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August 2015


AUGUST 2015 | Volume 16 | Issue 7


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August 2015 



August 2015


We are family! Whether they are blood or a chosen family, the LGBT community always finds a way to creatively comprise their own relatives. This month, we are proud to explore how relations relate amongst us and how we create our own families. Whether it’s a young gay couple who’s starting out with newborn twins or a straight couple who fully support their trans child, it’s always going to be each person’s own journey. What has happened to the St. Louis’ 250th LGBT birthday cake? Vital VOICE is proud to announce that we have purchased this landmark sculpture and will be donating it to the LGBT History Project. St. Louis is very proud of our own Mike Isaacson who talks with Vital VOICE about his recent Tony win of Best Musical in 2015 for Fun Home. Have you heard the latest news that Miss Leon’s Chicken has moved to Hiro Asian Kitchen in

downtown St. Louis? No? You can read all about in this month’s issue We are also excited to showcase the return of St. Louis Black Pride in this issue taking place Aug 14 -16. Take a look inside for the fun event’s entire schedule. Most importantly, this is your month to vote in our Voice Your Choice reader’s choice awards. Last year was our first time to attempt a reader’s choice issue and with 15,000 votes register, we’ve decided to bring it back again! Voting will being online at from August 1 - 31. This year, we’ve also expanded categories for both St. Louis and Kansas City. The results of Voice Your Choice will be published in our October issue.

Jimmy Lesch Publisher/Partner

Darin Slyman CEO/Partner 



August 2015

e c e i Our P y r o t s i of H


text MALANA BRADFORD ART DARIN SLYMAN They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, so when Vital VOICE acquired a beautiful four-foot tall, rainbow colored, fiberglass birthday cake, the best alternative was to donate it. As Vital VOICE recognizes the work that the St. Louis LGBT History Project has done in the community, the project seemed to be the perfect recipient for such a donation. The mission of the St. Louis LGBT History Project is “to preserve and promote the diverse and dynamic history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community of Greater St. Louis.” It started in 2007 as a blog, and has since developed into fully established project that is a partner of the LGBT Center of St. Louis and the Missouri History Museum. Steven Brawley, the founder of the St. Louis History Project, is the proud new owner of the three-tier cake, and we’re guessing he’s okay with not eating it. “If it was a real cake, I’m guessing it would be the rainbow cake that you’ve seen in the last few years,” Brawley says. “It’s fun to see those on Pinterest and things. People create those rainbow cakes now, especially during Pride, there’s a lot of bakeries that are now selling the rainbow cakes.” However this fake cake was decorated for the LGBT community and was one of 250 cakes in the “Cakeway to the West,” art exhibit in 2014. The exhibit was a physical representation of St. Louis turning 250 years old. The exhibit included not only the cakes, but other historic relics as well, some of which being LGBT specific. “In the 250 exhibit was a piece of the largest LGBT pride flag ever, created in Key West, and each major city got a big hunk of the flag,” Brawley says. “As you left the 250 exhibit you saw the St. Louis flag and the Pride flag next to each other, so that was a major symbolic move.” Out of all the aspects of the 250 event, the cakes became one of the most popular exhibits. “The cakes were designed to kind of be a scavenger hunt so people would want to find as many cakes as possible,” Brawley explains. “It became this huge phenomenon with Facebook pages devoted to people competing to see who could get to the 250 cakes the quickest. It was regional, the cakes weren’t just the city or county, but in St. Charles, Illinois, Jefferson County. It was a broad region that these cakes were displayed.” The exhibit showcased many different historic groups that have played a role in St. Louis’s 250 years.

“It’s great to see the different groups,” Brawley continues. “The LGBT cake was great because of the fact that the Pride colors are so vibrant, and it was front and center for the time of the 250 event. It recognized those historical groups in America. It’s a history lesson for those who may not know about these groups. There were literally hundreds of people involved, finding every cake. They would take their picture, or their kids’, or their families’ picture with each cake, then they’d go onto the next one. People spent weekends running around trying to find all these cakes, so this cake was photographed extensively. And like I said, it’s fun to find pictures of this cake and all the 250 other ones.” But the LGBT cake wasn’t the only way LGBT voices were represented.“There were several gay and lesbian artists who actually decorated cakes that were displayed,” Brawley says. “Marc Swain is a local artist, I know he decorated a couple of these and there are a couple other gay artists who decorated cakes. What’s great about this cake is that we can tell the story of how St. Louis celebrated 250, and how there was an LGBT voice in that history.” “The plan for the cake now is to find a permanent home for it. The goal would be to get it someplace that people can see it down the road,” Brawley says. ““The project thanks Vital VOICE for this contribution. It’s a wonderful way to preserve history, but also to promote history and for folks to understand that St. Louis is very diverse and dynamic.” V 



August 2015




August 2015

What lovers of theatre have not sat in their living rooms, watching the Tony Awards and dreaming of winning one of those prestigious awards? Well, for the Executive Producer of the Muny, this dream became a reality. St. Louis’ own Mike Isaacson won a Tony Award this year for the musical Fun Home. The musical is about a woman named Bechdel, her relationship with her gay father and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life. Fun Home won out against three other nominees, An American in Paris, Something Rotten, and The Visit. Vital VOICE caught up with Mike Isaacson to ask him some questions about this remarkable honor. What was it like standing on the stage accepting the Tony Award? It was surreal. Still unbelievable in many ways, I’m not even sure there is a vocabulary for it. I mean, certainly so many things plugged into that moment. We were just obviously so thrilled for the show, and that our colleagues felt that the show deserved that award. I think for me, it’s been a 20-year adventure with Fox Theatricals. We won our first Tony for Millie in 2002, and then it happened again! I was up there with so many people who I have just cherished working with, and who have been a part of something that’s been just thrilling. If you can find a word for it let me know. It’s very surreal, like, “Did that happen?” How surprised were you to win? Oh shocked, I was shocked. I realize now that part of my reaction on stage was that I had really protected myself against losing. It’s a business and it’s also an art form and a culture. We all know each other; the producers of all the other shows are

friends of mine. I have tons of friends in all those shows, so when we have this six week period when we all have to become, for better or for worse, competitive, you have to do it. But I can’t lie and say I feel particularly great about it- I think all the other nominees were great shows. And while I’m not sure that musicals should have to compete, it is the nature of the beast. Conventional wisdom was if you believed the pundits, then the prediction was that Fun Home was not going to win. So in that sense, it was a surprise. How did the cast react to the Tony? Well everybody was thrilled. You know the Best Musical Award is an acknowledgement of the whole achievement of the endeavor, the whole show that everybody participates in: on stage, backstage, producers and general management. Everyone also sort of has a little piece of that. That’s why everyone rushes to stage, because basically they’ve said to everybody, “You’ve collectively done good.” So everybody was thrilled, and felt it. Tell us about the show. Fun Home is an extraordinary musical. You know, what I said was that we set out to create a musical that hadn’t been created before. And that’s very much true, but the story is how it’s told. I love musicals, and I’m incredibly lucky and I don’t even understand it- to have a life both producing and creating them. Fun Home is a musical that doesn’t go by on the surface what you would expect from a musical or what you think a musical should be. Its strength is really in its originality, its honesty, its tenderness and its humanity. Every element of this show (the writing, the production, the execution) all became something special. We all know sometimes things that are new or innovative or cutting edge or groundbreaking, they don’t get recognized in their day. They get recognized after the passage of time,

“St. Louis is entering the century and it’s refining itself; it’s redefining itself. I think it’s really beautiful to be a part of that.” and that’s the kind of scenario I kind of assumed for Fun Home: to be honest. So the fact that we were acknowledged and seen for that level of originality in that six week window, that very much surprised me. Usually something isn’t seen that way for a very long time. What’s the best part of the show for you? You know, I’ve been living with this for five years, and when I sit in the audience and watch it, each time I find something new that surprises me that I didn’t see before. And then, when I talk to people after they’ve seen it for the first time, the stories they share and how they’re moved by it and how they enter into it is just amazing. I mean, it’s ultimately a story about a family: everybody has a family, and everybody has a story. There’s a richness to that that just becomes universal. What has been your most memorable moment while Executive Producer of the Muny? I have produced basically 25 shows at the Muny. So you look over the arc of that, and it is really what stands out to me; the extraordinary experiences I have had with so many people in creating that work. And then the strongest memories is sitting out in the audience and feeling the audience respond to that work. I’m not a parent, but the really weak metaphor is, at this point I have 25 children. Each one has brought something special. The one thing about the Muny is that it never stops surprising me, and it never stops teaching me. Just when I think I understand it, an event happens or a show happens or a production happens; it makes me reawaken to sort of the power, the obligation, the need, everything. It’s a big place; it’s based on a big idea. What makes St. Louis so special for you? This is home to me. It’s an amazing city an amazing American city. I think it’s a city that’s still finding itself. It’s creating itself, which I find interesting. You look at the coastal cities like LA and New York, and the rules are locked; they are what they are. St. Louis is entering the century and it’s refining itself; it’s redefining itself. I think it’s really beautiful to be a part of that. And to the degree that the Muny is a reflection of this city- it’s that celebration of this city. The actors feel it when they come here. The way the audience identifies and feels a part of the Muny is unbelievable to me; it is so moving and truly inspiring. V a

wonderful way to preserve history, but also to promote history and for folks to understand that St. Louis is very diverse and dynamic.” V 



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August 2015

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he support of family, friends and allies seems to be a tremendous aid in each individual journey. In Kansas City, there are resources full of love started and continued by those assisting in the process. SOFFA (Significant Others, Family, Friends and Allies), ran by Fiona Nowling, is one of those resources. SOFFA is a social group with a large online following that offers help for those who are supporting a loved one who is embarking on the adventure of their life.


Meeting and falling in love online in 2000, Fiona and Una’s love story is poetic. At that time, Fiona lived in England, Una here in the States. Fiona knew from the beginning that Una was transitioning, and supported and loved her from the very start. Speaking with Fiona, the theme was support, love and understanding. “I’m in an unusual position, because I knew she was trans before I met her,” Fiona says. “Most people struggle with it for years and years and it comes as a great shock to their partner when they come out, I knew before we even physically met that she was trans, but she has always been my “Una”, always been my girl to me.” When Fiona first came to visit Una here in the States around 15 years ago, the connection was undeniable and the story is history. The insecurities Una had needed to be settled and they were. “She put on her only dress and shoes and a bit of makeup and came down dressed to test me,” Fiona remembers. “She said the moment I saw her dressed like that, my face took on the expression of joy, like I had seen the most beautiful thing in the world; she knew then it would work.”



Recently the largest survey of transgender adults to date reported that the prevalence of lifetime suicide attempts among respondents was 41 percent. The causes are complex, but some factors that increase the risk of suicide attempts among transgender people stand out. Those who experience discrimination, victimization, violence and, most importantly, family rejection are most likely to attempt to end their lives. Little effort or resources have been invested in developing intervention strategies and, to some, the usual resources may be of no help at all.

The couple married, and soon the conflict of a safe home environment and the outside world took its toll. Una, struggling with where she was in life as a whole, sunk into a deep depression. Fiona dug in, finding her the resources and the help she needed. With Fiona’s support, Una set out to become who she truly was.“We were together for a long time, and I would buy her gifts- jewelry or nice clothes. She was always so happy and excited, but then rarely wear them. She was feeling like she couldn’t just dress as a girl- that it would be like playing dress up. It was just fake, and would be harder to have to put the mask back on and go back to work again the next day. That got her more and more depressed over time.” During Fiona’s research, she discovered a group that was established for those who loved a trans person. She began getting involved with the group, SOFFA, and eventually took it over to continue its mission. Today, Fiona continues to help others no matter what stage they are in with their loved ones transition to their new lives. Today, Fiona and Una continue to educate and enlighten all who reach out. They are both fierce advocates for the cause.


Due to safety issues, “Jennifer and Jessica” are pseudonyms. They have asked that we not reveal their identities. In a small town outside of Kansas City, lives a couple who began their marriage as a heterosexual couple 21 years ago. They have two children. One year ago, Jessica confided in her partner, Jennifer that she was trans. Today, they are finding a new sense of bonding in life. Very new to the trans community, this couple takes the challenge to new heights together and strong as ever. One can imagine it would come as a shock that, after 20 years of marriage, having this information being told to you. 




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August 2015

“It didn’t shock me, really though,” Jennifer says. “I went back and forth with ‘really?’ and ‘of course! That makes perfect sense.’ After the fact, you know they say hindsight is 20/20, you start looking into it all. You put all the pieces together once you finally have the answer, and it’s like ‘Oh! Ok.’ I think it was very difficult for her to ‘come out’ to me. One of the big things with her and a lot of other transgender individuals is just the fear of loss of a relationship, whether it be your spouse, your children, your friends or your colleagues at work.” The fear of losing the relationships around you is crippling, so the coming out phase is the hardest. Jennifer and Jessica certainly deal with that on a daily basis as they go down this journey together. “I am absolutely supportive of her, because the fact is that I fell in the person for what was on the inside,” Jennifer explains. “And even with the changes, it doesn’t mean I love them any less, or think of her any less. She is still the person I fell in love with. Jessica finally decided to tell their children, and there was a great amount of fear. “With the children, because they are teenagers, she didn’t know how they would take it,” Jennifer says. “I personally was under the impression it wouldn’t be a big deal, so we sat down at the table and told them, and they reacted kind of how I thought. They are very supportive. It’s very new to them; they see that she is happier now than before with all of the secrets that held her down.” “We’re still going through the transition, and I say we because it’s a transition for me as well,” Jennifer continues. “We get out as we can, we explore the feminine side of things, whereas before we didn’t do that. It’s a whole lot of fun to go clothes shopping now. It’s easier to buy presents now.” “She will ask me these questions that I don’t always have an answer for, like ‘Do I have to curl my eyelashes?’” Jennifer says. “It’s interesting. I am watching her go through things I went through at 13 and 14: learning how to dress, learning how to put your makeup on, what works, what doesn’t work.” Getting back to the transformation on their marriage, Jennifer explains of the grieving process that you go through. “You are seeing the physical person that you have always had in front of you, change,” she says. “They go away, but it’s just the physical. It is a transition for both of us, not just her. A huge learning curve; a learning that everything is not black and white. You are not just gay or heterosexual; there are so many variances of gray in there. It’s been a huge eye opening experience for me, one that I really relish.” “I’m very proud of her,” Jennifer says definitively. “It’s a very hard thing to go through. It’s emotionally painful, physically painful. I am proud that she lets me remain in her life and go through this with her.” These two unique stories are just a glimpse into how important support and love in this ever-evolving community are. As of May 2015, 32 states still have no laws banning job discrimination against transgender individuals, and that is just one of the huge hurdles we still have to tackle. Fiona and Jennifer, as well as so many others, stand beside their loved ones and make the daily difference. V VISIT THESE LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS FOR MORE INFORMATION AND OUTREACH: (Una’s Website) 



August 2015


St Louis never fails this time of year for outdoor events. Enjoy some Ted Drewes, dance in the park at one of the many festivals, get your culture on, try ethnic foods or shop at one of the many farmers markets. This time of year we pay homage to the top eight things to do in the next eight weeks, outdoors of course. Netflix can wait until the snow starts to fall, now that we have all finished OITNB anyways.



This time of year is the time for live music, and St Louis is not skimping on the talent this year. From the Peabody and River City Casino, to the newly renamed Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, these are just a handful of the national acts coming to town: The Monkees, Tim McGraw, Taking Back Sunday, Kelly Clarkson, Shania Twain, My Morning Jacket, Chris Brown, Sammy Hagar, Foo Fighters, a slew of other top country musicians and Charli XCX.



More information at

Downtown Restaurant Week The 11th annual Downtown Restaurant Week is back this August. Always a foodie’s delight, there will be 26 diverse and delicious destinations participating this year. Guests simply choose the restaurant of their choice and select from special 3-course dinner menus for $25 per person, plus tip and tax. Reservations are highly recommended as space fills up quickly during this popular week. $5 donation increments are accepted at all participating restaurants and go toward a great cause, Operation Food Search. Make your reservation today and help end hunger!



A St. Louis favorite, this multiethnic celebration features dance, music, food, cultural and educational exhibits, folk art demonstrations and 40 food booths featuring Ethiopian, Filipino and other mouth-watering ethnic treats. Browse over 30 booths selling African drums, Turkish jewelry, Indian saris and other hand-made items. Learn how to make masks to wear while taking lessons on belly-dancing, Colombian carnival and other ethnic dances. This festival is presented by the International Institute and 125 different community organizations. Not into dancing? Take a seat with your kebab and just people watch. The festival is free to attend. More information at

Loufest Sept 12-13 Billy Idol! Need we say more? The LouFest Music Festival is an annual two-day event in Forest Park. Featuring local, regional and national acts, ranging in style from funk, indie-rock to alt-country and soul. The festival grounds include a children’s stage and village, an environmentally friendly vendor area and a food court featuring restaurants from all over town. Avett Bros, Hozier, Billy Idol, Ludacris,Young the Giant, Nate Ruess (from FUN) and Blue October will be headlining. More information at

The Glo Run August 21 Get your neon tights and tutu’s out! This multi city event comes back to St. Louis this year with a theme: Safari 2015. The Glo Run is a fun-for-all event. Held in Forest Park at night, this 5k attracts everyone. Walk, jog and run for a great cause, The Special Olympics. Price varies for available packages, depending on how much GLO you wanna go. Get a group of friends together for a lowered price. More information at

Sept 4-6

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Festival of Nations Aug 29-30

Big Muddy Blues Festival Every Labor Day weekend, St. Louis’ historic Laclede’s Landing hosts more than 60,000 people from around the country for the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Stumble down the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing and choose between 30+ bands on three stages, providing you more than 18 hours of music. The Big Muddy provides a platform for a wide range of artists who represent the vast genre of Blues, such as soul, R&B, rockabilly, gospel and jazz. Celebrating its 18th year with the Big Muddy Mississippi River itself serving as a poetic backdrop, this event never fails.

Aug 3-9

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Aug 22-23

The St. Louis World’s Fare Heritage Festival is an annual event on a mission to bring together people of the region, showcasing the best elements of art, music, business and food while we rediscover the rich heritage of St. Louis. The celebration will feature events and competitions that embrace the history of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, highlighting the culture of St. Louis today and looking to the future as a stronger, more unified community. Favorite local dishes, family activities, micro and macro brew tastings, live music, historical exhibitions and live art displays are just a part of what you can expect. Network away as the business expo is listed to attend. Support innovative ideas and pitch your own while supporting local small business.

Live In Concert Aug 1- Sep 31

More information at

World’s Fare Heritage Festival:

Balloon Glow Sept 19-20 The 43rd anniversary of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race will be on Central Field by the Jewel Box. The event is walk through only and free and open to the public. The Balloon Glow offers its spectators an amazing up close view of inflated balloons lighted by their burners in a carnival-like atmosphere. Spend the day in Forest Park enjoying live music, taking photographs and watching The Skydivers perform and land in the center of the launch field. This St. Louis staple event is one to lift your spirits and a must if you have yet to experience firsthand. More information at V 



August 2015

Your Guide to Black Pride August 14th: Black Pride Accolades & Opening Reception Location: Kerr Foundation, 21 O'Fallon Street, St. Louis, MO 63102 Doors Open at 6:30pm More Info: Acknowledging Accolades within the community Contact: 314.884.8730 August 14th: The Official St. Louis Black Pride Alter Ego Party Location: Special Times, 5950 Natural Bridge Road Doors Open at 9pm Hosted by: Destynee Luv & Thaitigga Featuring: The Legendary Wonderwoman Leiomy, World Pride 2014’s Suki Lee & Dallas Da Body Tickets: 314.348.9076 August 15th: Black Pride Day Party “Meet & Greet” Location: The Grey Fox, 3503 S Spring Ave, St. Louis, MO 63116 Time 2:00pm – 6pm Hosted By: Paris Armor Admission: school supplies or a $5 Donation August 15th: The Official Black Pride All White Party & Concert Red Carpet at 6pm Hosted by Pebbles Mazzaratie Featuring: Fly Young Red, Andrea Kelly, Invited Guest: The Freaky Boiz Fashion Provided by Tastee Treasures Location: The Ambassador, 9800 Halls Ferry Road Tickets though Metro Tix: 314.534.1111 August 16th: The Official Black Pride Festival Beginning at noon, at the intersection of Sarah & Manchester

BLACK AND THEY’RE THEY’RE NOT NOT PLAYING! PLAYING! BLACK PRIDE PRIDE IS IS BACK, BACK, AND Black Pride has kicked it up a notch after a year-long hiatus, with two event planning heavy hitters— President Randy Rafter and Festival Director Leon Braxton—and a dynamic new Board putting together an unforgettable weekend of events complete with a glitzy, jaw dropping marketing campaign. “This year’s Black Pride Festival Weekend is going to be amazing! First of all the festival is going to held in The Grove on Manchester between Sarah and Talmage. We, The Black Pride Board of Directors, felt it was time to bring the festival to where we as a community patronize, work and live.” Braxton begins. “There are more events to attend this year such as an Alter Ego Show, Day Party benefiting school children and of course The All White Party featuring some major talent in the entertainment industry. Even our festival branding has improved with great exciting graphics with a powerful empowering message. We really worked hard this year to bring our Black LGBTQIA community the best festival possible.” Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend, and they couldn’t have made that any easier than bringing the festival to the heart of the Grove. V 




f you walk down Washington Ave. toward the City Museum in downtown St. Louis, you will come across an Asian cuisine kitchen called Hiro. Walking in, you will find a very modern and stylish restaurant setting with fabulous fixtures and plenty of room for large groups. Hiro Asian Kitchen, located at 1405 Washington Ave, serves contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes from a myriad of countries within Asia. Bernie Lee opened Hiro as a way of bringing his beloved culture to the hustle and bustle of St. Louis, and people are loving it. Hiro has become a staple for many in St. Louis. “I have a passion for food. I love to eat and I love to entertain, so when I was 27 I started my own,” Lee says, which comes as no surprise to the quality of his food and the overall atmosphere of his restaurant. But Lee brought more to his restaurant than Asian cuisine, he is also an innovator of food. Last month, St. Louis’ own Miss Leon, or better known as Dieta Pepsi, brought her famous fried chicken to Hiro. Many will know Miss Leon as the master behind “the best fried chicken in St. Louis.” At her previous establishment, she was known for making dishes that were to be talked about. “We served classic comfort food, soul food,” Miss Leon says. “We had fried chicken, catfish, pork chops, greens, spaghetti, yams, mac n’ cheese, just the general things people love.” Merging that comfort food with Asian flair was somewhat new for the both of them, but her and Lee got


August 2015

together for a melding of minds and culture. They both love food and they both are open for new twists on classic dishes. “I started cooking simply because I love it,” Miss Leon says. “I’ve been cooking since I was eight. I’ve been doing off the side catering and cooking for people, and they were like, ‘Well, you should have your own restaurant!’ So I started my own restaurant.” While the restaurant didn’t work out for the time being, naturally, someone that makes food with a title like, “Best fried chicken in St. Louis” simply cannot let their passion for food go to waste. Lee extended his restaurant as a home for Miss Leon to continue her love of food. “I appreciate talent,” Lee says. Bernie, being the compassionate man that he is, saved Miss Leon from losing her outlet for creativity when he asked her to cook at Hiro until she finds a new place to reopen. “We have a lot of common aspirations and goals and how we treat people,” Miss Leon explained. Lee then invited Miss Leon to stay at Hiro and make her fried chicken and special dishes every Sunday. When asked about what made her fried chicken the best in St. Louis, Miss Leon quickly responds. “Like I said, I’ve been cooking since I was eight; I use my grandmothers recipe, and with the help of some friends we mixed this and mixed that. My chicken has some ingredients, but the best ingredient is love. You have to have passion, and the people can taste that. I touch every

piece of chicken, from start to finish. I wash it, bread it, and clean it. I do everything by hand. I think that’s the part people can taste in my chicken- the love, the energy, the preparation and time that I put into making it.”Some may wonder how in the world these two are going to make fried chicken and Asian Cuisine mesh together. Lee had a quick and easy remark for that question. “There is fried chicken in every culture; we all have fried chicken, I don’t give a shit who you are. All humans fry things, and the chicken is a very common thing,” Lee says. For all those who are worried about change, Miss Leon wants everyone to know that the chicken will basically still be the same, but that they’ve changed some of the sides. “We had a discussion the other day about putting fruit in the potatoes,” she explains. “Like we did apples in them the other Sunday.” Miss Leon, who is not used to dishes such as fruity potatoes, was quite shocked about that suggestion. But when Lee insisted she try some, she found that it was a beautiful merging of cultures. “People love the mashed potatoes,” she says. “We’re still using comfort and classic sides,” Lee says. “That’s where Hiro comes in. I wouldn’t say modified, but made it better.” It would appear that Miss Leon and Bernie have come together in business and are learning a lot from each other. “I am like a sponge,” Miss Leon explains. “I like learning new cooking techniques, different ways of doing things and different cultural techniques. So

I was cooking one way and Bernie suggested, ‘Well, do it this way.’ When I was doing it, Andy (Hiro’s head chef), said ‘let’s do it this way,’ and we accomplished something that was fantastic. It made the dish so much better.” Both Bernie and Miss Leon have received nothing but stellar responses for their new concept. Equally as amazing, the duo have seen little to no food left over, which means people can’t get enough of these new food variations. Just in their first weekend of trying the concept, they entertained a group that started at brunch and stayed until dinner, which is something most restaurants only dream of achieving. Miss Leon also believes that fans of her restaurant will start coming to Hiro in order to have some of the same meals they have had by her in the past. Miss Leon assures them that the chicken will not change, but the sides will have an Asian flair, which has only made them better. Miss Leon and Bernie seem to be on a very strong path that will surely be fruitful. Hiro Asian Kitchen will continue to serve their regular menu items along with the special items made by Miss Leon on Sunday from 4 p.m. until close. V text CURTIS GALLOWAY ART AJ BROWN 



The smart, sensational comedian and actress has more than just star qualities going for her, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The 23 year old has made a foothold for herself in the Los Angeles comedy scene, appearing on stage, in improv, viral videos and big screen features. While she has accomplished a lot for her age, Diona still holds true to her youthful spirit. Her humor and sharp tongue are used as a platform to plug in to the unique audience that she most relates to. And while most anyone who’s seen her could agree that Reasonover is a “funny girl,” her endearing personality and approachable demeanor make her a solid candidate for an up-and-coming Hollywood star to adore. Vital VOICE chatted with Diona about what she has been working on lately, her new sitcom and her response to an ever-changing landscape in the LGBT world.


August 2015 


Diona’s most recent adventure takes her to primetime, where she currently stars in Clipped, a new comedic sitcom on TBS. The set is a Boston barbershop, employed by a group of friends that all went to high school together. Normal group dynamics are mixed in with the quirks of an array of personalities, from the guys that were the “cool kids” to those who identified as the outcasts. With such an eclectic group, Diona makes a key addition to the gang. Still, she feels that a risk was taken when she was cast as her character, Charmaine. “Our casting director, Julia Ashtens, saw me perform and was willing to put me in, even though I had zero credits,” Diona explains. “I’m not kidding; my only credit was Basketball Wives L.A.” But when you look at how Diona portrays her character, one might find that who she is on the show isn’t a long shot from how she actually is in real life. When you cast a sharp, lesbian comedian to play the snappy, bisexual barber, the striking


similarities are clearly there. Yet Diona still thinks that she has her work cut out for her. “Charmaine is so much cooler than me,” Diona says. “She tells it like it is, and she tells the truth. She is very witty, very sharp; she’s smart and observant. We’re going to see a lot of development of her character in upcoming episodes. We’re going to see what makes her tick. And I think that’s fun to explore.” The Cheers meets Barbershop comedy merges a sense of home with the gratification of being around those that you can say almost anything around. The show stars other known names like Ashley Tisdale, George Wendt, Lauren Lapkus and Ryan Pinkston. The cast maintains a solid dynamic both on and off set, remaining committed to its success by taking a hands-on approach. “We shot the pilot a year ago, so we literally had a year to hang out and become friends,” Diona explains. “As a group, we watch every episode together. Every Tuesday, we will watch and live tweet it; it’s really fun. We take our fans seriously, but have fun with them. If people tweet us during the show, there is a chance that we might tweet right back. One of my favorite things to do when someone says something about one of us is to either prove it or disprove it by using a picture; I love sending picture reblogs to people.” That kind of audience interaction is something that tends to be on trend lately. Connecting on such a personal level allows for the cast to gain a more understanding audience, ultimately allowing them to push the envelope further on the show. “I think we do want to push it a little bit, but within good time,” Diona says. “I mean, George Wendt is playing a gay character. So, I think that’s something new for a lot of people who grew up with his character from Cheers. That’s not something you would expect. I think it does push the envelope by challenging ageism, and certain communities- what we consider to be heteronormative, you know? Challenging all those standards.” “There’s also something really cool about representation, which is that I don’t see a lot of bisexual characters [on TV],” Diona continues. “And I don’t feel I see a lot of bisexual characters in a positive light; and Charmaine is that. Traditionally, there isn’t a lot of representation of older queer people, and George is that too. I feel like sometimes we think that queerness stops once you hit 30, and then we are all just old people with cats, and no one has sex anymore. So seeing George and [his partner] Richie (played by Reginald VelJohnson), they create this whole dynamic, and I think that it’s important that we realize that this community is that.” So far, that kind of specialized representation works. There has been nothing but positive vibes coming from Diona when talking about the show’s direction and future. It’s a modern twist on some of the older classics that are embedded in our minds as the traditional style of comedy (You got that right, Norm Peterson and Carl Winslow are now a couple). Breaking the standard of comedy is key in order to attract a loyal audience, especially when the primetime comedic sitcom genre tends to be an ever-revolving door. Diona acknowledges that, which is one of the reasons why she puts such a personal touch on her character on the show. Charmaine comes across like a “Detroit girl,” which is where Diona grew up. Even her accent that she uses on the show is something that she channels from her sister, Elisa. And that sharp-tongued wit that you see from Charmaine is something that is inspired by the characters that she grew up around. Creating characters and impersonating others is something that she has been doing for quite some time, and is what really got her noticed in the world of acting. It’s that act of improvising, whether with her own original content or a written script, that she can make the character her own. “Scripted is so different than improv in a way, but it’s also really not because they give us such good stuff that all you have to do is listen and respond,” Diona explains. “I’m lucky that I get to work with a group of people on the show that really feels like an ensemble. I’m just literally doing the exact same thing that I would be doing in an improv show: listening and responding.” Be it raw acting, improvising or impersonation, Diona references her Midwestern family and upbringing as a prime ingredient in how she personalizes her


August 2015

characters. “Growing up in Detroit, you just get a feel and a really interesting view of the world,” she says. “Those are my favorite people to be. The people that really seem genuinely, deeply entrenched in their own beliefs, no matter what they are.” She sees that value, a positive, in those that she may not even see eye to eye with, remarkably those within her own family. “We are really close,” Diona says while talking about her family bond. “My mom is still in Detroit, and I have brothers and sisters in various parts of the country. My family is super supportive, but they firmly and greatly believe in that sect of religion that teaches them that homosexuality is wrong or immoral.” Coming out was assuredly a challenge, as it would be for the innumerable amount of people who have been in a related type of situation. But that didn’t hold her back from being the bold and blunt person that she has naturally always been. “They loved me. But for them, they believed that me not being gay would be the best thing for me,” she explains. “Like it was literally life or death for them. So it became very hard. And to be honest, they didn’t accept it when I first came out. They still are very much so wrestling with that.” But while they wrestle, Diona is already on the move and making strides when it comes to being an out and proud lesbian. She has been with her girlfriend for two years now. “My mom met my girlfriend for the first time, so that was a really big step because she had never met anyone that I was dating,” Diona says. “And she had never been out to California, so for both of those things to happen simultaneously was kind of a lot. But it’s great, and I was kind of proud of her. She showed such grace. And my girlfriend too, they both showed such grace. I was nervous about them meeting each other- the show was happening and a whole bunch of different stuff was happening, and I was just like, ‘I can’t deal with this stuff.’ So, I shoved them both in the living room while I cooked dinner. I was in the kitchen cooking and I was so frantic, burning myself and cutting myself. They just heard me cursing and grunting in the kitchen. And when I came out, I thought that they’re going to be sitting at the opposite ends of the room not talking, or they’re going to be at each other. But they were having the longest conversation I’d ever seen, something about kidnapped women and sharing their stories about what could be next for these girls. At first, I was like ‘okay cool’ and I left. And then I came back and they were talking about another case of kidnapped people. Then I was like, ‘all right, this is getting ridiculous!’”

I mean? I’m talking about making a conscientious choice. I’m going to show her love.” “People who have that entire backlash that ‘we’re going to fight this thing’ are sore losers, I’m telling you,” Diona continues. “It’s like, ‘which side of history do you want to be on?’ Do you want to be on the right side fighting for equality, or do you want to be on the backward side? People have made their choices. As a so-called “triple threat” when it comes to her minority status, she is very aware of the challenges that she has faced and will continue to deal with. “It’s a lot. It’s a shame that a community that’s been marginalized can be so quick to turn around to people and say like, ‘This isn’t right, you should behave like this,’” she explains. “And I feel it, so it’s one of those things. We are a lot stronger than we have to be, and sometimes with that strength comes pride. It’s the same thing that my family believes, that homosexuality is a life or death thing. We have to come together and realize that people can make their own life choices.” Diona finds a way to translate her distinction into something that can be used for the greater good. We’ve all felt a bit ‘different’ at times, we’ve all been in uncomfortable situations and we’ve all been able to overcome fears. The best way for her to overcome her own struggles is to use what she does best: humor. “Find a way to laugh at your pain,” Diona says in closing. “The sooner you can do that, the better. Because it gives you agency; I believe it does. It gives you agency and it gives you power. Also, everyone can invest in a good sofa. Recently, I had no money and no sofa, and I was sitting on random camp chairs and what not; what a lesbian here with this whole camping equipment! But now that I have a sofa, I feel like I’m in the lap of luxury. And it’s cheap- it’s from Ashley Furniture. Do you guys have Ashley furniture in St. Louis?” We sure do Diona. Still can’t find a reason to not love her? Neither can we. Catch Clipped on TBS Tuesdays at 10/9c. V text KEVIN SCHMIDT art JESSICA CASTRO

Things seem to be progressing along quite smoothly for Diona and her girlfriend now, but she is by no means in any rush to start a family of her own. With a solid career on the home front, she is grateful for the opportunities that being on openly gay actress offer in an ever-changing and ever-evolving society. The ruling this past June was undoubtedly a milestone for millions of Americans, even in California where marriage equality has been alive and well for a few years now. Although it’s nothing new for some, it’s a positive change for most, including Diona. “[The ruling] means the same thing it’s always meant, which is that you have to accept those people who are in your family, and you love them unconditionally,” Diona says. “Listen, my sister drives me nuts. She’s always doing something, commenting on my clothes. And she’s not always the most progressive. That’s very frustrating, but I love her. I chose it and I made that choice, do you know what




It’s Kansas City. Maybe it’s because we’re in the center of the country that our views on love are more balanced. Or perhaps it’s because we’re big enough to have world-class destinations like The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art that make for an amazing cultural experience, but small enough to know that we’re all quite the same on the inside. Whatever it is, one thing is clear. There’s more to love in Kansas City.


August 2015


The Frye Family Volunteers for Change For many people, if you ask them what family means to them, they will likely tell you that family is the group of people who accept you no matter what happens. There is no hatred; There is no judgment. They love unconditionally and work as a powerful unit. It is not usually a decision based solely upon blood relation. There is a family here in Kansas City that lives this definition of selflessness and acceptance - the Frye family.

Rick and Anne Frye began dating when they were 14 years old. This good-hearted

couple boasts a marriage that has endured an impressive 35 years thus far. Their hearts are so full of love that they brought seven children into this world. What may be even more impressive than the size of their family is that their love is so grand, so expansive, that it overfilled the cup in their life and trickled into the LGBT community. Anne Frye, who is a part of the steering committee for the KC AIDS Walk, is a friendly woman whose smile can easily brighten any room she enters. Upon asking her what family meant to her, she eagerly explained her interpretation.“Family is about accepting people for who they are, 24/7,” Anne says. “It does not matter where you live or how much money you have.” Her husband Rick, a seemingly quiet man who is sure to surprise with bits of bluntness and comical remarks, explained family as individuals who are willing to go out of their way to help others.“It is being able to go up to someone and ask, ‘What can we do for you today,’ and know they will do the same,” he says. The Fryes certainly know the value of their family and their actions back that up. Their journey of compassion and acceptance began decades ago. The couple began frequenting LGBT bars when Kansas City’s The Edge was still in business. Those who have been around KC long enough may remember that The Edge was the club to go to for techno and house music back in the 80s before the owner passed away in a tragic event. Rick still speaks proudly of the fact that they were generally embraced by the community, even though they were a straight couple in a predominately LGBT bar. On a miscellaneous night, the couple happened into Missie B’s –then owned by Michael Burnes. They were one of the first straight couples to frequent the establishment. It was in this bar that Rick became good friends with a man named Harvey Menez. This man changed their lives forever by touching their hearts deeply. Sadly, he passed away in 2000 after his battle with AIDS. This heart-breaking loss caused Anne and Rick to become increasingly involved in the gay community. One of the ways they do this is by helping to raise money with the hope of ridding the 



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is about “ Family accepting people for

who they are, 24/7,” Anne says. “It does not matter where you live or how much money you have.

world of this disease which, Anne is keen on clarifying, affects more than just the gay community. Rick began participating in Missie B’s Angel Tree fundraiser that takes place every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He has been graciously volunteering his time for the past 15 years in support of his extended family. This particular event raises money for the Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care clinic – a non-profit organization. Missie B’s general manager, Jan Allen, reported in 2014 having raised $5,600. Due to their strong involvement in the LGBT community, their youngest son, Andy, grew up with a different outlook on life than most children.“Growing up in the gay community was different,” Andy says, “I always had fun and always felt loved, but it was hard at times. Since I matured at a much younger age – because of the people I was around – I never really could get along with anybody my age, which is rough whether you’re nine or 19. But now as I’m 21, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve met some of the best people that have ever graced this earth. One of my all-time favorite things about the way I grew up was that I was able to learn life lessons at a lot younger age than most kids.” Andy began volunteering for the Kansas City AIDS Walk when he was 13 years old, although he had been participating in the walk since he was just one year old. Incredibly, that means that last year marked his twentieth year walking. This ambitious and caring young man truly began following in the footsteps of his parents when he decided to organize a fundraiser while in high school named “Jamming for the Cure,” which was in support of his extended family. He organized to have musicians perform in the Shawnee Mission High School auditorium which, he says, made for an intimate setting. “It was something I had been wanting to do for a long time,” Andy says. “I figured since the community had done so much for me, I wanted to give a little back. My biggest goal was to raise awareness.” Unfortunately, this good deed did not start as well as he had hoped. While he was selling $5 tickets at lunch one day, the principal came up to him and told him he needed to refund the money to all of the students who had purchased a ticket.

successful it would be.“I was scared,” Andy explains. “I didn’t think anybody was going to come because I felt like I had no support at all. It actually ended up going just fine – people responded really well.” So well, in fact, that Andy managed to raise $600 from his peers for the community he knew and loved so well. In addition, he received support from the baseball teams – who were required to attend the fundraiser in support of the cause. This ambitious young man also made a video as a thank you to Michael Burnes in 2011. Little did he know that the video would be played during that year’s Angel Tree fundraiser event. He was not at the club to watch the reaction of everyone who saw the video that night, but his parents recalled emotional moments when people in the audience began crying. Many of them even went up to the empty stage to offer money in support of the event. Since that night, Andy has been performing live alongside his father.“It is one of the coolest things I have been a part of,” Andy said flashing one of his genuine, heartwarming smiles. He spoke avidly about how supporting the cause made him feel wonderful, describing how the moments he used to enjoy participating in high school theater could not compare to the sense of satisfaction he receives on the Missie B’s stage raising money for a great cause. According to him, it is far more rewarding to help children in need of essentials for the holiday season. Even though Andy faced many highs and lows most children growing up never encounter, he has many positive reflections. The Fryes provide us with an important reminder that the word “family” knows no boundaries. No matter who you are, where you are from or how much money you possess, this family has shown us that we should all work together to make our world just a little bit better. We may not only find happiness from our selfless actions, but we may be fortunate enough to extend our families and our love. “When you hit the ‘adult’ age, “Andy says, “you have to really think back and ask yourself, ‘Did I have a great childhood?’ I can thankfully look back and say ‘yes, I did – every single time.’ I have a whole community I would consider family. That’s how I grew up, and I loved every minute of it.” V text AJ BROWN

Andy says that most of the students returned their tickets, but surprisingly refused to take back their money. He was eventually able to continue with his fundraiser after making his case, but not without his head being filled with doubts about how




Eat, sip, bid and have a ter-ruff-fic time as the Saint Louis Effort for AIDS (EFA) kicks off the 10th annual Art of PAWS event at Gallery 400 on Saturday, August 8 from 7-11 p.m. This fundraiser also kicks off the Thirst for Life event, which benefits PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support). PAWS is a program of EFA that provides resources to people living with HIV/AIDS so they may keep pet companions as long as possible. PAWS strongly supports the deep bond of family between people and pets and strives to ensure that clients do not experience the loss of pets due to financial hardship, lack of transportation or hospitalization. Pets are a premier source of unconditional love and support that is irreplaceable to people living with HIV/AIDS. Art of PAWS is a fun-filled night, presented by Feast Magazine, that will feature music, entertainment, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and specialty drinks from sponsors. In addition, guests can cast their vote in the BEAM Cocktail Challenge and 34

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bid on litters of silent auction items from local St. Louis artists, autographed memorabilia, event tickets and much more. More than 350 people attend this event every year “Each year, this event grows in the money raised and in the awareness it creates for the PAWS program,” EFA Director of Community Relations Jenna Chierek says. “It’s an amazing night out on the town while supporting the health and happiness of our PAWS pets and their families. This year we will have a few new emerging artists and a new art section called the ‘Silk Purse’ section.” There are numerous ways PAWS helps people with their pets. PAWS supplies pet food, heartworm and flea and tick prevention medications, provides discounted veterinary services through PAWS partner vets, coordinates transportation to veterinary appointments, facilitates pet education for people with suppressed immune systems and foster care and re-homing assistance for one’s pet if necessary. According to Chierek, the increased awareness for the program has resulted in a larger list for those waiting for services – increasing from 55 to 67. “The proceeds from the Art of PAWS and Thirst for Life events help sustain 70 pets currently receiving services and work toward eliminating the wait list,” she says. If you cannot attend the Art of PAWS fundraiser, there are other ways to help out. One may contribute a financial donation, donate gift cards for pet food and supplies, deliver food and supplies or assist on food day. One may also help out in transporting pets and emergency foster care. For more information on the PAWS program or to purchase tickets for Art of PAWS, visit V




contact: 314.256.1196 



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August 2015



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The Roberts’ had decided with their lesbian friends, Mary and Bobbi, that they would father their children if they became the mother of theirs. The two families became one family with Mary and Bobbi raising their child Zoe and Harrison and David to raise their own child. Harrison explained that they were following similar footsteps of one of their friends. “He, 10 or 11 years ago, had a baby with his lesbian best friend,” Harrison explains about his friend. “At the time 11 years ago, they had no idea how custody or any of those things worked. They didn’t have as many rights as we do now, so they actually got married so that they could legally protect themselves in regards to their rights over the baby. So we were like, ‘Look! Gay guys and lesbians do get together and have babies!’ They are both very involved in their daughter’s life, and we liked that setup that they had going on.”

Harrison & David Roberts


Soon after the Roberts’ found out that Bobbi was pregnant, doctors informed the Roberts’ that they were expecting twins. The news was nothing short of a big surprise to the couple. The pregnancy was smooth, but because it was twins, they required more doctor visits to ensure the health of the babies and the mother.

Some of you may remember this couple from previous issues of Vital VOICE, and they are back with more great news. Harrison and David Roberts have taken the next step in their relationship and started a family. What was supposed to be one turned into two bundles of joy, Elaine and Drake, and they could not be happier. The twins were born on April 20 of this year, and, of course, Vital VOICE had to meet them.

“They were early; they came at 34 weeks and six days,” Harrison says. “So basically, that’s the point when the lungs are finishing up their development. Her lungs were good, but his lungs weren’t ready just yet. So he had to be put on a breathing machine and oxygen for a couple days.”The only other bump in the road was when they discovered that the twins had not yet developed their sucking reflex for feeding. It required just a few days in the hospital, but after that they were in the clear and able to move forward with a sense of relief.

“I think we always knew going in that we wanted to have kids,” Harrison says. “We were like, ‘Well we know we want to have kids, but what does that mean?’” Harrison and David began researching the process that gay couples would need to follow to have children, as well as the costs and timeframes involved with the processes such as adoption and surrogacy.

Many same-sex couples that have children tend to worry about how the hospital will react and treat the parents to be. In the Roberts’ case, SSM St. Joseph Hospital West was beyond accommodating. Typically after a child is born and the mother is discharged, she is allowed to stay in the hospital with the baby if she is breastfeeding. The rest of the family is not allowed to stay in the hospital during this time.


August 2015

“Typically when they would go ahead and ask that the mom leave the hospital, they still let us stay even though we weren’t providing breast milk or there was nothing that we were necessarily doing for them,” Harrison explains. “So Bobbi was discharged, but they treated us as if we were mothers trying to breastfeed,” David continues. “So they let us stay,” Despite the smooth hospital experience, the Roberts ran into some roadblocks when it came to the parentage on the birth certificate. When a heterosexual couple has a child, the mother and the husband of the mother can be granted parental status, whether or not the male parent is the biological father. Recently Missouri changed the vital record policy this February to include lesbian couples. However, this does not include gay couples. “There has to be a woman on the birth certificate,” David explains. In order for both Harrison and David to be on the birth certificates, extra processes are required. “We have to go through a second parent adoption process, which is thousands of dollars more,” Harrison says. “You have to get a criminal background check, and you have to get someone from the court to visit you at home and make sure that the home situation is fine. We have to go through all these steps and it takes a number of months to do what a heterosexual couple wouldn’t have to do.” Even though this family has to take extra steps, they couldn’t be happier. Many times with twins, parents find that the children have identical personalities or the complete opposite. With Elaine and Drake, their different personalities seem to compliment one another.

“I think they’re night and day,” David says. “I think they are very different, but both in positive ways. In the first two months, she tended to be the fussier one, but now she’s kind of chilling out.” “She’s cuddlier too,” Harrison elaborates. “She likes being held, I think. That calms her down more than it does for him. He’s like ‘I’m mad and I’m going to be mad,’ and she’s like ‘I’m mad, but if you are going to hold me, I’ll be alright.’” Harrison and David discussed their family dynamic and how it has changed since having children. “We are still getting used to our schedule,” Harrison says. “The babies haven’t slept through the night, so there has been no gym time.” But the happy couple still finds time for themselves. “The grandmas are really great about letting us go out to dinner while they watch them,” Harrison adds. However, most of the time Harrison and David are happily with their children, as any new parents would be. Being new parents, they also know how much other people absolutely flock to newborn babies. The family has experienced this first hand. “A lot people that know us or are friends with us on Facebook will come running up and say ‘Well, hey daddy!.” Harrison says. “And in the gay community that means one thing, but they say it as a joke now because we really are daddies now.” 


Sitting across the table, David and Harrison looked like the perfect examples of loving parents with their beautiful children. The couple said that their greatest hope is that their children grow up happy and successful in anything they do. “You know, you hear great things about kids that grow up with same-sex parents,” Harrison explains. “That they generally are more adjusted, that they do better in school and all these other statistics just because their parents chose to have them, they worked to have them and they put in that effort with them. But you do hear some bad things, like that they get teased for having gay parents, and so I hope that by the time they’re in school it’s not that big of an issue.” The family is very thankful for their experience so far and would not change a thing. They are very thankful for the wonderful family they have formed with the mothers, Mary and Bobbi, and their children Nicole, Patrick, Zoe and Nicole’s daughter, Brooke. It would seem that the Roberts family has the support and the love they need to have a happy and healthy future. And in case if you were wondering since the last time we spoke with them: Yes, Harrison is still a selfproclaimed a stroller snob. V



August 2015

Open through September 27 Tickets are available at the Art Museum, through MetroTix or by phone at 314.534.1111. Free on Fridays. This exhibition has been organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. Education Programs supported by The Dana Brown Charitable Trust, U.S. Bank, Trustee. Financial support has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. Unidentified artist: Bird Figure (detail), ex-Bohumil Holas; wood; height: 54 5/16 inches; Private collection; Photo: Jon Lamm

Open Tuesday–Sunday, Always Free

Now Open! FREE admission

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Missouri History Museum Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park

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THE Definition of


The Aul Family


There is no getting around the fact that we are all members of a family. Whether you want them around or not, they made us who we are today. Family is a source of comfort and strength to some, whereas they are a source of anger and alienation to others. No matter what, family should come first because they are the people you are supposed to rely and lean on for support. The Aul family is a prime example of this.

During this time, the local high schools had no Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs, so Emerson received lots of support and information from Growing American Youth meetings. This is how Jill and Bill learned about the parent support group organization, PFLAG. Shortly thereafter, Jill decided to start a St. Charles chapter that is still running today, 10 years later.

Bill and Jill Aul are the parents of two sons, Emerson and Brady. However, like millions of others, Bill and Jill are also the parents of an LGBT child. Emerson is a transgender male, but identified as a lesbian before the transition.

“For the next 10 years, we supported our lesbian daughter and became very involved in the local LGBT community,” she says. It wasn’t until later in life that Emerson began to see his gender difference. However, he says that he has always been different.

“Since birth, our child has been a normal, bright, happy, wonderful person and acted very cisgender in every way,” Jill says. “He was involved in gender typical sports and activities as a young child, and in late elementary school, became interested in peers of the opposite sex. It wasn’t until freshman year of high school that our daughter at the time came out as a lesbian. It was a complete shock to us, especially since s/ he had a boyfriend at the time. Once that relationship ended, however, our child only dated people who were the same gender that s/he was at the time – female.”

“Like all identities, my life was always a product of many intersections,” he says. “I always felt different and I had a lot of reasons why. I was drawn to the identity of lesbian immediately when I learned about it. I realized I was attracted to other girls in fifth grade. As I got older and joined Growing American Youth, my LGBT world expanded and I certainly felt less different. I knew transgender people existed and met one trans guy at group. I identified with his experience, but felt like it was too big of a change, that it would be impossible to transition. I also identified with lesbians, especially very butch ones. I began to make

August 2015

more and more masculine choices in clothing, habits (like shaving) and roles. I was okay identifying as a butch during high school.” Emerson officially came out as trans in March 2014. Even though Jill has come to know quite a few transgender people through her associations with PFLAG and many other groups, Emerson’s second coming out still gave her a shock. “Little by little, his presentation had become more and more masculine, but I personally interpreted that as a ‘butch’ lesbian expression,” she says. “Despite a decade of exposure and experience, it was a complete surprise to me when he came out as trans.” Bill’s reaction, on the other hand, took a little bit of time to form. “I was told by Jill before I talked to Emerson,” he says. “After 10 years of Emerson presenting himself in masculine clothes, the transition to male was not a big change. I will say that I don’t understand the need to transition, but I do understand happiness and Emerson is so happy now. My biggest challenge has been learning to use the proper pronouns. I also had a huge sense of loss when Emerson had the top surgery. To me, it was losing my daughter. I felt this loss for a couple of days and talked about it with Jill and friends. Emerson’s happiness in transitioning was so apparent that my feeling of loss changed to joy for my son and who he is.” “I believe it is many fathers’ fear that they didn’t raise their son to be a ‘man,’” he continues. “They see themselves in their son and they fear that they have failed as a father. At our PFLAG meetings, we have had many fathers attend who love their sons, and eventually realize social pressures are not more important than their sons. I wish that all fathers could arrive at the same realization.” Statistics state that 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide and 14 transgender people have been killed in the United States this year. Children and adults are being harassed every day at school and work. People have to choose between being themselves and not speaking to their families ever again. Luckily, Emerson had no fear in telling his parents about his decision to transition. “It felt perfectly right,” he says. “My parents had been involved with the LGBT Center as allies and knew trans folks. I knew they would accept me, and I knew in the unlikely event that they wouldn’t, I would be okay. My family has always been accepting of me no matter who I was, or what I wanted to do.” According to Jill, it was odd for her to share the information about Emerson’s transition to her family, friends and acquaintances at first, since he told them shortly before heading out on a trip to celebrate a family birthday in another state where they would be spending a long weekend with extended family. “We all decided to share the news ahead of time, so that everyone could begin using his new name and male pronouns,” Jill says. “It was also strange to identify myself as the parent of a transgender child, after being such a vocal and public mother of a lesbian. I remember passing out blue foil wrapped chocolate cigars at the first PFLAG meeting we had after he came out, to celebrate our ‘new son.’ It was joyous, fun and exciting. But to be honest, there have been difficult times for me throughout this process. I worried about telling my 88-year-old father, but after Emerson came out to him, he was completely accepting as it turns out. I worry about the long-term effects of the medical intervention involved and I worry about how my son will be treated in public, the work place, legally, etc. There is definitely a grieving process involved for a parent, any time they learn that the child that they thought they had is different in any way from who they actually are. “All of those concerns, however, are pale in comparison to the idea of living a life that is not authentic,” she continues. “All of us deserve to be happy and to be our true selves. My son is a strong, independent, intelligent, driven, kind, funny, articulate, sensitive, amazing person,

“All of those concerns, however, are pale in comparison to the idea of living a life that is not authentic,” she continues. “All of us deserve to be happy and to be our true selves. My son is a strong, independent, intelligent, driven, kind, funny, articulate, sensitive, amazing person, and he always has been. That will never change. My family means the world to me, and there is nothing that either of my kids could ever do that would stop me from loving and supporting them. I’ve received no negative backlash, and I don’t expect any. Although if I ever did, it wouldn’t matter one bit. It would probably make me a fiercer activist!” Emerson’s family means the world to him and he has a lot of respect for his parents. “My mom has always put me and my brother first,” Emerson says. “She is the most generous, honest, hard-working, dedicated and passionate person I know. I was shocked when she founded the PFLAG chapter. I don’t know how it happened, but in high school, I always though she was less accepting than she was. A lot of people think she founded the St. Charles PFLAG chapter because of me, but that’s not true. She did it for the families that needed support. She didn’t even tell me she was going to organize the group until the papers were signed and a meeting was scheduled. She saw other parents whose kids were coming out, and she knew she could help them see that everything was okay.” “My dad is kind and open-minded,” he continues. “I actually came out as lesbian to my dad first. It must have been a year or two before I came out to my mom or my friend even. When my mom takes on a project, my dad is always there to support it. The pair of them make a good team. My dad is happy and proud to stand backstage with the camera, and the accounting books.”

“All of us deserve to be happy and to be our true selves. My son is a strong, independent, intelligent, driven, kind, funny, articulate, sensitive, amazing person, and he always has been. In addition, Emerson has always had a strong and solid relationship with his brother, Brady. “He has always been there for me,” Emerson says. “We have always had a lot of fun together. He gets lost in these PFLAG stories about my mom and her family. He used to stand up to kids who made hateful comments about LGBT people and wrote a paper about how I was his hero in the eighth grade. My brother is the only person who never got my name wrong when I changed it. His initial reaction was, ‘whatever, gender is stupid.’” Emerson is currently in a committed relationship with a woman named Sarah who he trusts immensely. He loves and appreciates all the love, care and support she shows for him. The two were legally married in March of this year. As for those who are struggling to accept themselves and who do not have the kind of relationship that Emerson has with his family, he has a bit of advice for you. “All it takes to have the strength to cope with strong emotions is to have strong emotions,” he says. “If you are feeling terrible, then you are strong enough to handle terrible.” V 



August 2015


U LT R A •

saint louis scene • 




OKLAHOMA! The Muny - August 10th - 16th

Gallery 400 - August 8th

This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic features an unforgettable story and lush score including such classic hits as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and of course, “Oklahoma!” The Muny is America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre.

Eat, sip and bid at The Art of PAWS! with music & entertainment. Silent auction items from local Saint Louis artists, autographed memorabilia, tickets to awesome events and more!! Help keep pets in fur-ever loving homes and have a ter-ruff-ic fun time!


Budweiser Burger Battle Kaufmann Park - 8/2

BIANCA DEL RIO: ROLLODEX OF HATE The Sheldon Concert Hall August 15th

St. Louis - Get ready to LOL! Here comes RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio with the “Rolodex Of Hate” comedy special. Vital Voice in association with Murray & Peter proudly presents a night of outrageous comedy that has sold out around the world. Now it’s your turn to #lovethehate!



August 2015

Kelly Clarkson Hollywood Casino Amphitheater - 8/2

Black Pride Citywide - 8/14-8/16 Blackpridestl.or

Blue Max Annual Live Charity Auction JJ’s Clubhouse & Bar 8/15

Nine Dollar Bill: Jazz & Burlesque Lilly’s Music & Social House - 8/20

Chippendales RiverCity Casino 8/28-8/29

Festival Of Nations Tower Grove Park 8/29-8/30


Missie B’s 1st Marriage Equality Day Missie B’s - August 8th

Black Bewitched!

Missie B’s, Kansas City’s premier gay bar, is celebrating Marriage Equality by throwing one full day of Fabulous Free Gay Weddings! 15 couples will receive free weddings beginning at noon and running until 6:00 p.m. Plus, the couples will tie the knot with some of Kansas City’s favorite celebrities as officiates

Missie B’s - August 28th Late Night Theater is back with Black Bewitched! The whimsy of the late night theater is in full effect as one hilarious night merges the of wit, slapstick humor of campy comedy with classic charm of the Bewitched characters we all love. And in true Late Night fashion, it is safe to say that every show is going to be different, and you never really know what to expect.

Kansas City Comic Con 2015 Bartle Hall - 8/7 - 8/9

Slide The City Downtown Kansas City 8/8 - 8/9

Idina Menzel Starlight Theatre 8/12

Bear Crossing 2: The Sequel Hotel 816 8/13 - 8/16

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly Musical Theater Heritage - 8/13 - 8/30

Ethnic Enrichment Kessler Park - August 22nd Festival Swope Park Through sportsmanship, community 8/22 presence, and goodwill, the Rainbow

KEVIN HART “WHAT NOW?” Tour RiverCity Casino 8/28-8/29

BACONFEST Tower Grove Park 8/29-8/30

Rainbow run 5k Run 5K for Equality + Diversity will help raise awareness to the differences and similarities found in different communities, cultures and backgrounds. Our goal is to raise awareness and support for all organizations that align with our mission. 



h t i w


contact: 314.256.1196


August 2015

last call


Tai Nguyen

As the proprietor and chef, you can catch Tai either working behind the scenes or on the floor most any time the doors are open at Café Trio. The hottest time to swing by? “Friday happy hour and evening!” Tai says. “It’s the start of the weekend and everyone’s ready to have fun. The Plaza lighting party on Thanksgiving is awesome too!” The obvious choice for Tai’s favorite part of his job is the clientele. “For a small independent restaurant to succeed you need your regulars, and our regulars are amazing!” Tai explains. “I’m truly thankful to have the opportunity to get to know and become friends with some of our regulars.”

Café Trio “Pure urban sophistication.” How else would you describe the hip and glamorous mix of great food with signature martinis, blended with a splash of elegant jazz that is Café Trio? “We offer a casual but elegant atmosphere that includes live music, local artwork and KC’s best outdoor dining,” Tai explains. “I would describe our clientele as eclectic. Everyone’s a VIP (or think they are).”

Besides sipping on the Anna May Wong, Tai enjoys any cocktail that includes exotic Asian fruit. “Because I am one!” he laughs. “Mix Pearl Coconut Vodka, a little bit of coconut milk, and muddled Rambutan, Jack Fruit or Durian, and I’m sold.” When he’s not muddling away at the bar, you can find Tai taking his three dogs to park behind his house to chase rabbits. “They hate rabbits,” he adds.

Besides providing warm hospitality and great food in a stunning environment, Café Trio believes in giving back to the community that has given them so much over the past 11 years. “Some of our favorite events include AIDS Walk and Dining out for Life,” he says. Café Trio is located at 4558 Main St, just off the Plaza. For more information on the café and to browse their menus, check them out at café

The Anna May Wong Fizz 2 oz Pomegranate Pearl Vodka 1 oz Lychee Simple Syrup .75 oz Lemon Juice Splash grenadine One of the featured starlets in the lounge. Try it with the Prince Edward Island Mussels in their white wine garlic cream broth, one of their signature bar appetizers. 



Pamper Yourself. Support the Cause. Book a 50-minute Your Choice Massage or a 50-minute Classic Facial and ask for the “Pride St. Louis Spa Package”. Guests will pay the retail rate and Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis will donate a portion of sales to Pride St. Louis, Inc. Call 314-881-5758 or visit

Void for persons ineligible to game or excluded from Lumière Place Casino for any reason. Must be age 21 or older to gamble. Gambling problem? Call 1-888-BETSOFF. ©2014 Casino One Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

August 2015  

The Family Issue - Diona Reasonover - Vital VOICE Magazine

August 2015  

The Family Issue - Diona Reasonover - Vital VOICE Magazine