JANU A RY 21, 2022 • VO L UM E 06 • ISSUE 0 3 • AMERICA’ S LGBT Q NEW S SO U R C E • LO SAN G ELESB LAD E. C O M
Where’s the LGBTQ outrage over Kyrsten Sinema? There’s no ‘both sides’ when it comes to equal rights and fairness
By KAREN OCAMB I’ve been waiting and waiting but nothing. What the hell, Human Rights Campaign? Are we really OK with letting this hyper-ﬂirty, bisexual nouveau conservative Democrat from Arizona continue to say she’s representing us while holding hands with Sen. Joe Manchin in crushing democracy? Last October, when Arizona Democratic U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema found super infamy by ﬁghting President Biden’s infrastructure spending bill and much of her Democratic Party’s call to end the procedural Senate ﬁlibuster, The Advocate cited criticism from Black gay New York Rep. Ritchie Torres. “There is a sense in which we no longer live in a democracy; we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema,” Torres told CNN. “I welcome the ideological diversity of the party. I can live with dissent. My colleagues and I have trouble living with what we perceive to be erraticism. The perception of erraticism is brought on by a lack of communication and clarity for where she stands.” Last Thursday, Sinema gave a soap opera-choked up speech saying she would not vote to change the ﬁlibuster because “eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.” First of all, the threat is here and now and the fact that she doesn’t get that makes her inept and craven. The ramiﬁcations are huge: without democracy, there is no access to justice. Secondly, as House Majority Whip James Clyburn told CNN on Sunday, Democrats are seeking a carveout to the ﬁlibuster to enable a simple majority to vote on fundamental principles like voting rights. “When it comes to the Constitution of the United States of America, no one person sitting downtown in a spa ought to be able to pick up the telephone and say you are going to put a hold on my ability to vote. And that’s what’s going on here,” Clyburn told Jake Tapper. “So I would wish they would stop that foolishness because if we do not protect the vote with everything that we’ve got, we will not have a country to protect going forward.” After Thursday’s speech – which she insultingly delivered as Biden was on his way to talk to lawmakers about the critical need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – MSNBC’s Joy Reid noted that Sinema’s rationale for defending the ﬁlibuster “is as inconsistent as it is immoral.” Sinema supported bypassing the ﬁlibuster just over a month ago “in order to raise the debt ceiling on a party-line vote. She doesn’t think Republicans should be allowed to damage America’s credit, but she thinks allowing them to damage American democracy is a virtue.” Reid noted that Sen. Raphael Warnock called out the contradiction last month after the debt limit vote. “Be very clear, last week we changed the rules of the
Senate to address another important issue, the economy. This is a step, a change in the Senate rules we haven’t been willing to take to save our broken democracy, but one that a bipartisan majority of this chamber thought was necessary in order to keep our economy strong. We changed the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United
U.S. Sen. KRYSTEN SINEMA said she would not vote to change the ﬁlibuster rules. (Screenshot via HRC YouTube)
States government. We’ve decided we must do it for the economy, but not for the democracy,” Warnock said. Audacity, thy name is Sinema. With Sinema’s obstinate obstructionism ﬂaring up days before Martin Luther King Day and before a Senate vote on the John Lewis Act – named for the late civil rights icon she claims to have loved – more and more critics are noting how the ﬁlibuster was created to further lynching and racist Jim Crow laws. “There’s nothing partisan about saying the ﬁlibuster has mostly been used for racist reasons, I think everybody would agree that that’s true,” Harvard Law professor Michael Klarman told the Associated Press. On Saturday, MSNBC’s Tiﬀany Cross said the subtext out loud. “Sinema is a Democrat, but she is in many ways upholding white supremacy,” Cross said on “The Cross Connection” after showing a clip of Sinema’s Thursday speech. “I don’t think I can roll my eyes hard enough and you kind of just want to say, ‘Girl, bye.’” It’s not like we didn’t notice that Sinema – who used her story of childhood poverty to get elected – has courted infamy. In March 2021, Christine Linnell made an important point in an Advocate commentary. “Arizona’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may have taught us a valuable lesson in the past week: when it comes to politics, visibility and representation will only take you so far,” she wrote. “Sinema, the ﬁrst openly bisexual person to be elected to Congress, went viral for the wrong reasons on Friday when she voted against a provision in the coronavirus relief package that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And she didn’t just vote against it,
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but went out of her way to get Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attention before giving a sassy thumbs-down on the ﬂoor of the Senate.” Linnell cited journalist Ryan Grim’s March 5, 2021 tweet, re-tweeting a C-Span video clip: “Here’s @SenatorSinema walking on to the ﬂoor, patting Mitch McConnell on the back, looking back to make sure he sees her, then giving the thumbs down to a $15 minimum wage.” But Sinema is no John McCain and then, like now, it’s hard to see what principle she was upholding. I interviewed Sinema in 2018 for the Los Angeles Blade when she was running for the Senate and noted a tracking report from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight indicating that Sinema voted in line with Trump’s position 54.7% of the time. “This isn’t a matter of one party being right and the other being wrong,” Sinema said. “If we allow our basic values to become just another political football, we’ll all lose. If President Trump is willing to work together to stand up for Arizonans, I’ll work with him….I learned early on that you get more things done when you’re willing to work together… The problem with Washington is that people don’t listen to those who have diﬀerent points of view so they never ﬁnd the common ground needed to really solve problems. When you actually talk with people and work across the aisle, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish.” The problem is that Trump’s Republican Party is subsumed by white supremacists for whom lying and treachery is a convenient, amoral means to an authoritarian end. There is no negotiating in good faith here. There is no bipartisanship when one partisan side is angling for white straight male supremacy. And the thing is, we LGBTQ people — who are still ofﬁcial second-class citizens without our full equal rights – ﬁgured out long ago that there is no “both sides” fairness when you’re talking about the far right. Ask Joan Garry of GLAAD. CNN used to pit Joan against some religious right nut until ﬁnally she (standing in for all of us) said we would not acknowledge the religious right or white supremacists as the equivalent of our movement for equality and social justice. Yet here we are as Sinema – who claims to represent LGBTQ people – acts as if Trump’s white supremacy is equivalent to Biden/Pelosi/Schumer and GLAAD’s agenda to restore constitutional voting rights. But where are WE? Do we not remember Silence = Death? “At consequential moments in history, they present a choice,” Biden said in his speech from Atlanta on Jan. 11. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jeﬀerson Davis?” What side do you want to stand on, LGBTQ people?
British tourists robbed at gunpoint in WeHo Two young British men who had been visiting a nightclub in the area of 961 N. La Cienega Blvd. were accosted by robbers as they left the club to catch an Uber. Cellphone video by a witness caught the robbers struggling with one of the victims KTLA reported. William Saunders, who identiﬁed himself as one of the victims in the robbery, said that he and his friend had just left a nightclub and were hailing an Uber ride when they were approached by the robbers. “Guys with their hoods pulled tight, could hardly see their faces, jumped out at us, grabbed us,” Saunders said. “One of them had a small handgun on him, pointed it to my head, told me to give him my watch, my bag and my phone.” Saunders said he threw his watch to the ﬂoor, pushed the robber and ran into a restaurant, where he learned that there was video of the assailants wrestling with his friend, ripping his bag oﬀ him and taking his watch. Deputies from the West Hollywood substation patrolling the area responded immediately. In a statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriﬀ’s Department said that the victims were accosted by two suspects wearing hoodies and that a ﬁrearm was displayed. The suspects were able to get away with what one of the victims described as a bag that contained expensive watches, their passports and an unknown amount of cash, the Sheriﬀ’s Department conﬁrmed. “We’re visiting from England,” Saunders told KTLA. “Only one night in L.A. and it has ended like this.” “I’ve never even seen a gun before, let alone have one at my head,” he added. “I honestly thought I was going to lose my life at one point.” BRODY LEVESQUE
WILLIAM SAUNDERS was robbed at gunpoint. (Screenshot via KTLA)
UCLA team advances toward possible cure for HIV A UCLA-led team of researchers made advancements in a method designed to kill HIV-infected cells, moving scientists a step closer to possibly eliminating the virus altogether, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. “These ﬁndings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years,” said Dr. Jocelyn Kim, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future.” HIV, which was once considered a death sentence, has become manageable in recent years with antiretroviral medication designed to keep the virus at bay. However, the virus still has the chance to elude the treatment by lying dormant in cells, according to UCLA. When a person stops taking the medication, the virus emerges from those reservoirs and replicates in the body. The study builds on a “kick and kill” method originally developed in 2017. The approach uses cells naturally produced by the immune system to kill infected cells inside the body, according to Kim, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geﬀen School of Medicine at UCLA. In the 2017 study, researchers gave mice whose immune systems had been altered to mimic those of humans antiretroviral drugs and infected them with HIV. They then ad-
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ministered a synthetic compound developed at Stanford University to activate the mice’s dormant HIV. The study found that up to 25% of the previously dormant cells died within 24 hours. “But a more eﬀective way to kill those cells was needed,” read the release. This time around, the researchers used the compound to “ﬂush” HIV-infected cells out of hiding. Then, the mice were injected with healthy natural killer cells to kill the infected cells. The new combination improved the numbers, completely clearing the HIV in 40% of the mice, according to the study. As an additional step, the researchers also analyzed the mice’s spleens, a place where HIV-infected cells could be hiding. Yet, they did not detect the virus there, suggesting that the HIV-infected cells were eliminated. The team’s goal is to reﬁne the approach to eliminate HIV in 100% of the mice. “We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans,” Kim said. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 38 million people are currently living with HIV. Since the virus began circulating, over 36 million people have died from complications due to the disease. ZACHARY JARRELL
Veterans can now identify as trans, nonbinary on VA records Majority have encountered hurtful experiences because of gender identity
By BRODY LEVESQUE among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses Veterans Aﬀairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced last was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA paweek that his department added the options of transgender male, tient population. transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation. addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may expe“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identiﬁed as rience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans they deﬁne themselves,” the VA Secretary said in a statement. have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. because of their gender identity. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse “LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal veterans helps us better serve them.” thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” The statement also noted that the change allows health-care McDonough said. “But they are signiﬁcantly less likely to seek rouproviders to better understand and meet the medical needs of tine care, largely because they fear discrimination. their patients. The information also could help providers identify (Graphic courtesy U.S. Department of Veterans Aﬀairs) “At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk be aﬀecting their health. openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added. Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets. ISO 12647-7 Digital Control Strip 2009 100 60 100 said 70 100 60 to overcome 100 70 a “dark 30 100 60 100 discrimination 70 30 100 40 40 100 70 40 70 40 40 40had 70 40 a local 40 70 40 LGBTQ 70 40 40 3 10 25 50 75 90 100helping A VA 40 facilities have Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for McDonough that he30pledged history” of and take40 100 All those veterans connect to available services since 2016. steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the full gender conﬁrmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save B 100 100 60 100 100 30 30 100 100 60 100 100 70 70 30 30 100 100 60 100 100 70 70 30 30 100 40 100 40 to 40 100ect10greater 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 reﬂ inclusiveness. lives,” he added. 70 70 Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans commuIn a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transnity is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military gender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%). In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related eventsT:10"and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans. 3%
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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JANUARY 21, 2022 • 05
LOCAL (LA Blade graphic by Max Huskins)
Tech companies failing to stop conversion therapy disinformation ‘Rainbow-washing’ particularly targets trans community
Anti-LGBTQ groups “easily” spread dangerous disinformation online about the so-called conversion therapy as tech companies fail to de-platform such content, especially in non-English languages, according to two reports from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE). The reports detail that even though conversion therapy is a widely condemned practice, content related to it is “distressingly easy” to ﬁnd through simple searches on various platforms. Though searches in English yielded problematic results, GPAHE found that non-English languages, especially Swahili in Kenya, led to much more anti-LGBTQ disinformation. “Tech companies say they have taken steps to ban harmful content related to conversion therapy, but they have to do more, especially in non-English languages,” said Wendy Via, president and co-founder of GPAHE and co-author of the report. The group’s research took place in English and Spanish in the U.S., English in Ireland and Australia, German in Germany, Spanish in Colombia, and English and Swahili in Kenya. Conversion therapy has been condemned by dozens of medical and psychological organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), which also supports a nationwide ban on conversion therapy. According to the Williams Institute, LGB people who have undergone conversion therapy are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide. Conversion therapy is banned for minors and sometimes adults in seven countries: Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, France and Taiwan. Both France and Canada outlawed the debunked practice just last month. The U.S. has no nationwide ban, but conversion therapy is outlawed in 20 states and more than 100 municipalities in the nation. Partial bans also exist in Mexico, Australia, and Spain. “Until online searches lead people to only authoritative information about the dangers of conversion therapy, tech companies are complicit in spreading anti-LGBTQ+ hate and disinformation that causes mental and physical harm for individuals, and furthers societal harm,” said Via. Generally, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, to some extent, YouTube have taken steps to curtail conversion therapy information, according to GPAHE’s ﬁrst report “Conversion Therapy Online: The Ecosystem.” When the group searched the term “conversion therapy” on these platforms, they mostly found trustworthy information, except in Swahili. However, in comparing social media platforms, the group found that YouTube’s search mechanism returns disinformation and propaganda more frequently than Facebook or Twitter. GPAHE also said the platform is “rife” with pro-conversion therapy material. Alphabet Inc., the company that owns YouTube, did not immediately return a request for comment. The company has come under ﬁre in the past for policies surrounding conversion therapy. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) revoked its enforcement of Google over an app tied to conversion therapy. At the time, other major companies – like Apple and Amazon – removed the app. Google eventually removed the app. “After consulting with
By ZACHARY JARRELL outside advocacy groups, reviewing our policies, and making sure we had a thorough understanding of the app and its relation to conversion therapy, we’ve decided to remove it from the Play Store, consistent with other app stores,” the company said in a statement to Axios. Though initial search mechanisms generally didn’t lead researchers to conversion therapy providers, Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms did lead users down a dangerous conversion therapy “rabbit hole” once they found a provider, the report found. The Blade could not reach Meta (Facebook) and Twitter for comment. Last year, a Reuters report detailed how even though Facebook banned conversion therapy, the debunked practice continued to thrive in Arabic. “Facebook led me to conversion therapy, and I’m not alone,” said Omar, an Egyptian man who turned to Facebook when he began feeling sexually attracted to other men. He requested Reuters use only his ﬁrst name because he has not yet come out to his family. Though GPAHE’s report did not study Arabic languages, it did ﬁnd that languages other than English yielded more harmful search results. In all languages and countries, GPAHE found that search results from Microsoft’s Bing and Amazon’s Silk and Alexa were “signiﬁcantly less authoritative.” “These companies are rarely, if ever, challenged on their search algorithms despite serving hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” the release said. GPAHE suggested that Bing and Silk create search algorithms that surface authoritative information. In addition, Amazon should remove conversion therapy providers from the Smile program, the group said. Both Microsoft and Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment. Amazon has had a checkered past with anti-LGBTQ content, especially on its web store. However, the company did stop selling books prompting conversion therapy in 2019. “It’s time for the major internet and social media companies to wake up to their role in promoting harmful practices and disinformation,” the report read. “Conversion therapy is dangerous. If someone is searching for this material on any internet platform, they should only ﬁnd authoritative results that document the therapy’s harms.” The group also found a “highly problematic” diﬀerence between results in English and Swahili in Kenya. Search results in English led to a mix of trustworthy and false information, while results in Swahil lead to material that disparages and mocks LGBTQ+ people and calls conversion therapy repuatable. “Even the Wikipedia page in Swahili in Kenya is ﬁlled with hateful disinformation,” a GPAHE press release read. German search results yielded mostly accurate information about conversion therapy. The group said this was likely due to Germany’s conversion therapy ban and strict hate speech laws. “Unlike what GPAHE found in most other countries and languages, Google searches in German for various conversion therapy terms came up almost entirely with authoritative re-
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sults,” the report read. However, the group did ﬁnd one exception in searching “reintegrative therapie.” The search term populated reintegrativethereapy.com, a conversion therapy provider, in all of the ﬁrst four results. But mostly trustworthy information follows. Using terms such as “reintegrative therapy” or “unwanted same-sex attraction” is a common way for conversion therapy providers and proponests to evade safeguards and prompt their content. According to the GPAHE report, such search terms led almost exclusively to unauthoritative and harmful disinformation. GPAHE suggested that tech companies incorporate the terms “same-sex attraction” and “reintegrative therapy” into the algorithms to increase reliable and safe results. Another method conversion therapy supporters use is hiding behind a so-called religious imperative or claiming that they are protecting kids, the report said. “As conversion therapy providers constantly rebrand their malicious eﬀorts and introduce new terms, tech companies need to keep up to protect their users,” said Via. GPAHE has sent its report to tech companies and will follow up with each over the coming months. GPAHE added that it “hopes that the report will help tech platforms ﬂag or ban harmful material and serve as an additional authoritative resource for those who search for these organizations or conversion therapy information in general.” Many of the world’s most surfaced conversion therapy providers were detailed in the group’s second report, “Conversion Therapy Online: The Players.” GPAHE speciﬁcally laid out 25 organizations and their “sophisticated and extensive” online presence. The report found that these providers are interconnected and are essentially composed of three major networks: the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientiﬁc Integrity, Core Issues Trust and Exodus Global Alliance. These groups have moved into the space, rebranding in a process known as “rainbow-washing,” where they claim to be “friends of the LGBTQ+ community” and feature “younger, hipper, more diverse faces,” according to GPAHE. The groups say they are “victimized by modern society,” co-opting the “language of the LGBTQ+ rights movement to assert liberation for what they call the X-LGBT community.” According to the report, “rainbow-washing” particularly aims at the trans community for conversion to cisgender identities. “In recent years, proposed bans on conversion therapy have motivated providers to organize and up their legislative and litigation games,” the report read. “Their activities are bolstered and promoted by powerful social conservative organizations and relatively new X-LGBT groups, such as the Changed Movement, in various countries.” Of the 25 groups named by GPAHE, 13 were based in the U.S., the most of any country. The states they were located in included Utah, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Missouri, Connecticut, Tennessee and Michigan. Other top conversion therapy organizations were located in Northern Ireland, Brasil, Mexico, Germany, England, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. Others did not have a speciﬁc location listed.
Los Angeles County surpasses 2 million COVID cases
Hospitalizations rise but many patients admitted for reasons other than virus By BRODY LEVESQUE
Los Angeles County health oﬃcials are urging residents to postpone nonessential gatherings and avoid some activities – especially those that will include people who are unmasked, unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness. This comes as Los Angeles County recorded a grim milestone Monday as the Department of Public Health reports that the County has now conﬁrmed more than 2 million total cases of (LA Blade ﬁle photo) COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The Los Angele Times reported early Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Uniﬁed students returned to campus from winter break Tuesday morning amid a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases. As they stood in long lines to enter campus, the district’s health-screening system crashed. These conditions, including staﬃng shortages, student absences, and apprehensive parents and students, put the district’s carefully laid plans to open campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district to the test. Although some students and parents were anxious amid the Omicron surge, they said they wanted to be back in the classroom. District leaders said strict campus safely precautions are in place, the Times reported. The surge, which has now created uncertainty in the business community as some restaurants and other retail operations close up due to staﬃng shortages or out of caution, prompted County Public Health to ask that residents postpone nonessential gatherings just ahead of the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend. Public Health oﬃcials are also concerned as LA-based Super Bowl is a mere month away. The recommendation is voluntary and oﬃcials have not imposed any new restrictions that could put any events in jeopardy. The latest Public Health data shows vaccines are still the best way to protect against the coronavirus. In L.A. County cases have continued to increase rapidly across all groups however at signiﬁcantly lower levels for vaccinated individuals. For the week ending December 25th, case rates were much higher for those unvaccinated. There were 991 new cases per 100,000 unvaccinated; 588 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated without boosters; and 254 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated with boosters. The vaccine also continues to provide very strong protection against hospitalization and death. One way to evaluate the protection oﬀered by vaccines is rate ratios. These ratios compare rates of an outcome in unvaccinated people with rates of the same outcome in fully vaccinated people. The higher the rate ratio, the more protective the vaccine is against the outcome. The hospital rate ratio was 9 when comparing those unvaccinated vs those fully vaccinated without boosters, meaning a 9-fold higher rate of hospitalization for the unvaccinated compared to this protected group. More markedly, the hospital rate ratio was 38 when comparing the unvaccinated vs fully vaccinated with boosters, meaning those fully vaccinated and boosted were 38 times less likely to be hospitalized than those unvaccinated. “With surging transmission and rapidly rising cases and hospitalizations, our already understaﬀed health care providers are under enormous strain as they try to care for so many COVID infected people,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Health Director said. About 14% of the patients with COVID-19 were in the ICU, and 7% were on a ventilator. “The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but, are identiﬁed with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission,” the LA County Public Health Department said in a news release. “However, at the moment, vaccinations alone are not suﬃcient to get us back to slowing the spread. We all need to exercise more caution in the weeks ahead. One eﬀective strategy for reducing transmission is to wear a high-quality mask whenever around non-household members,” Ferrer said. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JANUARY 21, 2022 • 07
Florida LGBTQ activist’s body found in landﬁll Police in Florida’s capital city conﬁrmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landﬁll last Saturday morning. Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said. Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the ﬁght for marriage equality; he and his husband were plaintiﬀs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.
ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and ﬁve couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Oﬃce for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015. His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post: “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am ﬁghting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.” “We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiﬀs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.” Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200 or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS. BRODY LEVESQUE
(Photo courtesy of Diaz Johnston)
Trans man attacked while waiting for train in Denver
A trans man is “doing better” after being attacked last Friday night while waiting for a train near the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. After grabbing dinner and visiting a local gay bar with friends, Syre Klenke, 30, told the Blade he was attempting to catch a train ride home when – at approximately 10:30 p.m. – an unidentiﬁed attacker punched him in the side of the head “at least three times.” According to Klenke, the assailant was also using anti-LGBTQ language. “It all just happened very, very fast,” he said. He was able to get to a safe location, where he decided to call an Uber to get himself home. When the Uber arrived, Klenke informed the driver that he was a trans man who had just been attacked. The driver then left his seat, opened Klenke’s door and threatened to pull him out, the 30-year-old said. Klenke reached out to Uber that night, and he said the company refunded the cancellation fee that night. The ride-sharing app then reached out to him via email to investigate the incident. “I have not been in contact with Uber since then,” he said. “What Syre reported is heartbreaking and something nobody should ever have to experience. Uber does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we will take the appropriate ac-
pen here,” he said. tion,” a spokesperson for Uber told Denver is considered to be one the Blade in an email. The compaof the most LGBTQ-friendly cities ny also indicated that it’s investigatin the nation. The Human Rights ing the incident and will take apCampaign gave the city a perfect propriate action which, in incidents Municipal Equality Index score. like this, often means removal from In addition, according to a Galthe platform. lup analysis of census data, Denver After being kicked out of the boasts the ninth highest percentUber, Klenke returned to the train age of LGBTQ adults in the nation. station. The Denver Police have a proDenver Police are in contact with gram, Safe Place, that assists Klenke and investigating the incivictims of crimes, speciﬁcally andent. SYRE KLENKE told the Blade an unidentiﬁed ti-LGBTQ crimes, to reduce anHe said he felt concussed the attacker punched him in the side of the head multi-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. night of the event but did not seek tiple times. (Photo courtesy of Klenke) “The response from the Denver medical attention until the followqueer community and Denver PD ing day. has made me feel at least somewhat better about the sit“I went into survival mode, which was to get home and be uation,” Klenke said. “But I think it deﬁnitely highlights, you safe,” he said. know, that this isn’t a problem that’s only happening in the Klenke was able to catch a glimpse of the perpetrator – who South; this isn’t a problem that’s only happening in a specifhe describes as male-presenting, roughly 5 feet, 8 inches tall, ic area; it’s not even a problem that’s only happening in the with an “athletic” to “heavy” build. He said he is a “small guy,” United States.” who is 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 125 pounds. ZACHARY JARRELL “I never would have expected, of all places, for this to hap-
S.D. Senate advances anti-trans sports bill
The South Dakota Senate State Aﬀairs Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 46, legislation that would ban transgender women and girls from competing on the sports teams that match their gender identity. S.B. 46 is one of three anti-trans bills that South Dakota has introduced in early 2022 – coming oﬀ a year that saw unprecedented legislative attacks on the trans community, especially in sports. In a press release, Gov. Noem alluded to her anti-trans sports bill working similarly to Texas’ ban on abortions after six weeks, which attempts to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade by allowing citizens to enforce the law with lawsuits. “The legislation I am proposing includes the ability for a parent to hold schools accountable in court,” she said. “Parents will be able to sue to play, not to pay.” It is still unclear if the tactic will be able to successfully evade courts striking down the law. The Supreme Court refused to block Texas’ abortion ban but did say that abortion providers 08 • JANUARY 21, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
have the right to sue. At the end of last year, Noem introduced a bill that would have codiﬁed two of her anti-trans executive orders – one focusing on K-12 schools and the other taking aim at college sports. She wrote the orders shortly after vetoing an anti-trans sports bill from the state legislature, fearing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA) would take the state to court over the bill. Otherwise, Noem praised the proposal, even saying she was “excited to sign” it before changing her position. The South Dakota High School Activities Association still allows trans student-athletes to compete. In addition, the NCAA supports trans people participating in sports. “Senate Bill 46 attempts to solve a problem that does not exist while slamming the door shut for transgender student athletes to fully participate in their school communities,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. ZACHARY JARRELL
FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions By LOU CHIBBARO JR. | firstname.lastname@example.org
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to ﬁnd a way to signiﬁcantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM. The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood. A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.
In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM. The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020. LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent. Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021. “To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study. “The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says. Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had
sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study. The study is oﬃcially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility. “The ADVANCE study is a ﬁrst step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as eﬀective as timebased deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says. “If the scientiﬁc evidence supports the use of the diﬀerent questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the ﬁrst time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says. The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center. Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the oﬃcial announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study. “We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks. Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire. “We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’ Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the ﬁnal draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it. “They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said. “It’s really about trying to ﬁgure out eﬀectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood. A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research eﬀort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation. “The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says. “The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says. Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment eﬀorts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer. Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JANUARY 21, 2022 • 09
Murdered Honduran trans activist buried
The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)
A prominent transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered last week has been buried. Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday. Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group. The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Oﬃce of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horriﬁed” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church. MICHAEL K. LAVERS
Polish House passes bill echoing Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law A measure that would give school administrators and superintendents the power to remove books, lessons, and ban student participation in events or clubs that are LGBTQ+ aﬃrming passed the lower house of Poland’s parliament, known as the Sejm, this past Thursday, January 13, in a 227-214 vote. The measure, dubbed “Lex Czarnek,” or “Czarnek’s Law,” after minister of education Przemysław Czarnek, who has been vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ+ rights and the country’s equality movement, now moves on to the upper house, the Senate where it faces opposition and likely will be rejected Polish broadcast media outlet RMF 24 reported. According to RMF24, “The Sejm adopted the amendment to the Educational Law, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science. The project is commonly known as “lex Czarnek”. The role of school superintendents will be strengthened, and the rules governing the functioning of non-governmental organizations in schools and educational institutions will be changed.” Opposition to LGBTQ+ rights has an ally in the Education Minister whose role would determine the outcome of implementation of the measure: “Pursuant to the amendment, the headmaster of the school or facility will be required – no later than two months before the commencement
of classes conducted by associations or organizations – to obtain detailed information about the action plan in the school, the outline of classes and materials used in the oﬀered classes, as well as obtain a positive the opinion of the education superintendent for the activities of such an organization at school or in an institution. The curator has 30 days to issue an opinion.” The law also contains a stipulation that “if the head of the school or educational institution fails to comply with the recommendations issued by the school superintendent, he will be able to summon him to explain why he did not do so . If the principal still does not follow the recommendations, the probation oﬃcer may apply to the governing body of the school or facility with a request to dismiss the principal during the school year, without notice.“ A member of the Sejm, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a progressive leftist politician who in addition to protesting against abortion laws, has also been active in protests for LGBTQ+ rights, tweeted her outrage; “The voice of the curator Nowak, as if it were not stupid and dangerous to health and life, is more important for PiS deputies than the voice of students, parents and teachers.” BRODY LEVESQUE
France, Greece to end restrictions for MSM blood donors France and Greece last week announced they would allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions. Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, noted men who have sex with men previously had to remain abstinent for four months before they could donate blood in France. French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced this requirement would no longer be in place as of March 16. Têtu also noted oﬃcials will no longer ask potential blood donors about their sexual orientation. “It’s a whole new relationship with the blood donor that we want,” said Véran. Greece on Monday also said it would allow MSM to donate blood with10 • JANUARY 21, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
out restrictions. Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree that will become oﬃcial once the Government Gazette publishes it. Greece and France are the latest countries to lift restrictions for MSM who want to donate blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently allows MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for three months. The American Red Cross this week declared a blood crisis because of the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases. The declaration sparked renewed calls for the U.S. to allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions. MICHAEL K. LAVERS
is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and a frequent columnist for the LA Blade. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to jamesﬁnnwrites@gmail.com.
Biden’s empty political theater on LGBTQ equality President is a nice man who lacks the passion to ﬁght
Shortly before Joe Biden was inaugurated, LGBTQ Nation leaked a conference call between mainstream LGBTQ advocates and the president-elect in which he backed oﬀ repeated, forcible campaign promises to make passage of the Equality Act a top priority during his administration’s ﬁrst 100 days. I wrote an article criticizing him for reneging on his pledge. The Los Angeles Blade picked up my piece as an op-ed, and it went viral. I got a tremendous amount of feedback, much of it negative, more of it counseling patience, but now that a year has passed, let’s take a look at how things worked out. In the ﬁrst days of his presidency, Biden did vital work with pro-LGBTQ executive orders — redirecting the federal bureaucracy, which had become overtly homo/transphobic under Trump, and working to ﬁx transgender military policy — but he never pushed for the Equality Act, which would have ﬁnally oﬀered LGBTQ people status as free people in our own nation, protected by law from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, education, etc. Without the Act, his executive orders won’t be worth the paper they’re written on when the next Republican president takes oﬃce. Not only did President Biden fail to spend political capital to make the Act a top priority in his ﬁrst 100 days, he never made it a priority of any kind. Beltway insiders tell me the president did nothing behind the scenes to honor the pledge he made repeatedly to LGBTQ people in exchange for our votes. He did nothing publicly either. No national speeches. No ﬁreside chats. No appeals to the better angels of the American people. He just stopped talking about the Equality Act, like if he never mentioned it again, we’d forget he promised to prioritize it. The House passed the Act again this year, but it stalled in the face of Senate ﬁlibuster rules, which require 60 out of 100 votes for most legislation to pass. Progressive Democrats have been calling for ending or changing the ﬁlibuster since the day Biden took oﬃce, but not until last week did he announce support for changes, which brings us to the second half of today’s grievance. In recent days, pressure has been intensifying on President Biden to lead on passing meaningful protections to counter strict new state laws that Republicans have been enacting to make voting more diﬃcult, especially for Black voters. Two federal laws proposed by Democrats, — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — would protect voter rights by (among other things) creating national standards for mail-in voting and restoring stripped-out elements of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans know the only way they can stay in power in many states is to suppress votes, especially the votes of Black people and other people of color. Republican senators ﬁercely oppose voter protection and will ﬁlibuster. President Biden traveled to Atlanta last week to make a speech about supporting voter protection. Finally, after nearly a year in oﬃce, he indicated he might support changing the ﬁlibuster custom. The nation yawned. Black voters blinked. LGBTQ voters sighed in dismay. A number of inﬂuential Black political activists in Georgia snubbed Biden’s speech, saying in advance they would not bother attending an event they called 12 • JANUARY 21, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
a “waste of time.” Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams was notably absent, which she and Biden both claimed was due to a scheduling conﬂict, but Georgia political insiders say she was sending the president a powerful message: Get serious. Take action. Stop with meaningless political theater, especially on my turf, where I’ve been doing the kind of real work you won’t do. Obviously, the 50/50 Dem/Rep split in the Senate is not the president’s fault. Nor is he responsible for the recalcitrance of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. They have each refused to consider ﬁlibuster reform, and without their votes it can’t happen. But does Biden even want ﬁlibuster change? He has consistently served up weak tea on the issue, calling himself an “institutionalist” and an “incrementalist,” which Democratic leaders have taken to mean he either doesn’t support overhauling Senate rules, or that he won’t get tough on Democratic senators who vote against overhauls. If Biden has tried even half-heartedly to strong-arm Manchin and Sinema, he has not done so in public. Beltway insiders say he hasn’t done anything, just like he hasn’t prioritized the Equality Act. Meanwhile, while the Democratic Party led by Joe Biden waﬄes and drifts, the Republicans maintain tight party discipline and look set to take the House back this year. They will continue to push agendas cementing themselves in power, putting democracy itself in grave danger, and making life for minorities increasingly unequal, painful, and diﬃcult. We don’t care about your institutions, Joe. We don’t value Senate customs and traditions, which mean nothing to us beyond what they can or can’t accomplish. We care about action. We demand results. You promised to deliver, and you’re failing us. Now you choose to go to Atlanta and say some pretty words? Nobody wants pretty words, Joe. You can keep them. Look, we know your heart is in the right place, but we want your muscle to be in the right place. We want you to take charge, to LEAD, to exercise some of the awesome power of your oﬃce. We expect you to play to win, to twist arms, to name and shame, to do whatever it takes to keep the promises you made to us when you needed our votes. You need to get serious, Mr. President. If you don’t start kicking ass and taking names, don’t count on us to vote for you again. I mean that. There’s a REASON you’re dropping precipitously in the polls. It’s us, man. It’s Democratic members of minorities fed up with your milquetoast, do-nothing, business-asusual approach to crises we see as EXISTENTIAL. While Republican rank-andﬁle are telling pollsters they believe armed violence against the government may be desirable, and while they’re demonizing Black people, immigrants, and queer people, you’re acting like everything is relatively ﬁne. It’s not. We voted for a champion, but we got you instead, a very nice man who evidently lacks the gonads to ﬁght for us. Please turn that around. Please get real. Please get tough. Please start ﬁghting to win. Today would be an excellent day to start keeping your promises.
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is executive director of the Task Force.
Task Force: Voting rights are under attack Senate must act and pass reform measures now
Voting rights are a cornerstone of our democratic process and have been under attack by conservative political extremists. These extremists have tried everything from partisan gerrymandering to mass purges of voter rolls in attempts to undermine the work of election oﬃcials, sow false doubt in legitimate election results and curb access to registering and casting votes. There are many things to be divided over but right now there is an opportunity to be aligned in eradicating barriers to voting. We have an opportunity to restore faith in the American people that there are still foundational values and inalienable rights that can hold us together. The right to vote is a baseline. It is an essential part to exercise our power and participate in our democracy. George Washington was quoted as saying, “The power of the constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain deﬁned purposes and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their choosing: and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled.” This is the plainest argument for eradicating barriers to voting for any and all of our people. However, it also explicitly explains why attacks on voting rights and access have increased as the demographics of this country have changed. When LGBTQ+ Americans, People of Color and other marginalized populations vote in high numbers, elections are greatly impacted and it can make the diﬀerence in local, state and federal elections. The fear of losing power and the threat of losing an elected seat is not justiﬁcation for our leaders to carve out LGBTQ+ folks, People of Color, women, poor people and so many other already marginalized groups from the political process. Members of congress often have the hard job of making decisions that require them to weigh numerous nuances and complex decision points with varying intended and unintended consequences on communities. However, on the question whether to eradicate barriers to voting – the answer is clear. Our beloved people deserve access to our democracy. We have a right to it and therefore the right to vote – regardless of our political views. Any member of congress who is advocating for anything less than ensuring and protecting the right to vote for all of the people in their districts and states is in fact advocating to take away the power of the people to elect and hold accountable those who should be legislating on their behalf. The choice is simple: are you on the side of all voters or are you willing to allow restricting of the vote for political ends? Will you advocate for all of the people that you claim to represent or will
your sacriﬁce and abandon us community by community? Every decision will ﬁrmly place our elected oﬃcials on either the right or wrong side of history. Instead of leaning into tactics that alienate and distance people from our democracy and each other, what if instead our elected Oﬃcials were inspired to get back to the real work of getting more of our people to more actively and consistently participate in civic engagement. What if they were willing to commit to learning more about the fears and dreams of those in the community that they know the least about and invest in meeting their needs and creating opportunities from them to thrive! Our Democracy is broken and further restricting access to the political process will not heal the fractures that have only grown deeper and wider over these last years. Senators must take leadership and pass legislation that will protect and ensure free and fair elections. The strength of our Democracy and of our people depend on it. Ongoing state legislative attacks in 2021 and 2022 on voting rights, many of which are barely disguised plans to suppress votes of Black people, as well as people from other historically marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ community, are undemocratic, racist and just plain wrong. Some new and proposed state voting laws qualify as inhumane, for example, making it illegal to provide water and food to voters standing in hours-long lines. Some of these attacks ignore the reality of people’s daily lives, outlawing assistance to voters with disabilities so they can cast ballots by mail from home, limiting voting hours, limiting, or ending ballot drop-box accessibility for people working several jobs to support minor children and elderly parents, and requiring identity documents to counter supposed voter fraud that research shows is practically nonexistent. Identity document requirements pose speciﬁc challenges for many transgender and gender non-binary people due to some outdated state laws and ﬁnancial and other barriers to updating documents like legal fees, a lack of access to inclusive health insurance and an inability to aﬀord or overcome discriminatory policies and practices to receive gender-aﬃrming care. The path forward is clear – we need our federal elected oﬃcials to take leadership, take action, and protect voting rights NOW in order to rebuild and strengthen our democracy. This country belongs to all of us. This is our democracy, and we demand our rightful place in it. Pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act now!
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JANUARY 21, 2022 • 13
Lighting the way: an interview with singer Janis Ian Veteran performer embarking on ﬁnal tour By GREGG SHAPIRO
By my count, queer singer/songwriter Janis Ian has had four distinct chapters in her musical career. The ﬁrst began when she was in her teens with the release of her groundbreaking single “Society’s Child,” and the albums on Verve Records that followed in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s, for the second chapter, Ian signed to Columbia Records, resulting in the biggest hit single of her career, the Grammy Award-winning classic “At Seventeen.” She remained on Columbia into the early 1980s, even collaborating with Giorgio Moroder on the song “Fly Too High.” The third chapter occurred in the early 1990s. Bette Midler recorded Ian’s song “Some People’s Lives,” the title track of Bette’s Grammy-winning 1991 album. Ian herself recorded the song for her marvelous 1993 comeback album, the aptly titled “Breaking Silence.” Ian has not been sitting idle since that time, mind you. She’s released a few more albums, including some on her own Rude Girl Records label. She also published her memoir “Society’s Child: My Autobiography” in 2008 and won her second Grammy for the audiobook. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Janis in 1994, 2004, 2008, and in 2022, and it is always a revelatory experience. She was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the release of her ﬂawless new album “The Light at the End of the Line” (Rude Girl). BLADE: I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with the best way to say this, and I keep returning the fact that with The Light at the End of the Line, your extraordinary last solo studio album, you are going out with a bang. JANIS IAN: [Laughs] better a bang than a whimper! BLADE: What was involved in the decision to make this your ﬁnal studio recording? IAN: I think hitting 70 was a big part of it. Having the last 15 years to put together songs and wanting to make something that was better than anything I’d done before was involved. Mostly, the timing really worked out. I went into lockdown right around when I needed or wanted to start thinking about this. I had no plans until I looked up at my write board and realized I had 15 songs I was pleased with, and one unﬁnished. I started listening to what Randy Leago had done with “Resist,” and I began working with Viktor Krauss on “Better Times…” I had originally intended to do an all-solo acoustic album, but it became clear that I really wanted a blend of it to serve the songs. There wasn’t a sudden, “Gee, I’ll make an album now” decision. There was more a talking to people and seeing where Randy and Viktor’s schedules were. Seeing where John Whelan was. Whether we could get Nuala Kennedy to do her parts from Ireland. Finding a studio where I live, which is near Bradenton, so there’s not a huge amount of studios available. Then just winnowing down the songs and going, “Well, I think this is actually an album.” BLADE: Among the many aspects that make The Light at the End of the Line exceptional is that for the 12 songs, you draw on the many inﬂuences spanning your ﬁve-decade career, beginning with “I’m Still Standing,” which is
as personal as, say, “At Seventeen.” IAN: I would say so. That was part of my goal for the entire album, and part of the winnowing down of songs, was to make sure that the songs I picked were as universal as possible, and also songs that would hopefully stand the test of time. I mean it’s incredible that “At Seventeen” was released in 1975. It’s 45 years later and it’s still getting lots of airplay. Lots of people still sing it. People are still aﬀected by it, young people, not people anywhere close to my age. So, to make an album that would reach as many people as possible emotionally, and at the same time have songs that were as well-written as I’m capable of doing after almost 60 years as a songwriter; that was the challenge, really. So, I’m glad to hear you say that. BLADE: The social consciousness of your music extends all the way back to “Society’s Child” and continues today with songs such as “Stranger” and “Resist.” Please say a few words about the role of social commentary in your music. IAN: I was raised in a very political family. I grew up stuﬃng envelopes and going to marches. My parents were both politically aware. My mom did things like attend the Civil Rights Congress. My parents were under watch by the FBI. So, it was a natural part of my life. Everyone we knew was involved, in one way or another, in politics and social issues, because I would regard feminism as much as a social issue as a political one. Although the line between the two is pretty blurred these days as I’m sure you know. “Stranger” just came out of nowhere one night. I had an oﬀ night and I never write on the road, ever. I think I’ve written two songs in my life while I was touring. But I was changing guitar strings and came up with that little pattern and the song just fell out in the course of the evening. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because my own grandfather had to come into America on a cousin’s passport. None of us found out his real name or the story until we were in our 20s and 30s. So I started thinking with all these people saying “illegals should be deported, even if they grew up here, even if they were born here, even if they’ve lived here 40 years, where does that leave me? Should I be sent back to Poland or Russia or the Ukraine? BLADE: It truly resonates and it’s an ongoing issue. That leads me to the next question, which is about the anthemic single “Resist,” which is one of the album’s most powerful statements, with its “I will not disappear” and titular chants. Are you ever shocked that you still ﬁnd yourself having to write and perform a song such as this? IAN: I’m shocked that it hasn’t been ﬁxed by now [laughs], and that it seems to be getting worse. I think that in some ways my generation underestimated the determination of the powers that be to stay in power. We knew about the FBI and the CIA, but it would never have occurred to us that there would still be genital mutilation. That women would still be burned on pyres. That there would be revenge rape. It’s a shock that these things still need to be addressed, but it’s not shocking that they need to be written about. I also think that music cuts through the noise in a way that very few other
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JANIS IAN takes her musical bow in 2022 with a ﬁnal North American tour. (Photo by Lloyd Bags)
things can. Politics becomes just noise. Social media becomes just noise. Music has the ability to touch people’s hearts directly in a way that none of those things can. I didn’t set out with “Resist” and think, “Oh, I’m going to write a protest song about this.” But I was plenty annoyed when I wrote it. BLADE: That deﬁnitely comes through. IAN: It’s a ﬁne line for me because my voice only carries so far. I can’t do what certain singers can do with their voices. I have a relatively light voice. That’s one of the great things about Randy Leago, and what he did with it. Because he managed to leave all that space for the vocal while surrounding it with…oh, I think I had asked for angry drums. So, the ﬁrst thing you hear is that thud of the bass drum, which to me is like a footstep coming into the room. Lines like “I cannot be your virgin and I will not be your whore” came out of my own experience. BLADE: It really is an incredible song. “Nina” is a breathtaking tribute to Nina Simone. It made me think about her performance in Questlove’s 2021 documentary Summer of Soul, and how she’s being reintroduced to new generations. Have you seen the doc?
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Lighting the way: an interview with singer Janis Ian IAN: I have not seen that, but I did see the Liz Garbus documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (from 2015) because she’s singing my song in it. BLADE: What do you think she’d think of your song about her? IAN: [Big laugh] I would not begin to wonder what Nina would think about anything. I wouldn’t go there for $1,000,000. Well, maybe for $1,000,000, but I would be pretty unsure of myself. Nina was monumentally easy and monumentally difficult to love. That’s what I tried to capture in the song. She was biologically ill, mentally ill, I would say, but I’m not sure what the correct phrase is these days. But there was such a big biological aspect to it and by the time that was really beginning to be understood and treated, she had already burned so many bridges and made so many people angry. I feel like I saw Nina at her best and her worst. Her best was so much better than any other performer I’ve ever watched. And her worst was pretty scary. BLADE: As a gay man, I have always loved the story about Nina’s correspondence with Langston Hughes. IAN: She and (James) Baldwin (were friends), too. We had lunch at my mother’s one day and she showed up with James Baldwin in tow. I don’t think she cared about that at all because artists tend not. It doesn’t really matter, it’s like skin color. Who cares as long as you’re doing great work. It’s the world that surrounds us that becomes the problem. BLADE: That is very true! Album closer “Better Times Will Come” is the kind of uplifting number we all need at this time. I was delighted by Diane Schuur’s scat… IAN: Isn’t she great? Deedles! BLADE: Her “Shayna maidel” shout-out elevates the song to a different level. IAN: We probably talk every couple of weeks or more often. We’re good buddies. She’s great. BLADE: Was that song as much fun to record as it is to listen to? IAN: It began out of the Better Times project that I started when lockdown began -- bettertimeswillcome.com. That involved, in the end, 187 artists all doing their own versions of the song. We’ve got 13 versions still to put up! Everything from Japanese sign language interpretation to a Dutch version to a Mandarin Chinese version to banjo or guitar or flatfooting. When it came time to record it, I wanted to close the album with it, but do something completely different from what I’d done already. My version that everybody worked off for the project was just me singing the song immediately after I finished it into my phone, no guitar, no nothing. You can go to bettertimeswillcome.com and watch all those videos, see all those versions, listen to them, download them. It was a great way to promote other artists who had projects coming out and suddenly couldn’t tour or make book appearances, all of that through my Facebook page. The Facebook people were wonderfully generous. I didn’t want to repeat that or reuse it, so it became question of how I do this so that it’s totally different from anything on the album and it maintains that spirit of inclusivity. I reached out to Viktor and we literally both sat down
(Photo by Keith Stokes)
with our phone books and went, “OK, this person would be great. That person would be great. Are they available?” Vince Gill wasn’t available because he’s out with the Eagles. We told Vince we had a two-month window and he literally turned it in three days before we went to mix. With Deedles (Schuur), she’d been in lockdown for a while. There was no nearby studio. It was working with her manager to find a studio and then coordinating it with her so that she felt safe, and she could do it in her own time, in her own way. For all the musicians, it became a question of me saying, “This is a step-out moment. Treated it like you’re in the (Tommy) Dorsey bands in the old days and he suddenly points to you and says “You take your solo. No preparation, no leading up to it, no ramping up. You just start max.” I was really pleased with it. John Cowan singing a verse to start off with. That’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, and I’ve always wanted John to sing one of my songs. The harmonies are great. People like Andrea Zonn, who’s normally out with James Taylor, because of COVID they were available. It worked for the piece. Viktor and Jared (Anderson), the young engineer he found, worked at assembling. We spent a lot of time on it. It felt like we just needed something to give us all a bit of hope, and yet to recognize COVID, which is why the ending is what it is. Because we keep thinking we’re good and then we’re not and we think we’re good and then we’re not. Trying to speak to that, as well. BLADE: As a songwriter, you have a long history of having your songs recorded by other performers. If you had to choose one song from The Light at the End of the Line to be covered by another artist, what song would it be and who would want to hear sing it? IAN: Oh, man, that’s pretty easy! I would have P!nk record “Resist.” I think she would slay that; I think she would just kill that song. BLADE: Not only is The Light at the End of the Line your last studio recording but the multi-city tour on which you will be embarking throughout most of 2022 is your final North American tour. What will you miss the most and the least about touring? IAN: The thing you miss about touring when you’re not touring is the audience. I have really good audiences. Everything from the male or female seven-year-old would-be guitarist
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whose parent or grandparent thinks “You should see a really good acoustic guitarist” to the 80-year-old person who’s been following me since “Society’s Child.” It’s a really broad range. I meant it when I said (in the album art) that “this album is a love song” because when I wrote (the song) “The Light at the End of the Line” I looked at it as what I was saying to my fans. One of the difficult possibilities that artists face in these days of social media and easy advertising is making sure that you consider your supporters. A word I prefer to fans, because “fans” has other connotations. The people who have always supported me — I go back to Facebook as an example – there’s a social media everybody said you can’t make money from. And yet, one year when we held the sale for our Pearl Foundation, 70% of the money came from Facebook followers. I have to believe that if you do as I’ve done; if you don’t accept advertising on your page, if you don’t bother people, if you just present yourself and have a good time, they stay with you. I have more than half a million followers to attest to that. There are a lot of potential pitfalls that I try to avoid because I really respect the people who support my work. That’s an absurd cliché, Gregg, but it’s true. I respect those people. I have a lot of gratitude toward those people. BLADE: Do you have a feeling that they know that? IAN: Absolutely! When I was staying after every show and signing, which I did for 30 years, I would hear that. That was very direct. The Light at the End of the Line also becomes a way for me to say, “You stuck with me when I was not a great writer. You stuck with me when I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I grew up in this fishbowl. Here’s our payoff. I am now a really good writer and singer, and here’s a love song for you. BLADE: The last couple of years have been brutal, to say the least, and we lost many great friends and artists, including Nanci Griffith and John Prine. Would you mind saying a few words about Nanci and John? IAN: Nanci was a very under-recognized songwriter, like Dolly Parton. And a great interpreter. She called me one day and said, “Janis, I need a Janis Ian folk song.” [Laughs] “I don’t know what that means” and she said, “Just let it roll around.” I called my friend Jon Vezner and I said, “Nanci Griffith wants a Janis Ian folk song and I have this idea for something that’ll begin ‘This old town should have burned down in 1929’,” and he said, “Fantastic! I’ll be over tomorrow morning.” That’s how Nanci operated. She left you to do what you do. John’s death really took me aback. It hit me very hard. It’s not that we were that close, but I had known John since we’re both in our early 20s. We had seen each other at the Cambridge Folk Festival a little short while before, or it felt like a short while before. “Better Times Will Come” literally grew out of that. I was in our house, in the garage doing laundry, thinking about John. “Better times will come” started running through my head. I wrote it, basically, because John died. I’m not sure what I would have written without that. Somebody once said to me, “You will never be able to write a three-chord song.” Gregg, this is literally the only three-chord song I have written in my life. I have to think that on some level, without getting weird about it, John was out there encouraging it. He was the king of simplicity. John was simple and direct in a way that very few of us ever get to be. (He’s) sorely missed.
SAG Award slate points to a not-very-queer Oscar night ‘Power of the Dog’ snubbed in Best Cast category By JOHN PAUL KING
It’s mid-January, and pandemic or not, Hollywood’s “awards season” has kicked off in earnest. The announcement last week of nominations for the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards means that it’s now time for armchair pundits, bookmakers, and film journalists to start compiling their predictions for the Oscars, which everyone knows are the main event when it comes to Hollywood awards. This should be a good-natured exercise in fun, driven by a love for the movies and a genuine appreciation of the artistry of the people who make them – but at a time when the film industry is under deep scrutiny for diversity and inclusion, things can get complicated. Since they are decided by members of a union that also makes up a substantial portion of the Academy’s voting body, the SAG Awards are considered a reliable bellwether for the Oscars race, though with fewer categories than the Academy, not to mention the complex interplay of personal loyalties and working relationships that undoubtedly influence their choices, they still leave room for a lot of speculation. Still, their record for aligning with the Academy’s eventual choices makes it worth factoring them in as we attempt to assess the chances for our favorite contenders to earn Oscar gold. For Blade readers, of course, the key question is likely to be about which of the year’s LGBTQ movies are going to snag wins. Unfortunately, the answer to that question might be pretty bleak. Of the 22 titles nominated within the SAG Awards’ six film categories, only one – “The Power of the Dog” – could be said to have any significant queer content. Others, like “West Side Story”, “tick, tick… BOOM!”, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, “Being the Ricardos”, or “House of Gucci”, have either LGBTQ-relevant elements in their narratives or obvious LGBTQ appeal in their subject matter, and some have both. But there is no “Moonlight” or “Call Me By Your Name” on which to hang the hope of a definitively queer winner in any category. In the Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture race – which is essentially the SAG Awards’ equivalent of Best Picture – the biggest surprise is the omission of “Power of the Dog.” Filmmaker Jane Campion’s dark and subtle western about the toxic relationship between a domineering older rancher and his effeminate new nephew has been a fixture in the top categories at awards ceremonies so far, but despite earning nods in other categories, it was shut out of the competition for this one. That leaves little in the way of LGBTQ inclusion among the five nominees (“Belfast”, “CODA”, “Don’t Look Up”, “House of Gucci”, “King Richard”), but it doesn’t keep “Power” from being a front-runner at the Oscars, where the Best Picture category can include up to 10 contenders. Even if all five of the SAG choices make it into the Academy’s race, Campion’s movie is almost certainly going to be there, too. The same can probably be said of “West Side Story”, another presumptive front-runner, but given its track record of wins so far, “Power” still stands as our favorite to take the honor on Oscar night. For Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture, the lineup includes several films of LGBTQ interest. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which earned a nod for star Jessica Chastain, is a biopic that takes time to address its real-life protagonist’s surprising legacy as a
Can LADY GAGA turn a SAG nomination into Oscar gold?
queer ally; “Being the Ricardos,” though it contains no directly LGBTQ material, has the obvious appeal of focusing on Lucille Ball, a show biz icon beloved for decades by the gay community, who is portrayed with delicacy and respect by nominee Nicole Kidman; Jennifer Hudson’s star turn as Aretha Franklin – another legendary diva with queer appeal – snagged her a nomination for “Respect”; and finally, Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” grabbed another nod here for Lady Gaga, the only out member of the LGBTQ community in the running. It would be great to see Mother Monster take home this prize, but she’s got stiff competition; based on honors given out so far, she stands as a frontrunner, but with Hudson and Kidman in the mix, not to mention awards darling Olivia Colman (nominated for “The Lost Daughter”), it feels like anybody’s race. Win or lose at the SAGs, Gaga still has a strong chance of being included in Oscar’s Best Actress category – as does out actress Kristin Stewart, whose performance as Lady Diana in “Spencer” puts her solidly on the Oscar shortlist, despite being snubbed here. Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture might also be wide open. A few weeks ago, Benedict Cumberbatch would likely be the clear favorite to win for his towering performance as the closeted rancher in “Power of the Dog”, but after fellow nominee Will Smith’s win at the Golden Globes for “King Richard” his chances seem less sure. It’s a category that includes two Black actors – Smith and Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) – and on a slate that is otherwise dominated by white nominees it’s one of the few opportunities for the SAGs to diversify its winners’ circle. It’s also worth mentioning that Andrew Garfield, nominated for “tick, tick… BOOM!”, won the Globes prize for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, which combined with widespread acclaim for his per-
formance makes him a strong contender to pull off an upset from either of the two frontrunners – a scenario likely to be repeated at the Academy Awards. In any case, Washington and Javier Bardem (nominated for playing Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos”) are probably the dark horses here. In the supporting categories, things look even less promising for LGBTQ inclusion. Nominated for “West Side Story” is Ariana DeBose, who is the clear favorite to win as Female Actor, though Kirsten Dunst’s quietly devastating performance in “Power of the Dog” has been accumulating considerable buzz, too. Both will likely be included at the Oscars as well. On the Male Actor side, the most clearly queer-friendly choice is Kodi Smit-McPhee, also for “Power of the Dog”; it’s a wild card category, skewed by the presence of big names (Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper, nominated for “The Tender Bar” and “Licorice Pizza”, respectively) who might gain votes on the basis of star status alone, but Smit-McPhee has made a consistently strong showing throughout the awards race so far – and frankly, deserves to win just for his ability to hold his own opposite the charismatic Cumberbatch. He’s our favorite in the category not just here, but also on Oscar night. The SAG Awards, of course, also present awards for television. Those don’t have much bearing on the Oscars, but it’s worth mentioning that the nominees there include LGBTQ-relevant favorites like “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Succession”, “Hacks”, “The White Lotus”, and “Halston.” We’ll take a closer look at those when the Screen Actors Guild makes their presentation, which will air live on TNT and TBS, on Sunday, Feb. 27. Meanwhile, it’s time to start working on those Oscar predictions. Ready, set… GO!
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‘Fiona and Jane’ an enticing look at lifelong friendship
Two women bicker, fall distant – then meet again
By KATHI WOLFE “Fiona and Jane,” a new short story collection by Jean Chen Ho is an enticing New Year’s present. The captivating volume features secrets, family conflict, queerness, astute cultural observations, and above all, friendship. We long to fall in love. So we lose our hearts to our lovers and go to pieces when our relationships break up. Yet, especially, if we’re women and/or queer, we want a best friend as much, maybe more, than we do a lover. Fiona and Jane, Asian Americans, grew up in Los Angeles. They’ve been best friends since they met in LA in second grade. Jane’s family emigrated to Los Angeles from Taiwan. Fiona, with her mother, came to LA from Taiwan when she was a young child. In “Fiona and Jane,” Ho’s debut collection, the two friends over 30 years grow from second-graders to 30-somethings. Ho’s linked stories draw us into Fiona and Jane’s friendship as they become, at different times, incredibly close, then distant (both geographically and emotionally) from each other. Ho, 41, has more writing chops than you can imagine. She is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California where she is a Dornsife Fellow in fiction. Ho has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her writing has been published in The Georgia Review, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, McSweeney’s, and other publications. Ho was born in Taiwan, grew up in Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. But, “none of the things that happen to Fiona and Jane are autobiographical,” she said on the podcast
“All of It with Alison Stewart,” “I didn’t mine my particular life experiences and put them in the book out of respect to my oldest and dearest friends.” Fiona is hetero, smart and attractive. As a teen, she earns enough money to buy a secondhand car (named Shamu, Ho writes, “after the Sea World killer whale because of the corroding white patches all over the black paint.”). While Fiona’s mother isn’t religious, Jane’s Mom is devoutly Christian. Jane is bisexual. When she and Fiona are teens, they kiss “to practice” – what kissing’s like. Though she doesn’t tell her Mom, Jane, when a teenager, has a romantic relationship with her female piano teacher. When she’s young, Jane often does what Fiona does. Because Jane’s tall, she’s often thought of as “Fiona’s bodyguard.” As she grows older, Jane begins to rely more on herself. Fiona is eager to leave LA. She goes to college, then moves to New York City with her first boyfriend. She enters law school, then drops out. Jane stays in Los Angeles. She opts to take a gap year between high school and college. The gap year morphs into a couple of years. Jane has relationships with women as well as with Julian, a vet who has PTSD. Though Fiona and Jane are quite different from one another, they keep circling back to each other. Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: they both have lost their fathers. In one of the collection’s most moving stories, “The Night
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Market,” Jane speaks of her visit before she graduated high school to Taiwan where she has come to see her Dad. Her Dad has gone from LA to Taiwan for a temporary job. Jane learns that he’s going to stay in Taiwan because he’s fallen in love with a man there. Her Dad asks her to keep this a secret. But, ‘Fiona and Jane’ in her pain at his revelaBy Jean Chen Ho tion, she outs him. Jane c. 2022, Viking | $26 | 275 pages blames herself for his suicide. Fiona discovers as a child that she’s never known her father. Her mother raises her on her own. Over the years, Fiona and Jane bicker, fall distant – then meet again. As teens, they help each other get fake IDs so they can drink. As adults, they help each other through moving apartments, love affairs and mourning. “Sixteen years since my father died, and I was still alive,” Jane thinks, “I got up, every morning. I lived, day by day. I had my best friend, Fiona Lin.” Check out “Fiona and Jane.” Then, text your best friend.