Los Angeles Blade, Volume 06, Issue 28, July 15, 2022

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Proud Boys’

anti-LGBTQ attacks likely to continue, (Blade photo by Michael Key)






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‘Students Run LA’ loses 500 pairs of shoes in thefts The Students Run LA, an organization that assists at-risk secondary students suffered a major loss two weeks ago when unknown thieves in two break-ins to its main office in Tarzana stole most of its shoe inventory and other training materials. In an email sent out to supporters SRLA’s Executive Director Marsha Charney detailed the thefts. “On the morning of Monday, June 20th, our employees were shocked to find that all three of the storage containers had been torn open. Shoes, clothing, and other essential training items — originally destined to support students in the upcoming 2022-2023 season — had been stolen,” Charney wrote. “Staff contacted LAUSD School Police and increased safety measures for the storage bins. Unfortunately, later that same week, SRLA Associate Director, Christine Pajak, arrived to find mangled locking mechanisms and items once again stolen from the organization. This time, the thieves cut a hole through the fence and apparently drilled into the lock to open the storage bin. Footage from security cameras in the neigh-


borhood shows individuals filling a truck with hundreds of boxes of shoes. Left with seemingly no other choice, SRLA has moved all remaining training materials to off-site storage.” “We are devastated by the loss of these shoes. They are an essential item on our student’s journey to the Marathon. For many of our students, these are the only running shoes they will get all year. It’s upsetting to think that these materials were taken from the children in our community who need them most. Not only were the goods stolen but so too was our sense of security. This is the first time in our 33-year history that we have experienced any kind of theft. That criminals would steal from our students could make one lose faith in community but we know that’s not the case,” she added. The organization desperately needs help from Angelenos and asking for donations or other assistance. For questions or to help visit SRLA’s website at visit srla.org or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. BRODY LEVESQUE

Students Run LA participants in a recent marathon (Photo courtesy of SRLA/Facebook)

California expands program for LGBTQ foster youth Governor Gavin Newsom’s final 2022-23 fiscal year budget included $5 million for LGBTQ+ foster youth programming. The pilot program will require the California Department of Social Services (DPSS) to improve the child welfare system by providing affirming services designed specifically for LGBTQ+ foster youth. The services will be designed to address the barriers LGBTQ+ youth encounter in their interpersonal, familial, and community relationships due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE). “We are delighted that Governor Newsom has taken this important step towards creating an equitable foster care

system for California’s LGBTQ+ youth,” said LA LGBT Center CEO, Joe Hollendoner. “This funding will improve capacity, training, and culturally responsive care that addresses the unique needs of—and offers meaningful protections for—LGBTQ+ youth. The Center has been a pioneer in LGBTQ+-inclusive programming for youth, and we will continue working with our partners to help protect LGBTQ+ foster youth from hate, violence, and discrimination. Every youth deserves a loving home with a caring family and culturally affirming support systems.” LGBTQ foster youth are over-represented in the foster care system, and youth of color are disproportionately represented among those LGBTQ+ youth. A Williams In-

stitute report finds that one in five foster care youth are LGBTQ+; of those youth, 90% are youth of color. Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ youth to end up in a congregate care setting. LGBTQ+ foster youth also face greater challenges when in custody with non-affirming foster families as they are disproportionately at risk for physical, sexual, emotional, and mental abuse. On average, 56% of LGBTQ+ youth report that they have felt safer living on the streets than with foster parents. For these reasons and others, robust continuums of care that are culturally responsive for supporting LGBTQ+ youth are critical. FROM STAFF REPORTS

Gas prices continue to drop Gas prices continued to drop throughout Southern California in the last week despite a three-cent increase in the gasoline excise tax on Friday and the increase in demand for fuel during the Independence Day holiday weekend, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $6.19, which is ten cents lower than last week. The average national price is $4.75, which is 11 cents lower than a week ago. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $6.24 per gallon, which is nine cents lower than last week, 16 cents lower than last month, and $1.90 higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $6.15, which is ten cents lower than last week, 14 cents lower than last month, and $1.86 higher than last year.

(Screenshot via NBC News)

On the Central Coast, the average price is $6.19, which is nine cents lower than last week, ten cents lower than last month and is $1.92 higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $6.12, which is ten cents lower than last week, 13 cents lower than last month and $1.86 higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $6.29 average price is three cents lower than last Thursday, one cent higher than last month and $2.06 higher than a year ago today. “Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices have plunged by 70 cents since last Friday and by $1.40 compared to last month, largely on concerns about the economy,” said Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe. “This downward momentum should provide at least a week or two of significant further declines in local gas prices.” FROM STAFF REPORTS



WeHo in brief: City government in action this week Document shredding, electronic waste collection events planned

FROM STAFF REPORTS The City of West Hollywood will host the SPCA-LA Low-Cost Vaccination Clinic at the West Hollywood Community Center at Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard, in the outdoor patio area. The clinic will take place on Saturday, July 16, 2022 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Masks are not required, but are recommended for COVID-19 health and safety. Stay home if you are feeling ill. Clinic staff will be wearing masks, gloves, and face shields. Exam areas will be sanitized between clients and hand sanitizer will be available. All dogs must be on a leash or in a carrier; all cats must be in carriers. Participants are advised to bring medical records for dogs and cats, if such documents are in possession. Cash and credit cards are accepted. Services offered will include: $30 CIV (Canine Influenza) *** vaccination for dogs $30 Lepto (Leptospirosis) *** vaccination for dogs $25 DHPP vaccination for dogs $25 FeLV vaccination for cats $25 FVRCP vaccination for cats $10 Rabies vaccination for cats & dogs $20 Flea Treatment for cats & dogs $20 Deworming treatment for cats & dogs $30 Microchips** for cats and dogs $60 Kitten Package for kittens 6-12 weeks old. Includes FVRCP, de-wormer, and microchip $70 Puppy Package for puppies 6-12 weeks old. Includes DHPP, Bordetella, de-wormer, and microchip * Services are available first-come, firstserved, while supplies last. ** Registration not included. *** CIV and Lepto vaccines requires boosters. Please make an appointment with your vet for the booster 2-4 weeks after initial vaccine. The Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control Department has also opened eligibility for the Dog and Cat Spay/Neuter Voucher Program to West Hollywood residents. More information, voucher values, and the voucher application is available in PDF format on the County website. Los Angeles County Code §10.20.350 requires all residents of unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County (this includes West Hollywood) to have their dogs and cats older than four months of age spayed or neutered.

WeHo continues ‘Summer Sounds 2022’ The City of West Hollywood is continuing its 2022 Summer Sounds Free Outdoor Concert Series, which takes place on select Sunday

evenings at 5 p.m. through Sunday, August 21, 2022 at Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard, in West Hollywood. The next concert in the series will feature the all-female salsa band, Las Chikas on Sunday, July 3, 2022 at 5 p.m. Las Chikas is comprised of some of the most talented female musicians in Los Angeles. Salsa never looked so good in Southern California; a melting pot of cultures and ethnicity come together to give birth to a multicultural female band that sets the stage on fire! Las Chikas has performed in several Southern California cities and special events, including the San Jose Jazz Festival, for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels, the Los Angeles Latin Jazz Music Festival, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. ARKAI will perform on Sunday, July 17, 2022 at 5 p.m. ARKAI’s genre-bending music fuses classical virtuosity with contemporary technology, forging new possibilities for what a violin and cello can be. Winners of the 2021 Astral Artists National Auditions, their past engagements have included performances at The MET Breuer, Rockwood Music Hall, Juilliard School, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the 92nd Street Y. Letters from COVID, their electronic debut composition, was featured at TED@PMI for a global audience of more than 30,000 people from 182 countries. ARKAI is currently creating its debut album, Aurora, in collaboration with seven-time Grammy-nominated producer Joel Hamilton. Ella Luna performs on Sunday, August 7, 2022 at 5 p.m. Ella Luna is a singer/songwriter from Denver, Colorado, combining intimate vocals, raw instruments, and intricate lyrical work. Denver Thread says, “Ella Luna pairs jazz and dream pop with a sincere & smooth indie lyrical and musical style that recalls up and coming artists like Lucy Dacus or Lindsey Jordan on first blush. But then seasons that mix with vocals that lilt with tired tears just underneath her tongue at times, and with the vigorous power of an Amy Winehouse or a Norah Jones at others, but she always sounds real, and herself.” The City of West Hollywood’s Summer Sounds Concert Series finale on Sunday, August 21, 2022 at 5 p.m. will feature M&M The Afro-Persian Experience (Mehdi Bagheri & Marcus L. Miller). The Afro-Persian Experience is a duo featuring Persian kamancheh master Mehdi Bagheri and artist/percussionist Marcus L. Miller. Based in Southern California, the group was formed in 2016. The music consists of all original compositions created by Bagheri & Miller. It is deeply rooted in the traditions of ancient Persia and Africa. Their unique sound results from the natural con-


trast of their individual musical styles as well as the expression of their passion for the music. This concert is presented in partnership with Grand Performances supported by an arts grant from the City of West Hollywood. The City of West Hollywood’s 2022 Summer Sounds Free Outdoor Concert Series is organized by the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Division. Summer Sounds concerts are free to attend; RSVPs are not required but are requested. Seating will not be available. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, picnic blankets, and low chairs. Masks and social distancing recommended. For additional information about the performers and to view the series, please visit www.weho.org/summersounds For more information about WeHo Sounds please contact Joy Tribble, the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Technician, at (323) 848-6360 or jtribble@weho.org.

WeHo to host doc shredding The City of West Hollywood will host a free document and electronic waste collection event for residents and businesses. Community members are invited to bring confidential files and unwanted electronics, including hard drives, for shredding and recycling. E-waste will be handled by certified electronics recycler, Homeboy Recycling, in a way that protects the planet and keeps data safe while creating jobs for people in the region facing serious barriers to employment. All electronics are accepted, with the exception of hazardous materials, large appliances, thermostats, light bulbs, and batteries. The free event will take place on Saturday, July 23, 2022, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center employee parking lot, located at 355 N. San Vicente Boulevard. This is a drive-through event. All e-waste and documents must be in the trunk prior to arrival. This event will adhere to COVID-19 guidelines from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and California Department of Public Health. Masks are recommended, but not required. For more information, please contact Matt Magener, Environmental Programs Coordinator, City of West Hollywood, at (323) 848-6894 or at mmagener@weho.org.

Pride pickleball tourney planned The City of West Hollywood is bringing June Pride season into July! In collaboration with Tennacity, the City will host its first Pride Pickleball Tournament at Plummer Park, located

(Photo by Uriel Malak Brewer/Facebook)

at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard. The Tournament will take place on Saturday, July 9, 2022 and Sunday, July 10, 2022 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The Plummer Park pickleball courts are located at the north end of Plummer Park, closest to Fountain Avenue. Divisions include beginner, intermediate, and advanced. All categories of men’s and women’s doubles will be played on Saturday, July 9. All categories of men’s and women’s singles, and mixed doubles will be played on Sunday, July 10. Specially designed Pride medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each division. All registered players will receive a gift bag with various Pride inspired items. Registration is $35 for singles, and $20 per person for doubles. To register and for more information, call (323) 848-6546 or send an email to recreation@weho.org. Pickleball courts are now a feature of two public parks in the City of West Hollywood: 1) Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard, has five newly resurfaced and lighted pickleball courts and a small proshop where pickleball and tennis-related services are offered to the community; and 2) West Hollywood Park, located 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard, has six newly resurfaced and lighted pickleball courts situated on the rooftop of its West Hollywood Park Five-Story Parking Structure. Pickleball play and programming will be coming soon to this location. Pickleball court reservations are available and can be made in advance. Prices are $8/ hour (or $4/half hour) for Plummer Park and reservations can be made utilizing the playbypoint app or at www.playbypoint.com under the name Tennacity at West Hollywood: Plummer Park. Residents may reserve courts up to seven days in advance; non-residents may reserve up to five days in advance. For more information about the City’s pickleball and tennis courts, please visit www. weho.org/community/recreation-services/ pickleball and www.weho.org/community/ recreation-services/tennis. For additional information, please contact Michael Gasca, City of West Hollywood Recreation Coordinator, at (323) 848-6546 or at recreation@weho.org. For more information about Tennacity and pickleball and tennis programming, please visit www.tennacity.com or email weho@tennacity.com.

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Calif. lawmakers, HRC call for equitable monkeypox vaccine rollout


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As monkeypox cases rise across the U.S, public health officials are rushing to make vaccines available. The White House on Thursday announced it would make 144,000 additional doses of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine available to the states, with does starting to ship on July 11. “We are using every tool we have to increase and accelerate JYNNEOS vaccine availability in jurisdictions that need them the (Photo courtesy County of Los Angeles) most,” Strategic National Stockpile Director Steve Adams said in the White House statement. “In less than 10 days, we’ve made available 200,000 JYNNEOS vaccine doses in communities where transmission has been the highest and with high-risk populations.” However, the monkeypox vaccination rollout has had its share of hiccups. California state Sen. Scott Weiner and state Assemblymember Matt Haney on Friday issued a press release criticizing the federal government’s vaccination effort and calling for more doses. “We have very little time to contain this outbreak and prevent it from getting out of control and potentially becoming endemic,” the press release read. “The federal government needs to dramatically increase the supply of the vaccine and distribute it to impacted local communities as quickly as possible. We have no time to spare. It’s completely unacceptable that the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other community clinics are receiving so few doses. We need a sufficient quantity of vaccines so that everyone who is at risk has access.” Experts have cautioned against stigmatizing the virus as a “gay disease,” because while current cases in the U.S. — numbered at 700 — are concentrated among men who have sex with men, the disease can spread to anyone who has close physical contact with an infected person. Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President of Programs, Research and Training Jay Brown on Friday in a statement called for an equitable vaccine rollout that prioritizes atrisk communities while avoiding past mistakes. “Public health and other government officials must act quickly to ramp up testing capacity and vaccine distribution. They also need to be intentional with vaccine distribution and testing, prioritizing how to reach Black and Brown gay and bi+ men and transgender women, especially those individuals living with HIV,” Brown’s statement read. “We’ve seen historical and systemic discrimination when it comes to delivering effective prevention and treatment to these members of our community. As we have learned many times, a public health response that does not center equitable care and treatment is a failed response.” Monkeypox is rarely fatal and usually presents with flu-like symptoms and a rash. “Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen the LGBTQ+ community doing what we’re best at: Caring for each other, raising awareness and acting on sound public health guidance,” Brown said. Community health and LGBTQ+ rights leaders in California are demanding a much more aggressive response to monkeypox from government and health agencies, saying a shortage of vaccines and limited public outreach is exacerbating the outbreaks. Confirmed cases of monkeypox across California have almost doubled in the last week. As of Friday, there were 54 confirmed and probable cases of the virus in Los Angeles County and in San Francisco, cases have more than doubled in that time frame, reaching 40 confirmed or suspected cases. CARIS WHITE


New LA County department aims to transform youth justice Thousands of kids’ lives disrupted annually after arrest

FROM STAFF REPORTS Los Angeles County, guided by its Board of Supervisors’ commitment to reimagining the juvenile justice system, took a major leap forward this week as a new Department of Youth Development (DYD) officially launched. While the nation as a whole has been shifting toward a model of rehabilitation versus punishment, the County’s new Department of Youth Development goes a step further, with a goal of transforming the way County systems treat youth and invest in their development, well-being and safety. “Youth justice is not simply about making sure we provide equitable alternatives to arrest and system involvement,” said Vincent Holmes, the Department of Youth Development’s newly named Interim Director. “It also means ensuring that every young person in LA County has access to youth development and care-first opportunities they deserve.”

Youth offenders (Courtesy Children’s Defense Fund)

While previous reforms and interventions have reduced the number of young people involved in the justice system, with fewer than 450 youth in County juvenile halls and camps, thousands of children are arrested or cited in LA County annually. Evidence shows that their lives are disrupted by even first-time contact with the justice system and that negative outcomes increase exponentially with deeper system involvement. Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, sees the Department of Youth Development’s mission as a necessary step towards improving community safety and equity in LA County. “This department will further extend the County’s ability to meaningfully invest in and improve the lives of young people who are counting on us to do so. Our Black and Brown youth continue to be disproportionately represented in our justice system that isn’t truly serving them. The Department of Youth Development is one of the tools we

have to change this,” she said. “Intentionally working with youth and equipping them with the skills and resources to succeed is how we fulfill our goal as a County of shifting from failed systems built solely on punishment to proven solutions for youth development that strengthen the overall vitality and safety of our communities.” Black youth and other youth of color are increasingly and disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of justice system contact at every stage. Roughly 80% of arrests or citations of minors are for alleged “status offenses,” like violating curfew, or involve alleged non-serious, non-violent misdemeanors or felonies that are legally eligible for referral to community-based diversion and development services that better support positive outcomes for both youth and community safety. The Department of Youth Development will centralize the County’s response to this miscarriage of justice, guided by research on equity and adolescent development and in collaboration with young people with lived experience and other County partners. “We say our youth are our future, so we must protect their future, in collaboration with their family and support systems, in a care-first environment that prioritizes their well-being and supports their growth instead of penalizing them as they progress into adulthood,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “The establishment of the County’s Department of Youth Development is the commitment we are making to not only their future but also the County’s future.” Holmes brings over 32 years of public sector experience with the County and the Los Angeles Superior Court, including extensive work in building innovative programs serving justice-involved populations through the ATI Incubation Academy, Measure J/Care First Community Investment (CFCI), the Gang Violence Reduction Project and My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, among others. Since 2017, he has helped advance the collaborative planning and design of the County’s innovative Youth Diversion and Development model upon which the new Department of Youth Development will build. He has built relationships with justice system partners and is well respected by local leaders, community and youth who will be needed to support the department’s transformative youth development agenda. As it launches, the Department of Youth Development also has the advantage of leveraging work by the County’s Youth Justice Reimagined initiative. Holmes is excited to continue to work alongside youth advocates with lived experience who helped inspire the Board’s bold vision of youth justice. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the work is innovative, but well grounded in research.


“Historically, youth justice systems have emphasized incarceration which often means just giving up on youth instead of investing in prevention, rehabilitation and second chances. The County is following the successful example of other local jurisdictions like San Francisco, Houston and St. Paul in being bold and innovative—thinking outside the box in creating and reforming youth justice,” she said. “The Department of Youth Development is a great step forward for reimagining LA County’s criminal justice system because we know and data shows that we have more success in helping young people thrive as well as improving community safety by providing rehabilitative, health-focused and care-first programming.” Offering early and equitable access to resources that assist young people as they grow and develop can change the trajectory of their lives. Expanding youth diversion and development programs to continue to equitably reduce youth justice system involvement, building additional capacity for youth centers and youth development, and supporting credible messengers in schools and other youth-serving systems are just some of the key elements of the Department of Youth Development’s initial vision. “Supporting our youth means reaching them with resources to help them thrive before they are ever at risk of coming in contact with the justice system, from mental health services to good-paying jobs when the time is right,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “With this new department, we’re stepping up our commitment to make those resources available to all young people, in every neighborhood.” Supervisor Kathryn Barger emphasized the importance of other County departments’ support of this work. “We must help the youth in our system realize their full potential so they can be successfully integrated into our workplaces and communities,” she said. “In order to holistically meet the needs of justice-involved youth, all our County departments must work together to equip them with every tool to succeed physically, academically, mentally and emotionally. As Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, our Executive Director of Racial Equity, has emphasized time and time again, it’s crucial that we engage with our youth as soon as possible and set them on the best path forward to thrive.” This historic moment is possible thanks to the incredible vision and tireless efforts of a wide range of partners, including youth leaders like Jacob Jackson. “It is important to center youth who are impacted through every portion of the process, making young people’s health and wellness the department’s core values,” Jackson said. “Don’t be scared of change. The Department of Youth Development should be the home and support that some folks currently lack whether they’re homeless, in foster care, incarcerated or system impacted.” Moving forward, the Department of Youth Development hopes to engage an even larger group of young people in shaping the strategy of the department through community convenings and other interactions. Anyone interested in following the Department of Youth Development’s life-changing work can sign up for updates at dyd.lacounty.gov.


California distributes $30 million to combat hate crimes

In the wake of escalating violence, California has awarded $30.3 million to 12 organizations to aggressively address hate crimes by providing services to survivors and facilitating anti-hate prevention measures. A recent report by the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta shows that hate crimes increased by 89% over the past decade. In particular, the report noted that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 177% in KIM JOHNSON, director California Department 2021. of Social Services (Screenshot/YouTube California State Gov) “It comes as no surprise that as the flames of hatred and bigotry have been stoked in our society, acts of cowardice and violence have increased at an alarming rate. In California, we are investing millions to prevent this hate from taking hold in our communities. We simply will not tolerate intolerance,” said Newsom. Today’s announcement doubles down on the $14.3 million in grants to 80 organizations for prevention and intervention services to groups at risk of experiencing bias and hate crimes announced this past March. After this first round of grants, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA) worked together to identify larger investments with the potential to have an even greater impact in the area of anti-hate services. These grants are part of last year’s budget, which included an unprecedented Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Equity Budget totaling $166.5 million. Newsom last year also signed legislation establishing the Commission on the State of Hate, the first statewide commission to monitor and track hate crimes and recommend policy to the Governor, State Legislature, and State Agencies. “The AAPI Legislative Caucus and I are excited that the second round of Stop the Hate grants are being awarded to AAPI community organizations as a result of the $166.5 million API Equity Budget we sponsored in last year’s state budget,” said State Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), Chair of the California AAPI Legislative Caucus. “These grants will support AAPI communities in all corners of California struggling with the rise in hate crimes and we continue to be grateful for the Governor’s support that made these impactful community investments possible.” “The latest round of grants is timely because the efforts to stop AAPI hate need resources now more than ever. The latest statistics show hate crime increased 33% in California last year, highlighting the need for more state investment in the Asian American Pacific Islander community,” said Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). “This new funding will be impactful because it will work towards creating a safer environment and providing help to victims.” These grants will bolster local services to prevent hate crimes from happening in the first place and support those who are victims of hate crime: Direct services such as mental health and complementary health, wellness, and community healing, legal assistance, navigation, and case management; Prevention services to deepen understanding and empathy, youth development, senior safety and ambassador/escort programs, individual and community safety planning, bystander training and other de-escalation techniques; Intervention services for outreach and training on the elements of hate incidents and hate crimes, services for survivors, and community-centered alternative approaches to repair harm from hate incidents and hate crimes. “These investments show once again that California leads,” said CDSS Director Kim Johnson. “Through our continued partnership with CAPIAA, APILC, and the many organizations selected to provide these critical supports and services, we can stem the tide of hate incidents in California and provide the communities impacted by them the resources they need.” Selected organizations with a demonstrated track record of anti-hate work with priority populations were invited to apply for larger funding awards. A complete list of grantees announced in partnership with CAPIAA and the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus (APILC) can be found here. The grant funding has been made available over the next three years, from August 1, 2022, through July 31, 2025, to continue to support anti-hate efforts. Additional information on these efforts can be found on the California Department of Social Services website. FROM STAFF REPORTS LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 15, 2022 • 09


Proud Boys’ anti-LGBTQ attacks likely to continue ‘When hate rears its head, we all must respond’

By CHRISTOPHER KANE Social media has rightly been abuzz this week with new images from NASA’s James Webb telescope, particularly the shot of SMACS 0723 – a stunning cluster of thousands of galaxies that was unveiled by President Joe Biden at the White House during a brief ceremony Monday evening. It seems almost as if the image, with its whirring swirls of gaseous cosmic matter containing solar system after solar system, could constitute a whole picture of the universe, an arguably understandable underestimation of its practically incomprehensible size and life span. What we’re looking at, however, “is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length,” according to NASA, “a tiny sliver of the vast universe” that existed 4.6 billion years ago, during which time the galaxies were much closer together. The lesson serves as an important reminder of the limitations of our perceptive faculties; of our tendency to observe new phenomena without considering whether it presents a full and complete picture. The new photographs of our cosmos happened to arrive during a week in which the Proud Boys were again were among the main characters, the primary antagonists, of the latest hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. The comparison is hardly meant to suggest any parity between their relative metaphysical significance, but rather it underscores that the shot of SMACS 0723 was no more a representation of the universe in its entirety than the Proud Boys’ descent on Washington last year was a complete picture of the group’s reach, nor of its ambitions. As members of the House Committee laid bare on Tuesday, the carnage wrought last January 6 by the paramilitary-clad Proud Boys – many of whom congregated in front of Harry’s Bar before marching through the halls of Congress, hunting down lawmakers and assaulting police – was carried out in coordination with a network of groups like the QAnon conspiracy cult and allied domestic right-wing terrorist organizations like the Oath Keepers. It was also not the first time. In 2017, for instance, the Proud Boys joined forces with other white supremacist, pro-Confederate, and neo-Nazi factions who gathered in Charlottesville for the deadly Unite the Right rally. A year later, members of the Proud Boys were filmed leading a vicious assault in New York City, screaming “faggot” as they repeatedly kicked a man who was curled in the fetal position on the sidewalk. Their use of that word is no accident. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center took pains to detail how while the gang’s founder Gavin McInnes “often casts bigotry and slurs as some form of taboo-bending hijinks,” over the last 15 years he has used the word “faggot” as an epithet signifying that which is “weak” or “unmasculine,” and as a pejorative term of contempt for gay men. And the Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio, visited the nation’s capital a year before the insurrection, stealing a Black Lives Matter banner from a historic Black church and setting it ablaze in a right-wing rally that turned violent. “When hate rears its head, we all must respond – whether it’s outside a parade in Idaho, at a historic Black church in D.C., or on the steps of the United States Capitol,” said leading Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), in an exclusive statement to The Los Angeles Blade. The congresswoman’s mention of Idaho concerns the arrest of 31 men near a Pride event close to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on June 11. The suspects, armed with a smoke grenade, shields, and plans to incite a riot, were affiliated with a far-right white supremacist group, the Patriot Front, which has close ties to the Proud Boys (earlier iterations of both having appeared in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally). It was just one incident this summer in which LGBTQ+ people were specifically and deliberately targeted. This summer, the Proud Boys again turned their sights on LGBTQ+ people. Just as they strode through the halls of Congress to disrupt the electoral count and demand that Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez surrender themselves (along with then-Vice President Mike Pence, whom they wanted to hang), members of the Proud Boys stormed libraries, Pride gatherings and other public events this summer from the East Coast to the West Coast and the Midwest. Likewise with their activities in Washington last year, the goal of the gang was to cause disruption and instill terror. 10 • JULY 15, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

Proud Boys march in D.C. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“The Proud Boys targeting Pride parades and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole is abhorrent,” Bass said to the Blade, adding that it “shows how important solidarity is.” Even those who might have witnessed the footage of members of the Proud Boys desecrating the US Capitol last year, and even those who might have been familiar with the group’s homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic ideological orientation, were nevertheless surprised to see members of the gang marching through their communities this summer with messages of hate for LGBTQ+ people and their allies. San Francisco area resident and LGBTQ+ activist Harris Mojadedi told PBS he was shocked when the Proud Boys showed up in the Bay Area on June 11 to disrupt a family-friendly LGBTQ+ event. Clad in shirts screen-printed with assault rifles, members of the Proud Boys shouted homophobic and transphobic slurs at performers who were reading to kids during Drag Queen story hour at the San Lorenzo library. “The fact that this could happen right here, it is cause for concern,” Mojadedi said. “This is no longer an issue that’s far away,” he said. “This is — it’s home. It’s in our backyard.” Indeed. The parents and children who were terrorized in Wilmington, N.C., 10 days later probably also did not expect a group of 15 masked men to march through the library – with help from sheriff’s deputies – disrupting for more than 90 minutes an event in which staff read stories about diverse families. “I felt like this story time was really one of the safest places I could take my daughter for a Pride event,” said one mother, according to reporting in The Los Angeles Blade. “I just felt like it’s the library, it’s probably pretty low-risk.” Less than a week later, in South Bend, Ind., a staff member of the St. Joseph County Public Library’s Virginia M. Tutt Branch told WVPE the Proud Boys’ disruption of a Pride Month children’s Rainbow Story Hour “definitely came as a shock.” “We were not anticipating any problems,” she said. Similar stories have unfolded in cities from Sparks, Nevada, to Boise, Idaho, as The Blade has reported, including in LA Blade columnist James Finn’s call for law enforcement to better intervene to protect LGBTQ+ people. It is also incumbent on us to recognize this for what it is: a coordinated assault by a group with deeply ingrained homophobia and transphobia, as well as ties to other dangerous organizations that mean us harm. Let’s hope just as the Webb Telescope has been a boon for the astronomers and astrophysicists who study the cosmos, our meticulous and brave-faced detailing of the attacks on our communities by the Proud Boys and other right-wing terror organizations might help us to better understand them – with the aim of cutting them off at the knees.


D.C. drag show raises money for abortion providers One D.C. business chose to show its support for abortion providers after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with a drag show. Drag queen Mari Con Carne headlined a benefit concert at Trade on June 30 to support the National Network of Abortion Funds. Trade within a week of the June 24 Supreme Court ruling the bar scheduled performers and organized a promotional effort through social media. The June 30 event included performances from Jane Saw, Dirty Sanchez, Bombshell, Entropy, and Derrick Star. “We were stunned like everyone else at the Supreme Court ruling and kind of left looking at each other like I think a lot of people were, which was like, ‘What can I do to help?’” Trade owner Ed Bailey told the Blade. “We all felt kind of that helpless moment of, we have the energy of wanting to do something, and where do we put that energy?” Performers earned $2,328 in tips, and through Trade’s promise to match the donations, the total doubled to $4,656 in support of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “It was remarkable how much money was raised in in one evening, just by getting the word out quickly in a few days and saying, ‘Hey, come by Trade and try to let’s see what we can do here,’” Bailey said. “And it was it was very heartwarming to see people support it, and to hopefully put together some funds that will end up helping women and their families. Kind of a weird time that we are embarking upon.” Bailey added that despite the drag platform becoming

Trade hosted a recent drag show that raised more than $4,000 for the National Network of Abortion Funds. (Photo courtesy of Ed Bailey)

more mainstream, its societally subversive acts provide an opportunity for activism. “Drag queens and kings have been at the forefront of fighting and standing up and saying, ‘No, you know, this isn’t this is who I am, so stop telling me who to be or how to act,’” Bailey said. “It is seen outside of our community in a more political way, either positively or negatively. And there’s something about the platform that drag creates for people to have a voice that is a little bit larger than then just any other member of the community sometimes.” Drag shows have recently spawned controversies online, specifically outrage about children attending performanc-

es. “It’s just a system, a made-up thing to be afraid of, to somehow motivate your base of voters and this is just the most recent version of that,” Bailey said. “You know, it falls in line with somehow, we need to be afraid of trans people and trans people competing in sports. It’s all just part of the same strategy to divide people and create some fear among certain people.” Entertainer Drew Gaver, known as “Bev” when performing in drag, discussed performing in front of children. “I have adopted the opinion of other drag queens where it’s like I didn’t sign up to do this to be around children and read them storybooks, I’m predominantly a nightlife performer,” Gaver said. “You’re making the decision as an informed parent to put your child around a drag performer and all that that entails. This feigned outrage about children being around sexual deviance and all this narrative that has come out recently is hysterical.” Gaver also emphasized the importance of using the platform of drag performances for activism. “Drag is on a much larger platform than I think that it used to be, and it is important for those of us that have that platform to use our voices for the greater good and to bring attention to causes that need that attention,” Gaver said. “If we’re not using that platform, then it’s a missed opportunity. Drag started out as activism and over time, I feel has gotten very commercialized and it is important that we remember that being a drag performer and being given that opportunity does still need to remain in the vein of activism and using your voice for the greater good.” ESTHER FRANCES

Biden signs executive order to protect abortion access

President Biden last week signed an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services. The president is under pressure from Democrats to step up actions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Biden made it clear that Congress needs to codify reproductive healthcare choices, however he also stated that he would continue to take actions on his own to to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion. Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in the Roosevelt Room, the president spoke about the order and the circumstances leading to the need for the executive order. Biden, referring to the Supreme Court ruling as “the wrong headed decision,” castigated the court for “playing fast and loose with the facts,” using the argument that abortion wasn’t rooted in historical precedent. “The Supreme Court in Dobbs made a terrible, extreme, and I think totally wrong-headed decision to overturn Roe v. Wade … This was not a decision driven by the Constitution […or] by history,” he said. Biden then criticized the majority for reading the Constitution as frozen in the mindset of the 1800s, when women didn’t even have the right to vote.

Quoting the justices in dissent he then noted that the court decision marked the use of raw political power, saying that the court finally had a conservative majority to roll back the decision. Biden urged that voters push out the Republicans in the upcoming mid-term elections labeling the Republicans as “extremist.” He then angrily cited the recent example of the 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who was forced to travel to neighboring Indiana to have an abortion. “Ten years old! … A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child? What could be more extreme,” Biden said. He warned that extremist Republicans even want to impose a national ban on abortion. As long as he’s president such a bill would be vetoed, he said. The president also specified the need to have the Federal Trade Commission regulate data brokers and others to enforce privacy for people using apps that expose them to the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data. Biden then outlined that the Executive Order included: • Safeguarding access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and contraception; • Protecting the privacy of patients and their access to accurate information; • Promoting the safety and security of patients, provid-


PRESIDENT BIDEN last week called the court’s Roe ruling ‘wrong headed.’ (Screenshot via White House)

ers, and clinics; and • Coordinating the implementation of federal efforts to protect reproductive rights and access to health care. BRODY LEVESQUE

Tom Daley honored at Windsor Castle British Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley was honored at Windsor Castle Tuesday, as Prince Charles, standing in for Queen Elizabeth, bestowed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the 28 year-old champion diver. In the citation, Daley was lauded for his services to British diving, as well as in recognition of his charity work and his global advocacy of LGBTQ rights. Daley was accompanied to the ceremony by his 48-yearold American husband, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. As an Olympian diver Daley first represented Britain at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as a young teenager of 14. A participant and a long time presence on the British diving team, Daley won his first gold medal at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in the men’s synchronized 10m platform event. In his speech accepting the 2021 Attitude Magazine Foundation’s Virgin Atlantic Attitude Sport Award, Daley took aim at 10 countries that have death penalties for people who are LGBTQ. Daley told the audience at the Roundhouse Theatre in London that the Olympic Games should ban those nations.

“These past Olympic Games there were more out LGBT athletes than at any of the previous Olympics combined, which is a great step forward,” Daley said. “Yet there are still 10 countries that punish being gay with death that were still allowed to compete at the Olympic Games.” He went on to tell those in the audience at the Jaguar Motorcars co-sponsored event he was going to make it his mission to effect change. “I want to make it my mission before the Paris Olympics in 2024 to make it so that the countries that criminalize and make it punishable by death for LGBT people are not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games,” Daley said. He then pointed out that those same countries shouldn’t be able to host Olympic games either — then he called out the homophobic atmosphere in Qatar. “The World Cup in Qatar had extreme rules against LGBT people and women and I think it should not be allowed for a sporting event to host in a country that criminalizes against basic human rights,” he said. He and his husband are parents to son Robbie, who they


TOM DALEY and DUSTIN LANCE BLACK (Photo via Daley’s Instagram)

welcomed via a surrogate in 2018 and the couple resides in London. BRODY LEVESQUE

Iraqi lawmakers seek to ban homosexuality An Iraqi lawmaker has said parliamentarians plan to introduce a bill that would ban homosexuality in the country. Middle East Eye, a website that covers the Middle East and North Africa, reported MP Aref al-Hamami on July 8 told an official Iraqi news agency that members of his Parliamentary Legal Committee have agreed “to collect signatures after returning to session to legislate a law prohibiting homosexuality in Iraq.” “[The] legislation of such a law will be reinforced by legal provisions that prevent homosexuality and the perversions associated with it,” said al-Hamami. Homosexuality has been legal in Iraq since 2003, but violence against LGBTQ and intersex Iraqis remains commonplace. “Despite repeated threats and violence targeting lesbian,

gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals,” notes the State Department in its 2021 human rights report. “Some political parties sought to justify these attacks, and investigators often refused to employ proper investigation procedures. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence and discrimination, and LGBTQI+ individuals reported they could not live openly without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers.” The U.S. earlier this year condemned the so-called honor killing of Doski Azad, a transgender woman in Iraqi Kurdistan. A source in the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq has previously told the Blade that militant groups regularly target gay men in the country. The Islamic State publicly exe-

cuted men accused of engaging in sodomy in the parts of Iraq it once controlled. “With an unstable economy and crimes taking place every day without any accountability or follow-up, the Iraqi Parliament’s Legal Committee has considered that putting an end to the LGBTQ community is a priority that must be achieved as soon as possible,” tweeted an activist in Iraq who calls themselves Anas Gilgamesh. Amir Ashour, executive director of IraQueer, an organization that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ and intersex Iraqis, on Tuesday told the Blade that it won’t be “that long” until lawmakers approve the bill because “they claim to have what they need to pass it.” Ashour added his organization is “working behind the scenes to try and stop the law from passing.” MICHAEL K. LAVERS

British Triathlon bans trans women from competing Organizers of Great Britain’s version of the combined sports of swimming, biking, and running — the Triathlon — have made a landmark decision to resolve the question of whether transgender women athletes can compete with other women. On July 6, they issued a new policy that creates a new, separate category, in which transgender and nonbinary athletes can compete alongside men, women and anyone who wishes to race. But starting Jan. 1, 2023, trans female athletes can no longer compete with cisgender women. They will be banned from entering the new female category according to the new policy, which says, “Only people who are the female sex at birth will be eligible to compete in the female category.” British trans advocates at the Trans Legal Project said British Triathlon made the change because they believe, “all trans women are appropriately classed as men not women.” While admitting that scientific research regarding trans athletes is “somewhat limited,” officials point to findings that mirror talking points argued by opponents of transgender inclusion, even citing two of the most notorious critics: Drs. Emma

Hamburg Relay 2022

(Courtesy of British Triathlon)

Hilton and Tommy Lundberg. “The science that does currently exist strongly challenges the idea that testosterone suppression alone sufficiently removes the retained sporting performance advantage of trans women (when compared with pre-transition and/or cis women),” say the Triathlon officials.

However, they also cite research by Joanna Harper, a trans woman working at Loughborough University in the U.K. who also happens to be a trans athlete. The study she conducted concludes that the strength of trans women remains “above that observed in cisgender women, even after 36 months” of hormonal therapy. But Harper told the Blade back in March that there’s more to it than that. “Although trans women do maintain athletic advantages after hormone therapy, there is no indication that these advantages have led to an overrepresentation of trans women at any level of sports,” she wrote in an email to the Blade. “We allow advantages in sport but not overwhelming advantage of one group over another when we divide sports into categories. It appears that hormone therapy reduces the advantages held by trans women to the point where we can have meaningful competition between trans and cis women in most sports.” Harper has several more studies into trans athletes underway. But British Triathlon isn’t waiting, and plans to put this new solution into effect come the new year. DAWN ENNIS


Gay CEO on navigating business challenges during pandemic Embracing diversity, resisting ‘Old World’ thinking are keys to success for Chicago’s Skolnik Industries

By PHILIP VAN SLOOTEN Walking his sparky chihuahua-mix Finnegan with his husband through downtown Chicago is one way Skolnik Industries President Dean Ricker relaxes while successfully guiding a multimillion-dollar corporation through a pandemic. Ricker told the Blade that diversity was their key to success: diverse products and diverse perspectives. Chicago-based Skolnik manufactures carbon and stainless steel drums for containing critical contents from hazardous materials to California wines. While businesses across the United States and the world are experiencing inflation and other pandemic economic impacts, American manufacturing has also been on the decline for decades. But Ricker finds it important to resist “old world” thinking when confronting current challenges. He explained to the Blade how listening to a variety of perspectives was Skolnik’s not-so-secret ingredient to surviving the pandemic crisis. “We don’t have to think and operate like it’s 1950,” Ricker said. “As someone who is gay and a leader of a company, I bring a unique perspective to a table where people of all backgrounds are supported.” National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Co-founder and President Justin Nelson also told the Blade a commitment to diversity can be critical to economic recovery. “As the economy regains its footing in the months ahead, leading with a commitment to diversity – as a business owner and a consumer – can help supercharge our economy and our community back to where we should be with our $917 billion purchasing power,” Nelson said. Ricker added that what set Skolnik apart was “we’re quirky.” The upbeat executive who describes Finnegan as “the cutest dog in the whole world” is proud that his company strives for a culture where “people of all backgrounds are supported.” And this inclusive atmosphere proved critical during the COVID-19 crisis.

‘Supplies are down, prices are up’ According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the “Rust Belt” — industrial manufacturing centers located primarily in the Midwest — began its long, downward spiral after 1950 and experienced a steep decline into the 1980s. Across this 30-year period, Rust Belt employment fell around 28 percent while manufacturing jobs fell nearly 34 percent. The Atlanta Fed notes this decline sharply impacted industrial centers across the country, such as in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago, as well as across the U.S. economy as a whole. While the current pandemic economic pressures such as labor shortages and supply chain issues were initially focused in the hospitality and food industries, Skolnik noted how challenges spread to the manufacturing sector as well. In March they tweeted: “Historic trucker shortages, port logjams and labor strikes are just some of the elements that are bringing the wine industry to its knees this year. Supplies are down, and prices are up, across the board.” And yet, while the pandemic forced many businesses to make tough decisions, Skolnik persevered and thrived. Zoominfo reports more than $30 million in revenue for Skolnik and more than 200 employees, while Glassdoor, a website

where current and former employees anonymously review their employers, states 64 percent of respondents would recommend Skolnik to a friend. “What is important is the role that diversity plays in the organization,” Ricker said. “You’re not myopic in your thinking.”

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. All installments in the series are available at our website.)

Skolnik Industries President DEAN RICKER (Photo courtesy Skolnick Industries)

LGBTQ inclusivity helps the economy Ricker, a Crain’s Chicago Business Notable LGBTQ Executive for 2019, said having a “rainbow” of people at the table from different backgrounds and with diverse experiences helped diversify their thinking and their markets — a tactic critical to their survival in an otherwise challenging industry. “When one industry goes down, like automotive,” he explained. “We saw a pick up in the pharmaceutical industry. During the pandemic we did a lot of packaging related to vaccines and hand sanitizer.” And research indicates when businesses are LGBTQ inclusive, for example, it has a positive impact on the economy as a whole. University of Massachusetts Economics Professor M.V. Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar and author of “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All” told the Blade that for an economy to perform well it needs everyone to contribute as much as they have to offer. “The problem with exclusion is it holds LGBTQI people back,” explained Badgett, who was named one of the 20 most powerful lesbians in academia by Curve Magazine in 2008. “If they aren’t able to develop their knowledge, skills and creativity, then they are not able to contribute as much as they could potentially to the overall economy.” Badgett said challenges faced by LGBTQ youth, such as bullying and discrimination in housing, employment, and health care, are barriers that keep them from full economic participation over time and can ultimately harm the economy as a whole. She pointed to the current labor shortage cited by many businesses as a significant pandemic challenge, and explained how bullying in schools can lead to workforce exclusion. “If LGBT students face bullying in schools, they have lower GPAs, drop out, and are less likely to go to college. A bullying environment is not a good learning environment, and that’s a key tie to employment,” Badgett said. “They will not have the necessary skills and knowledge to take into the world.” This, in turn, reduces the pool of available workers, a problem further exacerbated by pandemic pressures on disparities already faced particularly by LGBTQ people of color. “When we can [instead] reduce the level of exclusion, we make it possible for people to put their whole selves into their job and that has a positive impact on everyone,” Badgett said. “It’s good for LGBT people to be more included economically for their health and long-term economic status,” she added. “We think that will pay dividends over time as the economy prospers.”

NGLCC provided sense of community in a crisis As a gay business executive, Ricker also noted the important role the NGLCC played in helping Skolnik weather the


A group of Skolnik Industries employees (Photo courtesy Skolnick Industries)

COVID-19 crisis. It provided a space where other queer business leaders could gather and problem-solve on a national level. It was also a chance to gain support and learn from each other. “Just watching other companies going through the same thing we were and hearing their stories served as an inspiration,” he said. “One challenge right now is hiring people. Highlighting that we’re an NGLCC member and an LGBTQ-owned business helps.” NGLCC’s 2017 economic report found companies that engaged in Pride activities saw an increase in diverse job applicants, new diverse supply chain applicants, and a deeper LGBTQ consumer loyalty. Ricker added highlighting that membership lets LGBTQ job seekers know Skolnik is a queer-supportive place to work. “There are a lot of businesses out there where you can’t be yourself,” he said. “I saw our company as an oasis for talented people where they can be themselves. In manufacturing there are unfortunately a lot of ‘old world’ attitudes out there.” But despite the pandemic and historical challenges his industry faces, Ricker is still excited about the future and a possible resurgence in American manufacturing. “Supply challenges have highlighted the importance of American manufacturing,” Ricker said. “We still need to make things here in the U.S. And it’s exciting that an LGBTQ-owned business can be a part of that.” The idea of a recovering economy and the future opportunities it brings for his industry really “jazzes him up,” along with enjoying a nice glass of a California Cabernet aged in one of Skolnik’s barrels — the flavor sweetened from “knowing that we had something to do with its production.”

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Lesbian entrepreneur uses crime scene TikTok to educate ‘You can change people’s lives by returning things to pre-incident condition’

By PHILIP VAN SLOOTEN Spaulding Decon’s 4.2 million followers probably tune into the company’s popular crime scene cleaning TikTok to watch technicians scrub away blood or dismantle drug labs, but sometimes Founder and CEO Laura Spaulding slips in a little more. “Today we’re going to be talking about the affordable housing crisis,” Spaulding, a former Kansas City police officer, tells viewers in an April teaser; later a young woman shares how difficult it has been surviving outside the benefits threshold. Spaulding founded her multimillion-dollar business specializing in biohazard clean up in 2005, and in 2016 it became the first nationally franchised decontamination service. However, the onset of the global pandemic threatened to derail the success of this lesbian entrepreneur. When states were going into lockdowns in 2020, in a desperate effort to slow the pandemic’s death toll and contain the spread of the disease, many businesses struggled. According to Commerce Department data, real GDP across industry sectors fell sharply in the second quarter of 2020 as the world plunged into an economic recession. Spaulding said surviving the crisis meant being able to navigate quickly in a new environment. Her business survived, in part, by reaching out via social media to the millions who unexpectedly found themselves locked down. “We actually grew our business during the pandemic,” Spaulding told the Blade. “Other brands possibly didn’t do that because they were in crisis mode. But we showed viewers an insight into what disinfecting for COVID looks like. We gained a ton of followers because of that.” In 2021, Spaulding Decon made the Inc. Magazine list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies, an honor that gave Under Armor, Patagonia and Microsoft their first national recognition. Inc. noted the “unprecedented challenges” this group of honorees faced in 2020, to not only survive but thrive with an average median three-year growth rate of 543 percent and combined median revenue nearing $11 million. This was an achievement Spaulding said she never dreamed was possible. When she started her company, she did so with little outside investment and sheer determination. “I’m just a regular person trying to build a business,” Spaulding said about her challenges. “[Being a lesbian business owner] hasn’t hindered me or benefitted me either. I’ve never gotten a contract because of it. But it will only hinder you if you let it.” And she said the struggle for labor is real. Turnover among technicians is high. Working long hours in protective equipment can be physically demanding, and cleaning up after violent deaths can take an emotional toll, but Spaulding enjoys working alongside those who tough it out with her. “The people that I work with are amazing,” she said. “Since COVID, we’re operating with fewer staff members than we’ve ever had, but I enjoy being with them, side-by-side. We’re mission based.”

‘You can change people’s lives’ Today, Spaulding lives with her partner of four years and co-parents a 4-year-old, a 3-yearold, and a rescue dog named Sammy, a retriever mix. But back in 2005, she was a police officer facing a distraught homicide victim’s mom who wanted to know when they were returning to clean up the crime scene. Spaulding told the Story Exchange in February she felt bad for the mother who had just been through so much, but the only answer she had for her was “We don’t do that.” So, Spaulding left police work and went into the crime scene cleaning business. The work has been challenging, but years later she has no regrets. “You can change people’s lives by returning things to pre-incident condition,” she told the Blade. “Especially the suicide clean ups because they don’t have to see it. You can’t get rid of the memory of [seeing the person like that], but we can put that room back together.” Even before the pandemic created a captive audience, there was interest from the media in Spaulding Decon’s work due to the inherent drama involved. “We were getting approached with reality show producers. But they could never get it sold because they thought it would be too graphic,” Spaulding explained. “So, I was like let’s do it ourselves and post it to YouTube, and that’s how the social media series was born.” Currently, Spaulding Decon’s Crime Scene Cleaning YouTube channel has more than 800,000 subscribers, and while much of the content can be graphic, some can be off-beat and 16 • JULY 15, 2022 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. All installments in the series are available at our website.)

unexpected, such as the 1980s E.T. Atari game unearthed during a hoarding clean up. As the pandemic moves into its long-term and less acute stage, Spaulding Decon’s social media presence and popularity continue to hold strong. Its Crime Scene Cleaning series now has a spin-off focusing on in-depth interviews with people dealing with a variety of subjects. “We get DMs [direct messages] on our social channels LAURA SPAULDING (center) is founder and CEO of about how do I clean this parSpaulding Decon. (Photo courtesy Spaulding Decon) ticular thing?” Spaulding explained. “And we’ll do videos on that to make sure people are educated.” This desire to educate pushed Spaulding to grow her franchise in a new direction. “We have a spin off called ‘Talking Decon,’” she said. “Where we do more investigative-type interviews. The last one was with a victim of human trafficking.” This new series provides a chance for the former cop to engage the community in a meaningful way. “We take an educational approach to social media. So we have a cult-like following,” Spaulding said. “And we stay in communication with followers and fans.”

NGLCC: It’s a ‘community thing’ Spaulding has worked hard to make her business a success and she credits her staff and technicians for working just as hard in their “labor of love.” However, her biggest tip for new entrepreneurs and LGBTQ business owners is to find a mentor to learn from early on. “You will get to where you need to be faster than by learning from your mistakes,” she added. Spaulding also pointed out the support she found as a member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). She found it nice to be able to bounce ideas off “our own people” in a safe and comfortable environment. “It was more of a community thing,” she said. “And it’s important for all minorities to stay at the top of your game – it’s not an even playing field. It’s constant education. It’s constantly finding things that you can do better to overcome the competition.” Economics professor M.V. Lee Badgett, a distinguished scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, has researched the benefits of LGBTQ equality on the economy. Her books have debunked the myth of gay affluence and instead highlight the economic challenges LGBTQ people face due to discrimination. “The bottom line,” Badgett told the Blade. “Is that for an economy to perform as well as it could, it needs everyone to contribute as much as they have to offer.” Justin Nelson, the NGLCC co-founder and president, also explained that resilience and community are important. “Our community is sustained by our resilience and commitment to helping one another through the good times and the challenging ones,” Nelson said. “It has never been easier to go online or check with your local affiliate LGBT Chamber of Commerce to make sure you support the brands that have our community’s back.” And Spaulding is committed to continuing to grow her company. An avid reader, she just finished Dan Sullivan’s “Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork” and enjoyed its insights. “You can’t do everything alone,” she said. “I came up thinking I had to do everything and pay for everything myself, but sometimes you need to find the ‘who’ – that person who can help you do something, instead of just figuring out how to do it yourself.” Her new goal is to grow her business from 56 locations to 100. “I think it’s challenging,” she said. “But doable.”

JAMES FINN is a columnist for the Los Angeles Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, and an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY.

Tallahassee Schools policy requires outing trans kids Policy advisory committee made up entirely of cis members

My column today is about a shocking new anti-LGBTQ policy in Tallahassee schools, but first, let me briefly revisit disturbing events in Orange County. As I recently wrote, Orlando-area school principals came away from a meeting late last month believing their district-level bosses want them to out LGBTQ kids to non-supportive parents, misgender trans kids in class, remove photos of same-sex partners from their classrooms, and take down rainbow safe-space stickers — all in response to Gov. DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law. A spokesperson for Orange County Public Schools contacted me over the weekend to say media reports about those issues are rumors, that district policies do not require those actions. But he stopped responding when I asked him to help me understand why two principals who don’t know each other reached out to me independently with strikingly similar accounts of pressure they claim OCPS officials are putting on them. It strains credibility to believe those professional educators are just making it up, especially given how similar their accounts are to accounts that have appeared in several Orlando media outlets, including ABC affiliate WFTV. Stay tuned. If I find out more, I’ll let you know. As Brody Levesque reported Saturday in the Los Angeles Blade, the Leon County School Board is targeting transgender students with outing, in a manner trans students say will put them at great risk of harm. The board just approved new guidelines that require parents to be notified if a trans student will be participate in their child’s physical education class or go on an overnight trip. As Brody Levesque reported Saturday in the Los Angeles Blade, the Leon County School Board is targeting transgender students with outing, in a manner trans students say will put them at great risk of harm. The board just approved new guidelines that require parents to be notified if a trans student will be participate in their child’s physical education class or go on an overnight trip. Trans kids and their parents are scared to death. “Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. Kailey Sandell, a Leon County high school student who spoke at the meeting, agreed: “The notification to all the parents can create a very stressful and unwanted situation to trans and LGBTQ students. A lot of times kids assume that kids are gay or trans; they will easily be able to hurt them.” [emphasis mine.] Nonetheless, the board unanimously approved the new “witch hunt” policy, calling it a “compromise” that made neither side happy.


I have a question for Leon County School Board members: If you think painting targets on the backs of trans students is a compromise, what would genuinely harmful policy look like to you? Kicking trans kids out of school? Barring them from PE and school trips? The mind boggles. The new policy isn’t even internally coherent. Language in one section explicitly says a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission.” But then the required parental notification negates that language, forcing school employees to out trans students to other students’ parents. The policy language is vague enough that it isn’t clear if parents must be notified of the trans student’s name or simply notified that an unspecified trans student will be in PE class or on a trip. But the damage will be done one way or the other. Let’s be crystal clear about something, Leon County School Board members — Trans students are not dangerous to other students. Zero evidence suggests they are. Mountains of evidence show the opposite is true. Trans students are vulnerable, at high risk of bullying and assault, which the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law has documented as epidemic in U.S. schools, including Florida schools. Sending out parental notifications merely because a trans student will be participating in a class or a trip will feed that epidemic. I’m certain you understand that. Your new policy will cause real kids to suffer real harm for no reason other than bigotry. No parent has the right to know the sexual orientation or gender identity of other parents’ children. That you would hand them that information even in the face of the over-the-top hatred you saw at that meeting is … words fail me. It’s deeply frightening. And it’s wrong. Your policy is morally untenable. You have a responsibility to protect and nurture the students in your school district, not hand them over to the mob, which is what you’re doing in effect. You must reconsider your decision and recommit to honoring the privacy of ALL students in your school district, not just cisgender students. You must include transgender students and/or their parents on all further advisory committees formulating policy impacting transgender students. To my readers, please understand how bad things are getting. As I wrote in my column about Orange County Public Schools, this feels like something straight out of a dystopian novel. Please consider contacting your elected representatives, including Leon County School Board members, and ask them to protect LGBTQ students.

VO L U M E 06 IS S U E 28


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Eric Tannehill

is a 20-something queer activist and university student.

‘Just vote’ is not a strategy

GOP knows that keeping base angry is key to victory When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it sent waves of dismay through the LGBTQ community. Clarence Thomas’ concurrence made it clear that he wants to overturn Obergefell (marriage) and Lawrence v. Texas (sodomy laws). Already, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called upon the Supreme Court to overturn Lawrence, and sources tell the Blade that the Alliance Defending Freedom is gearing up challenges to Obergefell in the conservative 5th and 11th Circuits. Even if these challenges fail at the Supreme Court on the first try, the Circuit Courts are likely to issue injunctions that make life miserable for years for LGBT people. It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would overturn these rulings. In the Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision by Alito, he claims that this case is different because it involves human life. On the other hand, the tests for constitutionality created by Alito in Dobbs clearly indicate that Obergefell and Lawrence would fail if brought before him, and should be struck down. Alito very clearly and deliberately left a road map for how to make arguments that ensure these seminal LGBT rights cases are overturned. The Democratic response to Roe, reassuring the LGBT community, has achieved exactly the opposite: people are terrified and hopeless. Singing “God Bless America,” reading poems, making outraged statements, proposing bills that haven’t a prayer of becoming law, and doing yoga is about all that Democratic leaders have been able to offer the people who put them in office. Every proposed solution that might actually work has been shot down. The White House has unilaterally rejected expanding the court or providing abortions on federal land. Manchin and Sinema refuse to budge on the filibuster. No one dares speak about malicious compliance or the legitimacy of a court where most of the justices were put in place by Republicans who lost the popular vote. Meanwhile, Republicans are gleefully planning how they can abuse the system to prosecute women who flee to other states, or people who provide abortifacient drugs by mail. The singular message Democrats are providing is, “give us money and vote for us, and maybe something good will happen.” Vote is not a strategy. Nor is the Democratic base stupid: we know damn well that there is a +7 lean towards the GOP in the Senate, meaning that Democrats must win the national vote by an average of 7 points every year to even have a 50-50 shot of controlling the Senate. We know that lifetime appointments to the bench mean that the GOP will control SCOTUS for decades. “Just vote” is not a strategy, just like hope is not a plan. But it is patronizing. This is a complete failure of leadership. Democrats must state explicitly what they will do, and how they will do it, to protect the people voting for them from an increasingly fascist GOP that

wants to remake America in its white, Christian, heterosexual image. We are facing a queer apocalypse, and we’re getting tips on perfecting your “downward dog” and emails begging for money so they can keep doing what they’re doing: which is effectively nothing besides passing legislation that will never see the light of day in the Senate. (The Equality Act, anyone?) There’s a glimmer of hope: congressional generic ballot polling after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision shows a strong shift towards Democrats, and that the ruling made Democrats much more likely to vote. However, without a clearly enumerated plan and messaging, this is just a blip in our collective short term political memory. Between now and the election Democratic ads and messaging need to highlight every woman who dies, or nearly so, because of the Dobbs decision. Ads with interviews with women left in screaming bloody agony for hours while a priest and lawyers bicker over whether this is covered by “life of the mother” exceptions. Women denied lifesaving chemotherapy or forced to carry a pregnancy that could kill them. Women forced to carry a rape to term, and then share custody with their assailant. Make the messaging as brutal as possible: remind voters every day that a vote for Republicans is a vote to torture or kill women. The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory: Democrats need to learn to use it as well. They also need to be explicit in what they are going to do if they somehow manage to retain the House and Senate: namely they will end the filibuster and enshrine Roe v. Wade as federal law. They need to explicitly spell out how they will use the power given them to prevent SCOTUS from allowing gerrymandered red states from eliminating marriage equality and throwing LGBT people in jail for having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes. Democrats need to stop over-promising and under delivering. The public knows damned well what cannot be accomplished as long as the filibuster is in place, or SCOTUS dominated by conservative ideologues. Failing to do these things will produce even worse outcomes: namely people giving up hope of solutions from within the system, ceasing to vote, and attempting to take matters into their own hands out of a sense of hopelessness and rage. Viable plans create hope. Scared, desperate angry people do stupid things if they do not have both hope and a plan. It’s President Biden’s responsibility as a leader to map out that plan unambiguously, while Democrats need to make certain everyone knows what the consequences of failure are.


Bollywood increasingly explores LGBTQ issues Indian cinema key to educating millions of viewers

Music, dance, color, compelling stories and drama: Welcome to the world of the Indian film industry. With the production of more than 1,500 films each year, the industry is the largest in the world. Movies like “Dangal,” a 2016 film about wresting, impacted Indian society’s views toward girls. In a country with limited awareness of Tourette’s syndrome, the 2018 film “Hichki,” which means “hiccup” in Hindi, successfully sensitized audiences. But the Indian film industry before 2015 failed to highlight an integral part of Indian culture: The LGBTQ and intersex community. The 1971 movie “Badnam Basti,” which means “Infamous Neighborhood” in Hindi was dubbed as India’s first gay film. The movie disappeared into oblivion soon after its release, and the 35 mm film print was only recently discovered in a Berlin archive. The Central Board of Film Certification, a film certification body under the Indian government’s control, in 1971 certified the film as A-rated, meaning for adults only. According to Hari Om Kapoor, the son of “Badnam Basti” director Prem Kapoor, the film never explicitly showed homosexuality but implied it. When India was going through a tumultuous time in 2004, and the political landscape was changing, “Girl Friend” appeared on large screens. Although it was not the first lesbian feature film, it portrayed a lesbian character as evil and stereotypical. The film explored a love triangle between two girls’ best friends and a man. One girl — Tanya, played by one Bollywood’s biggest stars, Isha Koppikhar, soon realizes she is in love with her best friend, Sapna, who Amrita Arora plays. But Sapna is in love with a man, Rahul, played by Ashish Chaudhary. When Rahul realizes that Tanya is too close to Sapna, making him uncomfortable, he vindicates Tanya for the troubled relationship. The film then ends with the gruesome murder of Tanya by Rahul and Sapna, portraying Tanya and Rahul as heroes, and a lesbian character, Tanya, ends up becoming evil. This film received poor reviews from critics. “Indian cinema has played an important role in conditioning the mindsets of Indians of all backgrounds, and while recently it has made great leaps in the types of cinema being attempted, most Hindi films still thrive on the offensive and stereotypical portrayal of the non-binary gender characters,” said Celina Jaitly, a former Miss India and one of the most popular Indian actresses. Jaitly, through her performances in various big films, won millions of hearts in India and globally. Her activism in India for LGBTQ and intersex equal rights attracted the endorsement of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which in 2013 made her an Equality Champion. Jaitly has supported the U.N. Free and Equal campaign to counter homophobia and transphobia. “I have always wondered as an actor, why a gay or a trans person is constantly seen as outside the bounds of ‘normal.’ Ironically, despite the rampant transphobia, one particular trope is extremely popular in Bollywood, even after so many years, and that is cross-dressing men,” she told the Washington Blade. “Trans people are abnormal but cis men in drag are applauded. Every time a ‘hero’ dresses in drag it is considered to be iconic piece of performance, it’s always been difficult to wrap my head around that one.


Actress CELINA JAITLY has fought for LGBTQ and intersex rights in India for years. (Photo courtesy of Jaitly)

Casting trans and gay people in trans roles is still a challenge as cisgender actors consider it as a loss of opportunity to win awards, and producers/directors would rather cast cis actors who pull in an audience rather than a trans or a gay actor who pulls in the character.” Jaitly, who has worked in the Indian film industry for more than a decade, appeared in “Seasons Greeting” last year in which a trans person is the lead actress. Jaitly said she has fought for LGBTQ and intersex rights in India for years, and the reason for which she agreed to work in “Seasons Greeting” is that the director Ramkamal Mukherjee cast a trans woman for the first time in a trans lead film. Jaitly told the Blade that she believes in the importance of trans/gay cast in a trans/gay role, and only they can and should portray and become the beacons of reflections of the agonies and ecstasies of their journeys no matter what the script. “Filmmakers hold supreme responsibility in being sensitive, empathetic, and rational while attempting to make films on the said theme,” said Jaitly. “And as complex, as it may seem, the underlying principles of treating people respectfully and equally is a no-brainer and requires no special education. Cinema like literature is the reflection of society and not only does it influence the society but has great impact on successive generations.” In 2008, the star-studded romantic comedy film “Dostana,” which means “friendship” in Hindi, also attracted criticism and praise for depicting a gay couple. Hollywood sensation Priyanka Chopra played a central role, with megastars like John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan. The film explores the world of two men living in Miami who pretend to be a gay couple so they can live with a charming girl (Chopra), and they both eventually fall in love with her. Many critics argued that the film mocked LGBTQ and intersex people. But some critics also said that the presence of megastars like Chopra helps make audiences feel comfortable about the issue. The Blade reached out to Chopra for a comment, but the actress did not respond. With the advent of cheaper mobile data in India after 2015, more people are aware of LGBTQ and intersex people, and the Indian film industry is making LGBTQ and in-


tersex-based films more than ever. Maanvi Gagroo, a prominent Indian actress, in an email to the Blade said that there was hardly if any, LGBTQ and intersex representation in Bollywood for the longest time. And whatever little there was, was almost always comedic. Gagroo believes comedy can be a great tool for social change. “It was always the manner or the nature of the humor that was problematic for me. Often the jokes were at the cost of the gay/queer characters, and audiences were meant to laugh AT them rather than WITH them. These characters never had any sort of redemption, no arc and often created and/or perpetuated outlandish, garish stereotypes!” said Gagroo. “There is hope though. I see makers becoming much more sensitive toward the community. And this change is parallel in society as well. I mean we only decriminalized homosexuality a few years ago. Now whether Bollywood is mirroring society or vice versa, I can’t comment but the change is positive for sure.” Gagroo’s first LGBTQ and intersex film, “377 AbNormal,” is based on the Indian Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that decriminalized homosexuality. The film explored the five people who challenged Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. “‘377 AbNormal’ was actually very educational for me. While I pride myself as an ally, I was completely ignorant about the journey of the movement and what led to the monumental verdict of 2018. I knew I had to be a part of the film from the time I first heard the concept,” said Gagroo. “Again, that was another film where the director, Faruk Kabir, was extremely cautious of not only getting the film factually right but also portraying the entire process sensitively. We would often choke up and would have to stop shooting because all of us would get so emotional.” “In terms of preparation, I didn’t need to work on sensitizing myself on the topic,” added Gagroo “I was there. I was ready to tell that story and I felt I had to do it well without minimizing anyone or anything related to the film.” Although “377 AbNormal” was the first LGBTQ and intersex film for Gagroo, it was not the last. Gagroo in 2020 appeared in “Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” a film that Hitesh Kewalya directed. The film explores the story of a gay couple that has trouble convincing their parents to accept their relationship. The film generated buzz at the box office. While talking about the film, Gagroo, who also starred in it alongside megastars like Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, veteran actress Nina Gupta, and Gajraj Rao, said that the film came with empathy and a respect and that the intent of the film is clear. “Our director, Hitesh Kewalya, was very clear right from the start, that he didn’t wish to delve into the gruesome hardships that the gay community is subjected to, but aim to normalize a lot of the conversation around it,” said Gagroo. “It dealt with so many different social issues even beyond LGBTQ. Even while shooting you could see the cast and crew evolving and their growing comfort with the topic was palpable.”



A Salute to



Special Guest Artist

John Holiday Featured last Summer in Dudamel Conducts Gershwin at The Hollywood Bowl with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. GMCLA Music Director & Conductor Ernest H. Harrison will conduct the Chorus in a spectacular concert of Stephen Sondheim’s masterworks, from Sweeney Todd, Company, A Little Night Music, West Side Story, Follies, Sunday in the Park with George and Gypsy. On the program is the Los Angeles premiere of Songs of the Phoenix, a major new work led by Grammy- and Tony-nominated composer Andrew Lippa (I Am Harvey Milk), with nine songs from 13 diverse, important artists, including Sondheim.


In ‘Neptune Frost,’ the future is nonbinary Praise for an ‘Afrofuturist sci-fi punk musical’

By JOHN PAUL KING tual building blocks of computers, programming is what it’s all about. With all the big queer movies that came our way for this year’s Pride month, it’s ineviWilliams and Uzeyman don’t just rely on short-circuiting our rational brains to get their table that a few would be lost in the mix – an unfortunate fate, because it’s often the unpoints across, however; they draw generously from the ability of cinema – and theater, der-the-radar titles that most deserve to stand out from the crowd. where both directors have spent considerable time honing their sensibilities – to guide us Fortunately, it’s never too late to discover (or to recommend) a hidden gem, and the into the heightened “meta-reality” in which their story lives. Bathed in an exquisite color upcoming digital release of “Neptune Frost,” which premiered at last year’s Cannes Festival palette, laden with bold visual strokes and striking imagery, interwoven with symbolism and enjoyed a brief but critically acclaimed theatrical release in June, is a perfect opportunias potent as it is delicate, their movty to do both. Created by Saul Williams ie mesmerizes us; indeed, one could – an acclaimed American poet, screenwatch “Neptune Frost” with the sound writer, musician, and actor – and co-diturned off and still absorb the full gist rected by Williams and Rwandan-born of its messaging. artist and cinematographer Anisia To do so, however, would be to miss Uzeyman, it’s described in its publicity out on one of its highlights: the music. material as “an Afrofuturist sci-fi punk It might be tempting to be skeptical musical,” but while that label may conabout a science fiction musical, but vey something close to the movie’s the song score (composed by Wilgeneral “flavor,” it falls far short of capliams) quickly dispels any concerns of turing the multi-layered essence of the gimmickry. There are no showy, glitzy film itself. Broadway-style earworms here; visSet in the African hilltops of Burundi, ceral yet erudite, observational yet the film intertwines the separate flights fierce, the musical numbers bear more of two refugees – Matalusa (Bertrand resemblance to the interjections of a Ninteretse “Kaya Free”), who is fleeing classical Greek chorus, filtered through a life of enforced labor as a coltan mina rich musical legacy that stretcher, and an intersex runaway named es from traditional tribal chants and Neptune (Elvis Ngabo/Cheryl Isheja) – rhythms to soulful laments and fiery as they journey across the countryside; rap. They are fully realized set pieces, led by dreams and visions, their paths each crucial to telling the story, and converge at a mysterious outpost in they deliver some of the film’s most the wilderness, where a would-be CHERYL ISHEJA stars in ‘Neptune Frost.’ (Photo courtesy Kino Lorber) potent imagery and ideas. hackers’ collective dreams of disruptOn that subject, its tempting to ing “The Authority” by exposing its lies delve into comparisons with great films and filmmakers evoked by “Neptune Frost” — the and corruption. The newcomers quickly fall in love, and their connection provides the fuel near-psychedelic dream cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky, for example, or the reggae-futhe group needs to enact its plan for elevating the world’s consciousness – but even with eled rebellion of Perry Henzell’s anti-heroic masterpiece “The Harder They Come.” Such the help of a mystical power grid and guidance from higher dimensions, will their efforts be observations seem moot, however, in relation to a movie whose uniqueness is part of its enough to make a difference? very essence; after all, Williams – who conceived the story as a graphic novel, explored it If the plotline seems vague, that’s because “Neptune Frost” is not a movie that follows through three musical albums, and finally brought it to life on film – always intended it to strict narrative rules. Instead, it uses its setting and characters to transcend those expecbe unlike anything else you’ve ever seen, because the stakes in our world are too high to tations and take us into a frame of mind more conducive to an unrestricted flow of ideas. retread old ideas. Equal parts primal myth and dystopian techno-drama, it exists in a state of pluralities, “Maya Angelou once said that anything an artist writes should be written with the urgency where past and present, dream and reality, freedom and enslavement, and all of the other of what they would write if someone were holding a gun in their mouth,” Williams writes “binaries” whose interplays define (and limit) our existence can be revealed as spectrums in his director’s notes for the film. “The state of this country and the world has my mouth in states of constant flux. propped open enough to swallow whole timelines. We need art that is unafraid to challenge Key among the rigid constructs that the film challenges, of course, is the idea of gender. the narrative structure of our programming. Computational propaganda circulates at the Neptune, the film’s eponymous intersex narrator, whose escape from a repressive tribal speed of colonial diseases through indigenous populations. Music is a time-machine.” village is just as much an escape from repressive strictures about gender and sexuality, That quote tells you everything you need to know going into “Neptune Frost.” It helps to is empowered by transcending those boundaries. Other characters, too, tend toward the be reassured that the cast of unknown (in America, at least) performers is stellar, each giving nonbinary in presentation; in the enlightened collective, gender is just one of the many an impassioned and luminous performance, and that the film’s whirlwind of heady sociopoirrelevant differences exploited by the powerful to maintain control over society. Yet the litical deprogramming is balanced by moments of sheer, incandescent humanity – and it’s ignorance that persists around such matters in our world cannot be disregarded, as we are undeniable that, without such elements, none of Williams’s and Uzeyman’s conceits would reminded when repercussions from a gender trauma in Neptune’s past become a threat to work. Ultimately, though, the purpose of “Neptune Frost” is not to make you comfortable, the security of the entire commune. or to reassure you with hope for the future, or to reinforce your faith in whatever spiritual The gender binary, prominent as it is in Williams’s screenplay, is not the only “illusion of center to which you like to anchor yourself; and though it reverberates with a proud and duality” that “Neptune Frost” endeavors to shatter, something it effects by taking us on a defiant Black voice, crying out against centuries of colonization, subjugation, exploitation, wild ride in which thematic threads intertwine and conflate until they all blend together like and genocide, it’s not even trying to raise awareness about Black issues, because the issues a fun house mirror maze built of metaphors. Does that get a little confusing sometimes? it thrusts into your consciousness go far deeper than race. Yes, it does, and gloriously so. It’s precisely because it confounds our efforts to make linear This movie is a call to action, no less urgent for being a musical, and it wants us to hack sense of what we are seeing that the movie has the power to break our programming – and the world. “Neptune Frost” releases on all major VOD platforms July 26. appropriately enough for a movie so heavily laden with the language, imagery, and concep-


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New queer biographies make for ideal summer reading Array of options, from somber to outlandish

By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER For something a little more somber, reach for “Side AfAnother Pride month is in the can. fects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad” by Hil Malatino (UniAll that planning, preparation and execution of events versity of Minnesota Press, $21.95). Honesty is at the root of is done, and now you find yourself with lots of time on your this semi-biographical look at being trans: if you are trans, hands. So why not reach for one of these great memoirs to says Malatino, you may struggle with several righteously negread? ative feelings you have — disconnect, anger, fear, numbness, A little bit of memoir, a little bit of sympathy, advice, and burnout, exhaustion — feelings that exist, in part, because of several biographies are at the heart of “Here and Queer: A the times in which we live now and the transphobia that seems Queer Girl’s Guide to Life” by Rowan Ellis, illustrated by Jacky to be everywhere. Counteracting these feelings – or, at least beSheridan (Quarto, $14.99). This book leans mostly on the seriing able to survive and thrive despite them – may be as simple ous-but-lighter side, with plenty of colorful artwork and sugas some type of activism, and Malatino explains the details as gestions for teen girls on figuring out who they are and what it he shares his own story as well as many case studies. means. There are fun activities, quizzes, essays, and tips inside; And finally, if you love watching or participating in drag, then readers will find plenty of one-liners to take away, a compreyou’ll absolutely love “How You Get Famous” by Nicole Pahensive timeline of LGBTQ history, and biographies that reflect sulka (Simon & Schuster, $27.99). This book tells the story of a women of many ages and races. That all makes this a book coat-check boy who loved performing in drag and who talked that even adult women and, perhaps, some questioning boys her bar-owning boss into letting her host a drag show in Brookwill appreciate. lyn. But this was no one-night stand and soon, the event had a Speaking of lighthearted, try “Start Without Me (I’ll Be lot of fans – among them, dozens of “kids” who sneaked into There in a Minute)” by Gary Janetti (Holt, $27.99). TV producthe club to practice their acts next to experienced performers. er, writer, social media star, and sometimes curmudgeon JaBut when you’re on the edge of what’s about to be a popular netti is annoyed. Mighty annoyed in several essays here, but kind of entertainment, amateur status doesn’t last long enough his aggravation is not meant to bring readers down. It’s meant – and neither does this upbeat, wonderful book. to make you laugh and – with very funny, wry takes on finding And if these don’t fit the bill, be sure to ask your favorite the perfect tan and the perfect man, friendship with a nun, hobooksellers or librarians for help. They’ve got your next best tel rooms, mothers-in-law, “The Wizard of Oz,” vacations, wedread in the can. dings, and more – you will.

‘How You Get Famous’ by Nicole Pasulka is a fun read about drag in Brooklyn.


Bollywood finally embracing queer themes

While talking with the Blade, Kewalya said that things changed, and people became more aware of the issue, which led to the making of “Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.” He argued that Section 377’s abolition made it possible to make such films. Kewalya also noted that Indian society was already talking about the issue, so making such a film became easy. “It was challenging because there was no precedent to it. In a commercial film like this, where a top star is headlining the film, and a top production house is backing it, and all the great actors backing it,” said Kewalya. “It was also challenging because it is a sensitive topic in our society. Even the LGBTQ community was never happy with the kind of representation that was happening in the cinema.” According to Variety, India produces films in a staggering 41 languages, mostly regional. In 2017, Lokesh Kumar released “My Son is Gay,” a Tamil language film. The story revolves around a school principal and her only son. The mother-son duo share a strong bond, and the mother soon finds out the truth that her only son is gay, which leads to a drastic change in her life. “I am glad many people supported and showered a lotta love for our little indie feature film ‘My Son is Gay.’ I have attended an LGBTQ film festival once, where I have seen many queer films across the world and also got to meet many community members. That’s when I realized there are only very few Tamil films which showcased queer characters and there are no full-length gay-themed films as such,” said Ku-

mar. “I really felt the need to tell the stories like ‘My Son is Gay.’ So, I have decided to meet LGBTQ members and their parents and did my research, wrote the story, which is based on many real incidents.” While LGBTQ and intersex films are doing well in India and globally, in 2022, another film, Junglee Pictures’ “Badhaai Do,” generated a buzz among the masses. Star-studded films with casts like Rajkummar Rao, actress Bhumi Pednekar, Sheeba Chaddha and Chuma Darang helped the film highlight LGBTQ and intersex issues in India. The film tells the story of a gay cop who enters into a sham marriage with a lesbian teacher to convince their family that they are living a “normal” life. “The films that came before us had already placed the LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns in the mainstream space. Not having the burden of explaining an ‘issue’ was liberating for us as we could focus on aspects of representation while negotiating with our own heteronormative conditioning without worrying about having articulate and politically correct sounding characters,” said “Badhaai Do” director Harshavardhan Kulkarni. “It helped us locate the film in familiar realities of caste, class, and patriarchal family units. I feel that too often, we tend to gloss over the fact that sexuality is only one aspect of our being, and it exists within the many other aspects which govern daily life in large parts of our country.” In recent years, the Indian film industry has released some critical films that show real-world issues of the Indian LGBTQ and intersex community. Films like “Badhaai Do,” “Subh Man-


gal Zyada Saavdhan” and many more have not only created an impact on Indian society but also started the discussion. Samantha Ruth Prabhu, an Indian film star who won millions of hearts across India and numerous awards for her contribution to Indian cinema, told the Blade that Indian movies and the film industry are constantly evolving. “I do believe we have a long way to go before mainstream films refrain from crudity, insensitive humor and homophobia completely,” said Prabhu. “I am extremely proud of having been a part of a path breaking and ambitious film like ‘Super Deluxe.’ The film tied many intricate stories to an overarching philosophy, so I wouldn’t say it was only about a transgender person. The characters portrayed by me and Mr. Vijay Sethupathy (an actor who appeared in ‘Super Deluxe’ with Prabhu) were similar in that they both exhibited their own brand of bravery.” Prabhu has joined the cast for her next LGBTQ and intersex film, “Arrangements of Love.” Wales-based BAFTA-winning director Philip John is also joining the team as director. The film will revolve around an Indian man in Wales who visits his homeland to find his estranged father. Prabhu will play a bisexual detective who becomes part of the search. “The industry is evolving slowly but surely. There was a time when people were forced to tuck away a very real part of themselves in the way they told their stories, in a bid to conform. That thankfully has changed,” said Prabhu. “Directors and scriptwriters are being more real, and the audience is here and ready for it!”


Fab full-sized sedans

Jaguar XF, Mercedes S 500 offer great rides at very different price points

By JOE PHILLIPS As drivers flock to SUVs and crossovers, it’s as if the ubiquitous four-door sedan—poof!— has suddenly disappeared. Yet some steadfast sedans remain, including two absolutely fabulous rides below.




$47,000 Mpg: 23 city/32 highway 0 to 60 mph: 6.5 seconds Known for its super-luxe sedans, coupes and convertibles, even Jaguar has jumped on the sport-ute bandwagon. But though there are various Jag crossovers these days, at least one swanky sedan is still in the fleet: the XF mid-sizer. With streamlined looks—including a miles-long hood and swaybacked rear—this fetching chariot doesn’t disappoint. Handling is more lithe than lively, with supple suspension and snug braking. While neither of the two available four-cylinder turbo engines are Formula 1 material, the XF is plenty powerful for everyday driving. And the inviting interior is both refined and spacious, with cushy seats and lots of breathing room for backseat passengers. Along with a classy mix of rich wood trim and sleek aluminum accents, the updated cabin boasts a wireless charger, decent storage and curved glass on the 11.4-inch infotainment touchscreen. Thankfully, a gearshift lever is back to replace the previous (and decidedly boring) rotary-dial shifter. I test drove the upscale R-Dynamic model, with special badging, snazzy splitspoked wheels and optional British Racing Green paint — a nice touch. Other ritzy add-ons included soft-close doors, power rear-window shade, power headlight washers and premium 12-speaker Meridian stereo. Note to self: The trunk, though adequate, is smaller than the competition. And because the XF no longer comes with a punchy V6 or V8 engine, rivals like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class are speedier. But those sport-tuned rides also cost more — often a lot more. Considering how expensive gas has become these days, I’d say saving money on a stately but less expensive sedan makes a lot of sense.


$112,000 Mpg: 21 city/30 highway 0 to 60 mph: 4.5 seconds At twice the price of a Jaguar XF, the Mercedes S 500 is almost twice as nice. It’s certainly bigger, measuring 13 inches longer and weighing 1,000 pounds more than the Jaguar. And for the first time, power for the S 500 comes from an eco-friendly six-cylinder turbo versus the typical V8, which is still available on pricier models. With impressive horsepower and a 48-volt hybrid system for added oomph, the S 500 rockets from 0-to-60 mph in just 4.5 seconds — amazing for such a beefy sedan. Adaptive dampers and agile air-spring suspension eliminate any land-yacht body roll. Instead, handling is more akin to a Porsche, while the cabin in this Benz beauty easily channels a Rolls-Royce. This includes a plethora of sumptuous upholstery and lacquer wood trim, as well as firewall insulation and other acoustic-absorbing materials to keep things eerily quiet. Each front seat has 19 massage motors and 10 individual programs. Among the more than 120 recycled components are tony floor mats made from recycled fish nets and carpet remnants. A tasteful 12.8-inch central touchscreen has a sparkling OLED display. If the standard 15-speaker Burmester stereo doesn’t rock your world, a thunderous 30-speaker system with 4D surround sound is available. Still not sufficiently impressed? Along with an optional refrigerator, there are heated and cooled cup holders. Reach over toward an empty seat or other area at night and an overhead pin light immediately shines down, then douses itself when you remove your hand. And there are 250 interior LEDs, including red ambient door lights that flash when a dangerous traffic situation is detected. Outside, the futuristic door handles—aerodynamically flush and hidden in the side panels—tastefully emerge and begin glowing as you approach the car. Bucking the trend to reduce or completely eliminate sedans from its lineup, Mercedes offers seven of them. These range from the affordable A Class to the fancy S Class flagship that is reviewed here. Sure, at first glance the $112,000 MSRP on an S 500 looks steep. But that sticker price is a bargain when a similarly tricked-out Rolls can easily set you back $500,000.



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