Los Angeles Blade, Volume 08, Issue 07, March 08, 2024

Page 1

(Photo courtesy Linda Rukavina)


Oklahoma is not OK- these LGBTQ leaders are fighting for its future

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - When an audience member gives a dollar bill to a drag performer in Oklahoma City, they bow ever so slightly in a kind of reverent curtsy when handing it over. Here at the County Line nightclub on a recent Saturday night, I watch it happen again and again. Maybe it’s just how they do things here. Or maybe this sign of respect is not just an empty gesture.

I am sipping my Diet Coke and watching the show with a dozen new friends I have met over the course of the last two days. Officially, I came to town to speak at a community awards ceremony and do some promotion for my new book. But that was planned before the traumatic death of a non-binary child, Nex Benedict, only miles away. Oklahoma City is now the latest epicenter of queer heartache and righteous anger.

The community here is startling in their resilience to constant threats, whether in the form of epithets yelled on the street or repressive legislation from the State Capitol. The willful ignorance and hatred and evangelical damnations rumble through the roads of Oklahoma like a wagon train.

The show tonight is hosted by the local chapter of the Gay Rodeo Association. Oklahoma loves a rodeo. They know a thing or two about roping and riding and whatnot. Not all of the cowboy hats and tight Wrangler jeans crowding the bar are performative. The local rodeo chapter has not only existed longer than Gay Pride here, it funded the first Pride celebration in Oklahoma City.

Everyone has turned out tonight in support of the crowning of Miss Gay Rodeo, an honor that will be bestowed on Ryan Ochsner, who performs as  Ry’Lee Hilton. Ryan is beloved as much for his HIV prevention work as for his lip-synching skills. He works for a local health center doing HIV testing and prevention outreach.

“We help people access treatment medication,” Ryan tells me in his dressing room, touching up his makeup as the sound system blares country songs for performers onstage. “From the time someone tests HIV positive, we get them the first pill in their mouth within one hour.”

I ask Ryan about the inhospitality of his state toward LGBTQ people and if it gives him second thoughts about living here. He fixes his painted eyes on me with great intention. “I love Oklahoma,” he says deliberately. “I am not going anywhere.”

The host of the show is drag queen Shantel Mandalay, who has become internet infamous for all the wrong reasons. Dr. Shane Murnan, who plays Shantel, was forced to resign his job as an elementary school principal because he entertains as a drag queen. The school knew of his act when they hired him – a member of the job selection committee once served as a judge for a drag contest in which Shane competed – but a tabloid story and the subsequent internet outrage from conservatives forced the issue.

The state superintendent of schools railed against Shane, saying he should be fired and implied that he showed up at school in drag, which was never the case. The school district finally told Shane that it was too expensive to keep him safe from the barrage of threats Shane received on a daily basis and they forced him to resign.

Shane, who holds a doctorate in education, misses the job and the students he loved. His long education career in Okla-

homa has effectively ended. While performing as Shantel tonight, the loss of his job has become part of his act. “This isn’t over,” he announces from the stage about the scandal at one point, and the crowd cheers its support.

It is a little surprising there are people out tonight at all, considering that only a couple of hours earlier we were all crushed together at  an emotional vigil for Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old who died the day after being beaten in the bathroom of their high school. The precise details of Nex’s death as reported are still unclear, but they are beside the point for the grieving crowd, which spilled out from the vigil venue into the parking lot and against traffic on a busy street.

I will admit this. Standing just at the street on the outskirts of the crowd, not wanting to intrude on these heartbroken locals, I winced each time a car drove by just behind me. Every passing vehicle produced a tingle up my spine. Events like a memorial for a non-binary kid are magnets for violence. You never know.

But here, at the County Line nightclub, the vigil has ended and the crowd looks to the entertainers to soothe their hearts and lift their emotional exhaustion. It’s no wonder, I realize now, that each dollar bill comes with a bow of gratitude.

Watching the show beside me is Lance Preston, the Executive Director of the  Rainbow Youth Project USA, which operates a crisis hotline and counseling for LGBTQ youth being bullied or suffering from depression or thoughts of suicide.

Lance has got to be more exhausted than he lets on. He has conducted more than 60 media interviews in the last few days on nearly every network, each one of them beseeching viewers to practice simple empathy toward queer kids, and for a safe environment at school. His efforts haven’t prevented the far-right activists online from having a field day, excoriating him with comments too vile to repeat.

Lance and I step outside for some fresh air, and he tells me with a shocking casualness about his experience with bomb threats and how helpful the FBI has been. The federal agency regularly informs him of the threat level for nearly every public event Lance attends. They monitor the dark corners of the internet for chatter about potential violence and give Lance a threat rating. The vigil earlier had received a relatively low threat rating. Lance went.

The Rainbow Youth Project crisis hotline gets more than its share of hateful calls and messages. “They’re annoying, most-

ly,” Lance tells me. “But every prank call means time being taken away from a child who needs help. That’s what bothers me the most.”

Rainbow Youth Project is centered in Indianapolis but Lance has been in Oklahoma on a regular basis lately. The state has sometimes lurched ahead of Florida and California in the number of calls to the crisis line. Since Nex died, calls from Oklahoma kids in crisis have ticked up even further.

Tayton Barton steps outside to join us and I grab a hug. She is a trans woman and a new transplant to Oklahoma City. She speaks softly but I know better.  Her TikTok channel is pure fire, calling out ignorance and willful misinformation about the lives and rights of trans people. She is one of the few online personalities who will stand up to some of the more hateful far-right voices on social media.

Tayton’s mother is at her side, as she has been each time I have seen Tayton throughout my visit. When an LGBTQ child finds an ally in their own family, they cling to them tightly. Tayton’s mother is her biggest fan, even if Tayton’s online audience is growing by the day.

Walking back inside, I catch Michael Maus and Robert LacyMaus with their arms around each other. The couple, both long-term HIV/AIDS survivors and together for decades, have never lost their newlywed sheen. Michael is a community icon here, lauded for his tireless HIV work of more than twenty years, while Robert is a supportive husband with a flirtatious twinkle usually tossed in Michael’s direction.

For more than 20 years, Michael has hosted a regular Wednesday afternoon get together at  Expressions Community Center, where local HIV advocates from a variety of agencies come to stuff condoms, lube, and testing information into safer sex packets. Michael s enthusiasm – and the fact the event provides local HIV leaders a chance to trade advice, gossip and resources – has made the “condom brigade” a must on everyone s calendar.

I see  Teegan Mauter and  Christopher Sederburg, leaders of the Trans Action Committee of the Rainbow Youth Project, sitting to one side of the club nursing their sodas. They are in town with Lance to help support the community during this difficult time. I pull up a chair to ask them something that has been on my mind.

How do they make it through the day, as trans men visiting here, in such a hostile environment? Only the day before, an Oklahoma state senator  called the LGBTQ community “filth.” The death of a teenage non-binary person must have hit them especially hard.

“As awful as it is, we can’t look at this as an ending,” Christopher tells me about Nex. “It s the beginning. This can change things.”

“We know what we ve been through,” Teegan adds. “And we know how much these kids need our support.”

Teegan and Christopher are young, with the hopefulness youth provides, yet they answered me with the look of men who are intimately familiar with life’s cruelties. It was a look that broke my heart.

Across the club I spot Mary Arbuckle reaching out with a dollar bill for an entertainer doing a Reba McEntire number.

MARK S. KING (center) with a group of Oklahoma queer activists and allies. (Photo Credit: Mark S. King)

Here we go again

Biden, Trump win big on Super Tuesday, setting up rematch

About a third of all delegates for the presidential nominating conventions were up for grabs as voters in 16 U.S. states and the U.S. territory of American Samoa headed to the polls on Super Tuesday.

As expected, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump trounced their respective rivals in the Democratic and Republican Parties, earning a respective 1,479 and 995 delegates and thereby setting up a rematch of the 2020 presidential election.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced the suspension of her campaign on Wednesday, but declined to endorse Trump.

After he delivers the State of the Union address on Thursday, where he is expected to draw contrasts between his record and vision of leadership and Trump’s, the president will travel to Pennsylvania and then to Georgia. Both are swing states. Neither held primaries or caucuses on Tuesday.

The White House aside, the contests on Tuesday across the country shaped key races for state legislatures, Congress, mayors offices, city councils, and elsewhere.

Among the most closely watched was the Democratic primary for California’s second U.S. Senate seat. The incumbent Laphon a Butler, the first LGBT Black senator was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom after the death of Dianne Feinstein and announced that she would not seek another term shortly after she was seated in October.

The move set up a three-way race between three wellknown Democrats representing California in the U.S. House of Representatives dam Schiff, atie Porter, and Barbara Lee.

Schiff pulled ahead on Tuesday and will advance to the general election against former baseball player Steve Garvey, the GOP candidate.

In North Carolina, anti-LGBTQ Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson became the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Polls show that he is neck and neck with state Attorney General Josh Stein, the likely Democratic candidate.

“There is no reason anybody, anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality or any of that filth,” Robinson said in . nd yes, I called it filth. nd if you don t like it that I called it filth, come see me about it.”

He has also made anti-Semitic and misogynistic remarks.

“Mark Robinson’s ascension to the Republican nomination for governor in our state is a disturbing signal of how extreme the GOP establishment has become in North Carolina,” Campaign for Southern Equality Director of Impact and Innovation Allison Scott said in a statement.

Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes PAC released a statement Tuesday that said “all signs point to North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson becoming the Republican Party’s 2024 nominee for governor. Robinson is one of the most radical anti-LGBTQ+ MAGA politicians on the ballot this year, with a long record of demeaning LGTBQ+ people and spreading hateful, vile rhetoric without abandon. Among many other ‘lowlights,’ Robinson has:

• Referred to being transgender and homosexuality as filth” and said gays are equivalent to what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots” and flies.”

• Called straight couples “superior” to LGBTQ+ couples

• Said transgender women should be arrested over bathroom use and suggested transgender people instead find a corner outside somewhere” to go to the bathroom

• Said the Pride flag akes me sick every time I see it a church that flies that rainbow flag, which is a direct spit in the face of God almighty.”

The statement continued, “Beyond his bigoted anti-LGTBQ+ views, Robinson is also a Holocaust denier, an election denier, wants to ban all abortions in North Carolina and has mocked victims of school shootings. In short, there are few people who haven’t faced Robinson’s wrath.”

The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ candidates to public office, pointed to several races in Texas and California that the organization was watching closely.

Sacramento s first LGBT city councilman, Steve Hansen, is angling to become its first LGBT mayor. He is tied with pediatrician and California state Sen. Richard Pan, each with 24 percent of the vote and 13 percent of precincts reporting.

Silicon alley might get its first LGBT representative in Congress if Evan Low is elected to represent California’s 16th Congressional District, which will be vacant after Democratic

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s retirement. He is currently in third place among the Democratic candidates with an estimated 51.7 percent of votes counted.

Palm Springs City Council member Lisa Middleton could also make history as the state s first transgender legislator if she wins her bid for Senate District 28. She was leading incumbent state Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh in Tuesday’s early returns, and both will advance to the general election in November. And Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Ethan Weaver would bring more LGBTQ representation to the Los Angeles City Council, though he is behind Councilmember Nithya Raman according to early returns reported by the Los Angeles Times.

LGBTQ candidates win in Texas

In Texas, state Rep. Julie Johnson won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed Democratic Congressman Colin Allred, who is running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Johnson will make history as the first LGBT member of Congress from the South if she defeats Republican state Rep. Todd Hunter in November.

olly Cook finished second in the Senate District Democratic primary. She will face state Rep. Jarvis Johnson in a May runoff. The winner will face Republican oseph Trahan in ovember. Cook would become Texas first LGBT state senator if she wins.

Lauren Ashley Simmons, a progressive candidate from House District 146, defeated anti-LGBTQ Democratic state Rep. Shawn Thierry. o enkins, who is transgender, finished third in the Democratic primary in House District 139.

Sinema to leave the Senate

In another major political development this week, bisexual U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) announced on Tuesday that she will not run for re-election, thereby setting up a two-way race for the seat between U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Republican former television news anchor Kari Lake, who is a close ally of former President Donald Trump.

The first bisexual woman to serve in the .S. Senate and the second LGBTQ woman, after U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin D-Wis. Sinema was instrumental in shoring up support in the chamber for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in 2022, which protects the rights of married same-sex and interracial couples.

Sinema mentioned the legislative achievement in a video posted on X announcing her plans to leave the Senate.

Registering as an independent in December 2022 after

years of serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate as a Democrat, Sinema developed a reputation for imperiling some of her former party’s more ambitious policy goals.

For example, she was criticized for refusing to support abolishing the Senate filibuster and for ob ecting to a provision of the Inflation Reduction ct that would have narrowed the carried interest tax loophole, which benefits investment managers at private equity funds.

In her video, the senator detailed her objections to what she considers the polarization of partisan politics that has come to dominate Washington.

“I want to thank @SenatorSinema for her nearly two decades of service to our state,” Gallego wrote in a post on X.

Former President DONALD TRUMP and President JOE BIDEN (Blade photos by Michael Key) U.S. Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-Ariz.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Shining Nathan: You belong here, changing lives of LGBTQ+ folks

S TO IO, Texas - Gay social media influencer Shining Nathan is determined to change the lives of LGBT people all over the world, one smile at a time.”

athan is a social media influencer and happiness guru who sports elaborate outfits complete with wide-brimmed hats and flowing caftans. Through his various platforms, he is a light in the darkness of many lives, helping hundreds or thousands of LGBT individuals find the support they often lack in their personal lives.

One mother s story serves as a perfect example of his altruism.

The mother lives in a small, crime-ridden town and works two barely minimum-wage obs only to scrape by financially. onths go, she lost her teenage daughter, who died by suicide due to mental trauma caused by excessive bullying in school.

The hospital removed the daughter from life support. Without giving her any time to grieve, the hospital then pressured the mother to relieve them of her daughter s body. The mother called funeral director after the funeral director, who callously demanded impossibly high funeral fees and hefty down payments in order to proceed. The mother, distressed and desperate, found herself with nowhere to turn for the funds to bury her child.

nter  Shining Nathan, or, as he labels himself on social media, our Gay untie.”

When athan heard about the mother s inability to pay for her daughter s funeral, he immediately stepped in and raised enough money for a burial, tombstone, and other funeral-associated costs.

See athan s video here

What is the use of a big platform if I can t help where I can,” athan told the Blade in an exclusive interview.

or years, athan has inspired countless individuals to embrace optimism, confront their demons, and find the strength to carry on. athan s videos have become a source of solace and motivation for those in need, as he has selflessly lent his platform to amplify the voices of charities and communities across the nation and beyond.

But who is this fabulously-clad good samaritan with nearly one million social media followers seeking everything from financial help to simple words of encouragement from their Gay untie ”

athan told the Blade, I m ust a gay guy in San ntonio with a cat.”


fter his father went to prison, athan was raised by his mother in government housing in South Texas. While his mother was what he describes as violently anti-homophobic,” his experience outside of his home was far from supportive.

I was relentlessly bullied,” athan said. I was beaten up a lot. y nose is crooked, and my ears are cauliflowered because of it. I was very nerdy and, at certain points, even overweight, and I ll ust say it I was a gay little boy. I look at pictures from that time, and I think, yeah, of course they


athan explained that he needed to learn to fight back for his survival. I am small. y mom is ”. We are not big people. y uncle and my mom both taught me that because we are built small, every fight is a fight for my life.”

The bullying came to a head in unior high when athan had to be assigned a different lunchtime from his aggressors in the school s attempt at keeping him out of harm s way. However, the school s efforts at protecting athan were insufficient, as he soon suffered a sexual assault attack that left him with an in ured arm.

fter the incident with my arm and the sexual assault, we did decide that it was time to homeschool,” athan said.  athan spent one year in a church homeschool with five other children. He described his time as pleasant enough but somewhat boring as he was already several years ahead of his classmates, and the homeschool program was running several years behind his grade level. fter one year, athan returned to his regular school, armed with a new perspective and determined to make it through in spite of the bullying.

A Project to Live For

athan described an incident that happened prior to his homeschooling stint. He was ten or eleven years old and was sitting in the bathtub in his home. Distraught from the seemingly endless aggression of his peers, athan had planned to take his own life using a bottle of his mother s pills.

However, athan had a change of heart that would alter the course and purpose of his life moving forward.

I thought about the damage it would do to the most important person in my life at the time, my mother, and I chose not to do it. I decided that if things weren t going to change, the one thing I could do was at least try to leave the world a little bit better than when I came into it. I made a mission with myself if I could make one person laugh or smile a day, then my function in the world would be to at least leave it a smidge better than I entered it.”

athan s new mission started at home, where he performed skits for his mother and extended family. In high school, athan oined theatre, where he refined his performance skills that have continued to serve him in his role of Gay untie” today.

A Career in Empathy

Those scars that childhood left on me made me want to try my best to help people, laugh and smile, and hopefully move on in some way.

While much of his influence is through social media platforms like TikTok, ouTube, Instagram, and Cameo, athan did not consider himself a social media person” prior to CO ID- .

When the pandemic happened, a friend of mine told me to get on TikTok,” athan said. t first, I said,  no, that’s for people who can dance, and I can’t dance. But they said,  Nathan, you already do this on your personal Facebook page;

just go ahead and do it on TikTok and see what happens.  So I thought,  okay. I put a video on TikTok, and I got a little traction here and there, and it grew and grew. I got to keep my goal of making people laugh and smile and be entertained.”

In addition to his videos directed at all of his followers and beyond, athan does take Cameo requests where he can speak to individual members of his audience more directly. He says the ma ority of his Cameo requests come from people needing ust a little encouragement or a gentle word to get them through.

I get a lot of requests where people ask, can you just give me words of encouragement or tell so-and-so that they are doing a good job? I have countless D s saying,  I’m alive because of you. Just hearing you say that has gotten me through, and seeing you live your life as you do has encouraged me, as a straight man from XYZ, to live my life the same.”  athan recalled one particular gentleman who had accomplished everything on his bucket list and so feared he had nothing left to live for. He and athan went back and forth for years, adding to the man s list.

I told him to go ahead and add all the obscure things to the bucket list he could think of, because there are so many wonderful experiences to be had, even if they are obscure.”

The man thanked athan for giving him a renewed spark in life, and added both petting and owning a goat to his list of obscure” life goals.

In addition to words of encouragement, athan spreads education on LGBT life, including what it means to be pansexual and demisexual being sexually attracted to someone only through an emotional bond rather than physicality or other known cataly es of attraction .  athan shared, Someone said,  thank you for giving me the words for what I am. All this time, I thought I was weird, but I’m not. I’m just a demisexual.”

Ga social media in uencer SHINING NATHAN (Photo Credit: Shining Nathan)

“This was in one of our first govt house apartments after moving into town from the country. I was about 5. My mother was raising me on her own with help from my aunt, uncles and grandma, since my father was sent to prison a few years prior.  This was what I’d call the “barrio”.  This is about the time  I first experienced bullying.  My mom says I was the sweetest kid and just wanted to hug everyone which made me an easy target. Memories here are a little fuzzy in spots. I know at about this time was when I was sexually assaulted by teen boys. Though I didn’t tell anyone until only a few years ago.”

“Me in high school, breaking out of shell a little bit. This was sophomore year. After my time I’m home schooling I was still trying to find my place and my voice a little so I went into north JROTC and theatre. Prior to high school I was in a religious homeschooling and was trying to work my way out of the religious stuff I had been taught, I do have to note my mom let me pick what church I wanted even though she’s catholic, and I went to a baptist church until junior high.  By my Junior year of high school I made a small group of friends . The 4 of us were inseparable.”

Always true to his mission, Nathan is meticulous about the sponsorships he takes on, always weary of saying yes to any partnership he does not actively believe in, or that does not contribute to his goal of spreading joy. As such, Nathan created his “Patreon” as a way for his followers to support him without him needing to “sell out” in order to continue his work.

Nathan has also been booked at public speaking engagements at various universities, where he has shared his insights on issues like sexual assault. He has also been a guest speaker on numerous podcasts.

Social Media Backlash

“People don’t always like hearing about injustice because it makes them see the world through a different lens,” athan explained. “I’ve gotten a couple of death threats, but at the end of the day, I’m not scared. I’m a 35-year-old man who lives in Texas, Babe. Come on. There’s nothing you can do to me that I can’t do back.”

While Nathan is able to move past the hate speech online, he does feel that some platforms like Instagram do target queer and BIPOC influencers, making it more difficult for someone like Nathan to grow on the platform compared to his straight-presenting caucasian counterparts.

“I used to be a marketing director, so I can look at the metrics and see that I am being throttled down for this post because I said XYZ when other posts were not. I’ve spoken about this with other BIPOC and queer creators. It is homophobia.”

Nathan said that he has his ways of rising above the hate in the world, including keeping a positive mindset and surrounding himself with supportive friends.

... and sometimes I dance,” athan said.

Nex Benedict

Recently, Nathan shared a video on his platforms about nonbinary student Nex Benedict, who was brutally beaten by their classmates in Oklahoma and died the next day. Nathan shared the following exclusive take on Nex’s tragic death with The Blade:

“But let’s talk about the situation that happened in Oklahoma where a young 16-year-old non-binary student by the name of Nex was brutally beaten and murdered by three teenage girls, and not to talk about the bullying that they do at the hands of those students. But let’s also continue to talk about bullying as a whole, which I feel is getting worse due to rhetoric that is coming from certain political parties.”

“I’m not going to mince words. the Republican party. Let that’s just called a spade a spade. They are desperate men trying to cling to power. But this also comes from a place of insecurity and lack of knowledge when you have no knowl-

edge of what is non-binary, what is trans what is gay, and you have no empathy in terms of those things, you attack them.”

“And when people are emboldened by politicians, but furthermore by content creators who are desperately trying to get likes and views at the expense of LGBTQ+ children, you get the current atmosphere we see today.”

“When you see the message that anything ‘other’ is wrong, you get situations like Nex’s.”

Rainbow Youth Project

athan is a long-time partner of The Rainbow outh Pro ect,

In a landscape where LGBTQ+ youth continue to confront unique challenges, Rainbow Youth Project USA emerges as a beacon of support and empowerment. Founded on the principles of unwavering support, empowerment, and progress, this organization vows to translate experience into action.

Backed by a network of dedicated donors and partners, Rainbow Youth Project USA sets its sights on creating inclusive communities for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Moreover, the organization pledges to throw its weight behind political candidates who share its core values, signaling a multifaceted approach to advocacy and social change.

As LGBTQ+ youth navigate the complexities of their identities and societal pressures, Rainbow Youth Project USA stands ready to offer a steadfast hand of support. With a firm belief in the transformative power of unity and advocacy, this grassroots initiative embodies the spirit of resilience and progress in the pursuit of equality and acceptance.

Closing thoughts

In spite of facing the traumatic consequences of hate and bullying on a daily basis, Nathan says he is still a believer in the overall good of humanity.

“I believe there is more love in the world,” Nathan said.

“It’s just that love is quiet, and hate is loud. Somebody going to the grocery store for their partner is love. Somebody buying a gift for their friend because they know their friend is ill, that’s love, and it’s quiet. You don’t realize those things are happening around you every day, but they are happening. On the other hand, hateful influencers are very, very loud, and that’s what can be seen more, but you don’t see all the other millions of little acts of love. Thinking about those helps me recenter.”

Finally, Nathan shared the following message for The Blade readers: “Our constraints are made up, and the points don’t matter. You only get one little go around this little blue marble, so live it to your truth. That is what I say.”

(Photo Credit: Shining Nathan) (Photo Credit: Shining Nathan)

If you care about democracy, you should care about America’s newsrooms

From exposing misconduct to speaking truth to power, journalists have always been the brave actors who hold Democratic institutions accountable. American government and America’s newsrooms are so closely intertwined, and at a time when our democracy has become fragile, our newsrooms are facing unprecedented attacks.

Over the past several months, major media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Time, Business Insider, The Messenger, and The Wall Street ournal have cut staff by the hundreds, in a wave of layoff s. s someone who works in ournalism every day, these cuts are just as personal as they are concerning. We are in an election year, an election year that could very well pit an 81-year-old incumbent against a 77-year-old insurrectionist. Now more than ever we need dependable voices to call out the bullshit. I am deeply worried that stories with the ability to shape our democracy will come and go with no one to tell them.

As America continues to brand itself as the international example of democracy, American journalists continue to uncover truths that force our policymakers to be more accountable, more honest, and frankly more worried about disappointing the people who put them into positions of power. In just one example, in 1972 two reporters at The Washington Post unearthed some deeply disturbing information regarding a break-in at Democratic ational Committee offi ces that led to the indictment of presidential administration offi cials, followed by the resignation of President Nixon. From Watergate to The Pentagon Papers to everyday breaches of trust, journalists have always been the extra arm of American democracy, the only one dedicated to the truth without exception.

Journalism is not a career someone just happens upon, it is a passionate draw that requires great focus, profound integrity, and unparalleled dedication to the truth. These layoff s are not just an attack on the integrity of our democracy, they are a deeply personal setback to reporters who have spent years in a turbulent fi eld. One of these aff ected reporters, mily St. artin, writes for Huff Post a candid and evocative letter to her career in journalism. Her story is one of loss, of rebirth, and of

an incredible love for storytelling, and one that humanizes and contextuali es these layoff s. These cutbacks are not ust numbers, America’s newsrooms are letting go of gifted storytellers each with a uniquely cut path to their love of writing.

Unfortunately, these trends are not isolated, and there is no expectation that they will not continue. A recent survey from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce predicts that one-third of jobs in journalism will be gone by . I hope this comes off as concerning as it should be. America is losing its insurance that someone will be there to be the un-bought and untethered voice to speak truth to power. And we need those voices now more than ever.

I know you hear it all the time, but I am going to say it once again. The year 2024 will be one of the most consequential elections of our generation. On one side of the aisle, we have an indicted insurrectionist who has used his platform to discredit and disenfranchise American media at all costs. Trump’s “fake news” propaganda has created an unfortunate air of distrust around America’s newsrooms, and that damage will be hard to undo. As the legal cases and corruption allegations against the former president continue to pile up, we need people to tell those stories. We need people to hold those with power accountable, without the fear of retaliation. This responsibility is heavy, and those with the courage to take up the job face great uncertainty in our current media landscape.

It is my hope that newsrooms are learning from these layoff s and that our media institutions can be more resilient because they have to be. American democracy is only as transparent as our newsrooms are strong. Without a deeply authentic media landscape, there will be no liability for corruption and misconduct in American democracy, and that reality should be terrifying.

NICK FULTON is a political communications strategist and freelance journalist based in D.C. He manages media relations for a racial justice organization but has a background in designing media strategies for nonprofi ts government o ces and political pu lic relations clients.


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American evangelicals’ deadly silence on Nex Benedict

QUEENS, N.Y. - Nex Benedict is dead, and far too many American evangelicals are silent. On one hand, this is not surprising at all. We’ve come to expect that those who claim the name of Jesus to not respond to anything that doesn’t concern their own interests- namely their privilege, power, and wealth.

On the other hand, it is almost unbelievable that anyone who follows the Jesus who said “Let the children come to me” (Matthew 18:3) and who spent his days speaking up for the marginalized and oppressed would not speak up or stand in solidarity with the death of a 16 year old student who was relentlessly bullied and beaten in the bathroom of their school and is now dead.

Even beyond Christian faith and values, the most basic standard of human decency demands that we mourn with those who are mourning, and yet once again, many American evangelicals fail at even this.

At the time of my writing, over a week after Nex’s death, FOX News, the top news source for American evangelicals doesn’t even have one mention of Nex on their website, nor does The Christian Post or Christianity Today.

Instead of highlighting the very real suffering of transgender and non-binary mericans, these networks have chosen to make invisible the suffering of queer people. ex s death represents the persistent struggle of non-binary and transgender people across America who face bullying, violence, and discrimination every single day, much of which is motivated by so-called Christian values.

When churches continue to teach that queer people are unnatural, abominations, and intrinsically disordered, the result is millions of Christians stigmatizing, ostracizing, and actively working against queer people.

Anti-queer theology is not just inaccurate, it’s deadly, and it causes tangible harm to millions of queer people around the world every single day.

This is especially true for children who grow up hearing that queer people are sinful in their churches and then act on these beliefs by bullying queer children at their schools. nti-queer theology is not ust inaccurate, it s deadly, and it causes tangible harm to millions of queer people around the world every single day.

American evangelicals know this. They know that their theology hurts people like Nex and it appears that they don t care. They won t even acknowledge the suffering and death of ex by sharing their story and highlighting their suffering. They won t take this tragic moment to turn inward and reflect on the way that their teaching and politics perpetuate such harm to queer people like ex each and every day.

Evangelicals like Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters actively work to make the lives of trans and non-binary students more difficult, bans both diversity initiatives and books that mention queer characters, and target queer educators, even pressuring a gay principle to resign for performing as a drag queen outside of school on his personal time.

This sort of harassment and targeting of the queer community is not an aberration for evangelicals- it’s the norm. They seek to use every ounce of power and privilege they can muster to marginali e the queer community because they know that we threaten their grip on American society and challenge some of their deeply held regressive beliefs and values.

And because of this, it’s essential that compassionate and progressive people of faith rise to this moment, honoring Nex’s life by shining a light and demanding accountability for the toxic rhetoric spewed by religious and political leaders and demanding more protections under the law for non-binary and transgender people in our country.

In this moment, all people who align with Jesus’ value of loving our neighbor as ourselves need to think carefully about how we might love and support our trans and non-binary neighbors who are experiencing a great deal of pain in following the death of Nex Benedict. And it is clear the love demands that we honor Nex’s life by speaking up and demanding that those who promote anti-trans rhetoric and ideology be held accountable for the impact it has on the lives of vulnerable trans and non-binary people everywhere. Beliefs are not neutral and political positions impact the lives of real people across this country. ex s tragic death is ust the latest evidence of the real-world consequences of anti-queer rhetoric, and the best way to honor their life is commit to fighting with all that we have to expose evangelicalism as the death-dealing, anti-Christ movement that it has become.

REV. BRANDAN ROBERTSON is an author, activist, and theologian, serving as the Executive Director of The Devout Foundation and Pastor of Sunnyside Reformed Church in NYC.

American Evangelicals worshiping. (Screenshot/YouTube BBC)
Sherry Vine is turning 60 — and she’s not quitting anytime soon

Legendary drag queen touring new show, heading to LA in April

There are many things Sherry Vine is proud of. Throughout her 33-year-long career, the drag queen has accomplished so much — she’s released music, launched her own variety show and toured across the United States and Europe.

But what she loves the most about her career is making people laugh.

This calling to be a comedy queen started before her formal drag career. In high school, she remembers taking part in the musicals, and ine would find oy in making people laugh by wittily changing song lyrics.

Then it ust evolved into doing that as the act,” ine said in an interview with the Blade.

From the beginning of her career, she’s made singing live parodies a central part of her performance as a drag queen. And for her 60th birthday, she knew she wanted to put on an extravaganza.

Vine is coming to Los Angeles on April 20-21 opening for Bianca del Rio. She’s currently on tour for her new show

Smoke and irrors,” performed and written by her. It ll include new parodies, from Bruce Springsteen to ABBA.

There’s a lot that led up to this milestone year for Vine. It all started with developing her character more than 30 years ago.

Developing Sherry Vine

Vine describes her persona as a down-on-her-luck showgirl from Las Vegas with a heart of gold.

She was always obsessed with stars like Joey Heatherton and Stella Stevens. Not to suggest those stars are downon-their-luck showgirls, Vine said, but she wanted to evoke a sex kitten mentality. Her character eventually morphed into what it is today from these inspirations.

But at first, ine said she thought she had to look funny to be funny.

“I didn’t care about the makeup. I didn’t wear big breasts. I ust thought I had to look like a clown,” ine said.

When she moved to New York City in 1992, she was surrounded by queens who balanced being funny and gorgeous simultaneously. That was eye-opening for her, she said.

Now, she relishes surprising people, she said. She’s been told she looks too pretty” to be taken for a comedy queen, but that’s OK with her.

“I want to walk out on stage, and anyone who’s never seen me, maybe they re like, Oh, she looks good, ” ine said. “And then I started singing about poop and penis and they re like, Oh my gosh, she s so stupid. ”

When she was starting out as a drag queen, ine reflected that she didn’t envision doing drag as a career. She remembers not wanting to commit to it. She wanted to be a movie star, she said.

I kind of fought it. I loved it,” ine said. But I was like, I m not doing this as a career. ”

But once she let go of fighting it, her career exploded. She got connected with RuPaul and was on two television specials in the 1990s. That support was crucial, Vine said, and helped her believe in herself more.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK. If this person thinks that I have something, then maybe I do, ” ine said.

Drag has changed — a lot

The drag scene has changed drastically. Vine credits a lot of this transformation to RuPaul s Drag Race.”

“When we started doing drag 30 years ago, no one in their right mind would have been like, ‘I’m going to do drag so I can make a lot of money and be famous, ” ine said.

Before RuPaul’s iconic single “Supermodel (You Better Work ,” one of the only examples of drag the average consumer saw was rs. Doubtfire,” ine said. ou had to have a passion for it,” ine said. ou had to have a calling.”

When Vine started, drag was a fringe art form that had an audience of mostly gay men.

owadays, it s mainstream. Drag is en oyed by a much wider audience, and is more of a way to become famous. When Vine was coming up in the industry, there were few ways to get on T and in films as a drag queen, short of playing a character that was murdered on Law Order,” she said.

But even though drag has evolved and grown in popularity, Vine’s advice to drag queens has stayed the same over the years.

“Don’t try to do something because you think someone else is doing it successfully,” ine said. ind what you do, and then exploit and explore that.”

Looking back, looking ahead

Out of her multi-decade run as a drag queen, Vine said she’s most proud of the longevity of her career. There are a few people who have been in it as long as she has — Lady Bunny and Miss Coco Peru, for example. Few others have made it as long as Vine, she said.

She stresses that she can’t take credit for creating things, but she takes pride in being one of the first drag queens to go viral on ouTube in the s. Her Bad Romance” parody, released in 2009, racked up more than 6 million views over the years.

In the next few years, she’s looking into doing more television and film pro ects. Her latest show, The Sherry ine ariety Show,” ust wrapped filming its third season. Creating this show is fulfilling a childhood dream of hers, she said. It s an homage to The Carol Burnett Show,” which Vine grew up watching.

Whether it’s performing on camera or onstage, Vine doesn’t see herself quitting anytime soon.

“I love performing and drag as much now as I did 33 years ago,” ine said. So I don t see ever stopping.”

For details on how to buy tickets for the “Smoke and irrors” tour or ine s stint opening for Bianca, visit sherryvine.com.

SHERRY VINE opens for Bianca del Rio on April 20-21 in Los Angeles.

No problem with ‘Problemista’

Confronted with the title of queer S L alumnus ulio Torres s debut feature film, the first question that comes to mind for many people might be, Wha t s a Problemista ” or the millions of retail workers, reception staffers, and hospitality clerks, however,  or anyone else whose ob it is to interface with the public, the label coined by Torres to describe the particular kind of driven personality embodied in his movie by headliner Tilda Swinton may be, if not familiar, at least evocative enough to convey its meaning.

We ve all encountered them, actually entitled, self-righteous, demanding, aggressively impatient, and unwilling to accept anything less than complete capitulation for an answer, they are the people every cashier dreads to see and every customer loathes to be behind in line. They seem to thrive on drama, and they don t care how much it inconveniences or disturbs anyone in their radius. In fact, they seem at times to relish doing so, as if they were striking a blow against social in ustice by bullying a grocery clerk into honoring an expired coupon. In short, they might be described as a sort of contemporary urban warrior whose response to a problem is to become a problem until they get the solution they want. But by legions of waiters and customer service reps, they are typically ust described as the customer from h ell.”

The central character in Torres s stylish, smart, and surrealistically infused contemporary ew ork fairy tale le andro played by Torres himself is not such a person, at least not when we meet him. His creative imagination nurtured by his artist mother Catalina Saavedra in l Salvador, he s now a young immigrant on a work visa in the .S., getting by in his daily life by making as few waves as possible while dreaming of being a toy designer for Hasbro. But when a minor flub gets him fired from the cryogenic company where he works, he inadvertently finds himself drawn into the never-peaceful orbit of the titular problemista” herself li abeth Swinton , an outcast art-world maven and wife of a terminally ill eccentric painter Wu Tang Clan founder R that has fro en himself in hope of being revived when a cure is available to save his life.

Tasked with tending to her not-quite-late husband s legacy and estate, she is harried from her efforts to enforce her husband s wishes via a campaign of unreasonable requests and non-negotiable demands, and sorely in need of someone to help manage the burden and with his future in merica now hanging by a thread, le andro takes

on the challenge, hoping this terrifying woman whose path he has crossed can keep him from deportation until he can land the career opportunity h e s been waiting for.

It s at once a familiar and an oddball conceit, a tale of toxic mentorship with shades of The Devil Wears Prada” that weaves a strangely heartwarming sense of unexpected but perfectly matched kinship into the mix and takes us past tropes and clich to discover a perspective that illuminates the extremes instead of reinforcing the bland status quo of our lives. While most audiences may not have experience within the elite cultural circle in which Swinton s li abeth asserts her presence, the core essence of her persona is instantly recogni able to us all. nd although Torres s screenplay gets a lot of mileage and indeed, the movie gets a lot of its appeal, thanks to Swinton s masterful performance out of parodying that high-maintenance” image, it also takes us slyly past our easy udgments to reveal all the easily relatable human qualities behind the stereotype. By the time it s over, we might still see her as a monster,” but perhaps no more so than any of the rest of us. We might even, like le andro, start to see her seemingly insufferable approach to life as something a little less clueless and a lot more ustifiable than we want to assume and recogni e that, even if it makes people cringe when they see her, it might sometimes be the only way to get by in a world bent on maintaining a veneer of calm banality. It might even be the only appropriate response to and best rebellion against the indifference of a system whose first priority is always the preservation of a placid status quo.

That, of course, is the oy of Problemista,” a movie that successfully gets a load of intelligent laughs from the eccentricities of both its unorthodox lead characters a non-specifically but unmistakably queer protagonist and a ferociously uncompromising difficult woman” yet somehow manages to turn them both into aspirational figures. It successfully pokes a savvy kind of fun at the rarified cultural niche in which it takes place as well as at the not-so-subtly delusional constructs which govern the lives of anyone who fits within its boundaries without diminishing or degrading its characters or making their individual pursuits feel foolish it accomplishes this because, even in its unabashedly satirical milieu , it places the greatest emphasis on the humanity of its characters. le andro and li abeth, in almost any other film, would be supporting players comic relief, perhaps in a story about people whose lives were more comfortably mainstream here, they take center stage, allowing us to laugh at their eccentricities but never letting us lose sight of the real huma n impulses behind them. or that, we can thank the deeply committed performances of Swinton, an actress of legendary caliber whose background in underground and counter-cultural theater and film brings a considerable layer of stature to Torres freshman effort, and Torres himself, who comes across as a fully confident and seasoned performer capable of holding his own onscreen with someone of his co-star s stature. R s amusing but somehow sweet performance in flashbacks as li abeth s husband also has a humani ing effect, and acclaimed Chilean actress Saavedra casts a luminous glow in her limited screen time that nevertheless seems like a keystone element of the film s delicate balance of magical realism and absurdist comedy.

To be fair, defining Problemista” within a label is a problematic undertaking from the start neither comedy nor drama, fantasy nor surrealist ephemera, it combines all these elements to approach something more profound, perhaps, or at least more useful for audiences looking for a new perspective on the sometimes-soul-crushing sea of obstacles that seems to govern our daily lives. t any rate, far more important than any of these esoteric themes, it confronts gently, if with considerable cynicism the existential rattlesnake of navigating the immigration system of the S, straddling multiple agendas and managing to succeed with all of them.

Torres, whose stint on S L” led to a successful stand-up special and a gig as the creator and star of HBO s critically acclaimed Spanish-language series Los spookys,” has managed an impressive debut as a filmmaker it s the kind of movie that hints at greater achievements to come, and we are eagerly on board to watch them unfold in years to come. o small feat for a first-time filmmaker, especially considering the number of ambitious sociocritical comedies that have tried and failed to pull off the same delicate balancing act especially since it s also a lot of fu n.

JULIO TORRES and TILDA SWINTON in ‘Problemista.’

We predict an #OscarsSoStraight evening at the Academy Awards

HOLLYWOOD – The 96th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, will take place on Sunday, March 10 at new early time 7 p.m. EST at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and broadcast live on ABC.

Depending on whether you are an “Oppenheimer” lover or a hater, the Academy wards this year will come off as either a blast, i.e. as in nuclear explosion, or a bomb, i.e. as in the atomic kind.

Spoiler alert: “Oppenheimer” is set up to create scorched earth against all its competitors.

If you are attending an Oscar party and filling out your predictions list, you will do very well if you mark “Oppenheimer” down the line. (But uncheck it in the Best Supporting Actress category. Love you Emily Blunt, but, no.)

Here is what an LGBTQ high visibility evening would look like: “Barbie” would win Best Picture because there was Kate McKinnon, and what self-respecting LGBTQ person does not appreciate pink? It would just edge out “Anatomy of a Fall” or “Maestro,” which feature bisexual main characters. “Anatomy of a Fall” would win Best Director for Justine Triet to make up for the Best Picture snub, however.

Best Actor would go to Colman Domingo for his portrayal of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, just edging out Bradley Cooper as the bisexual Leonard Bernstein. Two-spirit Lily Gladstone would edge out Annette Bening as the iconic Diana Nyad (Lily might actually win this, though Emma Stone is coming on strong). Sterling K. Brown would win for gay Clifford llison in merican iction” and we would ogle runner-up Ryan Gosling as Ken because even though Ken is presumably straight, we gay boys know the truth.

Lesbian icon Jodie Foster would win playing a lesbian character in “Nyad.” “Nimona” would win Best Animated Feature. “The ABCs of Book Banning” would win Best Documentary Short Film. “Barbie,” “Maestro,” and “May December” would duke it out as front runners in the screenplay categories.

None of those are likely to happen, however, with the exception of Lily Gladstone, as mentioned. Oh, and Billie Eilish may win for best song.

That won’t be a particularly LGBTQ moment, however, as Eilish does not like her sexual orientation being talked about, so she won’t mention it, and we won’t either.

Because the Oscars are preceded by so many other award shows and programs, many populated with Academy voters, there usually are strong indications as to who really will get what. This year, that message has been a strong sweep and one name emerges above all others. Cue explosion: “Oppenheimer.”

It is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist who led the Manhattan Project during World War II. Oppenheimer’s complex personality is challenged as he is recruited to head the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to build the atomic bomb. With five Golden Globe wards, seven BAFTAs, eight Critics Choice Awards, the Directors Guild Award, The Producers Guild Award, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, its dominance coming into the Oscars is clear.

Out magazine observed, “It’s been a great year in cinema for LGBTQ+ actors, directors, writers, films, and characters.” It has been. Unless the Oscar awards show producers specifically call that fact out, it may go unnoticed, however, and LGBTQ representation may be minimal. The announced presenters so far do not scream queer, with the possible exception of our favorite mom-of-a-trans person, Jamie Lee Curtis.

This is the year when we enjoy the concept of “it was an honor just to be nominated” LGBTQ-wise. It may be the year that we just appreciate that we don’t win all horse races just because we are LGBTQ or the horses are queer.

The Academy loves to be unpredictable, however, so you never know. Rainbows and unicorns may emerge. I wouldn’t bet on it.

But, Academy, come on, surprise us.

My prediction is that in the morning after this year’s ceremony, we may be social media-ing #OscarsSoStraight, and Out magazine’s “hope that the 2024 Oscars could potentially be the most queer- and trans-inclusive ceremony ever” will have gone up in a cloud of atomic smoke.

Oh well. At least you should do well at your Oscar party.


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