Losangelesblade.com, Volume 05, Issue 39, September 24, 2021

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Slab City probe into trans man’s murder pushes in new direction Investigators ask public’s help to ID person of interest By RICHARD M. BROWN

SLAB CITY, Ca. – Months after the body of a 21-yearold transgender man, Poe Delwyn Black, was pulled from a canal north of Slab City riddled with stab wounds, investigators have shifted the theater of the murder probe in two directions: Black’s home state of Tennessee and the Pacific Northwest. Imperial County Sheriff’s Office investigators have exhausted their local POE DELWYN BLACK was stabbed to death. leads and lost track of two (Screenshot via YouTube) individuals — possibly traveling together — in a winnowing list of “persons of interest,” Chief Deputy Robert Benavidez said in an interview last week. Investigators took to social media on Wednesday, Sept. 15, to elicit the public’s help in locating a trans woman who investigators identify as “Knives,” among other aliases. Knives’ legal name is unknown at this point, Benavidez said, but investigators believe, based on prior interviews, that the “person of interest” left Slab City with the domestic partner that Black arrived in Imperial County with from their native Nashville in winter 2020. The domestic partner, whom Benavidez would not identify, is also a “person of interest,” the chief deputy explained during an interview on Sept. 9. “We’ve reached out to the hometown of both to look into any local reports or instances of any altercations with the initial lover/domestic partner, to see if there’s anything there,” he said. Additionally, Benavidez explained, “we’re looking for any information on the person from the Slabs whose name is ‘Knives’ who apparently left with the domestic partner, and (we’re) just trying to get any information as to a name on that subject.” The chief deputy confirmed on Sept. 9 that investigators lost track of them in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in Oregon, when they traveled outside the county’s networks of contacts. The bulletin issued by the Sheriff’s Office states Knives’ last known location was Wolf Creek, Oregon. Sources dispute reports that Knives is travelling with Black’s partner, saying the timeline of when each left Slab City spans almost two weeks, and the source saw the partner in the Bay Area in August. The Slab City homicide investigation of Poe Black first went public on June 2, when the Sheriff’s Office posted a “public assistance request” for information in the apparent murder of the only legal identity they had for Black, his female birth name, or “dead name,” TommiDeane Jackson. The decomposing remains of Black, who also went by the name Oliver while in Tennessee and the nickname “Legion,” were found in the fast-moving waters of the Coachella Canal on May 11 by two Coachella Valley Water District employees working in the area around Siphon 9, a little more than a mile northwest of artist commune East Jesus, on the farthest northern reach of the loosely connected communities of the Slabs. The stalled progress of the murder investigation comes as some of Black’s friends have started a social media-based campaign in the last few weeks to pressure action on the part of the Sheriff’s Office to not let the case fall off its radar, according to a woman who was one of Black’s closest friends during their high school years in Nashville. “Part of my goal with this (campaign) is to directly hold the department accountable and make them be more transparent about it with making updates available, and obviously, since they’re about to ask for help from the public, we know that there’s some transparency, that’s going to be inevitable. So that’s good,” Fochik Hashtali said in a Sept. 9 interview. “But we want to make sure that they are aware of the fact that people are counting on them to handle this correctly, and we want to make sure that they know that the trans 02 • SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

community is in need of their protection,” she said. The case, while involving the LGBTQ+ community that lived among the Slabs in a collective known as Flamingo Camp, is not being investigated as a hate crime or due to Black’s identification as transgender or nonbinary, Benavidez has explained on a few occasions. Hashtali, who spoke to this newspaper anonymously in early June on the condition that her real name not be used for fear of retaliation, understands that is the case, but she also points out that crimes against the trans community often go unsolved due to a lack of urgency by law enforcement because of either overt or unintended discrimination. Throughout the investigation Hashtali has been a regular conduit of information between the Sheriff’s Office and Poe Black’s friends and acquaintances in Slab City and his family and friends in Tennessee. She initially helped further along the probe after she urged Black’s mom to contact the Sheriff’s Office in May when investigators had a body but no legal identity to go on. Word of Black’s death reached Hashtali through her combined social networks of trans and Slabs community members tied to Poe Black, who she identifies as Poe Jackson in the social campaign. Although she did not wish to reveal publicly what she does for a living, Hashtali is wellversed in advocating for families and victims of crimes against murdered, missing, or exploited minority groups. Black belongs to two such populations — he is also of Wyandot Native American descent, Hashtali told this newspaper in June. During initial conversations about the Black case, Benavidez said there were a number of persons of interest, including the two remaining individuals. At the time, he said everyone was accounted for. It’s unclear when investigators lost track of Knives and Black’s partner, but Benavidez said on Sept. 9 that once they reached their first stop in the Pacific Northwest, law enforcement could no longer keep tabs on them. Hashtali said her contacts placed them in the Portland, Oregon, area at one point. Benavidez confirmed that federal authorities “reached out to offer assistance in the matter,” but “at this time, there isn’t enough for us to actively use them.” Some of the early steps of the investigation seemed to have been marred by timing and the state of the body. Although Black was pulled from the water on May 11, it would be several days before coroner investigators realized they had a homicide on their hands. Due to the deteriorating state of the remains from heat and water, a few cuts on the body were initially thought to be postmortem injuries sustained in canals traveling at high speeds, such as cuts inflicted by rebar or the general violent nature of thrashing that a body can take in a large high-volume canal like the Coachella Canal, which is eastern Riverside County’s main source of its Colorado River water. Under closer inspection, during a scheduled autopsy, multiple stab wounds were found on Black’s remains. Benavidez is still not narrowing down when investigators believe the homicide occurred or any timelines associated with when Knives and Black’s partner left Slab City. It appears some in the Slabs didn’t learn of Black’s murder for almost two weeks after his remains were pulled from the canal. One source who has spoken with this newspaper on several occasions said Black’s partner was interviewed about the homicide and shown autopsy photos of Black around May 23, 12 days after his discovery. Benavidez said he would not reveal any further information about the number of knife wounds or what was the lethal strike, all answers that could aid in identifying the killer when a suspect is in custody, he said. A map of the Slab City area and the path of the Coachella Canal shows where the body of 21-year-old Poe Black was found at 9:38 a.m. May 11, around Siphon 9 (exploded area in upper right, white dot is at Siphon 9). A closer image of Slab City (exploded area lower left) is shown. | CALEXICO CHRONICLE/HOLTVILLE TRIBUNE GRAPHIC To that end, Knives and the partner have not been named as suspects in the homicide, he said. Clearly, though, this emphasis on the relationship between Black and the partner prior to heading west involves looking for some pattern of abuse. CONTINUES ON PAGE 04


Person of interest sought in murder of trans man When specifically asked about domestic violence as being a cause or contributing factor to the killing, Benavidez would not say. “We’re not wanting to go that far into assuming that. … That’s why any kind of reports that we might get, more information we can get from the original hometown, might help us kind of paint the picture,” he said. “To put this puzzle together.” Hashtali doesn’t know Knives’ true identity either nor do many Slab City acquaintances, she said. And while the Sheriff’s Office apparently knows the legal female identity of Black’s domestic partner, Hashtali and others only know them by their transitioned nonbinary identity of “Cecil Arnett.” Further, there seems to be a fairly well-known pattern of abuse between Poe and Cecil prior to them leaving Nashville. Poe Black, who in a YouTube video refers to his “fiancée” that he arrived at the Slabs with, is seen as being quite slight of build, short and thin. Cecil, by contrast, according to Hashtali, is a decidedly larger figure known among friends in Tennessee to push around Black and get physical with him. Black’s mother, Hashtali said, “had been worried about the violence between Cecil and Oliver (Poe) for a while, and (Black’s brother) had brought up suspicions about it” before they left Tennessee. “One of Cecil’s old roommates who witnessed a fight between them” had spoken with Hashtali, as well as people who saw the violence firsthand in Nashville, with Black always on the receiving end. Black and Cecil’s troubles seemed to follow to Slab City, she said, adding that her Slabs contacts had told her there were domestic violence issues there and ongoing “polyamory” — open or non-monogamous romantic and/or sexual relationships — between Poe Black, Cecil, and Knives. Even though Hashtali and Black spoke several times on the phone in the weeks before he would be found murdered, Black never let on about any tumult in the relationship. Details and instances of abuse and Slab City trouble came later. Hashtali met Cecil, who started a relationship with Black sometime in early 2020, and she knew of some tensions but not much about their lives in Imperial County. “Poe very much was somebody who would not want anyone to be worried about him. So, a lot of what I heard was actually from his friends (in Slab City) telling me what was going on after he passed away,” she said. “When I was talking to them, he didn’t mention a lot of that to me. … He tried to make it sound like everything was going OK,” Hashtali explained. “He was hopeful, he was optimistic about it. Like he mostly talked about the people who were doing good stuff out there, like trying to start up opportunities for trans people to get resources and other stuff like that, and some of the crazy experiences he had had.” Although details are sketchy on her part, Hashtali would learn from certain people in Slab City that Knives and Cecil were in a harried state to leave Imperial County around the time the body was found. One person told Hashtali that they had helped Knives get the same older-model Honda Accord shown in the Sheriff’s Office call for information unstuck from soft sand near the Coachella Canal, but that they had no idea Black’s body would be found in the canal later. “Knives was freaking out saying, ‘I am running from, like, gang stalking and being harassed and being abused,’ all this stuff, like something really big was going on,” Hashtali said. “And they’re like, ‘I need to leave immediately.’” This was between May 6 and May 8, she said, but after the car was stuck and eventually freed, Knives ended up leaving Slab City sometime around May 9. “Then (they) realized, afterwards, after everything came out after (social media) posts around everything, like ‘I might have helped, you know, gather the money and stuff to get (Knives) out of the Slabs after committing a crime,’” Hashtali added. “And so that’s when I started contacting law enforcement.” She said there is heightened suspicion all around at the Slabs, so many people don’t want to speak and are afraid of being hurt themselves. 04 • SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

The source with information about Cecil contacted this newspaper on Saturday, Sept. 18, to say the assertion that Knives and Cecil left together and are traveling together is incorrect. He said the timelines for Knives leaving is accurate, but that Cecil wouldn’t leave Slab City until May 23, when investigators spoke to them. Cecil was in the Bay Area last month. The source had attempted to alert investigators to the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office discrepancy, but that he had received no return calls from investigators have turned to the public to identify a person of interest the Sheriff’s Office as of Saturday. in the case known as ‘Knives,’ and What’s more, sources told Hashtali over the weekend other aliases. (Photo courtesy Imperial Council Sheriff’s Office) that Cecil has resumed his social media activity, and she said she hoped it could be a lead for investigators. Poe Delwyn Black’s case was the second-known trans homicide in Imperial County in a year’s time. In July 2020, the burned body of Marilyn Monroe Cazares was found on a vacant lot on the east side of Brawley, a case that has yet to be solved, has never had any named persons of interest, and little is known about the investigation, other than the FBI was a called in to assist at one point. For the trans community, 2020 marked the deadliest year on record, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. At least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people were violently killed last year, the most since Human Rights Campaign started tracking such data in 2013. Although no statistics exist on violence against trans people who are indigenous, or indigenous descent — like Poe Black — abuse against Native American women occurs at a higher rate than national averages. Some of that has to do with jurisdictional issues of sovereignty on reservations and a general lack of awareness, according to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA. Indigenous women are two and half times more likely to be victims of assault, and more than one in three (34.1 percent) of indigenous women will be raped in their lifetimes, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA states. As friends and family await justice, Poe Black’s remains are at home with his mother, Hashtali said. Sometime between late June and early July, Black’s mom and a supportive friend, flew to California and picked up Black’s ashes and drove his van back to Tennessee. Benavidez confirmed that the van was being investigated initially to see if it was connected to the killing, but when it was cleared, it was released to the mother. Poe’s mother declined to speak with this newspaper, after Hashtali reached out. Although the social media campaign to pressure the Sheriff’s Office to not let go of Black’s case got started before Hashtali and others knew Imperial County investigators were pushing forward, the campaign will still continue. “There’s been multiple murders of trans people. I know one other person was mentioned in that slide (Marilyn Cazares), but there’s a lot of trans people in that area,” she said of the Slabs. “That’s kind of a hub for queer people, and then California as a whole is — at least where (Poe comes from) in the South who are LGBT — they see California as kind of this hub. “The fact that California is where they want to be, that means that they’re going to need you,” she said of the law enforcement community. “Obviously, they need protection all over this country, but you would expect that California would offer more of that right off the bat. And now we’re really seeing with this, that California and its treatment and justice for the LGBT community, it’s not really all that it’s cracked up to be.” (RICHARD MONTENEGRO BROWN is an investigative journalist and the editor of Calexico Chronicle. This article was previously published by the Calexico Chronicle and is republished with permission.)

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Lt. Gov. Kounalakis establishes Trans Advisory Council Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced Monday that she has established a council of transgender leaders to create a dialogue between state leaders and the transgender community in California. Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the council includes transgender activists, advocates, and elected officials from across the state. Its goal is to bring attention to the issues faced by the transgender community by inviting stakeholders in advocacy, government, and different industry sectors to hear directly from the council. “Here in California, I’m proud we have enacted many protections for LGBTQ+ people, but we still have work to do, and that is especially true for issues facing our transgender and nonbinary family, friends, and neighbors,” said Lt. Governor Kounalakis. “Establishing this council gives transgender leaders the space to have an open dialogue with key stakeholders who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to hear directly from them. I hope bridging this gap will help to amplify important issues and bring more understanding of the community. I look forward to the opportunity to listen, to learn, and to help elevate the voices of the members.” “This California Transgender Advisory Council is historic,” said council member and California TRANScends Executive Director Ebony Harper. “I’m extremely honored to serve in this capacity and grateful for our Lieutenant Governor for seeing the need.” “I congratulate Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis for her leadership in organizing the Lt. Governor’s Transgender Advisory Council,” said council member and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton. “At a time when so many political leaders see transgender Americans as a political opportunity to exploit and target, Lt. Governor Kounalakis is reaching out to help, integrate and provide opportunity. I look forward to working with my colleagues within California’s transgender community and the Lt. Governor to advance employment, housing and healthcare opportunity and equity for all Californians.” “This is historic for the state of California,” said the TransLatin@ Coalition President and CEO Bamby Salcedo. “Having an official body composed of trans people under the Lieutenant Governor’s office sets a precedent for other states to follow. I am so grateful to live in such an inclusive state!” “I am beyond thrilled to work in partnership with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to create what will hopefully be the first of many Transgender Advisory Councils,” said council member and Equality California Program Manager Zizi Bandera. “To have a highranking state official show their solidarity with our community in this way means a lot. I am honored to continue the work of so many transgender advocates whose relentless passion for justice and liberation have made this possible.”

Lieutenant Gov. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (center) attending SF Pride in 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor)

The advisory council will meet regularly and is comprised of transgender leaders from across the state, including the following people: Ian Anderson, Legal Services Project Manager, Transgender Law Center Zizi Bandera, Program Manager, Equality California Blossom Brown, Activist Ebony Harper, Executive Director, California TRANScends Drian Juarez, Vice President of Training and Culture, Folx Health Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilmember Evan Minton, Activist Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO, TransLatin@ Coalition Rosio Leon Velasco-Stoll, Fresno Spectrum Center FROM STAFF REPORTS

Poll worker in WeHo fired after photo goes viral

A picture of an elections poll worker in West Hollywood wearing Trump campaign apparel and a QAnon T-shirt went viral on Twitter and Facebook with hundreds of complaints about the worker’s appearance being directed at the office of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. In a tweeted response the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk stated: “The election worker was contacted and advised that the attire was inappropriate and unacceptable. Based on his response and reports that other workers had previously counseled him on this, he was released and is no longer working at the vote center.” Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the RegistrarRecorder’s office, said the poll worker was initially warned against wearing political attire to the voting center on Monday, when he showed up to work


(Photo via Twitter)

wearing Trump campaign regalia, KTLA reported. Sanchez said the clerk’s office and the supervisor at the West Hollywood polling place instructed the poll worker not to wear political attire, but the man came back Tuesday morning wearing Trump apparel. “He was counseled and told not to wear anything political, but he still came wearing it,” Sanchez said. “Because of his response and not complying with the rules, he was released.” California election laws prohibit what’s known as “electioneering” within 100 feet of an entrance to a polling place. That includes displaying a candidate’s name, likeness or logo, or specific references to ballot measures by number, title, subject or logo. It also includes no audible broadcasting of information about candidates or measures. FROM STAFF REPORTS

Connie Norman Trans Empowerment Center for LA opens


LOTS of cats – and sat me in front of a video of her teaching people are at the helm, making decisions and innovating,” said In a location that a class of students about what it meant to be transsexual or Queen Victoria Ortega, Founder and International President of once housed the transgender. […] FLUX. “We are committed to making sure our community has AIDS Healthcare Curiously, after the video ended, Connie’s friend Harry Hay a voice. Now, we have this incredible building as a home for Foundation’s Linn and his partner John Burnside (who turned out to be relative those voices. I believe that great things are going to happen House, a hospice neighbors in WeHo) showed up and educated me about gays here, really great things!” for people dying being Nature’s third sex. It was an amazing night. Connie was Norman was a force to be reckoned with according to from AIDS, the first so generous with so many people. Most importantly for me – Los Angeles based filmmaker Dante Alencastre’s 2020 facility of its kind aside from being a reliable source of information so I could do documentary film AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman, nationwide serving my job properly — she smiled when she saw me. She made so which was released 25 years after Norman’s death. Trans and NonConnie Norman Trans Center ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 10. many of us feel warm and loved and supported.” In a short bio published by FLUX the group noted, “Connie Binary individuals (Photo by Ged Kenslea) “When Connie Norman was living her final days at AHF’s Norman (1949 – July 15, 1996) was an AIDS and gay and and communities of, Chris Brownlie Hospice, she bequeathed her childhood teddy transgender rights activist with ACT UP/LA. Beginning in 1991, by and for Trans and bear to me, asking that I please help look after her Trans sisters she was the host of the first daily commercial talk radio show nonbinary individuals opened Friday, September 10. and brothers she was leaving behind. I can think of no better about gay issues in Los Angeles, and also co-hosted a television Named for and dedicated in honor of Connie Norman, way to honor that request than with this Connie Norman show. After her death from AIDS, ACT UP scattered her ashes known as the ‘AIDS Diva,’ a fearless Transgender and AIDS Transgender Empowerment Center that we dedicate today,” on the White House lawn.’ activist who died of the disease in 1996. said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF and a good friend of Veteran LGBTQ journalist and the former Editor of the The Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, will Norman’s. Los Angeles Blade, Karen Ocamb membered the formidable serve as a home for several Trans-led organizations including ISO 12647-7 Digital Strip Foundation 2009 Norman’s teddy bear will also now take up residence at the Norman in a March 31, 2021 commentary piece published to FLUX, a national division of the AidsControl Healthcare and 100 60 100 70 30 100 60 100 70 30 100 60 100 70 30 100 40 40 100 40 100 40 70 40 70 40 40 40 70 40 40 70 40 70 40 40 3 10 25 50 75 90 100 A new facility in a commemorative plexiglass display case. In mark Trans Visibility Day. the Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC). The center will focus on addition, September 10th 2021 will also be known as Connie “It was the late ‘80s and I was still new to “gay” journalism building capacity, advocacy and overall health and wellness of Norman Transgender Empowerment Day via proclamation by so I followed standard reporter practice of mingling with the the Transgender and Non-Binary communities. the City of West Hollywood. crowd, getting a sense of what was going on, then asking to The 20,000 square-foot building has been repurposed to The facility will also be home to a food bank. A ‘Clothing speak with the organization’s spokesperson. […] function a sort of70‘WeWork’ space for Trans-led organizations B 100 100 as 60 100 100 70 30 30 100 100 60 100 100 70 70 30 30 100 100 60 100 100 70 70 30 30 100 40 100 40 40 100 10 40 40 20 70 70 70 70 40 70 40 40 0000 3.1 2.2 2.2 10.2 7.4 7.4 25 19 19 50 40 40 75 66 66 100 100 100 80 70 70 100 Closet’ to assist Trans and other individuals will also open For a bit I was stuck in my transition from old mainstream to to have a place to do their work, grow and be affirmed. onsite in the future and an AHF Healthcare Center serving the LGBTQ/AIDS thinking. Luckily, Connie decided to educate me “Named after a Diva like Connie Norman, supported by an needs of trans and non-binary patients is set to open in 2022. anyway. She invited me to her home — which she shared with institution like AHF and led by two respected Trans orgs like the BRODY LEVESQUE her gay husband (who I recognized from 12 Step rooms) and UWC and FLUX—this is historic! An entire building where trans 3%




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Whittier Pride cancelled as Nevada non-profit steps in was all procedural. We moved forward with the first application.” There will be a Pride event this month as Henderson, Nevada based non-profit International Cultural Movement for Equality is sponsoring ‘Whittier Proud’ on September 25 at the Hilton DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Whittier. Event organizer Richard Anthony Cortez, the creative director of ICME, told the Blade that his organization’s efforts are not tied to either of the two other groups at all and that ‘Whittier Proud’ is a separate partnership with the Whittier DoubleTree Hotel for a weekend of Pride events to celebrate diversity. The ‘Whittier Proud’ has an Eventbrite page for tickets and a Facebook page for further information Cortez said. Whittier City Councilmember Henry Bouchot, who told the Daily News by phone Friday that he has supported the festival without taking sides and he’s sorry the event will not be held this year. “Hopefully, this is just a one-year hiatus that can come back,” Bouchot said. “I’m a supporter of the Pride Festival and would like to see it return to our city.” Calls to the Pride groups by the Blade for comment were not returned. BRODY LEVESQUE

A disagreement that led to a split in the organizing committee to host what would have been the second Whittier Pride Festival ended up canceling the event. Pride was set to be held Saturday, Sept. 25 at Central Park. According to the Whitter Daily News, two years ago, the event drew between 5,000 and 8,000 people but was reduced to a car parade in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Another caravan was held in June, but a full festival was expected this year. Reporter Mike Sprague from the Daily News noted that two groups — both calling themselves Whittier Pride — applied for a permit. According to Sprague, one group, which reportedly split off from the original organization, filed first and received permission on Aug. 23 from the Whittier Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission. That final approval would have required the City Council to sign off on but in an email to the Daily News, Whittier Assistant City Manager Shannon DeLong said the group had withdrawn its application. The second group’s application wasn’t considered due to a ‘first come first serve’ process the City Manager Brian Saeki told the Daily News in a telephone interview last Friday. “We received two applications for the same event on the same day and time,” Saeki said. “For us, it (Graphic via Whittier Proud)



Commemorating 10 years since DADT repeal The tenth anniversary of the implementation of the repeal of the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was observed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Monday. Speakers at the event included retired General Tammy Smith, Navy SEAL veteran Kristen Beck and Commander Blake Dremman. President Biden recognized in a statement on Monday the tenth anniversary of the end of the ban. “Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members,” Biden said. “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.” Biden recognized high-profile openly gay appointees in his administrations who are also veterans, naming Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Biden also named Shawn Skelly, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, who would have been discharged from the military under President Trump’s transgender military ban. MICHAEL KEY & CHRIS JOHNSON

Activists and service members commemorated the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ earlier this week. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

HHS awards $48 million to combat HIV/AIDS

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Blade learned exclusively this week. Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are a key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030. “HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.” The $48 million contribution went to 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections

— to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS. The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal. Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS. “We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.” CHRIS JOHNSON

Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting out governor in the United States. The couple was married last Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date. “We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR). In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-yearGov. JARED POLIS and First Gentleman MARLON REIS exchange vows. old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year(Screenshot via CBS News Denver) old son as the ring bearer. The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the

wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said, CPR reported. Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?” Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit. In 2008, Polis is one of the few people to be openly gay when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on Nov. 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States. FROM STAFF REPORTS



Biden highlights LGBTQ rights in U.N. speech

PRESIDENT BIDEN delivered his first speech as president to the UN on Tuesday.

President Biden on Tuesday in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly spoke in support of LGBTQ rights around the world. “We all must defend the rights of LGBTQI individuals so they can live and love openly without fear,” he said. Biden in his speech specifically cited anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Chechnya and Cameroon. He spoke after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights, addressed the General Assembly. “As we pursue diplomacy across the board, the United States will champion the democratic values that go to the very heart of who we are as a nation and a people: freedom, equality, opportunity and a belief in the universal rights of all people,” said Biden. The White House earlier this year released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. The decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations and protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers are two of the administration’s five priorities in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in their country after the Taliban regained control of it, but it remains unclear how many of them the U.S. has been able to evacuate. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

(Screenshot via YouTube)

Brazilian president believes in ‘family principles’

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday told the U.N. General Assembly he believes in “family principles.” “We believe the traditional nuclear family is the foundation of civilization,” said Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro — a former Brazilian Army captain who previously represented Rio de Janeiro in the country’s Congress — has faced widespread criticism over his rhetoric against LGBTQ Brazilians and other underrepresented groups since he took office in 2018. Bolsonaro in 2019 spoke about his government’s “respect of traditional family values” and opposition to “gender identity” when he appeared alongside then-President Trump at a White House press conference. Bolsonaro during the same trip also met a group of evangelical Christians that included Pat Robertson.

Bolsonaro’s 2019 decision to suspend public funding of LGBTI-specific television projects and films sparked further criticism. One of the former police officers who was charged with the 2018 murder of Marielle Franco, a bisexual Rio de Janeiro councilwoman, lived in the same exclusive condominium complex in which Bolsonaro had a home when he was a congressman. Former Congressman Jean Wyllys, an openly gay man who was a vocal Bolsonaro critic, in 2019 resigned and fled Brazil because of death threats. Bolsonaro in recent months has faced calls for his impeachment over his handling of the pandemic in the country and corruption allegations. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is among those who are running against him in next year’s presidential elections. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

Trudeau’s party wins Canada election

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the country’s election that took place on Monday. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Trudeau’s party won 157 seats in the House of Commons, but failed to secure the 170 seats necessary to have a majority government. Erin O’Toole of the Conservative Party was Trudeau’s main challenger. “You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic into the brighter days ahead,” Trudeau told supporters on Montreal after the election. “My friends that’s exactly what we are ready to do.” “Millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan,” he added. Trudeau has been prime minister since 2015. He won re-election in 2019, even though a picture of him in blackface emerged a few weeks before the vote. His party lost its majority in Parliament. Trudeau last month called a snap election in

Canadian Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU speaks to reporters at the U.N. in 2016.


(Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

the hopes his party could once again have a majority government. The prime minister in 2017 formally apologized to those who suffered persecution and discrimination under Canada’s anti-LGBTQ laws and policies and announced the Canadian government would settle a class-action lawsuit filed by those who were forced to leave the military and civil service because of their sexual orientation. A law that added gender identity to Canada’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes also law took effect in 2017. Trudeau supports a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in the country. Canada in 2018 joined the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership the U.S. launched in order to promote LGBTQ rights around the world. Canada has also said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans who are fleeing their country after the Taliban regained control of it in August. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

Celebrate Equality








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Andrew Sullivan doesn’t care what you think

Conservative author on Trump, Biden, AIDS — and the need to close HRC By CHRIS JOHNSON | cjohnson@washblade.com (Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length. The full transcript is available at losangelesblade.com.)

Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative commentator known for his early advocacy of same-sex marriage and, more recently, for being a Trump critic, talked to the Washington Blade upon publication of his new book, “Out on a Limb.” Among the wide-ranging topics he addressed: the AIDS movement’s place in the larger LGBTQ movement; the role of the LGBTQ community in cancel culture; the future for gay men in Afghanistan; and gay men’s attention to fitness and the new role for gyms. The full interview, which took place by phone on Sept. 13, follows: Washington Blade: “Out on a Limb” is a collection of your writings, from the past 30 years. Can you tell me a little bit about what the process was for selecting which of those writings should go in this book, and in looking back at them if anything jumped out at you? Andrew Sullivan: Oh, it was a nightmare process because I’ve written ridiculous amounts of words over the 32 years. And I couldn’t have done it without help from interns and friends … And I don’t like reading my own pieces after they’ve been published. I don’t know I have a writer’s allergy to it. So I have to say it was kind of agonizing to go through everything all over again. And then last summer I just went through with a couple of other people just try to get some objective take on it because you’re far too close to make it your own, so it took a long time to sort out which was which, and we had to throw out a lot. But in the end I tried to make it so that there are pieces from almost every single year, so it spans, evenly the period that has a multiplicity of topics. And the ones that I think I’m sort of proudest of or that help portray exactly where I’m coming from. And one of the frustrations of living in the Twitter world is that you can get defined by one sentence you wrote, 25 years ago, and they just hammer that on you and it’s hard for you to show that your work is actually different than that. You’re not the caricature. And so, One way to do that is just simply publish your work and have people look at it and make up their own minds. Blade: Right. Well, looking at the book and looking at some of the early essays — I mean I’m an avid reader of your column in recent years, but some of the stuff is written before that when I was much younger. One that really jumped out at me was the prevalence of the AIDS epidemic, and its impact on the gay community in the the height of the epidemic in the in the 80s in the in the early 90s. I’d like to ask you to kind of bring that to the present, like, how do you think our approach to the coronavirus compares to our approach to HIV/AIDS back then. Sullivan: I think one of the things you notice is that there are many similar themes in all sorts of different plagues through history. There’s denial that it’s happening, there are crackpot theories about what’s going on. It tends to divide people who have the virus from people who don’t have the virus. It creates a sense of anxiety, obviously. In all those things, it’s quite similar and often the government bureaucracy is also lumbering. It’s also true that in this case, as with HIV in the end, it was the pharmaceutical companies that gave us the real breakthroughs to actually manage it. So, more similar in many ways than you might think, but

obviously, the differences are huge too and as much as HIV was concentrated so much in a small and separate — in some ways — community and its fatality rate was for a long time, not pointone percent, but 100 percent. It killed everyone, and also it was so selective in its killing that other people could avoid it, or not even notice it or have it be going on around them without even seeing it. And so obviously, it was — for my generation — it was a defining event, quite obviously and I think it’s immeshment with the rebirth of the gay rights movement in the 1990s is absolutely part of the story. I really don’t believe that you could tell the story of gay civil rights in the 90s and 2000s without telling the story of AIDS. I don’t think it would have happened the same way or even at all without that epidemic. And you know, those early pieces written about in New York and Washington in the 1990s or thereafter are pretty brutal. I mean, I tried to convey what it really was like. I mean, one thing I try and tell kids today is that, imagine the current Blade, which is not as thick or as big as the old Blade, but the Blade you had would be just about enough to contain the weekly obits that used to run each week. And I don’t think those who didn’t live through that will ever understand that. But I hope maybe, with some of the essays in this book, they’ll see a little bit more about what we went through and how we managed to construct arguments for equality in the middle of really staggering loss and pain and fear. Blade: I’ve looked through some of our archival material and definitely the obituaries were a key component if not almost the center of the Washington Blade throughout the AIDS epidemic. Sullivan: They were. And you know because we were much a closer community then, because this was before apps, this was before social acceptance. We tended to know everyone, because we met and socialized in the bars and clubs and in the gyms and the parks, and so it was terrifying how many of the faces that you saw in those obits you knew, even if you didn’t know them as friends, as many of us did, you knew them as faces in the bar, and to watch them all be struck down in such numbers was obviously a formative event for all of us, those of us who were, where I am, which is I’m late 50s now, we really experienced something unique. Many of the people we experienced it with are gone. And I think there’s often a sense of incomprehension that the younger generation really doesn’t understand what happened, and worse, really doesn’t care. Blade: Really doesn’t care? I mean, that’s a very strong statement. What are you basing that on? Sullivan: The lack of any discussion of it, any memory of it, anyone under the age of 30 ever asking me, or anyone who lived through it, what it was like. I mean, you tell me where the memory of it is held. Am I missing something? Blade: The memory, if you’re speaking of just public discussion, even within the gay community, I think it is very faded. Sullivan: It’s almost as if it didn’t happen. This is quite common, you know, with plagues, too. Like the 1918 plague was disappeared in the memory hole, very quickly. But this was such a traumatizing event for so many of us. Now, the truth is, most other communities have children, and


ANDREW SULLIVAN’s new book ‘Out on a Limb’ includes essays from his long writing career. (Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

they tell their children and that’s how the memories — for example the Holocaust or even the Vietnam War and other things — are perpetuated. We have no — by and large we don’t have kids and we don’t tell them those stories. And so each generation is afresh and they do see it as something that happened. I don’t think they’re not aware of it, but it’s certainly not something that’s a particular interest, I think, to most young gay men. Blade: It’s certainly very sobering to read those essays in the book that depict what’s going on at the height of the AIDS epidemic at that time. Sullivan: I obviously tried to air some internal laundry, as it were. I tried to talk about things that other people didn’t want to talk about, and of course that got me into trouble. But I think the essays stand up. Blade: I feel almost awkward asking you this next question because it has very much to do with talking about the present of what’s happening in the in the gay rights movement, but you did bring up civil rights — how that animated the gay movement in the 90s in the early days, and now the situation with the Human Rights Campaign president being terminated after being ensnared in the report on the Cuomo affair, and a public dispute with the board. I want to ask you how representative do you think that situation is of the LGBTQ movement? Sullivan: Well I would say this: I do think it’s simply a fact that the core civil rights ambitions of all of us have been realized. It’s almost entirely done. These groups are desperately searching for things to do. But since gay people and transgender people are now protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which is as a strong a protection as you can get, and since we can marry one another anywhere in the country and since we can serve our country in the military, they’ve really not got much left. So of course, they start entering into different areas like the issue of race, or the issue of gender or sexual harassment. And this is just a desperate attempt to stay relevant in some way. There’s no reason for them, I don’t think, to really function the way they functioned before. The movement is done, and I think a lot of people understand that, which is why maybe one of the underlying reasons why Mr. David disappeared is because membership income has plummeted, as I understand it. And also, I think this is a sense in which the current mainstream — what I would call the alphabet movement people, the LGBTQRSTVWXYZ people — they don’t represent most gay men and women, and lesbians or even, I don’t think, a lot of trans people. And I think it’s certainly not a gay rights movement at this point. I think gay men are a complete

Sullivan on ‘catastrophic success’ of gay movement afterthought. So, I just think it’s a function of — it’s the price of success is catastrophic success. Let’s put it that way. And you know, once you’ve achieved your things, you should shut down and move on. And they have to keep inventing and creating new senses of crisis of massive discrimination or huge waves of alleged trans genocide resources. This is all completely fanciful, and not related to actual reality, and those of us who actually went through some serious shit can see what is unserious about this. Blade: I think a lot of our readers are probably going to point out these transgender women are being forced into these dangerous situations to make a living and because of that they are suffering violence. Sullivan: Yes. That is true and awful, obviously. But is it an epidemic? No. Is the murder rate higher for that group and other groups in society? So far as we can analyze that, no. I don’t know what the solution is to the other thing, and how do we help trans people not be forced into those horribly dangerous situations. That’s what we should definitely consider — how we as a community could help avoid that. But I don’t see what an organization is going to do about it except raise money off it. Blade: What if we’ve experienced catastrophic success as you say in the moment, I was going ask you what qualities we should be looking for in the next Human Rights Campaign president, but maybe — Sullivan: I don’t think there should be one. I think somebody will wind it down is what I would hope for. I know that’s going to get people nuts, going to send people nuts, but no, what are their goals now, what are they really fighting for? What measures do they want us to pass? That’s what I want to know, except for this Equality Act, which most of which has already been done. I mean, we were told in the 80s that they wanted to have this ENDA. I mean, it’s been going on forever. And we were told in the 90s we should put off marriage equality. Remember, HRC was against it for the first 10 years on the grounds it would upset the Democrats and the Clintons. We should wait, because only the employment discrimination issue really matters, and here we are 30 years later and they’re still pushing the same bill except it doesn’t have anything else in it because most of it’s already been done by the Supreme Court. So, it has to turn itself into an organization that’s supporting, for example, a group like Black trans people, and again, the question is, what does that mean, supporting them? What does it mean? I don’t know what it means, except their ability to raise money. Blade: That kind of brings me to the next question: I know you’ve said many times that the gay rights movement is over, but what about the — Sullivan: It’s not over as such, I mean obviously we have to be vigilant about the gains we’ve made and we have to be clear that we rebut lies. There’s still work to be done within our own community to each other. So I don’t mean that’s over, but the idea that we are trying to advance core civil rights, we have got them. You’ve got to learn to take “yes” for an answer. Blade: The question I want to pose, if that is the case that we have our core civil rights, what about the gay press? Do you think there’s still a role for the gay press or are you just simply humoring me by doing this interview? Sullivan: No, obviously. There’s press for almost every

community in the world, and so absolutely, yes. There are issues that come up, all sorts of questions that we have to discuss from our businesses, to our clubs, to our bars to our culture. I mean, for example, we need coverage of the meth epidemic that is, in my view by far, the biggest crisis facing gay men right now, and which you almost never hear discussed in the gay press or in the gay rights organizations. And yet, that is, I fear, a huge crisis for us, killing God knows how many men. And the gay press has a role in bringing that to light, and opening a discussion of that and helping us find solutions to that. So, there always will be a need for a gay press. Blade: And in some ways, for the gay press I would say that that makes things, there’s advantages and disadvantages to that. Advantages in that it’s a well-defined niche and disadvantages in the fact that it has to compete more with mainstream publications. Sullivan: Yes. You didn’t use to. I mean, you used to be the only place to get any bloody news about the gay community, now you can’t get through the pages of the New York Times without being told something new about some part of our world, excessively so I might think. Come on, it gets kind of crazy at times. Blade: Is there an example of something you think was crazy that you saw recently? Sullivan: Well I think you know the way the New York Times covered Pride for weeks on end. I mean, at some point, you’re just like enough already. Blade: I want to talk about Afghanistan, I was reading one of your recent columns before you went on vacation, about the rightness of that war finally coming to an end because it was — I think you call it the most pointless war that America has ever fought. That’s not the exact quote, but something along those lines. And in that column, you do acknowledge there are situations that this withdrawal has had an impact on. You go through a list, and one of them is gay men who would be executed in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. So, if you welcome this withdrawal, what about the consequences for a gay man in Afghanistan? Sullivan: It’s horrifying. And in my view, we should be doing better at focusing on the gay people who are truly oppressed in the world, and they’re in brutal regimes, often with no political rights, not just in Eastern Europe, Poland, the Middle East and Africa. These are people gay people who are really, really up against the wall in many places. And I think we need to be very aggressive in helping many of them who are really beleaguered get asylum. I was on the board of Immigration Equality for quite a long time. And I’m very proud of the work Immigration Equality does on the asylum question, but I think we’ve learned we can’t occupy half the world to try and defend gay rights. It’s a wildly impractical move. We can highlight their plight, we can help some escape, but we can’t occupy the world and make it better for gay people, I’m afraid. We have made enormous progress, but you only have to think about what’s happening in Poland or Hungary, or the Muslim world, or Afghanistan or Iran or even places obviously in Africa to to see we have a huge amount of work to do, and I wish you would focus on them now and be a beacon for them and to help them but I don’t think you do that by force of arms. … There are limits to what we can do and there were terrible consequences for overreaching those limits.


ANDREW SULLIVAN speaking at the CATO Institute in 2010. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Blade: You said there is work to be done to help these people and you mentioned asylum as being one option, but is that all there is? What will this work look like? Sullivan: Well I think we can help fund groups and organizations. I think people in this country will be happy to help, I certainly think it would be worth helping more than it would be sending money to the Human Rights Campaign. So, yes, I think I mean different ways you can — you can support Immigration Equality, for example, which does the legal work for asylum cases. Incredibly important. Wins almost every single one. Reach out to people who are in those places and communicate with them and support them. There are groups that help with money and help with just morale. Blade: Speaking more generally about the concept of American intervention overseas to advance democracy, you’ve gone through a transformation on your view. You’ve talked quite a bit about your regret for supporting for the Iraq war. Was there a pivotal moment for you when you changed your view on this, or was it something that was more of a gradual evolution? Sullivan: It wasn’t that gradual because the evidence of the failure of the war was almost immediate. So it did happen quite quickly, but for me, obviously the emergence that we were torturing prisoners was a complete deal breaker for me that many of us supported foolishly but with good intentions, we wanted to prevent and stop this murderous monster, Saddam, from torturing and killing people. And when we tried to remove him, ended up torturing people, you have a classic irony, and one that we have to repudiate … One of the things that I do, when I think about the gay stuff is that — I don’t want to toot my own horn — but in the 90s, there was a handful of us supporting marriage equality. And these pieces in the book are the key building blocks of the argument in the 90s, and I think there is something of value in the history of seeing how we crafted those arguments, how we made a liberal argument, how we brought in conservatives, how we talked openly and debated openly with our opponents. I mean, I did an anthology that included all the views against marriage equality. I did my own pieces but I also published Maggie Gallagher and Bill Bennett, for example. And I think that’s, that’s a part of the history that has been missed. The 90s were the time when we formulated, honed, finessed the arguments, despite opposition from the gay rights establishment. I think we crafted successful arguments that went on to win. And that’s a really crucial thing, and there was only a handful of us that was doing that at the time. And so, I’m really proud of that legacy in this book. These are the arguments that help give us marriage equality, and it required reframing the gay rights movement around the question of our humanity, our common ground with straight people with formal legal equality, and has absolutely nothing to do with wokeness, or with attacking people for being bigots, or all the anger energy that is today aimed at demonizing your opponents. We attempted to persuade our opponents, not demonize them.



is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and a regular columnist for queer news outlets. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com.

Texas abortion ban author: State can control private sex Says gov’t should have power to regulate your sexual conduct Do you think your consensual adult sexual behavior in your own home is nobody’s business but yours? Do you think “The Scarlett Letter” is a cautionary tale? Do you believe you enjoy the fundamental right to be free from state control of your sex life? Jonathan Mitchell says you’re wrong. The architect of the Texas law that bans abortion at about six weeks after conception (before many women even know they’re pregnant) says the government should have the power to regulate your private sexual conduct. Yes, really. He and co-counsel Adam Mortara just spelled that out in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, a friend-of-the-court filing in a Mississippi abortion case in which they urge the justices to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade. They don’t stop with the high court’s abortion-ban precedent. They take direct aim at privacy rulings that bar states from banning samesex marriage or criminalizing private sex like same-gender sex, oral sex, and anal sex. They tell the court outright that people in the U.S. do not enjoy a fundamental right to private sex lives. This is a remarkable argument from a legal duo who represent leading contemporary thought in the Republican Party, which has traditionally positioned itself as a champion of individual liberty. Many Republicans say they are loyal to the Republican Party because they want the state out of their private lives. I wonder how many of them understand the extent to which leading Republican thinkers urge more state control rather than less state control. Mitchell is most well known for his “private right of action” innovation in the the Texas abortion ban, a clever legal trick that has so far impeded judicial review. His innovation, which he’s been thinking about publicly since at least 2018, removes government actors from enforcement. No government actors means potential plaintiffs have nobody to sue. Nobody to sue means courts can’t rule on the law one way or the other. But as clever as his idea is, it’s still a trick, and other clever people are working hard to bring cases that can be heard and ruled on. Court watchers say they will eventually succeed, that the justices will be forced to confront the central liberty infringement of the Texas law. Then what? Isn’t the right to abortion too firmly embedded in legal theory and practice to be overturned now? No women’s rights are infringed, Mitchell and Mortara write in defense of the Mississippi abortion ban I cited above, because if women don’t want children, they can always choose not to have sex. This argument would apply, they write, even if women’s access to contraception were not assured, claiming a private sex life is not a fundamental liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They argue without apology for the right of the State to control women’s bodies, but they don’t stop there. They acknowledge their legal reasoning leaves “gay sex” rights and same-sex marriage “hanging by a thread” and seem quite cheerful about that. They claim those rights are “lawless,” and the court should not agonize over them. They don’t say so out loud, but their arguments also imply that states should be free to bar or impose barriers to contraception. Mitchell, 45, is often described as a political outsider, but that’s not broadly true. He’s a conservative ideologue who’s spent almost two decades moving between government posts and prestigious law professorships at institutions like Stanford and the University of Texas at Austin. He was a law clerk to the late conservative Supreme

Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (His co-counsel Adam Mortara clerked for conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who never met an individual liberty he couldn’t dismiss or state power he couldn’t justify.) Mitchell served as Texas solicitor general from 2010 to 2015. He served on Donald Trump’s presidential transition team and was unsuccessfully nominated by Trump to head a federal agency. He was short listed as a potential Trump Supreme Court nominee and has strong ties to the Federalist Society, which besides taking a constrictive view of human liberty, has long sought to overturn Roe. Mitchell’s legal work has been funded by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which despite the name is mostly known for defending organizations that constrain individual freedom in the name of institutional religious privilege. The Alliance was at one time considered fringe in Republican circles but is now mainstream. Mitchell is not an outsider. He sits at the center of Trumpian and post-Trump conservative ideology, a center that might surprise the large majority of Americans who, irrespective of party affiliation, value personal liberty more than Mitchell, Mortara, Justice Thomas, et al. In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne penned “The Scarlet Letter,” a romance, a historical fiction novel now read by most U.S. students while still in high school. The novel is complex and has much to say about human failings, faith, religion, and redemption. But in the main, Americans read the novel as a cautionary tale, a rejection of Puritan anti-liberty practices, an indirect defense of individual liberty. We see protagonist Hester Prynne as a victim of neighbors who can’t or won’t mind their own business. Americans hold personal liberty in such high esteem that the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas shocked many of us. When the justices ruled that Texas could not enforce a criminal law against two men having sex in the privacy of their own bedroom, the typical reaction went something like, “Of course! Isn’t private sex already a fundamental liberty? How could this ruling even have been necessary?” That reaction takes us to the heart of constitutional liberty and privacy arguments. Most Americans, like me, believe the State should not have the power to deprive people of individual liberty without a truly compelling State interest. We believe that rights don’t have to be enumerated in the Constitution to be protected. We believe individual liberty is presumed, not granted. We believe that without privacy, true liberty withers on the vine. We believe the state has no business interfering in anyone’s private sex life. These are all principles that have at various times been held up by conservatives as virtues. I internalized these ideas as conservative when I was a child attending a very conservative private religious school. As a child in the 70s, I understood the Republican Party to stand for defending these liberty ideas. When Jonathan Mitchell and Adam Mortara write that the state ought to have the right to control private sex lives, and when Republican thought leaders cheer them on, we had all better sit up and pay attention. Republicans especially should pay attention. The Grand Old Party isn’t what it used to be. Conservative values aren’t what they used to be. Hester Prynne has a lot to teach us. The question is, will we pay attention before it’s too late? (The preceding article was previously published at Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling, and is republished here with permission.)


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Recalling the struggle to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ 10 years later, gov’t still cleaning up the mess of failed law Franklin Burch was ecstatic marching down the street waving a small American flag and an “Uncle Sam: I Want You” poster during the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. “Gays and lesbians have a right to serve,” the 70-year old gay vet from Los Angeles told the Washington Post on April 25, 1993. “This is America, and we have these rights.” An estimated 700,000 LGBTQ and allies agreed, marching past the White House and pouring onto the Mall, many grasping for hope during the horrific Second Wave of AIDS. An idealistic optimism was palpable. Gays had voted en masse to elect Bill Clinton as president of the United States, ejecting the Reagan-Bush administration that ignored the deaths of a generation of gay men. Clinton had promised money for AIDS research and pledged nondiscrimination policies, including lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military. ANGLE’s David Mixner, a Clinton friend from the anti-Vietnam War days, strenuously pointed out that the U.S. military was America’s largest employer, enabling gay people stuck in hateful environments to get out, get an education, see the world and serve their country. Not giving gays that opportunity was unfair, and therefore, un-American. The March on Washington program opened with a stunning Robin Tyler-produced encapsulation of the moment – a sense of pride in our patriotism. To a recording of military theme songs, flag-bearing gays and lesbians who had been drummed out of the military marched onstage, accompanied by some active-duty military coming out publicly based on Clinton’s promise. Navy Officer Keith Meinhold and Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer ended the procession, with Cammermeyer calling everyone to attention. The crowd – including me – stood at attention, too, tears streaming down our faces at the courage of our people to serve a country that still treated us as deviants. Then Dorothy Hajdys took the stage carrying a framed photo of her son, Petty Officer Third Class Allen Schindler, murdered six months earlier in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by two shipmates. The coroner said Schindler’s injuries were worse “than the damage to a person who’d been stomped by a horse.” Schindler could only be identified by the tattoos on his arm. The March on Washington crowd gave Hajdys a 10-minute standing ovation. We knew the cost of freedom. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a letter from Clinton, who didn’t attend or send a video, as expected. “I stand with you in the struggle for equality for all Americans, including gay men and lesbians,” Clinton wrote. “In this great country, founded on the principle that all people are created equal, we must learn to put aside what divides us and focus on what we share.” Liberal Democratic icon Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke via an audio tape, comparing our March to the famous civil rights march of 1963. “We stand again at the crossroads of national conscience,” Kennedy said. But there were hints of a coming storm. Robin Tyler tore a Clinton telegram of apology on stage as unacceptable. “A Simple Matter of Justice” banner flapped in the background as beloved ally actress Judith Light said: “I am grateful to you, the gay and lesbian community, for the impact you are having on all of society. I am grateful for your teaching Colin Powell about equal opportunity. I am grateful for your teaching Sam Nunn about moving into the 20th century. I am grateful for your teaching George Bush about the consequences of irresponsible neglect and misuse of power. And you are in the process of teaching President Clinton the importance of being a leader and the dangers of compromising with what is right and just.” But teaching doesn’t equal lessons learned. Clinton betrayed us, agreeing to a Nunn-devised “compromise” on lifting the gay ban called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner evoked horrific “gay sexual predator” images as they went aboard a submarine to ask sailors how they’d feel lying in such proximity to a gay shipmate. The subtext was clearly an invitation to harass those suspected of being gay and lesbian. Witch hunts were sport. The cruelty of DADT went beyond the physical. If a buddy on the frontlines in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), the gay service member could not share the fear, the pain, the trauma because letters back home were checked and psychiatrists and chaplains had to report gay-related confessions. The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service members were ruined by the time DADT officially ended a decade later, on Sept. 20, 2011. Today, marking the 10th anniversary of the official repeal, the Veterans Administration concedes it is still catching up with all the damage governmental politics created. It’s estimated that more than 114,000 LGBTQ service members or those perceived to be LGBTQ were discharged between Franklin Burch’s service in World War II and the repeal of DADT. “Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created. LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that

KAREN OCAMB is a veteran journalist and former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade.

they have equal access to those services,” writes Kayla Williams, a bisexual veteran and assistant secretary for public affairs in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs on the VA blog. Clinton’s betrayal broke our hearts and ruined lives. But amazingly, it did not stop us — which attorney C. Dixon Osborn, a civilian graduate of Georgetown University Law, recounts in his just released must-read book “Mission Possible: The Story of the Repealing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” This is the stunning story of how Osborn and attorney Michelle Benecke, a Harvard Law graduate and former Army captain, founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to immediately help desperate service members and work with nonprofit allies and law firms to challenge DADT in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. “Mission Possible” completes an important trilogy about LGBTQ people serving in the U.S. military, next to “Coming Out Under Fire,” by Alan Bérubé and Randy Shilts’ “Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military.” These books are not only LGBTQ history, but about our patriotism and what drives our private lives — and how government has intervened to block us at every step based on bias. “Mission Possible” is also a book about endurance, ingenuity, and triumph. If a united gay voting bloc and 700,000 people on the Mall and thousands more back home didn’t give Clinton enough clout or backbone to keep his promise to lift the gay military ban – SLDN needed a smart, comprehensive strategy and a willingness and stamina to keep their eyes on the distant prize of repealing DADT. After educating an anti-military community and fighting a “graveyard mentality” that believed that lifting the gay ban was impossible, they had to figure out how to secure bipartisan support. And there was bipartisan support, privately. “Party sticks with party, unless there’s a breakthrough, Osborn says, noting that GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told him: “You have to create the moment so I can be with you.” With the discharge of the Arab linguists, DADT became less an issue of civil rights and more publicly an obstacle to national security. There are scores of nail-biting behind-the-scenes stories about how SLDN shifted the public and military consciousness from July 1993 to September 20, 2011, “when President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, or recruiting and retention.” Dec. 18, 2010 – on Osborn’s birthday - the Senate finally voted to deliver more than 60 votes to overcome Republican Sen. John McCain’s repeated and stubborn use of the filibuster to block repeal. There are echoes of political machinations of today. There are crafty stories, as well, illustrating the absurdity of DADT. For instance, Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, Osborn writes, “was the epitome of the competent, well-regarded openly gay soldier who put a lie to the belief that his mere presence would weaken military readiness. He was out to his Army buddies and had even introduced them to his boyfriend.” In 2006 at Fort Hood, he started getting anonymous emails and “calls warning him that he was being watched and to ‘turn the flame down.’” He sought advice from his commanding officer which triggered an investigation, with which Manzella fully cooperated. The Army concluded he wasn’t gay and told him to go back to work. He was subsequently deployed to Iraq, then Kuwait, unsure whether a new commander would discharge him. SLDN reached out to Manzella to see if he’d be willing to do a 60 Minutes interview, explaining the pros and cons if he went forward. He said yes, but how to do it knowing the Army wouldn’t grant permission? SLDN communications director Steve Ralls came up with a plan. “Manzella signed up to run in the Army marathon in Kuwait. At a predetermined point, he veered off-course to a waiting car that whisked him to a hotel, where he changed into civilian clothes and met with correspondent Lesley Stahl. After the interview, he changed back into his running clothes, the crew doused him with sweaty water, and the car whisked him back so he could cross the finish line,” Osborn writes. “Once the segment was broadcast, the Army could no longer pretend that Manzella wasn’t gay, or that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a law with an on-off switch. He was discharged six months later and became one of the many vocal advocates for repeal.” On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama kept the campaign promise he made and signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today,” Obama said. “And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.” “There’s been a lot of progress in the last 10 years – despite the last four,” Osborn says. “It’s all been teed up by SLDN.” But we still are not fully first-class citizens, though we now have the right to serve and die for our country. The Equality Act is next. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 • 15

RUPAUL picking up a trophy at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this month. (Screenshot via YouTube)

RuPaul’s 11 Emmys were only LGBTQ wins Final season of ‘Pose’ fails to take home trophies By SUSAN HORNIK

While RuPaul celebrated a historic win at the Emmys, there were several other opportunities to make history for LGBTQ performers, which the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences passed on. The iconic drag performer and host of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” RuPaul broke the record for the most wins by a Black entertainer with 11. But fans were disappointed to see Michaela Jaé Rodriguez not win for her mesmerizing role as Blanca, the HIV-positive mother of the drag ball, House of Evangelista, in FX’s “Pose.” The popular trans actress received the nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series, making her the first trans thespian to ever be recognized. In a tweet, actress, producer and activist Alexandra Grey noted; “I could’ve bet all the money in the world sis @MjRodriguez7 would win! Did you hear them cheering for her? But it’s all good, that door is open! You did it!” “Pose” didn’t win any awards at the Primetime Emmys for its final season, nor did Rodriguez’s co-star, Billy Porter, who was nominated for the third time in the lead actor category. It was also a missed opportunity for Bowen Yang, who was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. The breakout “Saturday Night Live” comedian would have been the very first Chinese out male to win the award. Other LGBTQ nominees who did not win include Hannah Einbinder and Carl Clemons-Hopkins in “Hacks,” Jonathan Groff in the Disney+ movie musical of “Hamilton” and Samira Wiley in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” With COVID still prevalent throughout Hollywood, there were no large scale awards parties this year. “I am very thankful that some Emmy events are back but much more private and intimate,” noted Rembrandt Flores, founder of the entertainment marketing/celebrity outreach company, Entertainment Fusion Group. “Although many people in our industry are hurting because of the smaller scale and budgets, we still need to be safe, diligent and cautious. I know that we will go back to larger events in 2022 and the industry will thrive once again.” While Flores was happy to see so many LGBTQ nominees this year, he hopes that the Television Academy continues acknowledging the community. “I know that this is truly important to so many young people who need to see us represented across all platforms. I pray this is not a trend but a way forward for the future.” Gay celebrity interior designer Josh Johnson, who also runs Invision Church in West Hollywood, was equally grateful that the Emmys were in person. “This is my biggest event, designing the Giving Suite for the Emmy Foundation. I have collaborated with them for the past eight years. It has


been challenging for anyone in the Hollywood events industry to deal with the loss of work.” Johnson had a lengthy conversation with Rodriguez in the Giving Suite. “I thanked her for the work she was doing with the LGBTQ community and she said ‘we have to stick together and continue the fight for inclusivity in Hollywood.’” Trans fashion designer Leon Wu was thrilled to see more non-binary looks on the Emmys red carpet. “I like Bowen Yang’s simple double breasted two-button tuxedo. The pattern is cut for an androgynous look and leaves room to really focus on the silver platform heels. Perfect for the red carpet.” He continued: “And Carl Clemons-Hopkins wearing Christian Siriano was fantastic. Also, Billy Porter looked inventive and yet tasteful as usual, wearing bird wings and luxurious neckwear that only he could pull off. Fashion truly has to fit the persona for it to be worn well.” Wu thought Rodriguez’s dress, was a highlight out of all the Emmy nominees. “This was one of our favorites, as always. The outfit has a strong soul with a soft and elegant slip leg, matching her personality and style.” Gay celebrity stylist Antonio Soto also loved Rodriguez’s dress, noting that she looked “beautiful” in her strapless gown. “A beautiful trans woman commanding the red carpet being exactly who she wants to be is amazing to watch!” Soto added: “The Emmys red carpet was giving us diversity, flair and fun! Color is in full effect for all genders and the suiting came in a variety of cuts, textures, and fabrics. Best dressed in my opinion were Michaela Coel, Issa Raye, Angela Bassett, Tracee Ellis Ross, Cynthia Erivo and Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Sudeikis, Cedric the Entertainer and Trevor Noah. A classic tux look with a great fit is always correct Dan Levy looked electric in his blue ensemble while Cedric the Entertainer gave us Shades of Cool. Gay or straight, when you know you know.” The other factor that stood out Sunday at the 73rd annual awards was that outside of drag icon RuPaul and his wins and despite nearly 44 percent of the acting nominees being from the global majority, those performers were shut out. The Hollywood Reporter observed in its headline after the show with the notation; #EmmysSoWhite. The Reporter wrote: “[…] because very few Black people — or people of color in general — won at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. Although performers from the global majority comprised 44 percent of acting nominees heading into Sunday night, white actors ultimately swept all 12 lead and supporting races across the comedy, drama and limited series categories.”



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‘Cured’ beautifully chronicles fight for dignity New doc revisits APA designation of homosexuality as a sickness By KHELIL BOUARROUJ

At the 1970 American Psychiatric Association convention, in front of 10,000 professional members, LGBTQ activists had a single rejoinder to decades of APA designation of homosexuality as a sickness in need of treatment: “There is no ‘cure’ for that which is not a disease.” It marked the first direct clash with a psychiatric profession that had classified homosexuality as a mental disorder and advised everything from talk therapy to psychologically destructive shock therapy to “cure” homosexuality. After Stonewall, gay activists concluded that the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA would hold back the advancement of the gay rights movement. To secure equality, activists knew they had to debunk the idea that they are sick. The struggle to remove homosexuality from the APA’s definition of mental illness is beautifully chronicled in the forthcoming documentary “Cured” — beautifully because the filmmakers contrast erroneous characterizations of homosexuality by mid-century psychiatrists with midcentury photographs that bore witness to gay people’s actual nature. Getting the APA to change required more than storming conferences. Gay activists, for instance, pinpointed sympathetic young psychiatrists who could act to reform the APA from within and helped them win seats on the Board of Trustees. Meanwhile, the culture was changing. In the 1970s, gay visibility was growing, which boosted the campaign to end the sickness label. At its 1972 convention, the APA offered a platform to gay rights activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. The duo invited Dr. John Fryer to testify about what it was like to be a gay psychiatrist. Fearing damage to his reputation (he had previously lost a position for being gay), Fryer donned a mask and adopted the title H. Anonymous. Despite his cloaked persona, his testimony was, in the words of one attendee, a “game-changer.” Fryer spoke as a gay man with “real flesh and blood stand[ing] up before this organization and ask[ing] to be listened to’’ and evoked the great emotional toll of being forced to live in the closet — “this is the greatest loss: our honest humanity.” The tide was turning but the intransigent faction needed a few more kicks. Representing a new generation of psychiatrists, Dr. Charles Silverstein would lay down the gauntlet: The APA could either continue to promote “undocumented theories that have unjustly harmed a great number of people” or accept the genuine science


that being gay was no illness. At the next year’s convention, in a final clash between opposing sides, Gay Activist Alliance member Ronald Gold pointed out the absurdity that a medical Disguised as ‘Dr. H. Anonymous’ in an oversized tuxedo and distorted Nixon mask, practice predicated on making sick people well Dr. JOHN FRYER sent shock waves through the was making “gay people sick.” The APA ended APA’s 1972 convention. (Photo by Kay Tobin; courtesy its mental illness classification in 1974. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library) “Cured” represents a growing awareness of the history of “curing” homosexuality. Netflix recently premiered “Pray Away” about the so-called “ex-gays” who promoted conversion therapy, the destructive practice by fundamentalist Christian quacks. The film “Boy Erased” (2018) took a similar sledgehammer to conversion therapy. Precisely because of the long-term ill-effects of stigmatizing gay consciousness, the LGBTQ community has in recent years targeted conversion therapy. Twenty states have banned conversion therapy for minors, and an additional five states have enacted partial bans. Although thoroughly discredited by medical professionals, including the APA, conversion therapy continues to harm thousands of youths each year. While “Cured” is instructive for LGBTQ activists combatting conversion therapy nationwide, it has an even more important lesson. “There isn’t anything wrong with them, so there can’t be anything wrong with me,” is how one gay man remembers feeling upon entering a gay bar, witnessing convivial gay men and realizing it was time to ditch his homophobic shrink and embrace himself. It struck a deep chord with me because I had a similar epiphany as a young man. Feeling my way around my sexuality as a grad student in New York, it all finally came together one night at a Greenwich bar as I sat across from two gay men and chatted about traveling and career ambitions. I am doing nothing wrong, I thought. It made no sense to be afraid of living my life as a gay man. Our determination to live openly remains a potent inspiration for those still struggling with acceptance, and the strongest rebuke of those who would seek to erase us. “Cured” premieres on PBS on Oct. 11.




A conversation with Bruce LaBruce Filmmaker still pushing boundaries after 30 years By JOHN PAUL KING

my work. You’re not sick or morally corrupt Bruce LaBruce, one of the few filmmakers because you have a fetish, you’re just a living, that has been able to build a career moving breathing human that happens to have this back and forth between directing porn and extreme impulse. It’s actually quite often a independent cinema, is still interested in real worship, a devout kind of respect and shocking his audiences. appreciation, even a spiritual appreciation of Once known for incorporating explicit the object of desire. scenes of gay and fetish sex into his movies, And there are so many ideological gayhe’s produced a body of work over the past themed films that insist on presenting only three decades that deliberately pushes the “positive” representations of homosexuality. boundaries of our taboos and pulls the rug I’ve always been against that, against any out from under our most solid assumptions kind of prior censorship or pressure to about sex and sexuality. His movies subvert conform to ideals of representation – I familiar Hollywood tropes in narratives mean, who determines what is a “good” gay? that blend a campy, melodramatic style I prefer making something that really isn’t with depictions of hardcore, frequently even classified as a “gay” film, more a film unconventional sex, and even if he’s taken that talks about the ambivalence of sex and a slightly tamer approach in some of his the ambiguities of sexual representation. I’ve more recent work – including his latest, always depicted characters that don’t have “Saint-Narcisse,” which was released earlier Bruce LaBruce’s latest film, ‘Saint Narcisse’ features twin brothers separated at birth who fall a fixed sexual identity, they’re somewhat this month and features a complicated story in love with each other when they reunite as adults. (Photo courtesy of Film Movement) fluid, and it’s more about human sexuality in about twin brothers separated at birth who general, rather than being a “gay” film – or a fall in love with each other when they reunite film that presents gay characters that are reassuring and fixed in their gay identity. You as adults – it doesn’t mean his films are any less transgressive. know, assimilated, or at least well-behaved and domesticated. When the notorious Canadian iconoclast sat down to speak with the Blade last week, we talked with him about the challenge of staying on that edge. BLADE: Your films certainly challenge those kinds of politically correct notions of queer behavior. BLADE: In your earlier films, audiences were shocked by the sexual depictions you LABRUCE: There is a fear anymore of representing things because of political correctness, included. Does it surprise you that nowadays the same things can be seen on Netflix or of being called out or “cancelled” or whatever, which I really do think is the enemy of art HBO? and cinema. The artist should be able to express themselves without second-guessing BRUCE LABRUCE: It’s true that when you see erect penises on “Euphoria,” or what have everything they do, and without censoring themselves. It’s always been that if you disagree you, it’s taking TV to a level that nobody perhaps could have anticipated – or maybe it with someone or if you think their film is offensive, then you have many ways of expressing was inevitable, really. But even though there’s a certain amount of extreme and explicit that to them – you can walk out of their film, you can confront them at a Q&A, you can have content allowed, when you shift to the bigger context it’s still not seen as OK. Society has a dialogue on the internet – but more and more it’s become a black-and-white conversation this weird schizophrenia where that kind of explicitness, even the idea of porn, is accepted, where you’re either on the right side or the wrong side. That’s extremely challenging for a to a degree – but in cinema, at least in mainstream theatrical films, there’s almost a defilmmaker nowadays. sexualization. Certainly, all those superheroes are shockingly asexual. I think it’s partly because the audience for a lot of that stuff is kids – and the culture in general is a bit BLADE: Your work has always stirred up controversy, though. And yet, you’ve managed infantile in this era. to weather all that and become a respected cinema artist. How did you pull that off? LABRUCE: There’s a kind of irony in my movies – I see it more as ambiguity, really, or a BLADE: How has that changed your approach to filmmaking? camp sensibility that I have – that allows for a lot of interpretation, and you don’t always LABRUCE: For one thing, I’m deliberately making more mainstream films, like “Saintknow where a film stands or what the intention is behind it. It’s ambiguous – even to me, Narcisse,” that are kind of like wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the surface they reference you know? I think that’s a much more productive way of approaching cinema, because popular genres, like mystery and romantic comedy, and they pay homage to ‘70s cinema then it’s a dialogue with the audience – you’re not telling them “this is the way it needs to – and there’s a certain, maybe not “light-heartedness” but a camp element to the style as be” because of social pressures. It’s something that is open to interpretation. well. And the explicitness is not as important as the implications of what the film is about. BLADE: There’s also a kind of absurdity in your films, where things sometimes go to Like in “Saint-Narcisse,” the plot about this attraction between twin brothers opens up extreme levels that make us see how ridiculous a lot of these moral strictures can be when into Freud’s idea of “family romance,” and how these sexual tensions that he talks about we look at them from a different perspective. Is that something you try to do? within the nuclear family lead people to so much guilt and self-loathing, because they think LABRUCE: It’s setting up a kind of politically correct scenario and then taking the piss out there’s something morally wrong about them for having these sexual impulses, which are of it. It’s the difference between fantasy and reality. Our sexual imagination can be very really just natural. Obviously, there are taboos in place, as there should be, but whether dark and complicated and disturbing sometimes, and instead of making people feel guiltthere needs to be so much guilt and self-torture about having those kinds of impulses is ridden or tortured by the fact that they have these thoughts, I want my films to be a kind another question. of collective unconsciousness, where people can work these things out rather than acting on them in real life. BLADE: Your movies have always centered on these taboo expressions of sexuality. That’s the function of porn, after all. LABRUCE: The idea of trying to humanize taboo sexuality and fetishes runs through all



A bisexual coming-of-age tale with heart ‘Things We Couldn’t Say’ offers pleasant surprises By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

‘Things We Couldn’t Say’ By Jay Coles

c.2021, Scholastic | $18.99 | 320 pages


You’d like an explanation, please. Why something is done or not, why permission is denied, you’d like to hear a simple reason. You’ve been asking “Why?” since you were two years old but now the older you get, the more urgent is the need to know – although, in the new book “Things We Couldn’t Say” by Jay Coles, there could be a dozen becauses. Sometimes, mostly when he didn’t need it to happen, Giovanni Zucker’s birth mother took over his thoughts. It wasn’t as though she was the only thing he had to think about. Gio was an important part of the basketball team at Ben Davis High School; in fact, when he thought about college, he hoped for a basketball scholarship. He had classes to study for, two best friends he wanted to hang out with, a little brother who was his reason to get up in the morning, and a father who was always pushing for help at the church he ran. As for his romantic life, there wasn’t much to report: Gio dated girls and he’d dated guys and he was kinda feeling like he liked guys more. So no, he didn’t want to think about his birth mother. The woman who walked out on the family when Gio was a little kid didn’t deserve his consideration at all. There was just no time for the first woman who broke his heart. It was nice to have distractions from his thoughts. Gio’s best friends had his back. He knew pretty much everybody in his Indianapolis neighborhood. And the guy who moved across the street, a fellow b-baller named David, was becoming a good friend. A very good friend. David was bisexual, too. But just as their relationship was beginning, the unthinkable happened: Gio’s birth mother reached out, emailed him, wanted to meet with him, and he was torn. She said she had “reasons” for abandoning him all those years ago, and her truth was not what he’d imagined. There are a lot of pleasant surprises inside “Things We Couldn’t Say.” From the start, author Jay Coles gives his main character a great support system, and that’s a uniquely good thing. Gio enjoys the company of people who want the best for him, and it’s refreshing that even the ones who are villains do heroic things. Everyone in this book, in fact, has heart, and that softens the drama that Coles adds – which leads to another nice surprise: there’s no overload of screeching drama here. Overwrought teen conflict is all but absent; even potential angsts that Gio might notice in his urban neighborhood are mentioned but not belabored. This helps keep readers focused on a fine, relatable, and very realistic coming-of-age story line. This book is aimed at readers ages 12-and-up, but beware that there are a few gently explicit, but responsibly written, pages that might not be appropriate for kids in the lower target range. For older kids and adults, though, “Things We Couldn’t Say” offers plenty of reasons to love it.

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