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election gains in North Carolina make for a more conservative legislature with a long agenda
After election loss, Madison Cawthorn leaves North Carolina for Florida
Charlotte named 2023’s hottest housing market
Charlotte’s Mint Museum hosts exhibit of works by Picasso
GOP election gains in North Carolina make for a more conservative legislature with a long agenda
Ex-boyfriend of gay Congressman-elect Santos says he’s lying about other things
GOP election gains in North Carolina make for a more conservative legislature with a long agenda of anti-LGBTQ Plans Cooper says he’ll fight to veto. Will he keep our community safe?
HIV advocates call plans from Blue Cross NC ‘discriminatory’
HIV advocates call plans from Blue Cross NC ‘discriminatory’ as high out-of-pocket costs could jeopardize access to medications for prevention and treatment.
Yorker Critic blasts out NC comic actor Jerrod Carmichael’s gig as Golden Globes host
GOP election gains in North Carolina make for a more conservative legislature with a long agenda
More likely governor’s vetoes can be overturnedBy Lynn Bonner|Contributing Writer
The North Carolina legislative session began Jan. 11 with a more conservative House and Senate and an environment in which GOP leaders will have an easier time pushing state laws and policies further to the right.
Republicans gained seats in both the House and Senate in the November election. The GOP won a veto-proof majority in the Senate and is one vote shy of a veto-proof majority in the House, making it much more likely that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes can be overturned.
Cooper vetoed 47 bills in the last four years, and none were overridden. He begins the last two years of his second term with nearly no cushion of Democratic votes in the legislature to sustain vetoes if all Republicans vote together.
The session promises to be an active one, with longstanding Republican goals standing a good chance of becoming law.
The legislature is poised to pass new restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated all constitutional protections, leaving the issue to the states. Abortions after 20 weeks are now limited in the state, and legislative leaders have said they will work to enact more limits this year. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, House Speaker Tim Moore issued a press statement saying abortion legislation would be a top priority this session.
Senate leader Phil Berger told the Associated Press last summer that he would prefer restricting abortions after the first trimester of pregnancy. Moore personally prefers abortion bans after ultrasounds detect fetal heart activity, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy, the AP reported.
Cooper has vetoed two bills restricting abortion since 2019, which the legislature could not override. A handful of House Democrats supported one or both of those bills, and their votes could be crucial to passing a veto-proof abortion bill this session.
Jillian Riley, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said a coalition of abortion-rights supporters is fighting to “hold the line,” and work to continue to uphold Cooper’s vetoes.
“We have a tough fight ahead,” she said. “We expect to be able to uphold the veto, just as we were able to uphold the veto last session.”
The state Senate passed a bill last year dubbed North Carolina’s version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which would
require schools to tell parents if their children want to change their pronouns and prohibit teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grades.
Senate Republicans said their bill differed from the Florida law, because teachers would not be prohibited from talking about sexual orientation if it came up during class discussions. In a news conference last year, Berger said schools should tell parents if their children ask questions about sexual orientation, Policy Watch reported.
The House did not vote on the bill, but
The legislature will redraw congressional and state Senate districts this year. One of the last opinions by the outgoing Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court last year held that the state Senate district map used in the last election was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, and that the legislature needed to redraw it.
Last winter, a divided state Supreme Court rejected state House, state Senate, and congressional districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature. Lawmakers drew new district maps. The congressio-
hand in drawing election district boundaries, Meredith College political scientist David McLennan said in an email.
New Senate districts will likely be similar to districts used last year, McLennan wrote, “since it would be less likely that any case that ends up at the NC Supreme Court may declare those maps unconstitutional.”
A case that Republican legislative leaders brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, Moore vs. Harper, adds another wrinkle. Republicans argued that state courts should be precluded from reviewing laws state legislatures pass regulating federal elections, which would include the shape of congressional districts.
The legislature will probably wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Moore vs. Harper before drawing new congressional districts, McLennan wrote.
“The Court may announce some guidance in terms of how the state courts may be involved with redistricting of federal election maps,” he wrote. “Even if the Court sides with Harper in the important case, it is likely that the maps that will be used in the 2024 congressional elections in North Carolina will be decidedly more Republican.”
anti-LGBTQ bills are expected to pass this year, Policy Watch reported.
Teaching About Racism and American History
Cooper vetoed a bill last year that would have set out rules for how schools teach and talk about racism.
The bill included 13 concepts that schools would be prohibited from “promoting.” These include that “a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist,” and that “the rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.”
Schools would have been required to give the state Department of Public Instruction (and to post on their websites) information about curricula and reading lists addressing those concepts, as well as information about contracts with diversity trainers, speakers and consultants.
The legislature passed it with no Democratic votes.
The bill was debated as conservatives around the country attacked critical race theory and claimed it was being taught in schools. Critical race theory is an academic discipline that studies how American racism shapes public policies and laws.
nal plan was again rejected, and the district boundaries used in November were set by redistricting experts with oversight from Superior Court judges. That congressional plan was good for only one use, which means a new map should be in place by 2024.
While Democratic justices moved to throw out partisan gerrymandered maps based on provisions in the state constitution, Republican justices have dissented, arguing that partisan redistricting matters are beyond the courts’ purview.
Power on the state’s highest court shifted with the November election, and Republicans now have the majority. It’s less likely that voting rights groups will find the Supreme Court willing to force changes to redistricting plans weighted in Republicans’ favor.
The congressional district map used in November elected seven Republicans and seven Democrats. Assessing the congressional map the court rejected, redistricting experts said it would have created 10 Republican districts and four Democratic districts, or 10 Republican, three Democratic, and one toss-up district.
With the changes on the Supreme Court, the legislature will have a freer
Contrary to their record on issues such as guns, LGBTQ legislation and abortion, GOP leaders have devoted some of their energy to allowing medical marijuana use and sports gambling, even as organized conservative groups opposed these bills.
The state Senate labored over a medical marijuana bill last session. The bill easily cleared the Senate, but it went nowhere in the House.
The three Senate sponsors of last year’s bill could not be reached this week on whether they would try again. But a lobbyist talking to legislators about a medical marijuana bill said the issue is still alive.
“What we hope is going to happen is the bill will get reintroduced early,” and that the legislature will pass it this year, said Ed Hanes Jr., founder of the NC Medical Cannabis Association and a former state House member.
Hanes wants to keep the focus on medical use. “We’re not looking to become a retail situation,” he said. “This is about medicine.”
This article appears courtesy of our media partner NC Policy Watch. ::
Yes, drag is theatre Op-EdBy Delighted Tobehere|Contributing Writer
In February, I’ll celebrate 22 years of being a drag queen, a term that my friend Bob the Drag Queen defines as “blurring gender lines through art.” This definition, in my opinion, breaks down the archaic defining walls of drag as simply a man in a dress. Instead, it creates an umbrella term that encompasses a vast array of participants and artistic mediums.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a Gemini –or perhaps it’s my interdisciplinary education as the first music-focused performing arts major at Clemson University – that allows me to see both sides of the coin of show business.
For decades, drag performers truly excelled in the area of show, by thrilling nightlife audiences with costumes, props, choreography, wigs and stage makeup (sounding familiar?) with only one guiding principle: hide. Drag has since come out of the closet, creating a new world of entrepreneurs in the performing arts world.
My transition from night life to footlight started when I got sober in 2014. In order to provide myself with a buffer from alcohol, I moved into the very small
live singing drag world.
Using my degree I started writing and producing my one-woman cabaret shows, working with arrangers, costume designers and directors to create unique shows and tour them across the country. You might see this combination of drag show and business in your town in the form of
drag brunches: businesses and performance with a side of bottomless mimosas, but nevertheless a visible reminder that we are a legitimate and successful form of the performance industry.
This column is short, so I’ll cut to t he chase: drag is more than lip syncing and wigs. Drag is theater, be it served
GOP lawmakers want to ban drag
with a cocktail or hash browns. We are siblings in this world of show business. I hope you welcome us into the community and onto stages around the world. Maybe even consider booking a drag collaboration as part of your theatre season (wink, wink).
We are ready for the spotlight. I am grateful to say that drag is about more than doing splits – which is great because I can’t do one.
For more information visit www.imdelightedtobehere.com.
Clay Smith identifies as he/him and is also known as Delighted Tobehere, an internationally acclaimed drag artist based in Greenville, South Carolina. Delighted was featured in “America’s Got Talent,” season 10, has given TEDx talks, lectured at universities and tours her cabaret shows “Drag 101,” “Hello Daddy!” and “Simply Delighted.” This commentary originally appeared in Perspectives, an SETC News column where guest contributors are invited to share their diverse voices. It is reprinted with permission from the January-February 2023 issue of SETC News, a bimonthly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference (www.SETC.org) ::
Republican Senator introduces law banning drag on Sunday morningsBy John Russell|Contributing Writer
Family-friendly drag performances like drag brunches and drag queen story hours have become a lightning rod for Republicans over the past year, with local far-right and anti-LGBTQ+ groups disrupting events all over the country and states like North Carolinas and Texas at the top of the list for the highest count of anti-drag, anti-trans and overall anti-LGBTQ activity.
While Arizona has long been a red state and bastion of conservatism, it doesn’t seem like the state where an attempt at legalizing a ban on drag shows would begin. Nevertheless, it has, and that has left LGBTQ communities nationwide concerned the movement will spread across states with a Republican stronghold like wildfire.
Arizona state Sen. Anthony Kern (R) has introduced S.B. 1030, which calls for regulation and business licenses for drag shows. Under the law, drag performances would not be allowed between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m Monday through Saturday or on Sundays between 1 a.m. and 12 p.m., according to Arizona’s Family. Another bill introduced by Kern concerns where cabaret performances can take place.
State Sen. John Kavanagh (R) also introduced a bill targeting drag shows. It aims to prevent state money from funding performances aimed at children.
“I would suspect that this session suddenly there’s an interest in regulating drag shows because culturally there’s been a sudden preponderance or abundance of
drag shows that are directed at children,” Kavanagh said.
Arizona director of the Human Rights Campaign Bridget Sharpe warned that while it remains to be seen whether the bills would become law during the legislative session that begins on Monday, they have political implications. “If there’s enough interest from their party, I’m certain [Kern and Kavanaugh’s bills] could get
a committee hearing. That would be the next step in the process,” Sharpe said.
Arizona’s newly elected Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), however, is an LGBTQ+ ally. On her first day in office, Hobbs extended employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to state employees and contractors. In November, Hobbs defeated Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake (R), whose campaign
called for banning kids from family-friendly drag performances using anti-LGBTQ+ language, falsely accusing the community of “sexualizing” children.
“Ultimately we feel this is just a big waste of time knowing this bill will likely get vetoed,” said Sharpe.
“It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Richard Stevens, a wellknown Phoenix-based drag queen who performs as “Barbra Seville.”
In June, Stevens responded to Lake’s anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by posting a screenshot from Lake’s personal Instagram account showing the candidate posing with him in drag and claiming that she has attended his performances repeatedly, even bringing her children to a party at which he performed.
Stevens warned that S.B. 1030 would affect popular Sunday drag brunches.
“Some of them get anywhere from 100–300 people who just want to come out. They want to laugh,” he explained.
“I don’t think if you walked up to someone at the supermarket today and said, ‘Hey, what’s a problem that’s facing you and your family?’ I bet they would list 15–20 things before they ever got around to drag shows,” Stevens said.
This story appears courtesy of our media partner LGBTQ Nation. ::
After election loss, Madison Cawthorn leaves North Carolina for Florida
Former Rep. Madison Cawthorn confirmed Jan. 5, he has moved to Florida. Rumblings of a potential move away from North Carolina, the state he represented in Congress, began to emerge as early as September when Hurricane Ian devastated Fort Myers, Fla. But Cawthorn never publicly confirmed his move until throwing his support for House speaker behind the nomination of Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican from Florida.
“There are many reasons I moved to Florida,” Cawthorn wrote Friday on Instagram. “One of the big contributing factors is that I know Byron Donalds is a leader in this state. That means this state will always be on offense to safeguard our future.”
Cawthorn bought a house in Cape Coral after a series of scandals plagued his reelection campaign; he lost his primary election and his seat in Congress. News of his move to Florida began with rumors as Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. Some believed Cawthorn lived near Fort Myers and wondered if he was safe. Cawthorn soon posted on his Instagram account videos of the devastation taken from a helicopter. He continued to post photos and videos from Florida without any confirmation that he moved there and wasn’t just visiting. But in November, the Asheville Citizen-Times first reported that Cawthorn purchased a $1.16 million house with a boat in Cape Coral,
Charlotte named 2023’s hottest housing market
The real estate web giant Zillow announced Jan. 12 that Charlotte is at the top of the list for this year’s hottest housing market, according to an analysis performed by the company.
Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Nashville join Charlotte in the top five of the Zillow 2023 hottest markets list.
“This year’s hottest markets will feel much chillier than they did a year ago,” said Anushna Prakash, economic data analyst at Zillow. “The desire to move hasn’t changed, but both buyers and sellers are frozen in place by higher mortgage rates, slowing the housing market to a crawl. Markets that offer relative affordability and room to grow are poised to stand out, especially given the prevalence of remote work. The good news for buyers is that monthly housing costs have stopped climbing. Home shoppers who can overcome affordability hurdles will find a more comfortable market this year, with more time to consider options and less chance
of a bidding war, even if they’re shopping in one of the 10 hottest housing markets of 2023.”
Zillow’s Top Ten Hottest Real Estate Market
• Kansas City
Unlike in recent years, fast-growing home values are not a requirement for making this year’s list of hottest markets. Higher mortgage rates and severe affordability challenges have chilled demand and brought home values down from last summer’s peak. Home value growth in Charlotte is expected to be much slower this year than its 11.8 percent pace of
Charlotte’s Mint Museum hosts exhibit of works by Picasso
Following Charlotte’s successful presentation of the “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit last year, the Queen City will now host another much anticipated exhibit of a very different classic master: Pablo Picasso.
“Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds” is the first museum exhibition to explore Pablo Picasso’s deep engagement with landscape subjects and his expansive approach to this traditional genre.
Through a selection of more than 40 works spanning Picasso’s full career, Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds, organized by American Federation of the Arts, is the first of only two venues in the United States — and the only venue on the East Coast — to feature this exceptional exhibition filled with works from private collections and international museums together.
The collection of works in the exhibition offers visitors an unparalleled window into the artist’s creative process, from his earliest days in art school (beginning in
1896 when the artist was just 15 years old) to months before his passing in 1973.
Assembling some of Picasso’s greatest landscape compositions in one traveling exhibition, “Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds” is part of The Picasso Celebration 1973-2023, structured around some 50 exhibitions and events that are being held in renowned cultural institutions in Europe and North America to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death April 8, 1973. The Mint Museum’s exhibit is the only one that will be on view in the United States on that date.
Picasso was committed to depicting landscapes throughout his entire life. From his earliest days in art school until the year before his death, landscape remained the prime genre through which he mediated his perception of the world and which shaped his own creative evolution. Landscape served as a catalyst for his formal experimentation, including early Cubism, as a field
Fla., just outside Fort Myers. McClatchy asked Cawthorn’s spokesman, Micah Bock, then whether Cawthorn had moved to Florida or remained in North Carolina but was told the answer was personal. At the time, Cawthorn remained the representative of North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. Rep. Chuck Edwards, a Republican, succeeded Cawthorn after being sworn in early Saturday morning. Hours earlier, Republicans had named Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California the new House speaker. McCarthy became the first nominee in 100 years not to be elected to the position on the first vote. It took Republicans 15 tries before selecting McCarthy. Throughout the week, Donalds and several other lawmakers were pitched as potential alternatives, largely conservatives who
:: https://bit.ly/3kbGkMi—Danielle Battaglia
11. Austin, 2021’s hottest market, has fallen all the way to 29th on the list, in large part because it now ranks among the country’s most expensive large markets. San Jose, Sacramento, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Denver and San Francisco make up the five coolest large markets in Zillow’s 2023 projections.
2022, as is the case in all of Zillow’s 2023 hottest markets and the U.S.
As a whole, Charlotte ranks second among large markets in projections for both home value growth and growth in owner-occupied households, which helped shoot it to the top of this year’s hottest markets list. Both Cleveland and Pittsburgh ranked high in projections for time on market and new jobs per new home built.
There are only four holdovers from last year’s top 10, an indicator of how much the housing market has changed in just one year. Last year’s hottest market, Tampa, just missed the cut this year, coming in at
in which to investigate urban modernity, as an interface between humanity and nature, as a ground for direct sculptural intervention, as a space of personal withdrawal, as an inviting terrain for elegiac scenes and as a territory of resistance and flight.
Among Picasso’s vast collection of works, landscapes have received the least scholarly attention. This examination of Picasso’s landscapes highlights his attention to tensions between humanity and nature, and to the changing countryside being reshaped by industrialization. Picasso expressed this awareness throughout his landscape production, beginning early in the 20th century in Spain, where powerful forces of nature met the excitement of urban growth in his paintings of Málaga, Gósol, Horta de Ebro and Barcelona.
The systematic destruction wrought by World War II and years of occupation color the artist’s Paris cityscapes of the 1940s and the atmosphere of works such as Winter Landscape (1950).
Picasso’s grand Côte d’Azur landscapes done at the end of his career show the urbanization of a region where, in earlier decades, he had captured the lives of peasants and laborers. The devastation of the
While affordability remains a major hurdle, the good news for home buyers is that the cost of a typical mortgage fell in November, thanks to lower mortgage rates. Zillow economists expect affordability to stabilize in 2023, if not improve, making it easier for households to budget and plan for their housing decisions. For those able to buy now, less competition from other buyers means homes are staying on the market longer, many sellers are cutting their list price, and there is less chance of being caught in a bidding war.
Charlotte has struggled with available and affordable housing over the past five years or so. It is unlikely the Zillow announcement will impact that trend for those in a lower income brackets seeking lower priced homes, though it will, no doubt, contribute to the city and surrounding metro area’s continuing growth.:: https://bit.ly/3GIt3Tb —Qnotes staff
Anthropocene and the political rise of the ecological movement in France coincided with Picasso’s last landscape of 1972, an immense work that reads like an epitaph to both his creative and social life.
“Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds” kicks off Feb. 11 and continues through May 21, with more than 40 paintings. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors ages 65 and over, $20 for college students with ID and free for K-12 students and teachers. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) riders with a current train ticket will receive $2 off admission.::
GOP lawmaker disguises anti-trans healthcare bill as a conversion therapy ban
Bill says giving a teen puberty blockers and hormone therapy is similar to electrocuting their genitals
An Indiana state Republican has introduced a bill that, at first glance, seems to ban conversion therapy. But a closer look reveals that it’s actually just a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. It’s also designed to trick Democratic lawmakers into supporting it.
Indiana state Rep. Lorissa Sweet (R) has introduced H.B. 1118, a bill that prohibits healthcare professionals from “subjecting a minor to certain activities that purposely attempt to change, reinforce, or affirm a minor’s perception of the minor’s own sexual attraction.”
This sentence makes it sound like H.B. 1118 would ban conversion or reparative therapy, a widely debunked and pseudoscientific form of psychological torture that purports to change a person’s sexual orientation. Most major American medical, psychological and pediatric groups have disavowed the practice as harmful and ineffective.
However, Sweet’s bill never mentions the phrase “conversion therapy.” Also, her bill would ban any attempt to “change, reinforce, or affirm a minor’s genderBy Daniel Villarreal|Contributing Writer
identity when the identity is inconsistent with the minor’s biological sex.” In other words, the bill would ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth.
Sweet’s intention becomes clearer in two of the bill’s latter sections. One section bans a variety of gender-affirming surgeries that aren’t typically performed on minors. Another section specifically lists puberty blockers and hormone therapy among its prohibited actions.
Here’s where the bill tries to trick Democrats into voting for it. Its prohibitions on gender-affirming medications are listed alongside other brutal practices that neither any medical provider nor legislator would ever find acceptable. These include electrocuting a person’s genitals, wrapping their hands in heat coils, giving them an ice bath and injecting them with vomit-inducing drugs.
In essence, Sweet’s bill dares Democrats not to vote for it. After all, on its face, it’s a bill against conversion therapy, something that Democrats have already helped ban in 25 states and 110 U.S. cities. No Democrat would ever vote against a bill banning conversion therapy
or electrocuting a kid’s genitals, right?
But all the brutal practices mentioned in the bill are already forbidden by state law and the ethics guidelines of state medical licensing boards. As such, Sweet’s bill isn’t really trying to make these things even more illegal. She has merely disguised a trans healthcare ban as a conversion therapy ban — and Democrats shouldn’t take the bait.
“The clear play that Republicans are making is in claiming that Democrats who vote against this bill are voting against physical conversion therapy bans,” journalist Erin Reed points out. “Republicans clearly think that they can shield themselves from claims that they are in favor of conversion therapy with a bill like this. We must not allow them to hide behind attacking trans people and playing political games with LGBTQ+ kids.”
This effort is similar to other states’ attempts to redefine gender-affirming care as a form of child abuse, something that Texas has illegally tried to do. If a transsupportive parent is found guilty of child abuse, they could be placed on a child abuse offender registry and have their own kids taken away from them.
Any medical professional who pre -
scribes gender-affirming medications could be sued by any individual, their parent or guardian up to 20 years after the fact. This would allow any parent upset with their child’s transition to sue any medical professional who helps aid it, even after their child is an older adult. This also contradicts the best practices of all major medical associations which say that puberty blockers and hormones protect trans youth’s mental and physical well-being.
Prosecutors would also report offending healthcare professionals to state health licensing boards to consider disciplinary actions against them. Offenders could be prosecuted for child abuse, a level five felony in state law.
Unfortunately, Sweet’s bill could become law, even if Democrats don’t support it, since Republicans control both the governor’s seat and both chambers of the General Assembly. Even if Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) vetoes the bill, the legislature could override his veto, just as they did with a trans youth sports ban the state passed in 2022.
This story appears courtesy of our media partner LGBTQ Nation. It has been edited for space limitations. ::
Ex-boyfriend of gay Congressman-elect Santos says he’s lying about other things
Some are starting to question Santos’ claim of being gayBy Daniel Villarreal|Contributing Writer
Despite lying about much of his personal and work history, out gay Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) will be sworn into Congress on Tuesday. Nevertheless, his old friends have told the media about his other likely lies, and a gay Congressman has introduced legislation that would prevent other politicians like Santos from fabricating their own backstories.
Last week, Santos admitted that he lied about graduating from Baruch College and New York University, working directly for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and living at a fake address in his congressional district. He provided no additional proof to back up claims that he founded a charity called Friends of Pets, that his grandparents escaped the Holocaust, and that he lost four employees in the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.
He also seemingly lied about his mother dying in connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Until Wednesday, Mr. Santos’s campaign biography said that his mother, Fatima Devolder, worked her way up to become ‘the first female executive at a major financial institution,’” The New York Times recently reported. However, Santos’s friends say they remember her as a woman who spoke only Portuguese and worked cooking food and cleaning house for others.
In a July 12, 2021, tweet, Santos wrote, “9/11 claimed my mother’s life.” He had previously said that his mother was working in the World Trade Center during terrorist attacks. The now-deleted bio on his campaign website said, “She survived the horrific events of that day, but unfortunately passed away a few years later.”
Apparently, “a few years later” meant 15 years later, and it’s unclear if her death was caused by any factors related to the attacks.
Santos also seemingly lied about having attended the Horace Mann preparatory school in the Bronx, N.Y. He claimed that he attended the school but had to drop out in 2008, with only four months left until his graduation, because of his family’s financial difficulties.
“We’ve searched the records and there is no evidence that George Santos (or any alias) attended Horace Mann,” Ed Adler, a spokesman for the school, told CNN.
Half a dozen of Santos’s former friends and colleagues told the Times that even though he bragged about working on Wall Street, he never seemed to go into the office and always seemed short on cash. His ex-boyfriend, Pedro Vilarva, said that, while they lived to -
Connie J. Vetter, Esq. Attorney at Law, PLLC
gether, he paid many bills for Santos. He suspects that Santos stole and pawned his phone for cash.
“He used to say he would get money from Citigroup, he was an investor,” Vilarva said. “One day it’s one thing, one day it’s another thing. He never ever actually went to work.”
After finding online proof that Santos had faced legal charges in Brazil for forging checks belonging to his mother’s client, Vilarva packed all of his belongings into trash bags and moved out. Santos has since denied any wrongdoing, though Brazilian records show he admitted to the check forging at the time.
Vilarva told the Times that he worries about Santos being sworn into Congress. “I would be scared to have someone like that in charge — having so much power in his hands,” he said.
To stop liars like Santos ever getting into office, out gay Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) said he’ll introduce the
Stop Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker (SANTOS) Act. The act would require House candidates to provide details of their backgrounds under oath.
Reps. Nick LaLota (R-NY) and James Comer (R-Ky.) have both called for the House Ethics Committee to investigate Santos. On Dec. 28, Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly (R) announced that she had opened an investigation to examine whether he had broken any campaign finance rules or other laws.
“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning,” Donnelly said in a statement. “The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.”
This story appears courtesy of our media partner LGBTQ Nation. ::
How a former banker learned to leverage differences to impact changeBy Qnotes Staff
Since coming out as a transgender woman more than a decade ago, Ashley Brundage has used her personal experiences to create further inclusion for others in the workplace. Beginning with her decision to self-identify during a job interview, she has fought through homelessness, discrimination and harassment.
Brundage began her transition in 2008. At the time, only 13 states and the District of Columbia had legislation on the books that specifically prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in employment and housing. Hawaii prohibited discrimination in housing and public accommodations in 2005, adding employment in 2011. Protections at the state or local level are still limited, but the landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, in 2020, clarified that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits anti-transgender discrimination in employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had said the same years earlier for Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman originally from Fayetteville, N.C., who was fired because of her gender identity.
Through various financial roles, Brundage worked her way up to vice president with the National Diversity and Inclusion Team at PNC Bank, a position she held until December 2021. Today, she speaks nationally about her transition, workplace equality, empowerment and leadership principles. A resident of Tampa, Fla., Brundage was named one of the National Diversity Council’s “Most Influential and Powerful Women” in Florida in 2018. Her book, “Empowering Differences: Leveraging Your Difference to Impact Change,” provides lessons from “living on two sides of the gender divide.” Brundage also offers a workbook, “The 10 Empowering Actions to Leverage Change” and an online course of the same name.
QNotes recently interviewed Brundage via email about her work for our project, OUTlook: Finding Solutions for Labor and Workplace Equality.
QNotes: Your experience led to the development of these 10 Empowering Actions that you describe in your book. What do you think is at the core of finding workplace equality for LGBTQ people?
Ashley Brundage: Having worked on both sides of the gender continuum and on both sides of the glass ceiling, I think we can drive workplace equality for LGBTQ+ people through various ways, but it starts with leadership development programming tied directly to our intersectionality.
Being LGBTQ+ is different for each person, and that is why we are facing so many different levels of challenges.
Our community, besides being minorities in gender and/or sexuality differences, also have all the other differences that we have as people on this planet. I used my own research on leadership development through empowerment of differences to grow my career from a homeless proud out woman of transgender experience to become the national vice president of DEI for 60,000 people at PNC Bank in 4.5 years.
Leadership development programming serves many functions and can look very different, but the key point here is the open framing of leadership versus calling it a diversity program. The word diversity is very problematic as it can turn off people who could learn to be an ally in the future for us but also have a history of only trying to reach a minimum target level. We must do more than marketing [so] that workplaces are inclusive, we have to show it through various intentional programs.
QN: What do these intentional programs look like?
AB: Training can make all the difference, but we must engage people differently than using the word diversity. As the DEI person I have trained on every topic from LGBTQ+ inclusion, Trans 101, antiracism, disability inclusion and cultural competency, just to name a few. I probably have done enough Trans 101 to be at trans one million and one at this point. All these topics have the same audience that will attend, and for me it is extremely frustrating. It is the marginalized group that shows up, some people who are already allies, the leader or executive to say hello and welcome, and then a few people who are there to get face time with the leader, or they are there for the food, among other disingenuous reasons.
For these trainings to really build ally networks, we must sell LGBTQ+ inclusion way differently. Major brands like CocaCola sell their products in various ways around the world; they even change the recipe based on where you live, so why
do we think we can sell LGBTQ+ inclusion to create more allies in just one way? Therefore, diversity trainings need to be branded as leadership training going forward. This will provide an untainted level of what is to gain by attending and then the organization can add other measures to make it mandatory as skill building for all leaders. They can even tie these types of leadership training to annual reviews or even compensation for their employees.
QN: What about those people who are there for disingenuous reasons, as you say? Are these trainings making a difference?
AB: Another thing I have seen in my time attempting to create an inclusive culture for all is that you cannot change everyone’s outlook on LGBTQ+ equality, especially as some of our world-driven topics are generating lots of buzz politically and socially. Our goal was to create a place to work where everyone feels welcome and is part of the organization. The key point here to remember is that sometimes that is going to include people who want to invalidate your existence, among other potential negative things. We can’t let these people bring us down, but this is why it is extremely important to help educate your human resources team and anyone who works in employee relations on what constitutes someone being anti-LGBTQ+. Many HR professionals are not experts in this space, but we tend to think they can already spot a transphobic remark or joke and that is not true.
Many of my training sessions I would
hold would be for internal HR associates to better understand LGBTQ+ culture but especially help them understand the trans community. After George Floyd was murdered, we saw people open up about wanting to learn more about the Black community and then when Jacob Blake was shot our CEO posted a blog about his shooting. This created a visceral response from people who were clearly posting racist comments on an internal chat forum. I saw the same thing happen to my trans community on the same CEO blog in 2016 after North Carolina passed HB2, the comments were littered with transphobic responses. Both blogs had to have the comment function turned off but what they both taught the organization is that we had built a culture so open that racist or transphobic people would be so comfortable to share their opinion in a public open forum.
Immediately our DEI team knew we needed to act so we created forums and town halls to gain more insight, but the result was to imbed the DEI component as a core value into performance reviews. Going forward I wish there were immediate leadership development programs for all marginalized groups, not just ones tied to race and gender. This is one of the main reasons I left my post running DEI for the bank to go run my own company. I wanted to create a world class leadership development program for empowerment of all people with all of the differences we have across the eight billion people on this planet.
QN: That’s a pretty big feat. What have you learned along the way?
Brundage: Working to drive empowerment of our differences is key to my research. There are four main things that came from this eight-year project on empowerment. The first is the deeper understanding of the three parts of empowerment.
Empowerment has been recently seen and used as a tagline or marketing ploy, especially in a recruiting manner for more employees or customers. It is important to be sure you and your organization foundationally understand that there needs to be three things involved for empowerment to be present in a moment and those are: Authority, Power, and People. A corporation or organization is not part of that equation based on the definition of empowerment, which is the authority and power connected to people.
Authority is centered around how people feel empowered and the confidence that they have but also all the way that they care for themselves. Authority driven items usually produce that boss-like mentality you get from being empowered. It can be very emotionally driven, and it is usually hard to track an honest answer. See your nearest supervisor feedback review scores that paint a different opinion than the turnover rate is telling you. How does it make you feel to provide the rideshare car driver with the five-star rating? That process is all tied to the authority portion of empowerment. All things in this world either raise or lower someone’s authority of empowerment. The emotional side of empowerment
can often have different answers to the same exact question because it is based on people’s perception. On the other side of the parts of empowerment is the power side, and that portion is where all the data and numbers live.
Power in empowerment is where people usually get caught up in trying to acquire these intrinsic items. The tangible measured items like money and all its derivatives, functional power like energy, and the most powerful of all the power items, which is time, are some examples. Most of the power items can be captured, grown, invested. Time is the only one that is exactly what you get. However, you can think about how much time you devote to something and collectively as an organization how many resources you use to impact change or produce a profit margin. Tracking the impact of these power items in your leadership and workforce development programs should be inherently easy because they all involve some sort of measurable number tied to each of them. Often organizations are the only ones attempting to track these items and the successes of the DEI program. They are looking to provide an impact number of promotions or pay equity of the organization among other metrics. Where we can create more change for 2023 through our people is by helping them better understand how to measure and track their own empowerment this year. And that is why people are the final part of empowerment, and they must be involved to connect your program to empowerment.
People will always play a critical role even with machine learning and artificial intelligence. They are all a part of your workforce, and all can be collectively working together to track the impact that they each make this year. To track authority accurately you are going to have to teach your employees more about empowerment by connecting it to your leadership and workforce development programming.
By measuring the authority each person has within themselves will help your employees develop by understanding how they feel about their own commitment to your organization.
Then, remember the power items can be easily tracked since they all contain a measurable component to them, but the key element is teaching your people to also track their power items as well which they contribute to the organization.
If your people are truly empowered, then they should be able to provide their own empowerment reports at the end of the year. This report can showcase all their personal successes and also examine how they connected to other people through authority. It also contains the “power numbers” of their business results. DEI programs are only successful when they ultimately tie back to business, and if your people are empowered then they should be able to communicate exactly why they are instead of it just being a blanket statement.
QN: You mentioned four key insights. What other lessons can business leaders take from this method?
Brundage: With a deeper understanding of empowerment, it makes the other findings from my report so much easier to navigate.
The second finding was the top 10 common differences we have as humans: ability, age, class, education, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion and sexuality. Gender and sexuality are the main two differences largely connected to the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community and those are the differences to apply the leadership model toward found from my research.
The third finding was the “Four Empowerment Steps” that anyone can do to drive empowerment faster. That starts with you, and step one is titled “Knowing Yourself.” I created an empowerment selfassessment to aid in this process by giving people the chance to answer open ended questions about themselves. Nobody can placate empowerment to you. Only you know what is empowering.
Step two is called “Knowing Others.”
This is where we learn about those differences mentioned above. This is also why all leadership models should connect training for people to learn about the differences we have as those things shape better leaders for our future.
Step three is to “Develop Your Strategy.” This is where you can begin to prioritize the differences you have. Which ones need empowerment and which ones contain more empowerment? You need to build your prioritization of the leadership actions you are going to do to drive the empowerment for people.
The last step is “Empowering Actions.” These are the leadership actions that drive the empowerment of people. It is imperative that you make all your leadership actions empowering actions by being able to communicate the tracked authority, power, and the people involved in each action. You can refer to that as the “APP” of empowerment.
Throughout my research on empowerment, I have found that each difference has leadership actions that can drive this change faster. Start with actions like inclusion, educat[ion] and access for gender differences. Then actions like educat[ion], inclusion, and invest[ing] are the top three empowering actions for our sexuality differences. These are the leadership actions to drive more empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community and lead to more workplace equality for all of us.
Learn more about the Empowering Differences method and find online assessments and courses at empoweringdifferences.com.
This story is part of Qnotes’ special project “OUTlook: Finding Solutions for LGBTQ LAbor and Workplace Equality.” It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. ::
Charlotte Pride looks back on 2022 and gears up for 2023by Liz Schob (she/her), Director of Operations and Communications
The new year is here! The past year was one of great change and Charlotte Pride is eager to build on the groundwork laid for the coming year. For her first column of 2023, Liz Schob (Charlotte Pride’s new Communications Manager) looks back at some of the things Charlotte Pride accomplished in 2022 and share some of the exciting events planned for 2023.
It’s been just over a month since I started my new role here at Charlotte Pride and I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support from the community. The last year was one of transitions for me just as it has been for Charlotte Pride, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work alongside such amazing staff, board members, and volunteers as we gear up for the new year. I have no doubt that I will learn so much from them all.
Since my hiring, I’ve jumped in with both feet and I’m completely blown away by all Charlotte Pride has been able to accomplish in the last year. From partnering with other local organizations on a winter coat drive and nonpartisan candidate fair where the community could meet local, state, and federal candidates, to bringing back cornerstone events like Reel Out Charlotte (the Queen City’s LGBTQ Film Festival) and the Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade in person for the first time in three years, we have so much to be proud of. I’m especially proud of the fact that, for the first time ever, both of Charlotte Pride’s staff are LGBTQ women! What a way to end the year!
With all that momentum behind us, Charlotte Pride has hit the ground running for 2023. Here are just a few things we have coming down the pipeline:
Charlotte Pride will be hosting a job fair on Thursday, February 16th from 1-5pm at Central Piedmont Community College’s Central Campus near Uptown Charlotte.
Our aim is to provide a space for LGBTQ job seekers to feel comfortable and empowered as they connect with affirming employers.
The event is free and we will have educational workshops throughout the afternoon. We have a few spaces still available for companies with job openings, so if you are an organization that values inclusion and understands that a diversity of voices strengthens and moves us all forward, please fill out this form: https://cltpri.de/3CDsKIe
We are excited to share that film submissions are now open for Reel Out Charlotte (the Queen City’s LGBTQ Film Festival) which will be held at the Independent Picture House from May 17th through the 21st.
We are accepting short and feature-length film submissions through our FilmFreeway portal (https://cltpri. de/3W3oPLB). The deadline for submission is April 4th and we can’t wait to bring you incredible films that highlight the LGBTQ experience. Ticket information and film showings will be updated on our website as we get closer to May.
Our first in-person festival and parade in three years drew an unprecedented 275,000 attendees to Uptown and we are building on that momentum as we plan for the 2023 Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade. Our enthusiastic volunteers have already divided up into various planning committees including entertainment, the parade, youth and family, VIP experience, and more. We can’t wait for everyone to have an amazing Charlotte Pride week in August and see everyone’s hard work come to fruition! The 2023 Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade will return this year to Uptown Charlotte on August 19th and 20th.
For more information about the job fair, our film festival, or any other event we have coming up this year, please visit our website (charlottepride.org/) or sign up for our newsletter (https://cltpri.de/3GoD5ss).
We hope you’ll join us for all our events in 2023!
CGN’s top 12 games
Charlotte Gaymers Network shares their favorites for fun and entertainmentBy Jonny Saldana, Jonny Golian, and Keilen T. McNeil |Contributing Writers
Humanity’s fascination with gaming is believed to date back 5,000 years.
The first evidence of such recreational activity discovered thus far has come in the form of dice. A collection of carved and painted dice-like stones were discovered in a 5,000-year-old burial mound in southeast Turkey, making them the earliest gaming pieces ever found. Similar pieces have been found in Iraq and Syria, which points to a great likelihood of board games originating in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East.
Jump forward a number of millennia to the 20th century and you’ll find the beginnings of electrically powered arcade games like pinball and simple at home video games such as Pong. As the century progressed, so did the quality of games.
In the 21st century the options are seemingly endless and amazingly advanced. The time period has been described by many as a golden age for gaming of all types.
Not surprisingly, the LGBTQ community is just as actively involved in gaming as everyone else. With the well-versed guidance of the Charlotte Gaymers Network, Qnotes is pleased to present the top 12 list of digital video games. We feel certain there’s something here for just about everyone to enjoy, whether you’re playing solo or with a group of friends.
1. Game: God Of War: Ragnarok (PS4/PS5)
Metacritic score: 94
Synopsis: After years of laying low to be an everyman in the icy Norse lands, escaping the realm he laid siege to in a conquest for revenge and redemption, Kratos was found and thrown into the agendas of a new set of gods. In the aftermath of gods dying at the hands of both Kratos and his son, Atreus, the all-father Odin and his own son Thor have come to call, all while each seeks to avoid the end of the world event, Ragnarok.
Best match for: Fans of Mythology, Action-Adventure Titles, and those who want to see if the former God Of War still lives up to his name.
2. Game: Overwatch 2 Metacritic score: 79
Synopsis: The second development of the critically-acclaimed Overwatch franchise picks right up where it left off, immediately giving users access to five new maps, three new playable heroes, and a shakeup to the traditional system, removing the option for a second tank and changing its identity from a 6v6 PVP experience to a 5v5 PVP experience. Along with the removal of Assault (known best in the community as 2CP) and introduction of Push, its release in October 2022 gave the player base an entirely different dynamic to the gameplay we’d known for six whole years. The game itself is as smooth and exuberant as ever, with a brand new shop to introduce new player skins and a battle pass giving the player the control of customization across the board. With a new tank hero (Ramattra) arriving loud and proud on the scene and an
upcoming PVE experience coming very soon into 2023, it’s safe to say that Overwatch 2 will leave us wanting more content for many more years to come.
Best match for: Previous fans of the series, new players looking for competitive matches.
3.Game: Pokemon Scarlet/ Violet (Switch)
Metacritic score: 72
Synopsis: In the next core generation of the Pokemon franchise, players move into the Paldea region where the academies of Naranja or Uva await, depending on which version (Scarlet or Violet) is being played. After the entrance ceremony, the world opens up like never before as instead of a linear adventure, the new titles continue the standard set by Legends: Arceus by allowing complete exploration over multiple quests. Fierce trainers, mysterious agendas, and new comrades are as plentiful as the new creatures roaming the land, so pack some potions and Pokeballs for the fresh horizons that await.
Best match for: Those looking for a fresh grind, something new out of the longrunning Pokemon franchise, and for openworld enthusiasts.
4. Game: Multiversus
Metacritic score: 80 Synopsis: When Multiversus was first announced and released on early access, it seemed immediately that the gaming world would finally see an effective competitor to the esteemed Nintendo franchise, Super Smash Bros. Combining a stellar cast of characters throughout the Scooby-Doo, Steven Universe, DC, and other iconic WB franchises, this game gives you the chance to play with or against your friends in a fastpaced but easy to learn combat system with iconic voice lines from each character!
Best match for: Fans of couch party games such as Jackbox and also the fighting game genre.
5. Game: Marvel Snap (Mobile)
Metacritic score: 85 Synopsis: Its all-star action meets Magic The Gathering mechanics in the new mobile game, Marvel Snap! Players draw from a set of cards starring both heroes and villains from all around the Marvel’s multiverse, playing 6 rounds per match over locations like The Savage Lands or New York City. It’s a quick and addictive game that’s perfect for a coffee break or any long road trip.
Best match for: Marvel fans, mobile game lovers, and card game enthusiasts
6. Game: Stray Metacritic score: 83
Synopsis: In a surprising turn of events, a beloved game developer, Annapurna Interactive, proceeded to release
one of the best indie games of the entire decade, Stray. You play as a single cat, scrolling through a complex dystopian city as you journey to reach your lost family. It’s delicate, brilliantly told, vibrant, and beautiful, yet it is almost impossible to justify what exactly makes this game so great, in my eyes. The American developer also released one of my favorite games in 2021, titled The Artful Escape, so they must be doing something right!
Best match for: Fans of single-player RPG games and puzzle platformers!
7. Game: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Metacritic score: N/A Synopsis: The Borderlands franchise goes D&D when the fanfavorite demolitionist Tiny Tina gets her own fully fleshed out game! Played over a session of “Bunkers and Badasses”, players customize one of four character classes before setting off in Tina’s fantasy campaign in pursuit of the Dragon Lord. Looting and shooting is still the name of the game, with millions of guns to try out over the 15-hour story.
Best match for: fans of first person shooters, Dungeons & Dragons players
8. Game: Grounded Metacritic score: 82 Synopsis: Introduced to the world by Obsidian Entertainment and Xbox Games Studios, Grounded sees your entire world around you massively grow in size as you are shrunk to the size of an ant. The environment you once knew is vast, beautiful, and dangerous as you suddenly have to explore, build, and survive in an online cooperative survival-adventure game. As you freely explore, you must uncover clues in your own backyard that you may have never seen before. Grounded is a truly one-of-akind experience that you can only see to believe.
Best match for: Fans of survival adventure games and immersive animal life.
9. Game: Diablo 2 Metacritic score: 88 Synopsis: Diablo has returned and seeks to not only take over the world this time, but to also free his demonic family in the process.
The classic 2000’s game, cited as one of the greatest of all time, is remastered for current generation systems, including the expansion “Lords of Destruction”. Players choose from seven character classes to hack-&-slash their way through the dark fantasy world with, fighting through new randomized dungeons with each load-up of the game. Ahead of Diablo 4 launching in June 2023, revisit history in the series title that took the world by storm.
Best match for: fans of dark fantasy, dungeon-crawling with friends, medieval lore. hack-&-slash games
10. Game: Disney Dreamlight Valley
Metacritic score: N/A Synopsis: Disney Dreamlight Valley combines a lovable set of franchises made by the legendary Walt Disney Company with the efforts of calming and entertaining gameplay for an epic journey to free Dreamlight Valley from nefarious Night Thorns that caused an unnatural forgetting of our beloved characters. It’s your job to rid the Valley of these thorns and bring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and several other famous Disney characters out of their homes to be shown off to the world!
Best match for: Fans of Disney & sandbox games such as Animal Crossing.
11. Game: As Dusk Falls
Metacritic score: 77 Synopsis: As Dusk Falls is a wonderfully intense game involving your control of three protagonists: Vince, Tyler, and Zoe. Starting in 1998 with a petty crime gone wrong, you are tasked with making decision after decision, quick-time event after quick-time event, to ensure the best possible fate for every character in the game. With feelings of infidelity, loss, and fear all at play, this game will play at your heart strings and force you to pay attention as you play through chilling episode after chilling episode.
Best match for: Fans of “choose your own fate” games such as Until Dawn
12. Game: Elden Ring
Metacritic score: 96 Synopsis: Elden Ring is a brand new game in the Souls franchise that adopts the same gameplay strategy as the others: learn or die.
Elden Ring shows you an excellent open world, then proceeds to punish you if you are too far from the next story point. In no ways is this a bad thing, as it gives you the gentle push of going through the story linearly without making it a forced decision. Including an exceptional graphic design with stellar combat mechanics, Elden Ring is without a doubt a 10/10 game and the best game of 2022.
Best match for: Fans of Dark Souls and truly gruesome combat and strategy
This review was created by The Charlotte Gaymers Network (CGN), which was founded by friends Jonny Saldana and Zach Smith July 6, 2020. Saldana and Smith recognized a need in the LGBTQ+ community to stay connected to one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CGN strives to create an inclusive environment of folks from all walks of life who are united in their passion and love for all things gaming.
Group members are diverse, enthusiastic about meeting new friends, very welcoming and enjoy board games, tabletop games, video games, and social events that bring the community together. CGN events regularly take place in Charlotte and the surrounding metro area. For more details, visit their Facebook page or their website at https://www.charlottegaymersnetwork.com/. ::
“The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” Out in Printby Terri Schlichenmeyer Qnotes Staff Writer
“The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” by Shannon Gibney c.2023, Dutton $18.99 245 pages
It’s okay. You’ll just make it up. Not the right toys when you were a kid? No problem, you had your imagination. No impressive friends to brag on? You can always pretend to know the rich, famous or infamous. Boring job, cheap house, hooptie car? It’s fine, you can conjure whatever you want, and who cares? As in the new book, “The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” by Shannon Gibney, it’s all a fantasy anyhow.
There are facts. Provable, honest facts.
Shannon Gibney was born Jan. 30, 1975, in Ann Arbor, Mich. So was Erin Powers. Both were daughters of a Black petty criminal and a white lesbian mother who struggled to give them up.
Another fact: Shannon was Erin, before she was adopted.
Shannon grew up in a middle-class white family with two brothers, a good education, toys, vacations, and stability. She had a “short relationship” with her birth father when she was an adult and a longer (but
shaky) one with her birth mother, which made her wonder what life might have been like had she been raised as Erin...
When Erin was nineteen, she learned that her mother was dying of breast cancer and wasting what life she had left. At ten, Erin had to learn to get along with her mother’s latest girlfriend; and she had to listen to racism from the white side of her family. Also at ten, she saw a spiraled portal and another girl who looked like her, but she didn’t entirely understand it.
Every year on her birthday, her mother mourned an adoption she never wanted to happen.
When Shannon was ten years old, she was cruel to a boy who liked her, and she wasn’t sure why. When she was nineteen, her parents loaned her their car so she could visit her birth mother and her birth mother’s partner. And at 35, she was reminded of the legacy her mother left her, one she must be “diligent” about for the rest of her life.
A dozen pages or so into “The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be,” author Shannon Gibney wrestles with the nature of lies, explaining that her book does, and does not, use “manufactured literary devices.” In other words, get ready for one really weird read.
And it remains as such, until you understand what’s going on: The story here is fiction mixed with fact, an imaginary life
framed by a real one. “Erin” is the fiction, as Gibney imagines her life as a series of struggles, personal and otherwise, living with her birth mother. “Shannon” is Gibney’s story of finding out who she is and where she came from. The tales merge and diverge, neither with a lot of sense until you’re well past the halfway mark of this book.
Can you stick with it that long? Readers ages 15 and up might at least try; you’ll lose a little time adjusting to “The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be,” but don’t worry. You’ll make it up. ::
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Jacksonville, Florida Pride Journeyby Joey Amato Qnotes Staff Writer
The last time I visited Jacksonville, I was probably in my early-mid 20s and living in Orlando. It was a very long time ago. I was eager to visit again as I know much has changed in the city since the early 2000s. If you are ever planning on visiting Jacksonville, I would highly recommend renting a car. Jacksonville is the largest city in the country by land mass and many of its popular attractions are spread out, especially if you want to get a good idea of all the city has to offer.
I decided to stay downtown for this trip as much of my itinerary was within a few miles of the city center. The Residence Inn Downtown Jacksonville is a beautiful property located within walking distance to some of the city’s attractions, great restaurants, and a block from one of Jacksonville’s popular LGBTQ nightlife spots, Incahoots. The bar offers some incredible drink specials, so be sure to check their social media before you go so you can capitalize on those. It is also the place to catch a fabulous drag show while in town.
I wanted to make the focus of this trip about budget travel. Many times, people tend to not visit certain destinations, or travel at all, because they think it isn’t affordable. Before setting out on my Jacksonville adventure, I did some research and discovered some restaurants and attractions that are not only affordable, but also some of the highest-recommended in the city.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the Residence Inn offers a complimentary breakfast for guests, but if you are in the mood to try out a local breakfast spot, head to Cool Moose Cafe. I met my friend there and we both had a delicious meal for around $10. Everything was scratch made and the service was wonderful.
Next, head over to the Cummer Museum of Art, which offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month. I visit so many art museums that sometimes they can become monotonous, but this museum happened to be exhibiting two very cool exhibitions during my visit. The
first was The Age of Armor, an incredible collection of dozens of pieces of armor dating back hundreds of years. Most of the pieces in the collection were of European descent but there were a few pieces from other civilizations.
Another interesting exhibition is a display of movie posters from Norman Studios. Jacksonville was the filmmaking hotspot prior to Hollywood with 26 movie companies calling Jacksonville home during the silent movie era. In the earliest years, Black actors and actresses were only cast as extras in films, which were mostly catering to white audiences. Richard Norman purchased the Eagles Studio complex and went on to create one of the top production companies featuring predominantly Black cast members. Unfortunately, Norman was forced to close his studio during the Great Depression, but his legacy can be seen in this wonderful exhibition at the museum. The Norman Studio building itself is the last known silent film studio still standing in Jacksonville and efforts are underway to make it into a museum.
For a quick lunch, head over to Arepa Please, just a few blocks from the museum. Try their signature Pabellon arepa which contains shredded beef, sweet plantains, queso blanco and black beans. It was delicious and filling but didn’t break the bank.
I always like to visit local art galleries when I travel. On the way out to Jacksonville Beach is Gallery 725, one of the top galleries in the city. The gallery was showcasing the works of late animator Ron Campbell which included artworks based on the Beatles Yellow Submarine and the Beatles Saturday Morning TV Cartoon Series as well as Scooby Doo, Smurfs, Rugrats, Jetsons and Flintstones. The gallery also features works from internationally renowned pop artists Peter Max and Roy Lichtenstein among other artists.
Jacksonville’s beaches are beautiful and not as crowded as South Florida’s, so I would recommend spending the morning or afternoon exploring the area which also includes Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. You’ll find a ton of wonderful seafood restaurants in the area as well.
The highlight of my trip was a visit to Catty Shack Wildlife Sanctuary, which pro-
vides a safe, loving and forever home to endangered big cats. The sanctuary’s mission is to educate the public about their plight in the wild and in captivity. The sanctuary is home to a variety of big cats, but the majority of the residents are tigers. While most of them have their own individual space, the siblings share an enclosure.
I was most intrigued by the black leopard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. Khala Hala was born at Catty Shack Ranch on June 16, 2004. She was happily positioned on her perch and made eye contact with every visitor who passed by her enclosure.
Catty Shack is undergoing a large expansion which will include some additional large enclosures to give the cats more room to roam and play.
If you are in the mood to do some shopping during your stay, head to St. Johns Town Center, a beautiful outdoor shopping experience featuring a variety of retailers ranging from Tiffany and Louis Vuitton to Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. There are many dining options available there including a great Mediterranean fast-casual chain called Cava, but if you are looking for a local option, head back downtown and try S & R Dim Sum, which is located not too far from Memorial Park. I ordered the shrimp dim sum as well as the sweet and sour chicken and both were wonderful. I especially liked the chicken dish as it was only lightly breaded and sauteed rather than deep fried like in other Chinese restaurants.
For one last cocktail in Jacksonville, head to Park Place Lounge, just a short fiveminute drive from downtown. Park Place boasts an extensive Happy Hour from noon until 7 p.m., and you can mingle with the locals on their outdoor patio.
If you are looking to escape the harsh winter but avoid the crowds of other beach cities, then Jacksonville is a great option. The city provides a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for every budget. River City Pride will take place in November, so there is more than enough time to make your Jacksonville pride plans.
Enjoy the Journey! ::
HIV advocates call plans from Blue Cross NC ‘discriminatory’
High out-of-pocket costs could jeopardize access to medications for prevention and treatmentBy Rachel Crumpler|Contributing Writer
More than 35,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV, according to the latest available data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Those folks are living longer, healthier lives, thanks to medicines that treat HIV infection. For many, however, cost is a barrier to getting that treatment.
Two HIV advocacy organizations say that’s especially true for some potential and current patients covered by the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
The North Carolina AIDS Action Network and the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute claim that the insurer is discriminating against patients with HIV or at risk of HIV by charging “enormous out-ofpocket costs for nearly all HIV drugs” in complaints filed last month with the NC Department of Insurance and the Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
In its 2022 and 2023 plans on the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace, Blue Cross NC placed almost all HIV medicines in its most expensive drug categories (known in the insurance world as “tiers”). The few medication options offered at a lower cost cannot be used on their own or are older drugs that are no longer recommended, according to the complaint.
Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said the insurance company’s current practice of placing the majority of drugs for a medical condition in a high-cost tier jeopardizes access to medications for HIV prevention and treatment in the state. He also said the practice violates the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections against discriminatory plan design.
Federal officials issued stronger nondiscriminatory plan design protections last May, stating that insurers’ drug lists, known as formularies, “are presumptively discriminatory when all or a majority of drugs for a particular condition are placed on a highcost prescription drug tier to discourage enrollment by those with that condition.”
That’s what the HIV advocacy organizations believe is happening, and they have urged the state insurance department and the Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Health and Human Services to take action to ensure that those living with and at risk of HIV have access to the treatments they need.
Both offices acknowledged that they have received the complaint.
Blue Cross NC spokesperson Jami Sanchez said the insurer is “responding accordingly” to the complaint. She went on to say the company works with state and federal regulators each year to review its plans to ensure that they are compliant with the law and will continue to do so.
“We take this very seriously and stand against discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on health status, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Sanchez said in a statement, adding that the methodology used to determine drug tiers for Affordable Care Act members’ medications is consistent across health conditions,
using clinical and cost information.
Rates of HIV in North Carolina
As of Dec. 31, 2021, 35,632 individuals living with HIV reside in North Carolina.
In 2021, 1,400 people were newly diagnosed with HIV among the adult and adolescent population, amounting to a rate of 15.7 per 100,000 population.
North Carolina ranks 11th among all states and dependent areas for rate of newly diagnosed HIV.
The highest rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections is among Black men at a rate of 72.9 per 100,000 population.
People living in census tracts with a higher proportion of residents residing below the federal poverty line are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV.
This data comes from NC DHHS 2021
High Out of Pocket Costs
Allison Rice, an emeritus law professor at Duke University, said this is not the first year that Blue Cross NC placed the vast majority of HIV medications in the top drug tiers in its Affordable Care Act marketplace plans. In her former role as director of Duke Law’s Health Justice Clinic, she produced annual reports on HIV insurance coverage in the state, tracking insurers’ practices.
Rice said Blue Cross NC has one of the most costly plans in the marketplace for individuals with HIV.
“Not only do they have their drugs on the top tier, but the cost sharing for those drugs is very high,” she said.
In 2021, the coinsurance for top-tier medication bumped up from 25 percent to
destroy the immune system and progress to AIDS, the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
Map showing the rate of people living with HIV per county in North Carolina in 2020. Map credit: AIDSvu, an interactive online mapping tool that visualizes the impact of the HIV epidemic on communities across the United States.
Christina Adeleke, policy and communications director at North Carolina AIDS Action Network, is concerned Blue Cross NC is placing needed HIV medicines out of reach for some people, which could jeopardize their health outcomes.
“I can see people making the decision to forgo treatment to make sure their car payments are being made and the rent is being paid,” Adeleke said. “I hate to think of that because, obviously, you need to be alive to live life and you need medications to live life.”
Rice said the high out-of-pocket costs for medications will mostly affect middleclass individuals who do not qualify for federal and state programs that cover the cost of HIV medications.
The HIV advocacy organizations also worry about high out-of-pocket costs widening existing health disparities. According to AIDSvu, Black and Latino residents represent 58 percent and 13 percent of new HIV diagnoses — much higher than their share of the state population — but constitute just 26 percent and six percent of HIV PrEP users.
HIV Surveillance Report.
Not a new problem
Schmid said discriminatory plan designs by insurers are nothing new. He said that plans that either don’t cover medications essential to the treatment of HIV, or provide that coverage while requiring patients to pay high out-of-pocket costs, have been a problem for years — one that keeps surfacing. Groups have filed complaints against a plethora of insurers in states across the United States.
A 2015 study found that a quarter of insurance plans the researchers analyzed used discriminatory drug tiering for HIV medications. People covered by these plans paid on average three times more for HIV medications, amounting to several thousands more dollars per year, than they paid in plans determined not to be discriminatory.
In 2014, Schmid, then deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute, helped file complaints against four Florida insurers for placing all HIV medications, including generics, in the highest drug tiers, forcing patients to pay high out-of-pocket costs. Ultimately, insurers reclassified many of the medications into lower cost tiers, he said.
That’s the same outcome Schmid hopes will happen with Blue Cross NC — to see the medications dispersed across tiers for greater affordability.
“That’s a more balanced approach,”
50 percent for most plans.
“Clearly, when they look at this, their priority is not to allow people living with HIV easy access to affordable drugs,” Rice said, adding that 50 percent coinsurance can be a hefty amount, when an HIV drug regimen may cost a couple thousand dollars per month on average.
In comparison, Rice said, insurers like Cigna, UnitedHealthcare and Aetna have a number of HIV drugs in lower tiers and charge a more reasonable copay.
A Blue Cross NC spokesperson said the insurer pays on average more than 80 percent of its members’ costs for drugs in the highest tiers. She said that when used for HIV prevention, the generic pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) drug Truvada is available for no out-of-pocket cost, regardless of it being assigned to a higher drug tier. Under the Affordable Care Act, PrEP must be free under almost all health insurance plans.
The Need for Affordable Medicines
The recommended treatment for everyone who has HIV is antiretroviral therapy, which uses medicines to treat HIV infection. The medicines do not cure HIV but make the disease — once a certain death sentence — into a manageable chronic condition. Taking the drugs also reduces a patient’s risk of spreading the virus to others.
Without treatment, HIV can gradually
Years of research shows that out-ofpocket costs for patients can create barriers to people starting and sticking with treatment. Cost sharing also has been found to result in higher rates of patients not initiating treatment, in people leaving their medications at the pharmacy once they hear the cost, in decreased adherence and in more frequent drug discontinuation.
Adeleke added that affordable HIV medicines are not in the interest of just those living with the disease.
“If people aren’t in treatment and aren’t able to get virally suppressed, that leaves them in a situation where they’re able to physically transmit HIV to others, which is not what we want,” she said. “For the broader public health of the community, it’s in all of our interest for folks to be able to get in treatment and be able to stay in treatment.”
Even if costs are reduced, Rice said, another problem not addressed in the complaint is the ongoing trend toward narrower provider networks. Some people living with HIV are finding their longtime HIV provider is no longer in the network, meaning they either have to start with a new provider or drop insurance altogether.
“The Affordable Care Act has really improved access and health care for people living with HIV and so many others, but there’s still some issues,” Schmid said. “That’s why we have insurance commissioners and enforcement actions to take.”
North Carolina Health News is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering all things health care in North Carolina. Visit NCHN at northcarolinahealthnews.org. ::
New Yorker Critic blasts NC comic actor Jerrod Carmichael’s gig as Golden Globes host
Writer accuses Carmichael of cynicism and ‘dystopian comedy’By John Russell|Contributing Writer
Openly gay Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als was not a fan of North Carolina native and comic Jerrod Carmichael’s performance as host of Tuesday night’s 80th annual Golden Globes. The New Yorker writer took to Instagram Wednesday to deliver his blistering critique.
“Dystopian comedy is not really comedy because it doesn’t contain a shred of hope, or any other human aspiration, which is what comedy is: about how we aspire, fail, get up again,” Als wrote in the caption to a photo of Carmichael from the awards show. “Bitter smugness is not really a style, but it can be part of one’s self-proclamation, especially if you’re bathing in the privilege of lines like, ‘And so my publicist called again and said again,’ etc.”
Als was referring to Carmichael’s purposefully awkward opening monologue on the Golden Globes telecast, in which the 35-year-old comic addressed the fact that in 2021 it was revealed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had zero Black members at the time. Carmichael described the circumstances that led to his hosting gig, presumably by way of explaining his involvement with the controversial organization’s awards ceremony.
At various points in the evening Carmichael told the audience to quiet down, which Vulture critic Kathryn Van Arendonk interpreted as an attempt to create a sense of intimacy and force the stars and industry heavyweights in the room to acknowledge and sit in the awkwardness of the situation.
Als didn’t see it that way. “The point
is you do not tell your elders to shut up, you do not say a hotel is responsible for Whitney Houston’s death, you do not drag dear Niecy Nash through your contemptslime and call it gay fraternity, and you do not sell race as something that can be sold, or should be. You do not match network/award gods’ cynicism by giving side-eye while your Black butt signs on the dotted line, thus justifying their cynicism about colored people in the first place: We
tried! And look how they do….”
As he paced the stage during his opening monologue, Carmichael told the crowd, “I’m here because I’m Black.” He also made a point of revealing that a friend advised him to take the gig hosting the Golden Globes after learning that the HFPA offered him $500,000.
Later in the show, he introduced Niecy Nash-Betts saying, “We both gay now, so that’s cool.” He also drew criti -
cism following the show for referring to the Beverly Hilton, where the Golden Globes took place, as “the hotel that killed Whitney Houston.” (Houston was found dead in her suite at the hotel in 2012.)
“And lastly you do not believe any of this has to do with the human experience other than your own, and being gay—take it from me—is not an occasion to be rewarded, or make you exempt from caring for other people because of your pain,” Als continued in his post, seemingly taking a shot at Carmichael’s Emmywinning comedy special Rothaniel, in which the comic came out publicly.
“We all have pain. But many of us don’t have the privilege of lying about who we are on a sitcom for a lot of cash, and then redressing that lie in close-up on HBO when we come out. For more money and attention.”
“What you do before the gig, though, is grow up, get that chip off your shoulder, and care for others more than you know how to care for your ‘profile,’” Als continued. “In short, you learn to communicate with other people, and hope they can love you back. That’s the joy and vulnerability inherent in performing, which is an honor, not an occasion for contempt.”
Als wrapped up by referencing the comedian’s ‘The Carmichael Show’ co-star Tiffany Haddish’s 2017 stand-up special She Ready! in his verdict on Carmichael: “To paraphrase the wonderful Tiffany Haddish: Jarrod, he ain’t ready.” ::
Charlotte’s culture report reveals seven keys to the future of arts in the Queen City
Artists and consumers want a more inclusive environmentBy Genna Contino|Contributing Writer
Charlotte artists and consumers want to prime the city for a more inclusive arts scene through better leadership and affordable spaces to create. Those are findings from a months-long effort to survey Charlotte-area residents about arts and culture presented to a City Council committee Tuesday. Through community events and an online survey, arts officials received survey responses from 3,236 people in 75 ZIP codes for its State of Culture report. It will guide leaders about investing time and money in the arts and inform an arts and culture plan that sets policies and funding strategies.
From the responses, Charlotte leaders assembled a collage of seven key needs:
• Center city and uptown institutions are a key strength to support with arts funding along with support in other Charlotte communities.
• Equitable and sustainable funding is a major concern.
• Organized and well-resourced leadership is needed.
• Respondents want to maximize revenue opportunities for local artists.
• There’s a lack of awareness and coordination of arts and culture activities.
• Affordable and accessible space is a key need.
• Public art access should be expanded.
Documents presented Tuesday show City Council members expressed similar concerns in their feedback about arts. The council also hopes to achieve economic development success, job creation through arts and use more funding sources. The city’s arts and culture advisory board is reviewing feedback from residents before creating an official State of Culture report to be released in February, Sircar said. The board also will discuss creating an asset map so there’s one landing page for all things arts in Charlotte.
Drawing Inspiration From Other Cities
Another key part of the path forward for arts in Charlotte: looking to other cities for inspiration. Charlotte is drawing arts inspiration from:
• Austin, Texas
• Houston, Texas
• Dallas, Texas
• Denver, Colo.
• Minneapolis, Minn.
• Nashville, Tenn.
• Portland, Ore.
From these cities, the arts and culture advisory board learned most communities
have a recurring public funding source and several have a nonprofit set up for arts “ecosystem support.”
City of Charlotte Response
Though residents and the council highlighted the importance of uptown facilities, some city council members said they’d like to see more public art in neighborhoods such as NoDa, Ballantyne and University City, according to the report. During Tuesday’s jobs and economic development committee meeting, council members presented Sircar with a draft statement raising the following opportunities for the arts and culture plan:
• Arts and culture in Charlotte could connect with areas of the city designated as Corridors of Opportunity. West Boulevard, Freedom Drive, Wilkinson Boulevard and Sugar Creek Road near Interstate 85 are examples.
• The city could leverage zoning and land use to connect to art.
• Charlotte will seek to diversify funding support to new partners and
• The city would integrate art into parks and green space.
• Local artists will create more murals, sculptures and hold outdoor performances across the city.
• Schools will increase arts education.
• City Council will integrate arts into other policy areas.
• The city ensures the arts and culture plan captures the full spectrum of the city’s diversity.
What has the new arts and culture board done?
The upcoming arts and culture plan is an outgrowth of the city’s 18-member arts and culture advisory board, created after the Charlotte City Council upended a decades-long model of relying on the Arts and Science Council as a passthrough mechanism for arts funding. In 2021, the city established an “infusion fund” in place of the Arts and Science Council that combined public and private sector funding in the Foundation for the Carolinas to support the city’s arts and
culture sector for three years. The foundation is a local philanthropic organization that serves a 13-county area in and around Charlotte. The new arts board determines how money is spent with input from the Charlotte City Council. In the fiscal year 2023 budget, the city allocated $4 million to the Foundation for the Carolinas. It was matched by $2 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds and more than $6 million from private-sector donations, Sircar said, for a total of $12 million at the city’s discretion for arts and culture initiatives.
• The timeline for the arts and culture plan going forward includes:
• February: Begin strategy development for arts and culture plan and public sharing of State of Culture report.
• March: Finalize strategy framework.
• April: Create implementation plan and finalize the entire arts and culture plan. This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer. ::
Our People: Jonny Saldana
Co-founder of Charlotte Gaymers Networkby L’Monique King Qnotes Staff Writer
Jonny Saldana is a relatively new Charlotte resident (less than five years) with a busy schedule and much to offer Charlotte’s ever expanding LGBTQ community. He’s a board member for The PLUS Collective, a foundation that awards grants to organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community in the Charlotte region, while also cultivating partnerships with community allies. Saldana is also a newlywed, the co-founder and current Executive Director of the Charlotte Gaymers Network and a reformed Republican with an interesting past. Saldana is well vested in our city’s LGBTQ community, and it shows. During our interview he offers his thoughts on various projects that continue to enrich our community while giving us a little peek into his private life.
L’Monique King: Where are you originally from?
Jonny Saldana: Miami Beach, Florida.
LMK: What brought you to Charlotte?
JS: Meeting my husband in 2018. He was very direct with me that he didn’t want to spend a lot of time in Miami, because of the weather. It was too hot and too humid for him. So, we moved to Charlotte in May of 2019 when he became an associate attorney with a law firm that has an office in Charlotte.
LMK: Where in Charlotte do you live?
JS: NODA. It’s a fantastic area. We’re a stone’s throw away from Chasers [nightclub].
LMK: You said you met your husband in 2018 and moved to the area a year later. How long have you been married?
JS: We’re newly married as of two weeks ago. We got married at the Ritz Carlton in Bal Harbour, Florida.
LMK: Congratulations. What made you decide to marry your husband?
JS: I think he’s the only person that I’ve met and been involved with that takes the community as seriously as I do. His commitment and passion for immigration work and making the community a better place [was attractive and inspiring].
LMK: As one who’s been deeply rooted in empowering our community, it’s no wonder you’d choose a life partner with similar ideals. What’s community work in Charlotte been like for you?
JS: I faced a lot of opposition when I first moved here. I made several missteps that I think turned a lot of people away from me. It took me about two years to do the reparative work needed to show people that I was somebody trying to unite and build community – especially for those most marginalized among us.
LMK: What exactly is it that you do?
JS: I’m the Managing Director of CLT Events – a business unit within the Carolina Esports hub. I produce all types
of events at our venue in the South End neighborhood. I love it. The freedom that my executive teams afford me allows me to dig deep in my community and have intention in partnering with organizations like CMS, HBCUs and local nonprofits in providing safe spaces at a discounted rate.
LMK: Tell me about your involvement with the Charlotte Gaymers Network?
JS: I’m [the] co-founder and current Executive Director.
LMK: You’re under 40 and you’ve held some pretty weighty positions as a board member for organizations like Miami’s Prevention305, Charlotte’s Freedom Center for Social Justices, along with being First Vice President for the Hispanic American Democrats of Mecklenburg County and a former Development Officer for SAGE. What inspires you?
JS: The state of our society. As a young leader in our community, I see every day that there isn’t much attention, time or resources poured into younger leaders. What truly inspires me is being surrounded on a weekly basis by people younger than me who are so fired up about building a better tomorrow, a better future for themselves and our community. I see that through their participation in the
Charlotte Gaymers Network through our philanthropy and volunteer activities.
LMK: Tell us what makes Charlotte Gaymers Network special.
JS: We typically have very young LGBTQ+ people (18-21) who come to our events. Recently we had an 18-year-old come to an event, a first timer. When it was over, this person shared with me they were contemplating suicide because they felt that they didn’t have a [safe and affirming] place to go to as an introverted LGBTQ gamer.
They went on to say that having the space wasn’t something they had ever seen before in the community of Charlotte. That member has now become a regular, comes to all of our events and is one of our most productive volunteers. I’m quite proud of the fact that we have created a space unlike any other in the community of Charlotte. As space that literally has the ability to save lives.
LMK: It must be wonderful to know that you can touch lives in a way that makes such a meaningful impact. What types of events does CGN host?
JS: Gaymer Gathering happens the first Friday of every month. It’s a flagship event and the largest LGBTQ monthly event in the Carolinas and offers a free open bar, live music, DJs, drag shows and so much more. It’s extremely diverse.
Our newest product offering is
Sapphic Social, an event produced by and curated for feminine identifying folks, non-binary, trans women and their allies.
LMK: Sounds like you are almost always working. What do you do for pleasure?
JS: Play video games and travel. Travel is something my husband and I enjoy, along with music so we travel to music festivals whenever we can.
LMK: What’s your best game?
JS: Funny enough, World of WarCraft. I’m a big MMO [Massively Multiplayer Online] gamer.
LMK: What was your greatest challenge this past year?
JS: I think like everybody in my age group, figuring out a work-life balance. I think it eluded me last year, so I definitely think that will be one of my biggest challenges to overcome for 2023.
LMK: Share with our readers something most folks know about you?
JS: I used to be a Republican and worked on Republican campaigns alongside my family growing up. I left the party when I turned 18 and immediately began working for the Democrats. I am the grandson of Cuban exiles. In 1959 when Castro led a communist revolution in Cuba, he was using a lot of the same terminology that Democrats used at the time. Once he took over and reneged on those promises (buoying Democratic ideology) people shied away from him and went to the Republican party. In the 90s however, people became galvanized and they fell more staunchly to the right in American Ideology. Many Cubans, especially in Miami, are still hardline MAGA republicans, my grandparents included.
LMK: What happened? What prompted you to switch parties?
JS: Meeting my first boyfriend at the time. Realizing my sexuality and coming out of the closet, my understanding was that I didn’t have a future as a Republican if that was how I identified.
LMK: And your family, those staunch Republicans you spoke of, how accepting are they of your identity?
JS: Surprisingly they’re all fine with it. I think they separate me being gay from their hardline MAGA ideology. They still worship Trump, but they’re totally fine with my husband and I.
LMK: If you could go back in time and give a word of advice to your 15-year-old self, what would you say?
JS: Resiliency is the one word that comes to mind. I would tell my 15-yearold self to stay resilient.
LMK: Moving from the past to the future, what do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?
JS: [Pauses] Producing memorable events, hopefully at a national or even global scale. ::