up to his death, Harmon had tweeted modified Jay-Z lyrics, “If you’re having email problems, I feel back for you, son. I got 99 problems, but a vax ain’t one.” He also tweeted; “Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyors’ really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmovingdork.” He also was defiant once admitted to hospital suffering from serious Covid-19 complications, declaring on his now private Instagram account “… I will not be getting vaccinated once I am discharged and released.” He had also posted photos of himself from his hospital bed. He

wrote that he had pneumonia and was at risk of brain damage due to his low oxygen levels. The next day he was intubated and later died. Hillsong Church founder global senior pastor Brian Houston announcing Harmon’s death on social media wrote; “Stephen was just a young man in his early 30s. He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him.” Houston expanded on his social media posts in a


statement to CNN, saying that “any loss of life is a moment to mourn and offer support to those who are suffering and so our heartfelt prayers are with his family and those who loved him.” “On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors,” Houston said, emphasizing that the church’s focus was on spiritual well-being. BRODY LEVESQUE


Testimony in Buck trial paints a portrait of pure evil Can be heard urging victim to ‘go one more time’ By BRODY LEVESQUE

Gemmel tells Ed Buck that he doesn’t want his face in the video. Buck clearly ignores Disturbed by the graphic nature of the video evidence that was presented in court Gemmel’s request because we can see Gemmel’s face. last week as the trial of Ed Buck got underway, U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. He tells Gemmel not to worry because he’s going to erase the video and that he’s Snyder cautioned Assistant United States Attorney Lindsay Bailey and the prosecution only recording to let Gemmel see what he looks like. team to be careful “how aggressively they present evidence that could traumatize In the video, you can see Ed Buck smoking crystal meth and blowing the smoke into jurors,” the Los Angeles Times reported. a rubber tube of which the end is inside of the white underwear. Ed Buck is being “It may well be that we offer counseling to them at the end of the case,” Snyder sexually aroused watching the smoke from the meth come out of the underwear said. Gemmel has on. Buck, who was convicted on multiple federal In another video, Gemmel is shown smoking counts of distribution of controlled substances meth from a pipe and Ed Buck has the camera resulting in death, had solicited dozens of focused on Gemmel’s erect penis in white young Black men over the years to engage in underwear with a rubber tube and smoke deviant sexual acts as he forcibly injected them coming out of it. with methamphetamine. We were shown a screenshot from a video Buck was also convicted on one count of taken July 31, 2016, of naked Gemmel Moore using his West Hollywood residence, described with Ed Buck being seen through a mirror in the in court by prosecutors as the “gates of hell” for background filming. the purpose of distributing narcotics such as There were multiple videos shown to the methamphetamine, and the sedatives gamma jury of Gemmel Moore smoking meth in white hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam. underwear with Ed Buck. Testimony by a former Los Angeles resident In one video Gemmel tells Ed Buck that he Carlos, a homeless man who was living on the doesn’t know if he can handle another slam streets and paid by Buck to do errands and clean and that he’s high. Buck’s apartment painted a graphic picture of Ed Buck responds that he’s there to make the overwhelming amount of depravity Buck Gemmel “offers and indecent proposals.” engaged in. Slamming’ is the term used to describe the Buck would solicit his victims on social action of injecting meth, typically in relation to media platforms, including Grinder, and on gay and bisexual men. Adam4Adam, a gay hook-up site. Buck’s profile Gemmel tells Ed Buck in the video that he solicited men who shared his underwear fetish TIMOTHY DEAN was one of two Black men who died at the hands of Ed Buck. doesn’t like tweaking. and wanted to “party and play.” His profile also Tweaking is a slang term that means to be contained a ‘Rose’ emoji which symbolized that under the influence of methamphetamine. he was generous or in plain terms, willing to pay Tweaking is also defined as “to malfunction or to react with extreme emotion.” The cash for his “party and play.” odd actions and behaviors that can take place after meth use are known as tweaking, Jurors heard testimony from Carlos, the Times noted and others that Buck’s while the user is called a tweaker. preference was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims Ed Buck is injecting Gemmel Moore with meth in his arm and tells him that he’ll get to let him do so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree over it. to an injection or additional injections. At other times, Buck simply injected victims One particularly disturbing video–and they were all disturbing–Gemmel Moore is while they were unconscious. unconscious and Ed Buck is playing with his penis. Buck is seen grabbing, twisting, While the testimony of Buck’s accusers and victims was shocking, prosecutor’s use and posing Gemmel’s penis for the camera. of the videos offered jurors a disturbingly graphic look at the chilling indifference A video from September 6, 2016, shows Gemmel Moore telling Ed Buck that’s he’s displayed by Buck as he victimized those unfortunate to enter his flat. high AF and him asking Buck to remove the dozens of socks tied tight around his Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department veteran homicide detective, Sergeant penis. In this video, Gemmel is almost completely buried under a pile of mostly Paul Cardella, testified that the LASD seized approximately eight of Buck’s digital white-colored underwear. devices and Buck’s iCloud account, which upon execution of a search warrant the GEMMEL MOORE: I need to take this thing off my dick and stroke it. investigators discovered messages, photographs, and about 2,400 videos with ED BUCK: No, you don’t. Only I get to touch your dick. roughly 1,500 documenting his party-and-play sessions. GEMMEL MOORE: I am so vulnerable. The LASD investigation was aided by investigators from the U.S. Drug Enforcement ED BUCK: Yes, you are. Yes, you are.” Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For Carlos, who has moved to Las Vegas to be near his toddler and ex-wife, it was a The videos included sessions with Gemmel Moore, the 26 year old declared dead painful ordeal to take the witness stand he tells the Los Angeles Times. “I fight every after a drug overdose in Buck’s Laurel Avenue flat in July of 2017. Moore was the first day not to commit suicide,” he testified. “It’s really hard.” death to occur prosecutors said. Carlos started to cry. “I thought I put Ed Buck behind me.” Veteran Black community activist and writer Jasmyne Cannick summarized the “The evidence is going to show that these grown men made a conscious decision details: to go to Ed Buck’s apartment for whatever reason,” Darden said in his opening “Gemmel was nearly naked except for the white underwear he is wearing. Ed Buck statement. is filming him.



Obama vs. Biden: No easy task comparing the two on LGBTQ rights 2009 was very different from 2021 By CHRIS JOHNSON | cjohnson@washblade.com

More than seven months into his administration, President Biden has quickly gained a reputation for being a champion for the LGBTQ community — but don’t ask whether that LGBTQ record is superior to his predecessor Barack Obama’s without expecting a fight. Among the LGBTQ initiatives marking Biden’s tenure within a few months: Undoing the transgender military ban; ordering federal agencies to implement a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible; and integrating LGBTQ human rights into his foreign policy vision. When Obama was in office, policies along those lines for the LGBTQ community were more spanned out and took an entire eight years to implement. Take, for example, transgender military service. Biden through an executive order within the first week of his administration reversed Trump’s policy-by-tweet banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces “in any capacity.” During the time of President Obama, who took office when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for openly gay service members was still law of the land, it took until the last six months before the end of his second term to lift older regulations similarly against transgender service. Matt Hill, a White House spokesperson, wasn’t shy about ticking off each of these achievements when asked about the

comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues, but didn’t discount the work of the earlier president. “President Biden is proud of the work accomplished alongside President Obama to advance LGBTQ+ equality from championing marriage equality, enabling LGBTQ+ Americans to serve openly in the military, combatting and preventing discrimination and more,” Hill said. “The Obama-Biden administration made historic progress for LGBTQ+ people at home and abroad, and the Biden-Harris administration is proud to continue making historic progress in the march toward full equality.” If the chorus from the Lily Allen song “Not Fair” is coming to you in terms of comparing Biden to Obama on LGBTQ issues, that response would be justified. Trying to reach a definite conclusion about who was better is complicated simply because of different times. Obama came into office when LGBTQ rights were unpopular compared to today and no president ever before had billed themselves fully as an ally the LGBTQ community. Not long ago, President George W. Bush scored political points and possibly won re-election as the war in Iraq turned into a fiasco by making a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage a centerpiece of his campaign.

Presidents BIDEN and OBAMA came to power at very different times in the LGBTQ movement. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mara Keisling, who as former executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality advocated for LGBTQ issues in both the Obama and Biden administrations, said “it is that way” Biden’s achievements have been more rapid and Obama’s more spread out over eight years, but added comparing the two is “apples and oranges.” “We were in a very different place in 2009,” Keisling said. “There had never been a federal government administration that did trans policy before, and so they had to go about it more slowly or they had to figure out how to do it. Second, there weren’t there weren’t a lot of experienced advocates in the LGBT movement. There were really very few people who had done any administrative advocacy in 2009, and now we’re starting this administration with 50 or 60 experienced advocates who got right to it.” Keisling said the preceding Trump administration, with all its anti-LGBTQ rollbacks, was ironically helpful in getting Biden started because “Donald Trump accidentally left the whole blueprint for what to do, which is just fix a lot of the things he broke.” The difference in times is key to understanding why to bother comparing Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues in the first place when they’re both generally regarded of supporters of LGBTQ people. It’s more a way to reflect on changing times, recognizing moving quickly on LGBTQ issues was more difficult 12 years ago than it is now. Nonetheless, despite the Obama years being a different epoch, LGBTQ rights advocates at the start of his administration were outright hostile to Obama for not moving more quickly to push the nation forward, particularly on holding out on “Don’t



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NATIONAL Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal until two years in office. An initial legal brief defending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court, which compared same-sex relationships to underage and ancestral marriages, had LGBTQ people up in arms against a president they worked hard to elect. The gay blogosphere, in its heyday at the end of the 2000s, skewered White House press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney for inartful answers on Obama’s commitment to LGBTQ issues. Liberal bloggers such as John Aravosis at AMERICAblog, Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend and Andy Towle at Towleroad had anti-Obama content alongside posts against Republicans. Aravosis, in response to an email inquiry from the Blade, said making comparisons of Obama and Biden at this point in their presidencies is difficult given the different nature of the times. “It’s always hard to compare 2008 and 2021,” Aravosis said. “They were different eras, with different demands. The three big issues for Obama were ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ DOMA and marriage equality. And we got him on board all three of those, with a little cajoling — DADT they delayed action on, DOMA they were defending in court, and marriage took until 2012 to get Obama on board. But eventually he did, on all those issues.” Aravosis conceded at this time Biden comparatively has made “a ton of small to medium accomplishments early on,” and cited the confirmation of Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary as one of “a few big ones.” Even during the Obama years, Biden was credited with moving Obama forward, famously speaking out in favor of same-sex couples getting married on “Meet the Press” as Obama’s “evolution” on the issue was still taking place. Obama would come out for marriage equality days later. Biden had also spoken out in favor of an LGBTQ non-discrimination order in the workplace for federal contractors before Obama made that happen. Keisling said even though some of Obama’s early caution and missteps had angered LGBTQ advocates at the time, such as excluding transgender people from a 2009 presidential memorandum seeking to expand partner benefits for same-sex couples, they ended up proving beneficial. “I don’t think any of us really understood what a momentous thing that was,” Keisling said. “But it was from that memo that they immediately realized that the federal government had to protect trans federal employees.” In contrast to early consternation under Obama, seven months into the Biden administration nary an objection has been heard from LGBTQ leaders, save for a legal brief claiming a right to defend an exemption to LGBTQ non-discrimination law for religious schools that wasn’t even based on the merits. To the contrary, Biden has been lauded as the greatest supporter of LGBTQ people in the White House as his administration has rolled back Trump’s anti-LGBTQ initiatives, fully embracing LGBTQ people in his first months without the need for public cajoling from voices seeking equality. One person who has worked both in and outside the White House on LGBTQ issues is Brian Bond, now executive director of PFLAG and the first LGBTQ White House liaison under Obama. Bond, however, would not agree to an interview for this article. Despite the early consternation, the long view on Obama is different. By the time his administration was over after eight years, the LGBTQ community could look back on hate crimes legislation signed into law, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, marriage equality nationwide and transgender people being more visible and respected. When the Washington Blade reached out to the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama for a comment on the comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues, a spokesperson ticked off many of these achievements. “We are so proud of President Obama’s record on LGBTQ issues, including repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ending the government’s legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, and signing historic hate crimes legislation, but he’s always said the presidency is a relay race and there’s nobody he’d rather have holding the baton right now than Joe Biden, especially when it comes to matters of equality,” the spokesperson said. It was based on Obama’s overall record, especially his endorsement of same-sex marriage at a critical time in 2012 when the issue was at the polls in four states, that gay commentator Andrew Sullivan in 2012 dubbed him the “First Gay President” for a high-profile cover article in Newsweek. Sullivan, who has declared the fight for gay rights now over and has been critical of continued efforts in the LGBTQ movement, said the comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues is no contest. “Neither president is responsible for gay equality. We are,” Sullivan wrote in an email to the Blade. “But there is no comparison. Marriage equality and openly gay troops under Obama dwarf anything Biden has done. The Bostock decision — the biggest advance in history for trans rights — happened under Trump.” Obama, in an interview published in The Advocate last month, said he would “love my legacy to be overshadowed, because it would mean another president was doing even more to protect LGBTQ rights,” which he said was why he was pleased with Biden’s initiatives. “Now, we obviously have more work to do,” Obama added. “We need to do even more to guarantee basic rights and protections for every American. My hope is that whatever success we had while I was president proves that progress is possible.”


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NATIONAL (Editor’s note: Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González fled his native Cuba to escape persecution because of his work as an independent journalist. He asked for asylum in the U.S. on March 27, 2019. He spent nearly a year in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody until his release on March 4, 2020. Valdés has written about his experiences in ICE custody that the Blade has published in four parts. Visit our website for the previous three installments.)

Locked up in the Land of Liberty: Part IV

Yariel Valdés González remained in ICE custody until March 4, 2020 By YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ

Bossier vs. River (Jan. 13, 2020) Only a few days outside Bossier confirmed my suspicions: I was being held at a military academy. The disciplinary regime and, above all, the treatment of those officers seemed more like training for a “Marine” than rules of an immigration detention center. I think that, together with many other negative aspects, precipitated our release from that prison. Previous inspections should have raised a red flag about Bossier. My current detention center surpasses the previous one in every way. The food, for example, is much more abundant, better prepared and varied. I almost cried with joy when I saw a large quantity of chicken on my tray. At Bossier they only gave us a few shreds of chicken drowned in a dark peppery sauce. There is also a thermos with constant soda and a cooler that never runs out. But that’s not the best thing. They gave me sneakers, socks, flip flops, gloves, pants, two blankets, a towel, a pillow, underwear, two sheets and a complete hygiene kit that includes soap, shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste, brush and deodorant when I arrived. My comrades here say that I can request a toiletry item whenever I want. I don’t have to go to the small window under the television through which an officer watches us 24 hours a day. What you had to buy at abusive prices at Bossier is totally free here. They also provide us razors. To request it, you just have to hand over your ID, and they will not return it to you until you return the blade in perfect condition. The Imperial Valley Detention Center in Calexico, the first detention center to which I was transferred, had the same rule.

YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ in Miami Beach, Fla., on March 6, 2020. (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

It is wonderful to be able to remove unwanted hair from your face again with the ease of a razor whenever you need it. I was forced to shave with commonly used clippers for months. Laundry service is every day and commissary prices are substantially lower. But one of these benefits in particular left me totally stunned. We can order pizza and food from restaurants, an unthinkable option in Bossier and one that I had never experienced in previous prisons. Those who clean the pod are paid $1 a day, as are barbers. Kitchen work is reserved for common prisoners, who reside in pods outside the main building, but within the prison itself. Living conditions are considerably better, although the pod is much smaller and a bit 12 • JULY 30, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

overcrowded. The cable television has an infinite number of channels, and some of them are even in Spanish. A curtain provides some privacy from the bedroom to shared showers, and a fragrance tablet in the urinals maintains a pleasant smell in that area. There are three microwaves for heating or cooking food that are available from 5 a.m. until midnight. Telephones and television are available during the same hours. The only thing I miss are the tablets and the screens where I could receive video calls, text messages and photos. River, instead, offers the possibility of having visits from lawyers, family or friends, a right prohibited in Bossier that they were probably violating. My new comrades tell me access to the yard is one hour almost every day, unless there is some inconvenience such as bad weather or another issue. It is spacious, with basketball and volleyball courts and a covered seating area. I went there for the first time yesterday. I jogged for several minutes while listening to radio stations in the area. The radios in River, by the way, are free with a couple of batteries. A tiny radio at Bossier cost $35 and the two batteries were not included. They had to be purchased at a cost of $2.80. Luckily, I still have my radio in good condition. It is a door to the outside world that I can open whenever I want. The migrant population is made up of Chinese, Cameroonians, Central Americans, Armenians, Nepalese and, of course Cubans. The atmosphere so far is quite calm. I have only made a few friends in the dorm. I was placed in Alpha, the first of the dorms, however, my closest friends were placed in Charlie. The rest of the immigrants who remained in Bossier upon our departure were also relocated here. I already sent the warden a request to change dorms and he came to see me today. He was not very committed to the move, but I still hope that in the next few days it will be possible. My only company so far is loneliness. This afternoon I joined an exercise group in a corner of the pod in the hope that I would make some new friends. I sometimes play cards with some Central Americans, but it is not the same here. I miss the bullshitting nonsense too much and the level of empathy we had built. There is also the possibility of a new transfer. Older residents say that immigrants whose cases have been appealed are quickly sent to another detention center because this place is reserved for those who are still attending court hearings. Locked Up with Homophobia (Feb. 10, 2020) Perhaps the most common word in my pod is “faggot,” as crude as it sounds. It was in Bossier and continues to be in the River. The word has no borders. It manages to cross languages, cultures, and countries. Everyone, without distinction, learns it and uses it excessively, almost always as a “joke” between comrades. Homophobia, however, is behind that “harmless” joke. I have personally never felt slighted for being gay in these detention centers, but the comments and conversations I hear on a daily basis are clear evidence of a less than tolerant environment. When they say “faggot” to someone, it is with the intention of insulting them, as though being gay was the worst thing that could happen to someone. Some in here prefer to be rude, confrontational, vulgar and even a thief than a homosexual. While most say they have nothing against gays, their attitudes sometimes reveal otherwise. There is even a Honduran in his 30s who pretends to be gay all day long. He creates, at least for me, a completely offensive character. He uses specific phrases and imitates effeminate behaviors. It is sheer joy for the rest of them, especially when they talk about the “maricavirus,” a prison strain of the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China and is spreading throughout the United States and around the world. Someone may have been infected with the “maricavirus” if they are not “macho” enough. They say the danger of catching it inside here is high.



Daley wins gold medal at Tokyo Olympics

More Americans know someone who’s trans, non-binary

Standing on the podium with tears forming in his eyes, a masked for COVID-19 British Olympic diver Tom Daley saw his dreams of Olympic gold finally come true Monday. Watching a live-stream of the event intently, at the moment Daley secured his victory, his husband, writer Dustin Lance Black and mother took in the results and jumped up screaming in joy. Daley along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee won the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving on Monday at Tokyo 2020 narrowly British Olympic Diving Duo MATTY LEE and TOM DALEY won gold this week. besting the defending champions, China’s (Photo courtesy Daley’s Instagram) Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points. “I still can’t honestly believe what is happening,” Daley told BBC Sport. “That moment, being about to be announced as Olympic champions, I was gone. I was blubbering.” Later at a press conference, Daley, an openly gay athlete, talked about the experience of being gay and at the games. “In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be. I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.” BRODY LEVESQUE

More Americans personally know a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, according to new data from the non-partisan Pew Research Center. A survey found 42 percent of Americans know someone who’s transgender, who is up from 37 percent who said so in 2017. Although most Americans, 57 percent, still say they don’t know anyone who’s transgender, that’s down from 63 percent five years ago. Similarly, 26 percent of Americans say they know someone who uses non-binary gender pronouns compared to the 18 percent in 2018 who said they knew someone uses pronouns such as “they” as opposed to “he” or “she.” At the same time, comfort levels with using gender-neutral pronouns – as well as their opinions on whether someone’s gender can differ from the sex they were assigned at birth – has remained about the same. Half of Americans say they would be either very or somewhat comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if asked to do so, compared to 48 percent who say they would not be comfortable. The numbers, according to Pew Research, are basically unchanged since 2018. The survey found profound differences by age, party, and education in knowing a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, although in both parties growing shares of Americans report knowing a person who’s transgender. For Americans under age 30, some 53 percent say they know a transgender person, which is up from 44 percent in 2017. In the same age group, 46 percent of younger U.S. adults know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, compared to 32 percent in 2018. The Pew Research Center conducted the survey of 10,606 U.S. adults between June 14 and June 17. The survey is weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories, according to Pew Research. CHRIS JOHNSON



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After 11 months in ICE custody, a taste of freedom One can file a discrimination complaint in situations like this one. These institutions generally act by moving the aggressor to a different pod or they can take other actions, depending on the incident’s magnitude. I have made several friends who have been direct victims of homophobia, the evil from which they have been fleeing in their native countries. They find it ingrained here in some immigrants, especially those who are of Latino descent. I have also met comrades who pretend to be gay for their asylum cases, and suffer from deep homophobia. They take advantage of the fact that they have arrived in a country where everyone’s rights — and especially where the freedoms and achievements of the LGBTQ community are respected after an intense struggle — are protected. Just as there are people who despise us, others take advantage of our preference. Some believe that being gay means we are willing to provide “sexual favors” because of the stark isolation into which this confinement forces them. I have luckily never found myself in such a situation, but it happens. I treat everyone with great respect and receive the same from my comrades. I can only let my guard down with a few of them because we have a certain confidence with each other and joke about gay issues. One cannot always be so boring. I lack a true friend with whom I can speak openly, although I have comrades with whom I have been for many months. I am too careful and I don’t usually expose my life or my feelings so easily. They placed my gay friends in other dorms once we arrived in River. They did not grant my request to live in the same pod with them. Most of them today are no longer in this detention center. They have been transferred as part of their deportation processes, while I feel more and more alone in this fight for my freedom that seems to never end. Epilogue of a victory (March 4, 2020) I approached three ICE officers visiting the pods after I read to my attorney over the phone the contents of the letter from Virginia and verified that they were not my hallucinations. The officers — two men and a woman — arrived that morning and I showed the document that showed their defeat. “What do you want me to do with this?” asked the officer, half annoyed after looking at the board’s order. “I wanted to know when I’m getting out,” I said. “Do you want to go?” she asked ironically. “Of course,” I responded quickly “Well, it seems that you have not read what the paper says in this part below,” she said. I began to get nervous. I sensed another dirty ruse to block my release. The officer said that my case had to go back to court with the judge who granted me asylum. It seemed completely absurd to me, because the Virginia court had agreed with Cole’s ruling and a change of decision was not necessary. But it is apparently the final step of my case, the closing of a long and harrowing process. ICE would prepare all the paperwork for my release with the judge’s order. One of the officers said the process could take a week or more. I returned indignant and fearful, as is often the case every time I confront them. Those exchanges always leave me in a very bad mood. They returned a few minutes later to take my personal information: Future address, telephone numbers to contact me and to find out how I would get out of detention. I found out that the officers had, once again and this time for my benefit, lied to me. An officer urgently asked for me while I was taking my last shower in prison. She said they were asking for me because I had a very important call. I thought it was Michael, who was on his way to pick me up, but no. They rushed me out of the dorm, for I shouldn’t keep such a distinguished call waiting. I suddenly found myself sitting in front of the immigration judge, who was in the same room where I had won asylum five months earlier. Lara, my lawyer, was on the phone and the voice in the background belonged to the government prosecutor in my case. It was like déjà vu when a cyclical nightmare returns. The judge claimed to have received Virginia’s ruling, which upheld his sentence from months ago. He turned to the government attorney, who claimed not to have been notified of his defeat in the appeals court. The DHS representative did nothing but stall until the last minute, but His Honor affirmed


that everything was ready for my release. He asked if the officers had processed my exit documents and he wished me good luck before ending the hearing. I could perceive a certain feeling of joy in the judge, because his work was impeccable. I thanked him once again and breathed easy as I left the hearing. International News Editor MICHAEL K. LAVERS with YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ in Natchez, Miss., shortly after his release. Practically all of (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers) the belongings that I would take with me were packed when I returned to the pod. I had given things that I would not need to friends, especially those who still had a few months of anguish left. I was scheduled to leave at 2 p.m., and it happened. Some Cuban and other friends came over to say goodbye when they came for me. It is highly unlikely that our paths will cross again. This time it was me who could see in their faces the joy intertwined with the pain of staying in confinement. They smiled, hugged me and congratulated me … it felt sincere. It had been raining mercilessly outside from the early hours of the morning. Through the dorm’s tiny windows I had seen how the grass could not soak up so much water from the storm, but nothing could darken this day, not even those clouds that turned the afternoon gray and threatened to soak me. I didn’t care! The check-out process was easy. The officer in charge of my release gave me a laminated ID card with my personal information. The first photo they took of me when I entered this country 11 months ago was on the back. I asked about my passport, but that ID was the only thing ICE would give me with which I could travel. It would have to do! I finally shed that infamous green and white striped jumpsuit and felt human again when I adjusted my pants and long-sleeved shirt. The clothes danced on my body. It was an unmistakable symptom of famine and all kinds of deprivation. I went through a door that I had never even approached and arrived at a small reception area where an officer verified my data. Everything was in order. My phone was dead, I couldn’t tell if it had survived the tragedy. The downpour outside the walls continued unabated, preventing me from running to be free for which I had so often longed. My only option was to wait for Michael and I had to be patient. He told me during one of our telephone calls to confirm the details of my release that he had fallen in the morning. He was in the hospital with a broken arm, but insisted that nothing would stop him from rescuing me. I hadn’t been waiting long when I saw him arrive. A giant pullover, which made it a bit difficult for him to walk, covered his arm. We almost collided at the door. The storm outside had blinded him and we hugged tightly for a few seconds when he realized that I was the one who received him. We laughed and got excited. I finally crossed River’s threshold, never to return. We ran through the heavy downpour, which felt like a hurricane, until we reached the car. Michael started the vehicle and I took a giant breath of air that tried to calm me down. I was free once and for all. I still didn’t believe it.

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Gay Nigerian priest makes religion serve LGBTQ people Rev. Jide Macaulay founded House of Rainbow By PRINCE CHINGARANDE

It is impossible to speak of queer identity and culture without acknowledging the important role religion has played in shaping it throughout history. Whether it’s Pope Francis praising the work an American priest has done to affirm LGBTQ identity, or a Republican legislator rebuking the existence of transgender people by invoking scripture from the Bible, religion and spirituality unquestionably influence conversations about sexual identity in the U.S. and how American society would like for people to manifest their sexuality. A significant portion of LGBTQ people in the U.S. are religious. A study the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute conducted in 2020 found that 5.3 million LGBTQ adults are religious with almost half of this metric identifying as “highly religious.” Forty percent of those between ages 18 and 35 are religious, and 65 percent percent of those over 65 identify as religious as well. In addition, 71 percent of Black LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are religious. The Washington Blade recently spoke with Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder and CEO of the London-based House of Rainbow CIC, to talk about his work as a gay Black African Christian priest. Macaulay was born in London and grew up in Ikeja, the boisterous capital of Nigeria’s Lagos State. He was born into a religious family to parents who he described to the

Blade during a 2017 interview as “very dedicated Christians.” His father was one of Nigeria’s leading theologians, so Macaulay’s upbringing was naturally Christian-centric, with him being involved in the church from a young age. As a budding adult, Macaulay pursued theology as a profession and became an ordained minister in 1998 after training with his father. After a two-year hiatus from the church, he joined the Metropolitan Community Church in London to study theology and later joined its congregation as a minister in 2003. Macaulay says it was there that he became confident in his understanding that “God loves gay people regardless of all these messages of it being a taboo or abomination.” Sheathed with this conviction, Macaulay moved back to Nigeria to create an environment that mimics that which he had experienced at the Metropolitan Community Church. “It became important to me to go to Nigeria to create the same space and tell LGBTQ people that ‘God loves you just the way you are,’” says Macaulay. “I embodied a lot of the spirit of the human rights church that came out of the origin of the Metropolitan Community Church.” Macaulay started House of Rainbow under this ideology on Sept. 2, 2006. This weekly gathering of LGBTQ Christians initially began with 34 congregants, but the congregation grew rapidly to a point where Macaulay “didn’t know what to do with all the people.” He says the growth “perplexed” him as

Rev. JIDE MACAULAY (Photo courtesy Macaulay)

he didn’t realize that House of Rainbow was so popular. House of Rainbow encountered problems that emanated from operating in a country with virulent homophobic laws, despite its popularity. Many congregants were physically attacked for identifying as queer, and Macaulay recalls individuals emerging to church with broken noses and arms. The media also caught wind of House of Rainbow’s weekly gatherings and chaos ensued. The culmination of these events forced Macaulay to leave Nigeria after two years. House of Rainbow remained steadfast with its mission to create a community for LGBTQ Christians and soldiered on for a couple of more years before it eventually dissolved. “It’s unfortunate, now, that as I speak to you we do not have a House of Rainbow community in Nigeria,” says Macaulay. “We still have people connected [to the community], but we don’t have a physical presence or anyone leading it.” CONTINUES AT LOSANGELESBLADE.COM



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JEFF GRAHAM is executive director of Georgia Equality. Reach him at Jeff@georgiaequality.org.

U.S. senators: It’s time to act against anti-LGBTQ discrimination Draw your inspiration from past bipartisan consensus

Georgia has had the eyes of the nation on it for some time now. It’s just over five years since people across Georgia braced themselves as lawmakers sent sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation to the desk of then-Gov. Nathan Deal. The LGBTQ community feared for the potential harms that the broad “license to discriminate” bill could bring. Business leaders feared billions of dollars being drained from the state’s economy as major players from Hollywood, the business sector, and even the NFL threatened to pull investments. But after thousands of calls, meetings, and letters, Gov. Deal, a Republican and devout Evangelical Christian, ultimately did the right thing. He vetoed the bill, saying, “We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody.” At the time Gov. Deal’s veto was heralded as a radical move for a Republican leader. But the truth is that Republican lawmakers faced with bills targeting LGBTQ people frequently take action against these measures. We saw it last month in Arkansas as Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a draconian anti-transgender healthcare bill. Earlier this year, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox teared up while condemning an anti-trans bill, saying, “These kids are just trying to stay alive.” Prominent Republican leaders in South Dakota, Texas, South Carolina, and Arizona have vetoed or moved to block anti-LGBTQ bills. Stalwart Republican senators from Alabama and Iowa have passionately supported open military service for transgender people. There are plenty of examples of Republicans supporting LGBTQ people, but they’ve often been lost in the headlines stoking the so-called left-versus-right “culture wars.” In my home state of Georgia, Gov. Deal’s action inspired further evolution on LGBTQ issues. In the five legislative sessions since Gov. Deal’s veto, Georgia’s legislature has not passed a single anti-LGBTQ bill. Republicans and Democrats alike have defended LGBTQ Georgians from discriminatory measures. And so many Georgians across the political spectrum – within families, friend groups, and workforces – have had conversations about what dignity for LGBTQ people looks like. Now it’s time for the members of the United States Senate to build on that consensus by taking the most important and


critical step yet for LGBTQ Americans. It’s time for senators on both sides of the aisle to come together and enact equality legislation that would establish concrete, enduring nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ people in areas like housing and public spaces, including restaurants, stores, and hospitals. LGBTQ people in too many states – 29 nationwide – remain vulnerable because of a lack of explicit nondiscrimination laws at the state and federal levels. Polling consistently shows that a wide majority of Americans of both political parties strongly supports protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. More than eight in 10 Americans support LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws, including 62% of Republicans. We cannot let the loudest voices of a fringe minority hold our country back from delivering the promise of liberty, security, and equality for all people, no matter where they live. Because really, we are so close to passing federal LGBTQ protections – closer than ever before. Nearly 50 years after its first introduction in Congress, the Equality Act passed with bipartisan support in the House, and received its first-ever Senate hearing. Republican senators in the Senate Judiciary Committee voiced empathy for the harms that discrimination has caused LGBTQ people. They also expressed a willingness to finding a path to protect us. And there is more than one bill proposed to address the inequity that LGBTQ people are subjected to. The Senate judiciary committee opened a door to the long overdue conversation. Now it’s on us to hold that door open and guide all of our senators through. Democratic senators must reach out to their Republican colleagues and address concerns. Republicans must draw on the many recent examples of conservative leaders working to protect LGBTQ people. We can’t afford another 50 years of federal inaction on our protections. We can’t afford for the two parties to keep butting heads in a bitter stalemate. For the first time in history, we have a real opportunity to secure protections for LGBTQ Americans. We must seize this opportunity, seek common ground and find a solution that works for everyone. It’s essential that right, left, and center come together, reach consensus, and do the right thing. At last.

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Dance icon gets luminous treatment in ‘Ailey’ doc

A real-life story that feels authentic, despite the secrecy of its subject

A scene from the new documentary ‘Ailey.’ (Image courtesy Neon)


When it comes to the history of dance in America, few names loom larger than that of Alvin Ailey. A trailblazing pioneer of the art form who blended styles of modern dance, ballet, and jazz into breathtakingly theatrical presentations that explored and uplifted Black experience in American culture, his works earned him accolades and honors throughout a long career that gave him name recognition even among people with little or no interest in dance. His choreographed masterpieces became touchstones within the medium, with many of them still among the most frequently remounted dance productions more than 30 years after his death, and the company he founded in 1969 – the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – remains one of the most lauded and prestigious dance organizations in the world today. Yet despite his status as one of the most famous American choreographers of the 20th century, there are many today, even among the aficionados of dance, who would be hard-pressed to tell you much about his life. That’s not entirely due to neglect or lack of interest, as a new documentary by filmmaker Jamila Wignot – simply titled “Ailey” – helps us to understand. Ailey was a genius who kept his private life as far out of the spotlight as possible. As a Black gay man, he was keenly aware of his doubly marginalized status, and rather than inviting controversies that might overshadow the creations he worked tirelessly to bring into the world, he preferred to let the work itself become his public identity. He even took measures to obscure himself after death, ensuring that his passing from AIDS (in 1989, at the age of 58) would be reported as the result of a terminal blood disease. In Wignot’s dreamily eloquent film, she presents us with a portrait of a man who seemingly sublimated his entire being into the creation of his art, documenting Ailey’s magnificent career with a wealth of archival footage and interviews. Along the way, she also offers exploratory deep dives into the creation and legacy of some of his most iconic ballets, illuminating some of the themes that wove themselves into his body of work throughout his life. Finally, she follows the creative process as dancers at today’s Ailey American Dance Theater work on a new production of “Lazarus,” one of the late master’s most renowned pieces. In the process, she delivers the biographical facts of his life side by side with the artistic passions that drove him, and places it all in the context of the larger cultural history of late 20th century America – as well as how Ailey’s legacy continues to resonate within the changing social dynamics of our own time. Yet throughout this feast of information, illuminating the facts and counterpointing the remembrances of those who worked at his side, Wignot also gives us Ailey’s own commentary. Culled from recordings and interviews made during his lifetime, this posthumous self-narration of his own story lets us glean for ourselves what insight we may. In retrospect and alongside the memories of his surviving companions, Ailey’s own words tell us more about the man himself than he perhaps meant to do when he said them, inserting a layer of intimacy within the vast scope of the biography as it unfolds, and the film is all the richer for it. It should come as no surprise that Wignot has painted such a reverent, yet deeply personal portrait of her subject. She’s been inspired by Ailey’s work – and his vision – since attending a performance of the Ailey Dance Theater during her sophomore year at Wellesley College more than two decades ago. Her admiration is evident from

the way she gushes about Ailey in her director’s statement about the film. “Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey,” she says. “The emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the senses … Ailey’s dances — celebrations of African-American beauty and history — did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins — space for Black artists like Rennie Harris and me.” The Rennie Harris to whom Wignot refers is the founder of Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance theater company based in Philadelphia, who as guest choreographer of the AADT production of “Lazarus” is featured prominently in the film. He is just one of many professional dance veterans whose voices, featured throughout, seem united in singing the praises of Ailey’s passion, creative power, and timeless aesthetic – and Wignot makes sure we don’t have to merely take their word for it. Like most dance documentaries — or good ones, anyway — the greatest gift of “Ailey” is the chance to see the dancers in motion. It’s a film filled with electrifying footage of some of Ailey’s masterworks, giving us a rare opportunity to revel in the sheer visual poetry of his style. In pursuit of his ideal to capture “truth in movement,” he built choreographed expressions of the Black American experience, executed with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. His work celebrated that history while bearing witness to its injustice, with an emphasis on the dignity, humanity, and hope that makes it possible to look toward a transcendent future for all. It was, of course, social activism through art, though Ailey and his original dancers might not have exclusively intended it that way, and it is not an overstatement to say that it changed the world. Wignot cannily gives us the privilege of seeing just enough of it to stand as testament to its impact, and more than enough to make us want to grab the next opportunity to see the Ailey American Dance Theater perform in person. In the meantime, you are encouraged to seek out “Ailey,” which premiered in NYC on July 23 and expands to theaters nationwide on Aug. 6, to whet your appetite. It’s a documentary that succeeds far more than many others in telling a real-life story that feels authentic, and despite the carefully guarded secrecy of its elusive subject, it presents as true and complete an impression of him as we are likely to get. Outside of watching his work, that is. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 30, 2021 • 19


‘Playing the Palace’ a campy, fun rom-com read What happens when a prince meets an event planner

If you loathe romance or hate to laugh, then skip this book. If you’re looking for a rom-com that’s as fab and campy as Provincetown or Rehoboth Beach on a summer night, “Playing the Palace” by Paul Rudnick is the book for you. Reading “Playing the Palace” is like sipping a delicious frozen Daiquiri. Carter Ogden, the neurotic, good-hearted, Jewish, funny, out, gay narrator of this frothy romance, becomes your BFF and drinking buddy at the opening sentence, “It’s still weird, waking up alone.” The plot of the book is simple: Carter, 29, is an associate “event architect” (in plain English – event planner) in New York City. He makes ends meet by living with wacky, supportive roommates. Carter, a native of Piscataway, N.J., and IHOP aficionado, is feeling dejected as he approaches his 30th birthday. His ex, an actor, has left him. He can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever find love again. Until, at work, he meets Edgar, the Prince of Wales. Edgar has come over from the United Kingdom to speak at a charity event for a group that works to provide clean water to countries that need it. And, this being a fictional prince in a rom-com, Edgar is openly gay. As you’ve been forewarned, we’re not dealing with realism here. Edgar sees Carter and asks him to give him tips on how he can get his speech across more effectively. From that moment on, the two – the IHOP-loving event planner and the future King of England — are in a fine romance. (Edgar is an orphan. His parents were killed in a plane crash.) Their quest for the happily-ever-after involves pancakes, projectile vomiting, social media and a Thanksgiving meet-up of Carter’s Jewish aunts and Edgar’s grandmother, the Queen of England. By itself, the story of “Playing the Palace” might seem predictable. What makes it sizzle – why you laugh out loud even as you root for the romance to work out – is its narrative voice. “Playing the Palace” is a funny, sometimes touching monologue in the voice of Carter.



‘Playing the Palace’ By Paul Rudnick c.2021, Berkley $16 | 272 pages

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to love Carter when he says he “addressed my problems to the framed photo of the late beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the wall of my tiny, partitioned bedroom.” Writing a whole novel as a monologue could fizzle out if other writers tried it. But, Rudnick a gay novelist, playwright, essayist, screenwriter and humorist, is a master of this form. His plays, produced on and off-Broadway include “Jeffrey,” “I Hate Hamlet,” “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” and “The New Century.” He’s won an Obie Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards and the John Gassner Playwriting Award. Rudnick’s novels include “Social Disease” and “I’ll Take It.” “Gorgeous” and “It’s All Your Fault” are among his YA (young adult) novels. His screenplays include “Addams Family Values,” “In & Out,” the screen adaptation of “Jeffrey” and “Sister Act.” He wrote the screenplay for “Coastal Elites,” the comedic satire that debuted on HBO last year. Something of a polymath, Rudnick is, according to his bio, “rumored to be quite close” to film critic Libby Gelman-Waxner, whose reviews have appeared in Premiere magazine and Entertainment Weekly. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, his essays have appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Vogue. As you might expect, the volume is chock full of pop culture references and wit. “I took a shower using my new manly body wash,” Carter says, “which is exactly the same as the female version, only with simplified graphics and a steel-gray, squared-off bottle, as if it contains motor oil and testosterone.” It’s not surprising that Rudnick told Entertainment Weekly that he’s working on a musical of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” Reading “Playing the Palace” is like seeing a Broadway musical. “I was looking into eyes that were so radiantly blue I either wanted to faint or yell ‘just stop it,’” Carter says when he first sees Edgar. “Playing the Palace” is a show-stopper.


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Barbara Barrett Attorney


A journey to fatherhood that started when he was a girl

A story of learning enough about one’s self to be a good parent By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

It’s really very common. Giving birth is so common, actually, that someone does it in the U.S. nearly 11,000 times a day, which means that it’s really not much of a big deal, unless it’s your baby. In that case, it’s a one-of-a-kind miracle and, in the new book “The Natural Mother of the Child” by Krys Malcolm Belc, it’s an answer, and a whole lot more questions. They had wanted their children to be close in age. That was the plan – Irish Twins, they called them – but when Krys Belc went to the birth clinic, visibly pregnant with Samson and toting five-month-old Sean, the child of his partner, Anna, women in the clinic’s waiting room stared. Or were they, like Belc’s neighbors, staring because Belc looked like a pregnant man? Yes, Belc inherited his father’s looks. He feared that he might’ve inherited his father’s temper, too; sometimes, Sean was too much and being neither mother nor father, Belc was often unable to comfort the boy. Belc didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant; in fact, it brought old memories and new notions to surface. Absolutely, he grew up loved and maybe a little protected, but he wanted what his brothers had; he was sure his mother once harbored hopes of sharing a pregnancy with him, but not anymore. And then it happened: seeing the newborn son he made, made Belc realize that he needed to become the person he always knew he was. A few months after Samson was weaned, Belc began taking testosterone. How does one say goodbye to breasts that fed a beloved son? Belc didn’t want his, but finding the right decision was unsettling. How does a grown son reconcile himself to the idea that his father won’t hug him anymore? Sadly, Belc’s father was generally awkward around him since his transition. How can nonbinary parents not get frustrated at the loops of paperwork to protect their parenthood? “Natural mother,” indeed. And how can anyone ever fully thank those who helped make them parents? If ever there was a book that turned itself in circles to get to the right ending, “The Natural Mother of the Child” is it – and that’s not unpleasant. Nothing and everything in this book is black and white; it’s calm and turbulent, surefooted and not. Author Krys Malcolm Belc takes readers on a journey to fatherhood that started when he was a girl, envying his brothers without knowing exactly why, giving readers a distant, poignant sense of something wanting. That feeling trails throughout Belc’s story, as we wait for what we know is coming and it’s worth it: after his account of pregnancy and the self-consciousness of being mother-not-mother, his decision to transition solidifies like a ship through fog. Look at “The Natural Mother of the Child” first as a parenting book, because that’s exactly what it is: the story of learning enough about one’s self to be a good parent. As for the trans part of this memoir, that’s icing on a cake that’s uncommonly good.


‘The Natural Mother of the Child’ By Krys Malcolm Belc

c.2021, Counterpoint Press $26 | 304 pages