Los Angeles Blade, Volume 06, Issue 15, April 15, 2022

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Anti-LGBTQ evangelist leads protests in SoCal Sean Feucht, the former worship/musical artist at the Bethel charismatic megachurch in Redding, Calif., and the founder of the Let Us Worship group gathered this past week with several dozen supporters to protest outside the headquarters of the Walt Disney Company. Feucht and his fel(Screenshot via YouTube) low protesters were taking aim at the media conglomerate’s stance opposing the recently passed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in Florida along with Disney’s support of the LGBTQ community.


Feucht and the Redding-based Let Us Worship followers had staged a protest a week earlier, marching up and down Santa Monica Boulevard and along North Robertson Blvd. in the heart of West Hollywood’s LGBTQ Rainbow District in front of its nightclubs, bars, shops, and restaurants that cater to a predominantly LGBTQ clientele. They carried drums they beat, so-called ‘Jesus’ flags and chanted. Feucht, a Republican who once ran as a candidate for California’s 3rd Congressional District losing by 46 points to his GOP primary opponent, has made a name for himself appearing at QAnon events nationwide spouting anti-coronavirus vitriol and baseless lies. To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Feucht hosted a twoday “Let Us Worship” event at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In October 2020 Feucht led 35,000 maskless evangelicals at a prayer event on the National Mall in Washington protesting federal and state mask mandates. Additionally in 2019, the Bethel charismatic megachurch he is tied to held a multi-day vigil to resurrect a dead six-year old girl, which brought international scrutiny. During the protest this week at Disney Feucht proclaimed, “We call for every wall of perversion to come down in Jesus’ name. We call for every wall to strip the innocence of our kids to come down. God, we pray that you would expose Disney for what it is, expose this corporation, bring everything that’s been hidden into the light.” BRODY LEVESQUE

Newsom advances legislation to hold gun industry accountable The California Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 1327, private right of action legislation authored by Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and sponsored by Gov. Gavin Newsom to limit the spread of assault weapons and ghost guns on Tuesday. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last December allowing Texas’s ban on most abortion services to remain in place, Newsom directed his administration to work with the legislature to propose a measure, modeled on the structure of Texas’s abortion law, to enable private citizens to hold the gun industry accountable through civil litigation for the proliferation of illegal firearms.

Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM announcing SB 1327 in February. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

“This week’s unconscionable act of gun violence is a tragic reminder of the lives that are at stake in this crisis that endangers communities across the country,” said the governor. “Today, the Legislature took an important step towards holding the gun industry accountable for mass shootings in our communities involving illegal firearms and protecting res-

idents, utilizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed private citizens in Texas the ability to sue abortion providers. So long as the Supreme Court has set this precedent, California will use it to save lives.” SB 1327 allows private citizens to bring civil actions against any person who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports into the state or sells assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns, or ghost gun kits. “I am proud to be working with Governor Newsom and his Administration to bring accountability to gun manufacturers and others who are flooding our streets with dangerous and deadly weapons,” said Senator Hertzberg. “The alarm bells are blaring. We could not have a clearer call for action to stop gun violence than what happened on Sunday at the doorstep of our state’s democracy. The Legislature will act.” Senator Hertzberg’s bill is part of a larger legislative package supported by Governor Newsom to strengthen gun laws and protect Californians. In February, the Governor highlighted additional gun safety legislation, including AB 1594 by Assemblymembers Philip Ting (D-San Francisco), Mike Gipson (D-Carson) and Christopher Ward (D-San Diego), which would allow individuals and the California Attorney General to sue manufacturers and sellers of firearms for the harm caused by their products. AB 2571 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) would restrict marketing of firearms to minors. And AB 1621 by Assemblymember Gipson seeks to further restrict the proliferation of ghost guns. Newsom’s proposed Real Public Safety Plan would create a new statewide gun buyback program to provide matching grants and safe-disposal opportunities to get guns off our streets. The plan also includes additional funding for California’s gun violence research center at the University of California, Davis. California pioneered statewide gun safety protections, approved by voters in Proposition 63, to ban possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks to keep ammunition out of the hands of dangerous people. Since assuming office, Governor Newsom has signed multiple bills aimed at reducing gun violence, including strengthening gun violence restraining orders, regulating the sale of firearms and ammunition and accelerating the regulation of ghost guns. The 2021 state budget invested $200 million in the CalVIP program, which supports initiatives designed to break the cycle of violence in disproportionately impacted communities. The budget also provided $11 million to facilitate outreach, education and training efforts related to gun violence restraining orders and $10.3 million for local law enforcement agencies to support the seizure of firearms from individuals prohibited from possessing them. BRODY LEVESQUE



Trans-inclusive Care Act passes Calif. Senate committee

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 923, the TGI Inclusive Care Act passed the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 8-2. It will now head the Senate Appropriations Committee. This first in the nation legislation requires physicians to undergo evidence-based cultural competency education to help them provide inclusive care for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people. This legislation comes at a time when trans kids and trans people are under attack across the country by right-wing state leaders. In February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order making it illegal for parents to allow their trans kids to receive gender-affirming care. These parents could have their children taken away or be sent to prison, simply for allowing their children to be who they are and receive this necessary care. California Capitol Building Abbott called gender-affirming care “child abuse.” In Florida, just this week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, banning discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation from public school classrooms. “What’s happening in Texas and Florida is simply horrifying,” said Senator Wiener. “We cannot let gender-affirming care and LGTBQ rights become a politicized issue, with LGTBQ kids caught in the crosshairs. SB 923 will ensure that California providers treat patients with the culturally competent and respectful care that they deserve. This legislation will set a new standard nationwide for what truly inclusive gender-affirming care looks like.” While LGBTQ kids are under attack in Texas and Florida, SB 923 shows a different path forward: one in which quality gender-affirming care is provided for anyone who needs it, and one in which providers treat TGI patients with the respect and care they deserve. SB 923 specifies that the required cultural competency curriculum must be facilitated by a working group of representatives from at least three TGI-serving organizations and appointees from state agencies to develop a quality standard for patience experience. SB 923 also ensures that health plans include a list of in-network providers who offer gender-affirming services. This legislation will help create a more inclusive and culturally competent healthcare system for TGI people across California. Healthcare discrimination and a lack of access to culturally competent care is a major problem that many TGI people regularly face. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that one-third of all transgender individuals who saw a healthcare professional in 2014 had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, with even higher rates for people of color and people with disabilities. These negative experiences include being refused treatment, verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or having to teach the provider about transgender people in order to receive appropriate care.[1]

(Photo courtesy State of California)

This is especially problematic given that TGI people, compared with the general population, suffer from more chronic health conditions. TGI people experience higher rates of health problems related to HIV/AIDS, substance use, mental illness, and sexual and physical violence, as well as a higher prevalence and earlier onset of disabilities that can also lead to longterm health issues. Sadly, 23% of transgender individuals reported that fear of discrimination caused them to postpone or not receive necessary medical care.[2] Every person deserves to receive quality, compassionate health care from understanding, informed, and respectful providers – providers who don’t make assumptions about their gender or sexuality, and who honor their bodily autonomy. TGI people already face so many obstacles outside of the healthcare system, including higher rates of violence, workplace discrimination, ostracization from families and religious communities, and housing discrimination. Going to the doctor should not mean facing additional discrimina-

tion or unecessary hardship. TGI people should have access to positive healthcare experiences. This includes seeing providers who are able to give them the care they need in a non-judgmental and supportive environment, and being able to search for providers who provide gender-affirming services (gender-affirming services include but are not limited to: chest reconstruction, mastectomy, facial feminization surgery, hysterectomy, voice masculinization or feminization, hormone therapy related to gender dysphoria or intersex conditions, gender-affirming gynecological care, or voice therapy related to gender dysphoria or intersex conditions). Gender-affirming care is critically important health care, and anyone who needs it should be able to find and access it. Finally, SB 923 requires health plans to have an accessible website and available call center that allows patients to easily find providers who offer gender-affirming care. While all health plans are required to cover gender-affirming care, it can be difficult for TGI patients to actually find providers who routinely offer this care. This is a major impediment to TGI people accessing the care they need. The TGI-Inclusive Care Act will help create a healthcare system that meets the needs of TGI people, and provide a more positive patient experience. SB 923 is sponsored by the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, Equality California, National Health Law Program Trans Community Project, TransFamily Support Services & Western Center on Law & Poverty. It is coauthored by Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Evan Low (D-San Jose) and Alex Lee (D-Fremont). Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is principal co-author. BRODY LEVESQUE

LA County axes travel to Fla., Texas over anti-LGBTQ policies One of the agenda items during Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting was a motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to ban taxpayer funded travel to Texas and Florida over those states’ controversial anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The motion carried unanimously, suspending LA County employees from travel to both states effective immediately. “As we’ve done in the past where states have enacted some egregious laws that contravene everything that we have done in L.A. County and in California, this motion calls for a travel ban on all travel to these states,” L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “We’re not gonna spend our money going to your states and it sends a message that we won’t support this egregious behavior,” Kuehl agreed referring to the motion. L.A. County’s order suspends travel to the two states “unless the Chief Executive Officer determines that the failure to authorize such travel would seriously harm the County’s interests.” The ban can be lifted when either of the bills or orders are suspended, the motion states. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill last month, which is sure to prompt lawsuits as opponents question the legality of legislation they see as harmful and discriminatory. H.B. 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” will make classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, while “age-appropriate” teaching would be allowed in older grades – though it is not clear what is considered “age-appropriate.” The bill 04 • APRIL 15, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

would also allow parents to sue schools or teachers who violate the legislation. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to investigate reports of gender-affirming care on minors, following an official opinion from state Attorney General Ken Paxton that called the treatment a form of “child abuse” under Texas law. The Texas Court of Appeals for the state’s third circuit reinstated the temporary injunction Monday, as issued by the Travis County, Texas district court on March 11, 2022, which bars the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from investigations of parents and families of Transgender youth. Travis County Texas District Court Judge, Amy Clark Meachum, ordered a preliminary statewide injunction March 11 and had granted a temporary restraining order to block the DFPS from investigating the plaintiffs of a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU of Texas), and the ACLU. Supervisor Kuehl called the order in Texas “discriminatory, harmful and deliberately cruel.” Supervisor Solis also echoed Kuehl’s remarks. “I too come from a family that has parents whose children are LGBTQ, and I know what it was for them to raise their children and even to talk amongst our own larger family, and how important it is to support each other and in particularly these young people who are trying to live out their best in life,” Solis said. BRODY LEVESQUE





‘Trans Joy is Resistance’ Mars Wright mural for ProjectQ

Last month Mars Wright and ProjectQ announced the opening of their mural at the new ProjectQ location on 4709 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. This two-building mural, titled “Trans Joy is Resistance” is part of a larger series “Trans Joy” by the artist Mars Wright. Commissioned by the non-profit ProjectQ this mural sits on the cross street of Vermont and Fountain Ave and will be a permanent mural. The white-on-black, black-on-white two building mural portrays a smattering of smiling mouths in motion in Mars Wright’s iconic illustrative style. “I draw tons of inspiration from the works of Keith Harring, specifically his subway drawings. How do we make Trans Joy tangible, a lived reality? We put it everywhere, we remind everyone passing by that we are not going anywhere and our joy is actively resisting the Transphobia we experience, the Transphobia that tells us we do not belong and we should not have joyous lives as out Trans people. I am so honored to have

(Courtesy of Mars Wright/ProjectQ)

my mural at ProjectQ, an important and necessary resource for LGBTQ+ folks.” said Mars Wright. The ProjectQ Community Center is a non-profit organization that provides safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth. At their Community Center, LGBTQIA+ folx with housing insecurities can receive free mentorship classes and workshops, along with free gender-affirming haircuts. They pride themselves in being 100% inclusive and a safe space where everyone is welcome; regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, size, ability, and income. Mars is a Trans artist and Activist who is a mixed media artist that’s interested in the beauty of imperfection and the strength of radical honesty. Through sharing his life vulnerably he hopes to help folks feel less alone. We are all trying our best and he wants to honor that effort. FROM STAFF REPORTS

Disney heir comes out as trans Walt Disney Company heir Charlee Corra-Disney came out as trans and denounced anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S. in a recent Los Angeles Times interview. Roy P. Disney, Disney’s stepfather and the grandson of the company’s co-founder, revealed the news in a recent statement announcing the family would double its initial promise and match up to $500,000 in donations to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organization. Last month, Charlee Corra-Disney said the family would match up to $250,000 at the organization’s annual gala in Los Angeles. “Equality matters deeply to us,” Roy P. Disney said in a statement, ac-


cording to the LA Times. “Especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.” The HRC gala was sort of a public coming out for them, Corra-Disney told Times columnist Robin Abcarian, given that they came out privately four years ago. “I have a trans kid, and I love my kid no matter what,” Disney’s moth-


er, Sheri, told the newspaper. The news comes after Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law. The legislation will ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and allow parents to sue schools or teachers. Disney CEO Bob Chapek came under fire for his response to the bill, which many viewed as muted. After widespread criticism for declining to speak out against the legislation, Chapek ultimately apologized, publicly opposed the measure, paused all political donations in Florida and urged Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to reject the bill in a phone call. After DeSantis’ signature, the company also released a statement, saying the bill “should never have been signed into law.” The governor later said the company “crossed the line,” adding that Disney has “alienated a lot of people now,” at a press conference in West Palm Beach. Charlee Corra-Disney , 30, a high school biology and environmental science teacher, had a difficult journey, even with “all the apparent privilege in the world,” Abcarian wrote. “I had very few openly gay role models,” they said. “And I certainly didn’t have any trans or nonbinary role models. I didn’t see myself reflected in anyone, and that made me feel like there was something wrong with me.” Corra-Disney, who admitted that they had little experience with public speaking or advocacy, expressed regret for not doing more to support the LGBTQ+ community. “I feel like I don’t do very much to help,” Charlee Corra-Disney told the Times. “I don’t call senators or take action. I felt like I could be doing more.” They also widely condemned anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the U.S. So far this year, state lawmakers have proposed over 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills – many of which target Trans youth – according to Freedom for All Americans’ legislative tracker. Corra-Disney said that LGBTQ+ youth already face high rates of depression and anxiety, not to mention bullying and suicide. “Then to put something like this law on top of that? They can’t learn about their community and their history at school, or play sports or use the bathroom they want to use?” ZACHARY JARRELL

In a world ravaged by global warming, pandemics, and natural disaster, King Lear is a man who has brought his country through turmoil, but at what cost?







TheWallis.org/Lear This production was made possible by generous support from Michael and Meeghan Nemeroff / Vedder Price.

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LA Public Health Violence Prevention Program expands countywide of those most impacted by violence, investing in peer approaches and grassroots orgaAs a part of National Public Health Week, the Los Angeles County Department of Public nizations, and uplifting trauma prevention and healing for both survivors of violence and Health is announcing that the Office of Violence Prevention’s (OVP) Trauma Prevention Inithose who work to address violence. OVP aligns county and community partners to bring tiative (TPI), which provides a comprehensive, place-based model for violence prevention a healing-centered and equity lens to address multiple and intervention that invests in community-driven safety forms of violence. solutions, including peer outreach and local leadership, TPI also collaborates with partners to support safe is expanding to five new communities across the County. community hubs like the DPH Wellness Communities Los Angeles County has seen an increase in violence and School-based Wellbeing Centers, Libraries, and Parks over the past two years. Homicides rose 41% and gun and Recreation. homicides rose 39% in Los Angeles County in 2020 com“It’s important that we provide spaces for our compared to 2019. The number of homicides in the first quarmunities to connect and express what safety means to ter of 2021 was 54% higher than the number of homithem and to be empowered with the unique resources cides in the first quarter of 2020, and 67% higher than in they need to help prevent and end violence –this is why the first quarter of 2019. the expansion of the Trauma Prevention Initiative is viThe effects of violence on the lives of individuals, famital. The Second District championed initial investments lies, and communities in the County are physically, socialin this initiative and, as a result, we have taken a comprely, and emotionally devastating. They are also unequal, hensive approach to ending violence that centers comas data on violence-related injuries and deaths makes it munity leaders and survivors in developing the solutions. clear that people of color and people in communities that I commend the Department of Public Health’s leadership have borne the brunt of poverty, divestment, and racism in helping to make the Trauma Prevention Initiative more are disproportionately impacted by violence. Martin Luther King Memorial at Kenneth Hahn Park accessible throughout the County,” said Los Angeles TPI was first implemented in South Los Angeles com(Photo courtesy County of Los Angeles) County Board of Supervisors Chair, Holly J. Mitchell. munities in 2016. On July 13th, 2021, the LA County Board “When Public Health established the County’s Office of Supervisors approved a motion to expand TPI to five of Violence Prevention, we prioritized a public health approach that could invest in comnew communities across the County and provide additional resources to South LA community-led approaches to securing peace. Public Health believes violence is preventable munities, including Westmont West Athens, Willowbrook, Florence Firestone, and uninand predictable. And that violence is the result of trauma,” Ferrer said. “If we can heal the corporated Compton. OVP partners with community members and stakeholders to adapt wounds of trauma, we can help stop violence. The County’s Trauma Prevention Initiative evidence-based violence prevention and intervention strategies to the unique needs of is community-driven and centered on survivors. And key to this powerful work, are the each community. members of the Community Action for Peace networks who are tireless partners in the The Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) is advancing policy, practice and system change neighborhoods, advancing peace goals, block by block.” that works to increase access to safety, health and healing services and resources to all FROM STAFF REPORTS individuals regardless of race or zip code. This is best achieved by centering the voices

Pro hockey player suspended 8 games for anti-gay slur committed to building a culture that is safe, Ben Holmstrom won’t be back on the ice inclusive, and free from abuse, harassment, for nine more days, as the Rochester Amerand all forms of unethical behavior or misicans forward serves an 8-game suspension conduct.” for using homophobic language. He’s already The team’s General Manager, Jason Karmissed five games, a far shorter punishment monos, said in a statement: “We were made than a San Jose player served earlier this seaaware of an inappropriate comment made son for racism on the ice. by one of our players in a recent game. Once The American Hockey League, the minor aware, we took immediate action through nuleague offshoot of the National Hockey League, merous conversations with the player, team, took punitive action last week after Holmstrom and league. To be clear, we have no tolerance engaged in an altercation with Comets forward for any form of hate and regret any harm his Chase De Leo at the end of the first period of comment inflicted. We strive to maintain an Rochester’s home game versus the Utica Cominclusive environment in which our differencets on March 30th. es are celebrated. We have sought counseling Holmstrom was heard spewing offensive and awareness resources for the player.” anti-gay language and the on-ice officials imHolmstrom is not the first player suspendmediately issued a game misconduct penalty, ed by the AHL for using hateful language this which sent the 34-year-old to the bench for the season. rest of the match. Rochester went on to defeat BEN HOLMSTROM (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Americans) On Jan. 22, the AHL suspended San Jose BarUtica 4-3. racuda forward Krystof Hrabik for 30-games There’s been no comment by Holmstrom or for directing a racial gesture at Tuscon RoadDe Leo, but the AHL and his team, nicknamed runners forward Boko Imama during a game. Imama, who is Black, has been a frequent the Amerks, did issue statements to the media. target of racist attacks in his AHL career. “As part of the suspension, Holmstrom will be participating in diversity and inclusion DAWN ENNIS education,” said the AHL in a statement on Wednesday. “The American Hockey League is 08 • APRIL 15, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM


Kentucky governor vetoes anti-trans bill Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed legislation this week that would ban transgender girls from playing on sports teams in Kentucky schools that match their gender identities from sixth grade through college. Senate Bill 83 (SB83), known as the Save Women’s Sports Act, would require the Board of Education or agency designated by the Board of Education to manage interscholastic athletics to proKentucky Democratic Gov. ANDY BESHEAR (Screenshot/NBC Nightly News) mulgate administrative regulations or bylaws requiring schools that participate in interscholastic athletics to designate all athletic teams, activities, and sports based upon the biological sex of the students eligible to participate. The law would prohibit “biological male” students from participating in athletic teams, activities, and sports designated as “girls.” Beshear in his veto message to lawmakers accused the legislation’s sponsors of ignoring the policies undertaken taken by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to assure that no student-athlete who has an unfair advantage can compete. Under the association’s policy, a post-pubescent trans female must take hormonal therapy for a sufficient length

of time to minimize any gender-related advantage. “Transgender children deserve public officials’ efforts to demonstrate that they are valued members of our community through compassion, kindness, and empathy, even if not understanding,” the governor wrote. The Republican dominated Kentucky legislature passed the measure with veto proof majority votes and according to the Louisville daily, The Courier-Journal, lawmakers intend to reconvene next week at which time both the House and the Senate could override Beshear’s veto. “I applaud Governor Beshear for doing the right thing today and vetoing a harmful piece of legislation that would deprive transgender girls and young women of the opportunity to grow and learn from being on a team, simply because of who they are,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign. “From the start, this bill has been more about fear than fairness. In Kentucky’s entire school system, there is only one openly transgender girl we know about who is playing on a school sports team. That student started her school’s field hockey team, recruited all of the other team members, and just wants the opportunity to play with her friends during her eighth-grade year. But rather than tackle any of the state’s real issues, legislators decided to use their time and power to bully this student and others like her. While we are pleased with the governor’s actions today, the rights of transgender people in Kentucky are still in danger. We urge state lawmakers to follow the lead of Governor Beshear and show compassion to transgender people in our commonwealth by not overriding this veto.” BRODY LEVESQUE

Ala. Gov. Ivey signs flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills ing care to transgender adolescents with up to 10 years in prison. Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a package of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation last FriThe bills have been opposed by doctors, medical associations, and the families of transday, including House Bill 322, which bans K-12 students from using bathrooms and school gender youth who consider gender-affirming care to be medically necessary and lifesavfacilities consistent with their gender identity and enacts a bill similar to one recently ing. Similar efforts by lawmakers in Arkansas and Texas to restrict access to gender-affirmenacted in Florida with “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” provisions for classroom instruction in ing care have been blocked by courts. grades K-5. “If Alabama lawmakers insist on passing this cruel, dangerous, and unconstitutional Ivey also signed SB 184 – a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing best-practice, legislation into law, the state will immediately have a lawsuit to deal with,” said Carl S. gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary youth. Charles, senior attorney for Lambda Legal. “The Alabama In response, major LGBTQ+ and civil rights organizations Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey need to consider the time – including The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Naand resources they will invest, not to mention the stain of tional Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), GLBTQ Legal Advodiscrimination that often means lost opportunity and incates & Defenders (GLAD) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) vestment, and ask themselves if targeting the health care – announced they would challenge the bill. of children is truly worth it because we are prepared to “A state cannot criminalize parents and doctors for followmake that investment in order to protect transgender ing medical guidelines and providing needed medical treatyouth, their families, and their doctors in Alabama.” ments,” said Asaf Orr, senior staff attorney and Transgender New polling data from The Trevor Project and Morning Youth Project director at the NCLR. “This is a blatantly unconConsult found that a majority of U.S. adults oppose blockstitutional bill that will cause enormous stress and harm to ing students from accessing LGBTQ resources and eduAlabama families and cost Alabama taxpayers millions of dolcational content on the internet at school (57%), banning lars to defend.” books on LGBTQ topics from school libraries (56%), and “At the eleventh hour, the governor of Alabama signed into banning classroom discussions about LGBTQ topics — inlaw a slate of arguably the most extreme anti-trans bills we Alabama Republican Gov. KAY IVEY cluding sexual orientation and gender identity — in school have ever seen. These policies attempt to make providing gen(Screenshot/WVTM 13) (52%). der-affirming care a felony, and cut off access to nearly every Further, the poll found a majority of adults agree that support system transgender and nonbinary youth have – suptransgender minors should have access to gender-affirming hormone therapy (55%) and port systems we know are critical for reducing their suicide risk and for advancing their puberty blockers (52%) if it’s recommended by their doctor and supported by their parpositive mental health,” said Sam Ames, director of Advocacy and Government Affairs for ents. And only 1 in 3 adults say lawmakers should have the ability to outlaw gender-affirmThe Trevor Project. “But they will not succeed. To trans and nonbinary youth in Alabama ing medical care for minors even if such a ban is against the recommendation of doctors and across the country watching on this dark day: This is not over. We will fight as far as it and major medical associations. takes, until the day every young person knows they are loved, supported, and worthy just Another poll released earlier this year found that found that 85% of transgender and as they are. We’re here with you today, we’re here for you every day, and we’re not going nonbinary youth —and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about anywhere.” state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their menThe American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, Lambda Legal, Transgender tal health. Law Center, and Cooley LLP announced plans to file a legal challenge to proposed legislaBRODY LEVESQUE tion in Alabama that would criminalize medical professionals who provide gender-affirmLOSANGELESBLADE.COM • APRIL 15, 2022 • 09


Trump says ‘Don’t Say Gay’ measure ‘a good move’ Former President Trump, in an interview published last week in which he stood by false claims about having won the 2020 election, said he thinks Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signing into law the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was a “good move,” according to the Washington Post. Trump was quoted as saying in the interview he agrees with DeSantis in signing the measure, which vaguely prohibits “instruction” on LGBTQ issues in grades K-3 and more generally “not age-appropriate” settings.

DONALD TRUMP reportedly said Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law was a ‘good move.’ (Blade file photo)

“I do think it was a good move,” he said, although he declined to elaborate, according to the Washington Post. Trump made the reported remarks in the context about a possible contest between DeSantis and Trump in the Republican primary for the 2024 presidential election, as well as other possible challenges from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence. Trump, however, threw cold water on the prospects of any of them challenging him. “If I ran, I can’t imagine they’d want to run,” Trump was quoted as saying. “Some out of loyalty would have had a hard time running. I think that most of those people, and almost every name you mentioned, is there because of me.” Trump, whose administration was criticized for its anti-LGBTQ actions as defenders called him the first Republican president to be a gay ally, essentially endorses the “Don’t Say Gay” measure despite a segment of LGBTQ community reliability supporting him as conservatives. In December, Trump with former first lady Melania Trump attended the Log Cabin Republicans annual dinner, which last year took place at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Log Cabin Republicans has come out in support of the “Don’t Say Gay” measure. Proponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill have defended the measure by erroneously saying it simply prohibits sex education for K-3 children or would only prohibit school curriculum on sexual orientation or gender identity, even though there’s no limiting principle in the measure restricting its reach. The first lawsuit was filed against the “Don’t Say Gay” measure last week and remains pending in federal court in Florida. Meanwhile, Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Sunday criticized the “Don’t Say Gay” law and the dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills that are currently before lawmakers across the country. “I am a proud gay Black immigrant,” said Jean-Pierre during her speech at the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s National Champagne Brunch that took place at the Grand Hyatt in downtown D.C. “Basically, I am Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis’ worst nightmare.” CHRIS JOHNSON

TikTok suspends HRC’s ‘Gay’ comment A Tik-Tok reel-post of the protests against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ on which the Human Rights Campaign left a comment that included the word ‘gay’ got the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy non-profit suspended for a couple of days. In a tweet Monday, HRC wrote, “Seriously @tiktok_us? You banned us for using the word gay in a comment. You need to do better!” Ty Cobb, senior director of strategic initiatives at HRC, told The Advocate Tuesday in a statement: “What message does it send to young people when we comment or post LGBTQ+ content and it’s deemed inappropriate and a violation of community guidelines? We’re fighting a battle for our lives. Elected officials are trying to censor our speech and restrict our access to healthcare and equal opportunity. Our need to communicate to our community and allies is more important than ever right now. Having our TikTok account suspended for two days means our ability to post educational, affirming content was restricted, which is nothing short of devastating.” Tik-Tok has a checkered and problematic history in its engagement with the LGBTQ community. TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. There are no tailored TikTok policies specifically addressing safety for the LGBTQ community. Instead, the platform’s community guidelines relevant to protecting the LGBTQ community are folded into TikTok’s “organized hate” and “hateful behavior” policies barring users from directing hate toward an individual or groups based on their “sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity,” among other characteristics.


LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD analyzed LGBTQ safety on TikTok in its Social Media Safety Index released in May. In its recommendations, it noted that, “TikTok must prioritize improved practices and systems to reduce anti-LGBTQ hate and extremist content.” Anti-LGBTQ content not only slides under TikTok’s radar but seems to be actively promoted by the company’s algorithm. Media Matters for America, a Washington D.C.-based media watchdog group noted: “Let’s be clear: No one knows exactly how TikTok’s “For You” page algorithm is formulated. We have a rough idea, as TikTok has explained that recommendations are based on a number of factors like user interactions, video information, and device settings.” LGBTQ+ individual users on the Tik-Tok platform also find themselves targeted by organized efforts by right-wing homophobes who have discovered how to “game” the platforms to force content guideline strikes or violations algorithms which sometimes result in a complete ban and deplatforming of those users affected. The Culver City based social media company spokesperson responding in an email to The Advocate explained the company took action immediately after it knew of the issue with HRC. “We restored the comment as soon as we were made aware of this error and will continue to provide ongoing training to help our moderators make consistent and accurate decisions,” the spokesperson for the company said. “We are proud that LGBTQ+ community members choose to create and share on TikTok, and our policies seek to protect and empower these voices on our platform.” Tik-Tok has not responded to the Blade’s request for explanation or comment. BRODY LEVESQUE


Anti-LGBTQ violence common around world: State Dept. respect for human rights in many parts of the world,” said The State Department’s annual human rights report Blinken. “In the time since releasing our previous report, that was released on Tuesday notes anti-LGBTQ persecuthat backsliding has, unfortunately, continued. In few plaction and violence remains commonplace in many counes have the human consequences of this decline have tries around the world. been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s bruThe report notes consensual same-sex sexual relations tal war on Ukraine.” remain criminalized in Jamaica and dozens of other counBlinken also described human rights as “universal.” tries. Iran and Afghanistan are two of the handful of na“People of every nationality, race, gender, disability and tions in which homosexuality is punishable by death. age are entitled to these rights, no matter what they beThe report specifically cites the case of Alireza Fazeli lieve, who they love, or any other characteristics,” he said. Monfared, an Iranian man whose relatives killed in in May “This is especially important as a number of governments 2021 after they discovered he was gay and non-binary. The continue to claim, falsely, that human rights need to be report also notes the Taliban regaining control of Afghanapplied based on global context. It’s no coincidence that istan in August 2021 “increased fears of repression and many of the same governments are among the worst violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals abusers of human rights.” going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban.” The report also notes LGBTQ rights advances around “Many fled the country after the takeover,” reads the rethe world. port. “After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN speaks to reporters on April 12, after the State Department released its annual human rights report. The Botswana Court of Appeals in November 2021 upthreats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers) held a previous ruling that decriminalized homosexuality Taliban members, strangers, neighbors and family memin the country. The report also notes the European Combers.” mission sanctioned Hungary over its efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights and Poland in response to The report includes statistics from Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais, a Brazilso-called “LGBT-free zones.” ian transgender rights group, that indicate 80 trans people — most of whom were Brazilians President Biden in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting of African descent who were younger than 35 — were reported killed in the first six months LGBTQ rights abroad. of 2021. The report also cites Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Honduras The White House last June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jesthat noted 17 “violent deaths of LGBTQI+ persons” in the country between January and August sica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State 2021. Department on Monday began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out to reporters there are more than 1 million poThe State Department released its report less than a month after Republican Florida Gov. litical prisoners in 65 countries. These include Yoav de la Cruz, a gay Cuban man who was senRon DeSantis signed into law his state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawmakers in dozens of other tenced to six years in prison last month after he livestreamed the first anti-government protest states across the U.S. have introduced similar measures and others that specifically target that took place on the island on July 11, 2021. transgender children. The report notes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s continued efforts to rollback “We’re not trying to pretend that these are not issues that we are grappling with here in the LGBTQ rights, which include a decree his government issued on Aug. 6, 2021, that restricted United States,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, the sale of children’s books with LGBTQ-specific themes. The report also includes incidents of Human Rights and Labor Lisa Peterson in response to the Washington Blade’s question about anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination and hate speech in Poland. the release of the report against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ measures in the U.S. “This report, This report focuses on 2021, and does not include details of human rights abuses that Rusbecause it is very clearly focused on the rest of the world, we do dig in on other countries. We sian forces have carried out against Ukrainian civilians during the ongoing war in their country. do not have a mandate to do a report on our own circumstances.” Blinken nevertheless criticized Russia throughout his remarks. MICHAEL K. LAVERS “In many years running, we have seen an alarming recession in democracy, in rule of law,

Australia PM opposes trans women in sports

Australia Prime Minister SCOTT MORRISON (Photo by shganti777 via Bigstockphoto)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reiterated his opposition to transgender women on female sports teams. Senator Claire Chandler, who represents Tasmania, in February introduced a bill in the Australian Parliament that would amend the country’s Sex Discrimination Act to allow sports and clubs to ban trans women from “single-sex sport” teams. “For the avoidance of any doubt, references to ‘sex’ refer to biological sex and the intention of this clause is to provide


certainty that operating single-sex sport — sporting activity exclusively for either females or males — is not a breach of the act,” reads the bill. “A person’s gender/gender identity/ gender expression has no bearing on their sex.” The Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday noted Morrison has described Chandler’s bill as “terrific.” The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported the prime minister has also endorsed Katherine Deves, the co-founder of Save Women’s Sport, a group that backs efforts to ban trans women from competing on female sports teams, who is running against incumbent MP Zali Steggal. “I share their views,” said Morrison on Monday. Australia’s general election will take place on May 21. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday noted Morrison declined to say whether his government would seek to ban trans women from female sports teams if it were to win re-election. “It’s time to recognize that there’s nothing brave about attacking trans people, but that courage instead lies in addressing the real problems we face,” said Sally Goldner, a spokesperson for Just Equal Australia, a national LGBTQ rights group, on Monday in a press release. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

VO L U M E 06 IS S U E 15


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KEVIN NAFF is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com

America the humorless

A thin-skinned people offended by jokes and bent on punishing comedians Two weeks ago, the Blade’s print edition cover date fell on April 1, known to most of us as April Fools’ Day. In the spirit of the holiday, which History.com says originated in 1582 when France moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar and confused some gullible residents, I decided the Blade should join the fun. The paper has a long history of participating in April Fools’ jokes, once publishing a cover photo of the office shot upside down to make it appear the Blade offices had been ransacked by anti-gay activists. For this year’s cover, we published an image of Sen. Lindsey Graham, fresh off his melodramatic temper tantrum at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, with a headline that read, “Yep, I’m gay,” an obvious parody of Ellen DeGeneres’s infamous Time magazine coming out cover. I thought it was funny. Predictably, many on social media did not. “There are kids dying and you’re making fun of coming out!” “I demand an apology from the editor!” And “Don’t pick on Sen. Graham, you’re punching down!” were among the reactions. Not sure how an alternative news outlet “punches down” at a senior U.S. senator. I should have known better than to attempt a little fun, but such is the state of our thin-skinned society offended by jokes and bent on punishing comedians. We saw this sad trend play out at the Oscars, when Will Smith — on the precipice of the biggest moment in his career — marched on stage and slapped Chris Rock for a lame joke about his wife. It was stunning for its stupidity, and for its patronizing, patriarchal treatment of Jada Pinkett Smith, hardly a shrinking violet in need of a man’s protection. Other comedians have since fretted publicly that they will be next — confronted and assaulted by an audience member offended by a joke. But what’s more concerning than the safety of comics is the state of America’s waning sense of humor. When did we become so easily offended and frightened? Watching the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, it’s difficult to imagine Americans standing up en masse to an invading dictator’s army when we can’t even take a joke without demanding apologies and even protection from such minor offenses. When Kathy Griffin posed with a fake severed head of Donald

Trump — an obvious parody of ISIS videos — she was fired, canceled, and even abandoned by longtime friend and colleague Anderson Cooper. In 2018, the Blade invited Griffin to our table at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, triggering protests and hate mail that we were rewarding a “terrorist.” At that dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a genius keynote, skewering everyone from Trump to the Democratic Party. But it was a joke about abortion that made headlines and offended the masses. Here’s what she said: “Mike Pence is very anti-choice. He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” For that joke, the New York Times pondered in a headline whether Wolf had “killed the Correspondents’ Dinner.” Well no, she did her job and told some jokes, just like Dave Chappelle did in his recent Netflix special that resulted in protests and calls for his cancellation. If you watch that special in its entirety — rather than read select quotes out of context — you learn that Chappelle had a friend who was transgender. He championed her career and even hired her to open his show. At the end of the special, he delivers a touching tribute to his trans friend, who died by suicide. I don’t know how one could watch that show and come away thinking Chappelle is transphobic. It wasn’t the first time Chappelle found himself on the wrong side of the LGBTQ community. In 2017, he told some trans jokes that offended activists. When the Blade reached out to him for an interview, he said he would talk to us only if the reporter sat through his entire show and then interviewed him immediately after back stage. We accepted his invitation. During that interview, he denied being transphobic and assailed North Carolina’s HB2, which banned trans people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. “You could say whatever you want about someone’s lifestyle, but denying them access to a restroom is a denial of their humanity,” Chappelle told the Blade. There is plenty to be offended about in our modern world, from the Ukraine crisis to the legislative attacks on trans people across the United States, that we should learn to take a joke, laugh at ourselves, and focus on what’s important. If you go through life looking to be offended, you’ll never be disappointed.



is a columnist for the Los Angeles Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, and an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com.

Tenn. GOP: Bring back child brides, ax gay marriage Republicans looking for a way around Obergefell

When I was growing up, conservatives labeled women who worked outside the home, who pursued college and advanced degrees, who insisted on the right to control their own bodies and end unwanted pregnancies, as uppity social traitors who should get back in their place. Men said things like, “Make me a sandwich” openly, to put women in their place. In those days, we liberals cracked on the “rednecks” who valued the subservience of women. We fought, among other things, to stop underage marriages that often saw teenage girls subjected to abuse and domination by much older husbands. Think that’s a thing of the past that can’t return? Keep reading. If anyone had suggested to me back in the 1980s that redneck misogyny would resurge rather than fade away, I would have snorted in disbelief. But here we are. As Moira Donegan wrote in the The Guardian, “We are witnessing the final days of reproductive freedom in America.” Texas has effectively banned most abortions, and things are about to get much worse. Oklahoma just passed a law criminalizing all abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. It’s on its way to the governor for signature, and if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade later this year like legal analysts expect, that law will go into force, as will similar ones around the nation that have already passed or will pass as soon as GOP state lawmakers get the nod. Teenage girl sexually abused and impregnated by a relative? Tough luck, cookie, say Republican rednecks. You’ll have the baby whether you like it or not. And while you’re at it, why don’t you take off your shoes and make us a sandwich? Tennessee Republicans just tried passing a law that would have eliminated same-sex marriage and legalized child brides. Seriously, I’m not making this up. GOP lawmakers in the Volunteer State object that legalizing underage marriage isn’t their intent, but as the fact-checkers at Snopes note, “House Bill 0233/Senate Bill 0526 would create a new way for the state of Tennessee to legally recognize common law marriages … that contains no minimum age restrictions, and would thus have the effect of allowing, anew, the legal recognition of marriages that involve children.” WHY were lawmakers tweaking common law marriage? To get rid of same-sex marriage, of course. “What what what?” I can hear you saying. “The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision ended marriage restriction, and there ain’t a damn thing Tennessee rednecks can do about that.” Oh, ye of little faith! The Tennessee GOP isn’t about to let a measly court precedent stand in their way. Think they can’t find a way around Obergefell? Observe that most women in Texas can’t get an abortion TODAY, and Roe is still in effect. Here’s the story of how the Tennessee GOP plotted to get rid of same-sex marriage. First, lawmakers penned a bill to get rid of the current system of marriage licenses, complaining that “godly” county clerks were being forced to do Satan’s work by issuing licenses to gay people. Can’t have that! They inserted language to legally beef up common law marriage and require county clerks to record and register them, creating a new “record of marital contract at common law” to replace


civil marriage licenses. Their proposal for updating common law marriage recognition includes some restrictions and requirements: • Restricted to only “one man and one woman” • Husband and wife must sign the record of marital contract • The marriage must not be incestuous • Husband and wife must not be drunk or under duress • Husband and wife must not be currently married to someone else • Husband and wife must understand making a false statement is punishable as perjury And with that, the Tennessee GOP proposed a new form of marriage that same-sex couples would be barred from. Would it stand up to legal review and pass the Obergefell test? Nobody is sure, but legal experts say it very well might, since common law marriage is a very different legal animal from traditional marriage. These Tennessee lawmakers may be rednecks, but that doesn’t mean they’re dumb. But, ooops! Looks they they forgot something. Quoting again from Snopes: Minimum age restrictions are conspicuously absent from the text of the amended bill. Readers can verify this for themselves by reviewing that document…. This is even more noteworthy in light of the fact that the legislation does contain other restrictions… Yet there is no requirement for them to affirm that neither of them is aged under 18 or 17 or even 16 years. By amended, Snopes is referring to the fact that lawmakers changed the bill to remove the language ending traditional marriage licenses. Sponsors made clear they want that to happen, but they don’t have enough political support for it… yet. Now, they’re suggesting their goal of ending same-sex marriage in Tennessee, which they have not been coy about, will have to be a multi-stage process. First, put the new common law marriage system into place, popularize it, then later get rid of the traditional system. Oddly, however, despite plenty of people crying foul about child marriage, lawmakers did not include age restrictions in the amended bill, which is more than a little eye raising. What’s stopping these old white men from inserting language to make sure children cannot legally get married? Whether the law ends up passing is in question, but it could. The Tennessee GOP has aggressively surfed a wave of state-level anti-LGBTQ laws this year, the most regressive in history for LGBTQ people across the U.S. Tennessee is a really bad place to be queer these days. But whether the law passes or not, GOP leaders have made their wishes crystal clear. End same-sex marriage. Exclude LGBTQ people from civil equality at all costs, even at the cost of bringing back child brides. And if that means more underage pregnant girls in Tennessee, I guess that expands the pool of people available to make sandwiches for the rich white Republican men who run the statehouse.

Paul Castle, who’s blind, doesn’t let disability define him Life’s obstacles never stopped artist from fulfilling his dreams By ZACHARY JARRELL

Paul Castle was only 16 when he learned he would progressively lose his vision until it was gone. Doctors diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that causes the retina to break down slowly over time. The condition, which only affects one in 3,000 to 4,000 people globally, has no specific treatment options and no cure – leaving him with nothing he could do. Castle, who described himself as “eternally optimistic” at 16, took the diagnosis in stride – or at least he thought he did. “I spent a good four or five years pretending like this was great news,” he told the Blade. “And in some ways, it was a relief to know that I wasn’t just clumsy. There were all these unanswered questions, so to know that it was a disease with a name, that I wasn’t alone and science was indeed looking for a treatment for it was all encouraging.” But that cheerfulness had a limit. Castle said he has always been a visual person with a passion for art, so the “irony of going blind” took time to set in. “Since then, I’ve had time to grieve, accept and process that, and come full circle to the point where now, in a strange way, I feel very fortunate,” he said. “To be part of a really cool community, the blind community, is really amazing.” Now, Castle, 31, is legally blind, left with about 10% of his vision. He gets around Seattle, where he lives, with his guide dog, Mr. Maple, a substantial upgrade over the white cane he used for years prior. “Getting the dog was like a super cool boost of confidence because I love walking around with dogs,” Castle said. But just because Castle is legally blind, doesn’t mean he gave up his love for the visual arts. In fact, he is a full-time artist who is about to release his first children’s book, “The Pengrooms” – a story about same-sex marriage and his relationship with his husband. “Blind is this term that I’m trying to educate people about,” Castle said. “Disabilities are nuanced, and I think most people outside of the blind community assume that blindness means that it’s total darkness – that there is no scale. But the blind community is filled with people that have some usable sight, whether it’s shapes and colors, whether it’s tunnel vision, like my own, or complete blindness.” Technically, “The Pengrooms” won’t be Castle’s first book, though it will be his first to hit the shelves. His first books date back to his childhood – before he could even write the stories himself. As a kid, Castle, who spent most of his childhood in Canada, would sit his babysitter down to transcribe whatever story he conjured up in his head. Then, he poured over a piece of paper, drawing the pictures to accompany his stories. “I would say my first love was storytelling,” Castle said, adding: “I would come up with all these really fantastical stories and the babysitter would essentially sit at the kitchen table and write the whole time.” At 6-years-old, while most kids were playing outside, Castle was “always” inside drawing pictures. At the time, making his “very own” real book consumed his thoughts. So, he took matters into his own hands. Castle remembers stealing a book – “G.I. Joe” – from his brother’s shelf, tearing every page from the spine and throwing the remnants in the trash. He then taped a story he wrote called “Sad Turtle” inside. The story is about exactly what it sounds like: A sad turtle. “But don’t worry, [the turtle] makes a lot of friends,” he said. “It’s one of my most prized possessions,” Castle said. “I swear if this place was on fire, and I could only take one object with me, I would grab that book.” He grew up exponentially every year after that, quickly becoming consumed by animated Disney films. “When I went to see the movies, rather than come home and talk about the story and the characters, I was getting books on how the mov-

ies were made,” Castle, whose dream at the time was to be a Disney animator, said. Since then, he has come a long way, trading the tape and stolen cover for a proper hard-back, full-color book set to ship next week. “Follow Pringle and Finn, two penguins with big hearts, as they deliver wedding cakes to their friends in the animal kingdom,” the official summary reads. “Each cake tells a story, and each wedding offers a challenge that Pringle and Finn must face together. The Pengrooms is an enduring tale about love, diversity, and the importance of working as a team.” In the story, Pringle and Finn represent Castle and his husband, Matthew, and the “beauty” he has found in his marriage. We work as a team; we’re collaborators who support each other’s dreams,” Castle said, adding, “To me, our relationship is about teamwork.” In his book, he echoed that sentiment, dedicating it to Matthew, “… because we make a great team.” The LGBTQ-themed children’s book comes as Republican politicians across the country attempt to limit teachings and books that deal with queer peoMR. MAPLE with his ple. human PAUL CASTLE (Photo courtesy of Castle) In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill last week, banning classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and allowing parents to sue schools or teachers. The legislation has already received a challenge in court, with LGBTQ rights groups Equality Florida and Family Equality filing a lawsuit against the law last week. GOP lawmakers have also targeted LGBTQ-themed literature at the fastest rate seen in recent history. Some Republicans have labeled these books as “pornography” — from Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” to Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House,” both of which are award-winning memoirs recommended for high school-aged teenagers – intending to remove them from library shelves. Journalists from the Texas Tribune, ProPublica and NBC News obtained and confirmed a recording of a Jan. 10 meeting, where Jeremy Glenn, the superintendent of the Granbury Independent School District in North Texas, met a group of librarians in a district meeting room — where he explicitly targeted LGBTQ books before beginning one of the largest book removals in the country. “Specifically, what we’re getting at, let’s call it what it is, and I’m cutting to the chase on a lot of this,” Glenn said, according to the report. “It’s the transgender, LGBTQ and the sex — sexuality — in books. That’s what the governor has said that he will prosecute people for, and that’s what we’re pulling out.” This political climate has, in part, fueled Castle’s creative work. “My interest in storytelling usually comes from a place of advocacy, whether it’s LGBTQ or advocating for the disabled community,” he said. Castle has already begun working on his next book, which will focus more on disabilities, detailing the process of finding a guide dog, set in a whimsical world with guide unicorns and dragons. Castle isn’t someone who is defined by their disability – no one is. But that’s not to say he hasn’t had to adapt to keep pushing his creative visions forward. For example, Castle’s eyes no longer pick up a pencil on paper, but he finds the brightness of an iPad is enough to do the trick. “The beautiful thing is that iPads and tablets became such a popular tool for illustrators to use. In fact, there are very few illustrators who use traditional pen and paper now,” he said. For the “eternally optimistic” Castle, life’s obstacles have never stopped him from creating and fulfilling his dreams. And he plans to keep it that way. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • APRIL 15, 2021 • 15


Branagh’s trip down the ‘Nile’ a joyless ride

New Christie adaptation brings the ‘Death’ but leaves out the camp By JOHN PAUL KING

With Hollywood still trying to cash in on awards season and holding its big-budget blockbusters for summer, April is a perfect month for movie fans to catch up on the titles that have slipped under their radar – and that might explain why “Death on the Nile,” postponed from an October 2020 release date until earlier this year, has recently become a trending title. Based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 mystery novel of the same name, it’s the second adaptation of a Christie book (after 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express”) by director and star Kenneth Branagh. It centers on Hercule Poirot – the eccentric Belgian detective who is arguably Christie’s best-known creation – as he undertakes an Egyptian holiday after solving a difficult case, only to wind up in the middle of another one when a honeymooning heiress is murdered in her sleep. Naturally, the killing has taken place on a boat in the middle of the Nile, and every person on board has both an airtight alibi and a reason for wanting her dead; it falls to the world-renowned Poirot to figure out which one of them did it – a challenge made ever more pressing by a rising body count as he gets closer and closer to the truth. Like all of Christie’s beloved “whodunits,” it’s a load of silly hogwash, of course. That’s even truer today than it was during the author’s mid-20th century heyday, but her books were never highbrow literature. Populated with a gallery of grotesque characters, their plots hinge on the conceit of murder as a parlor game, inviting the reader to join in the challenge of piecing together what happened with only a handful of enigmatic clues. It’s an oft-mocked formula, but it’s hard to deny the appeal when it’s done right – and few have ever done it better than Agatha Christie, whose works have been committed to stage and screen countless times over the decades – most notably (though hardcore Christie aficionados might disagree) in the ‘70s, when lush and nostalgic all-star films of “Orient Express” and “Nile” kicked off a string of fondly remembered adaptations. That’s undoubtedly why Branagh picked the same two stories to begin what now seems to have become his own extended foray into the world of Agatha Christie. Unfortunately, his “Orient Express,” which followed the all-star formula but restructured key details to make for a darker and more active narrative, met with lukewarm response from critics and moviegoers alike, and “Nile” would likely have had limited draw as a result – but long delays in the release, first as a result of COVID and then over scandalous headlines about leading player Armie Hammer’s alleged fetish for cannibalism, may have been a blessing in disguise. Thanks to a content-hungry public, a curiosity factor piqued by Hammer’s fall from public favor, and Branagh’s recent Oscar for writing “Belfast,” his second turn as Poirot is getting the attention it might not have otherwise achieved. For Christie purists, it probably goes without saying that much in Branagh’s ramped-up approach will be objectionable. As in “Orient,” the veteran filmmaker plays fast-andloose with the details of the narrative, leaving the central mystery intact but making sweeping changes to the cast of characters and their relationships. These same alterations may disappoint fans of the 1978 film, too – Angela

Lansbury’s loopy romance novelist, for example, a highlight of the original, is here substituted for Sophie Okonedo’s no-nonsense jazz singer, and instead of distinguished and dapper David Niven as a sidekick for Poirot, we get Tom Bateman’s youthful and impulsive Bouc, an invented character carried over from the director’s “Orient.” Some of these, like the latter, are intended to provide franchise-building continuity, while others are clearly a means to increase the story’s diversity with the inclusion of queer and Black characters in an otherwise hopelessly white and

to the genre’s popular appeal that watching rich people murder each other should be treated with no more importance than a crossword puzzle. That element disappears when things get taken too seriously – and Branagh, whose Shakespeare films brilliantly accomplish the feat of bringing classic literature to contemporary life by mining them for the universal human experience within, is here tripped up by trying to do the same. To humanize these insufferable characters robs the story of much-needed humor and transforms it into something almost unrelentingly grim.

KENNETH BRANAGH and his MUSTACHE star as Hercule Poirot in ‘Death on the Nile.’

heteronormative cast. Such issues are hardly deal-breakers, however, especially for those uninitiated to the charms of Christie’s style, and viewers drawn purely by the promise of old-fashioned escapism in an exotic setting will have no reason to complain – unless it’s about the heavy reliance on computer-generated imagery to provide the timeless Egyptian backdrop, a likely necessary but no less frustrating evil. Besides a devilishly clever mystery to solve, the film offers a sumptuous period recreation with first-class production values and a talented and attractive cast (besides the aforementioned players, Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Letitia Wright, Russell Brand, Rose Leslie, and Emma Mackey also star), which is more than enough to keep things interesting. Yet there is something about Branagh’s take on the material – a contemporary perspective, perhaps, brought into the mix to make the story’s dated conventions and colonialist trappings more palatable to a 21st-century crowd – that drains a noticeable amount of fun from the proceedings. Christie’s books, as well as the best of their adaptations, have a slyly subversive flavor to them; there’s a not-tooguilty pleasure in seeing their privileged characters – with all their toxic, elitist, racist, and sexist presumptions about the world and their place in it – meet the grisly fate they surely deserve. It’s part of the fun, and it’s irrevocably tied


(Photo courtesy 20th Century Films)

By contrast, the original films, which take an almost diabolically aloof stance to the morality of murder and embrace the contrived absurdities of the plot, are never hampered by empathy or compassion. These things exist within the story, yes, but they are measured out to the deserving – the long-suffering servants, the jilted lovers, the heartbroken victims of exploitation at the hands of an arrogant and self-serving leisure class – and they only serve to fuel our wish to see just desserts being dished out. Branagh, in his effort to compensate for the potentially “problematic” issues baked into Christie’s milieu, takes things so seriously that he seems to have forgotten the single element that makes these stories enjoyable in the first place. For want of a better word (there really isn’t one, anyway), that element is “camp,” and for the legions of queer fans who grew up watching the original “Death on the Nile” and other Christie films of its era, there is no better way to describe what made them classics. Indeed, there has always been a queer sensibility to her books, springing perhaps from the outside observer perspective with which she leads her readers to identify through her smarter-than-everyone-else detective heroes, which seems inextricably linked to the campiness that has allowed them to endure. Branagh’s version seems to think of it as a quality to be avoided at any cost – and without it, his trip down the Nile is ultimately a joyless ride.

Author’s life a winding path of queerness, art, pride and disability lineage


Fink explores familial exclusion in new book

By KATHI WOLFE When Jennifer Natalya Fink, 55, an English professor and director of the Disabilities Studies program at Georgetown University, was growing up, her grandfather’s house overflowed with his extended family – from aunts to second cousins. “Though my gruff grandfather argued with everyone,” Fink, who is queer and Jewish, writes in her new book “All Our Families: Disability Lineage and the Future of Kinship,” “his household included far-flung family members in his ever-expanding mishpacha–Yiddish for family, extended family, and that aunt who’s really just your mother’s best friend.” Yet one family member wasn’t welcome there, Fink, who is married to a Korean-American, gender nonconforming spouse, told the Blade in an interview. She never saw her first cousin, Cousin XY, (her grandfather’s grandson) at family gatherings. As a child, Fink knew that she had a cousin who no one mentioned. A geneticist’s daughter, she named her “lost” cousin “Cousin XY.” “My grandfather had an expanded idea of family,” Fink said, “But Cousin XY had Down syndrome.” Fink’s grandfather was a doctor. His mishpacha included vulnerable people who were unable to provide for themselves. But “there wasn’t room for someone with an extra chromosome,” Fink said, “he said my aunt and uncle should ‘give away’ their child with Down Syndrome.” There was so much shame around disability when Cousin XY was born, Fink said. “It was like how it was for me growing up queer in the 1970s and 1980s,” she said. “No one talked about it then. The stories of queer people were erased.” Her grandfather’s vision of family had “one limit,” Fink said. “It didn’t include disability.” After he was born, Cousin XY was taken from his parents. At first, a nurse cared for him. Then, he was institutionalized. “Cousin XY’s story was erased,” Fink said. “He wasn’t even given a name.” The 1970s was the “tail end” of the mass institutionalization of disabled people, Fink said. Institutionalization of people with disabilities is much less common now. “Yet disabled people are still often being culturally and psychologically delineated from our idea of family,” Fink said. Nearly one in five people has a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So, it’s not surprising that Fink’s family (like many families) has had more than one disabled person in its history. Fink’s grandmother Adina was extremely hard of hearing. “Yet, we never talked about her deafness,” Fink said. “She took no pride in her disability.” Just as, until recently, many families erased the stories of their LGBTQ mother, fathers, husbands, wives, children, grandmas, grandpas - “guncles,” families still erase disabled people from their family history. Fink, born in Washington, D.C., grew up in Ithaca, N.Y. “Growing up, I felt like I was the only queer person in the universe,” Fink said, “being queer wasn’t considered to be ‘normal.’” Many families have at least one family member who is LGBTQ. Fink’s parents were loving and liberal. But, when she was young, “it was as if there had never ever been a queer person in my family,” Fink said. “It felt like being cut off from my family’s story.” Now, Fink’s parents are supportive of her sexual orientation. In this era of LGBTQ pride, being queer is more often seen not as “abnormal” or “traumatic” but as a “normal” part of being human. This hasn’t been the case for disabled people, Fink said. The stigma and shame around disability became up close and personal for Fink when her daughter Nadia Sohn Fink, now 15, was two-and-a-half-years old. Then, Fink learned that Nadia was autistic. Fink was gobsmacked. Nadia, who is biracial, was an intelligent, playful child. Now Nadia is a bright teen who writes stories and poetry. “It felt traumatic to get this paper saying Nadia is autistic,” Fink said, “as if we were being cut off from what is normal.” Fink, who isn’t disabled, had internalized society’s perceptions of disability. She’d imbibed the ableist Kool Aid: the idea that disability is shameful – that disabled people should be feared, patronized and/or shunned. To deal with her daughter’s autism diagnosis, Fink leaned into her experience of being queer. “Because I’m queer, I’m used to being an outsider,” she said, “I drew on what I know of homophobia. On what it’s like to be excluded – to be considered abnor-

mal – not a part of the family.” Fink is an introvert. “If I weren’t queer, I’d never have gone into a bar,” she joked. But connecting with other LGBTQ people had made her feel pride in herself. Her queer connection made her feel part of a chosen family and think about her family of origin’s stories. She and Nadia connected with other autistic people and their families. Fink came to think of being disabled not as something to be ashamed of, but as a normal part of being human. Fink began to look into her family’s disability JENNIFER NATALYA FINK history. She found that Rhona (now deceased), another cousin in the United Kingdom, had Down Syndrome. Rhona, Fink discovered, led a happy, fulfilled life. “Rhona lived with her family through her childhood,” Fink said, “her mother started a progressive care center where Rhona lived the rest of her life.” There’s a parallel between families being out and proud about their queer and disability history, Fink said. “Reclaiming your family’s disability stories will change how you think about disability,” Fink said. Take her hard-of-hearing grandmother. Fink now looks on her grandmother’s disability with pride. “She didn’t transcend her disability,” Fink said, “but because she was hard-of-hearing, my grandmother had to pay attention. She was a great listener.” Fink’s daughter Nadia feels pride in her disabled ancestors. “Disability lineage empowers me,” Nadia emailed the Blade, “To know my people were always there. To know I have a people.” Creativity runs in the Fink family. Like her daughter, Fink is a writer. She was the winner of the Dana Award for the novel and of the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Fiction. “I write experimental fiction,” said Fink who was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for her 2018 novel “Bhopal Dance.” “Bhopal Dance” “focuses on disaster, activism, white savior complex, and queer world making,” Corinne Manning wrote in the “Lambda Literary Review. “The book is an astonishing sunposed magnifying glass on our radical failures and desires.” In 1988, Fink graduated from Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in a self-designed major in feminist performance art. She earned an M.F.A. in performance from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1990 and a Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University in 1997. For a time, Fink was based in New York City, where she supervised art teachers in public schools. She noticed that often there were no books, and that the students were frequently alienated from books. But “the kids loved to draw, paint, cartoon, etc.,” Fink said, “I learn best through making. So did these kids.” To promote youth literacy, Fink was one of the founders of the (now defunct) Gorilla Press. Fink’s life has been a winding path of queerness, art, pride and disability lineage. She wears her grandmother’s ring to honor her disability ancestors. You can’t help but think that her grandmother would be proud. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • APRIL 15, 2022 • 17

LA Blade celebrates 5th anniversary The Los Angeles Blade celebrated its fifth anniversary last Thursday with a party at the Abbey in West Hollywood. Community activists, celebrities, and politicos turned out to wish the paper well. The City of West Hollywood issud a certificate of recognition congratulating the Blade on its achievement.




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