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LA’s musical theater scene is upgrade of all things ‘80s

A few choice words about Dirty Dancing and more

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Colt Prattes’ transformation is a sight for sore eyes. But only in LA would his before have been considered in need of improvement! (Photo courtesy Colt Prattes)

“Actually I had to lose 20-30 pounds for the movie because nobody was that big in the ’60s,” Colt Prattes talks about preparing for ABC’s version of Dirty Dancing. Three guesses where those 20-30 pounds ended up.

Let’s call this a tale of two shows: The Bodyguard and Jersey Boys. LA recently played host to touring companies of both shows. The Bodyguard is, of course, based on the Whitney Houston film of 1992. Alas, the stage adaptation is short on dialogue – or plot. The script seems structured to link together the 20 songs almost solely sung by the phenomenal Deborah Cox (two songs are sung by others). Given the fact that she is virtually carrying the entire musical and doing six shows a week (no matinee Cox), it’s almost understandable that Deborah holds back somewhat. However, I wouldn’t be overstating things to say that her performance had all the energy of a latter-day Sunny von Bulow. Even with her abilities in check, one cannot deny that voice. And certainly she dances better than Whitney. But her comatosed performance in a show with major structural deficiencies made for a wholly unsatisfying evening. But I should add two important points. First, Cox and company let loose for the post-show mini-concert, which was almost worth the price of admission. Second, practically every performance on the tour has been sold out, and audiences respond enthusiastically.

Then we have Jersey Boys, led by Mark Ballas from Dancing with the Stars at the Ahmanson. Unlike The Bodyguard, Jersey Boys is a well-structured, well-written, and well-directed show. Like The Bodyguard, the brunt of the vocal burden falls on the star – although he was able assistance by the rest of the Four Seasons. To say Ballas is not much of a singer or actor would be an understatement. His strain in trying to approximate Frankie Valli’s unique sound is evident from the first note. One wondered how he would get through the second act – let alone five shows a week (like Cox, Ballas doesn’t do matinees. He also has something else to do Saturday nights). Predictably, Ballas ran into trouble as the show went on. Unlike Miss Cox, Ballas pushes what limited resources he has to extraordinary lengths. While he is often painful to listen to, one can’t deny that he wants this – and wants it badly. And, like The Bodyguard, the show is a crowd-pleaser. And, on opening night, the real Frankie Valli came onstage to congratulate Ballas and company.

I was able to go to Seth Rudetsky and partner James Wesley’s Concert For America. Each month, they do a benefit concert in a different city to raise money for great charities, nurture grassroots activism, and deliver stellar performances. For May, it was Los Angeles’ Royce Hall at UCLA. What was the highlight? Marissa Jaret Winokur recreating the opening of Hairspray (and later joining co-stars Laura Bell Bundy, Mary Bond Davis, and Paul Vogt)? Chita Rivera returning to Chicago? Ben Vereen recalling Pippin? For me, it was Helen Reddy belting out “I Am Woman” and Melissa Manchester singing “Midnight Blue.” Special kudos to my pals Alec Mapa and Wendy Liebman, who killed. You can get more details on upcoming events at ConcertsForAmerica.com. Some clips will inevitably appear on my website.

And now, I’m going to do something unexpected. I am not going to bash ABC’s Dirty Dancing. But, just to be clear, I’m not going to praise it either. I’m going to say, “Eh.” I have my usual Billy issues – like when a string section comes in and there are no strings on the set, or when people sometimes sing into a mike and other times toss it aside and the sound doesn’t change. I’ve gotten used to the fact that nobody cares about those things except for me. I find it interesting that a show called Dirty Dancing had very little I’d call “dirty” or “dancing.” My former editor at the now-defunct Frontiers magazine reminded me that way back in 2008, he put Colt Prattes on the cover in some skimpy swimwear. Colt was in town with the touring company of A Chorus Line, so he was joined by fellow cast mates John Carroll and Anthony Wayne. You can see that photo – and several other dirty snaps of Colt’s assets – on BillyMasters.com.

Pretty Woman will become a musical for the 2018-2019 Broadway season, directed by my beloved Jerry Mitchell. A musical based on Tootsie is being written by David Yazbek, also for Broadway. Rumor has it that a musical based on Soapdish is in the works for London’s West End starring Kristin Chenoweth. And maybe it’s me, but I can’t think of a film less appropriate for musicalization than Gorillas in the Mist.

Speaking of gorillas (and how often does one get to say that), Netflix signed a deal in Cannes for the rights to show Bubbles, a film about Michael Jackson’s beloved chimp. I’m all in if that chimp can sing!

For our Ask Billy question, we turn to Henry from Long Beach: “I know you’ll make fun of me, but I loved Shake It Up on the Disney Channel. Someone told me Kenton Duty is gay. Do you know if he is?”

I would never make fun of a fan – especially one who writes me (and is a member of my website). The truth is, I had no idea what a Kenton Duty is – but it sounds like Pepto-Bismol would clear it right up! Upon a bit of research, I find that Duty is a hot blond guy who played the rather girlie Gunther on Shake It Up opposite that triple threat, Bella Thorne (who just broke up with a Kardashian-in-law, which is neither here nor there). Whilst I can neither confirm nor deny his sexual inclinations (I never worked with him), I don’t suppose you’d like to see his penis, would you? ‘Cause he joins that growing list of young men who have videos pleasuring themselves. What he lacks in length he makes up for in girth, as you’ll see on BillyMasters.com.

When I’m prescribing a cure for a Disney star, it’s definitely time to end yet another column. You know, I’m kinda surprised that someone from Shake It Up is making a jerk-off video. It sounds more like “Shake It Off.” You’ll find more than scintillating wit on www.BillyMasters.com – the site that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Taylor Swift.

And, like Henry, you can send your questions to me at [email protected] and I promise to get back to you before Sigourney stars in the musical Gorillas in the Mist – as the gorilla! Until next time, remember, one man’s filth is another man’s bible.

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Best of LGBTQ+ LA 2022

Our fifth annual special issue celebrates your favorites in nightlife, dining, activism, and more

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Welcome to the fifth annual special issue of the Best of LGBTQ LA.

The Los Angeles Blade is thrilled to celebrate the best of our community and all of the accomplishments that have been made throughout this past year. It was the year things were supposed to get back to “normal,” but really didn’t. During a year that started with an insurrection and ended with a new pandemic surge, here are some highlights of Los Angeles living, from drag to streaming services, that demonstrate the best of LA’s LGBTQ community.  

Los Angeles Blade readers nominated finalists; the top five vote getters in each category were then added to the final ballot. Thousands of Blade readers then voted and the winners are presented here. The Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists.

Best Drag Queen: Rhea Litré

Courtest of Rhea Litré

Rhea Litré describes herself as drag’s “Baddest Bitch.” It is not because she is “a bitch” but because she is bad at being one. LA Blade readers agree and have named her “Best Drag Queen” for a second year in a row. Last year, Litré decided to set up a live virtual drag show. According to Litré, “On March 16, 8 p.m. Pacific Time, we gave birth to the first digital drag show of its kind.” Litre went on to say, “There has been drag online for a long time, but as far as a conceptualized, produced show, that had never been done before.” You can find more information on Litré’s Instagram – quarantinequeendragshow

Editor’s choice: Jasmine Masters


Best LA-Based Drag Race Contestant (so far): Gottmik

Courtesy of Gottmik’s Facebook

Gottmik (Kade Gottlieb) was the first-ever transgender man to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race and was a finalist in the show’s 13th season. Challenging the definition of modern drag and shaking up the “cis-tem” is intrinsic to Gottmik’s image and power. Gottmik’s work is a testament to the fluidity of the individual. Their career has taken them to the height of celebritydom as a makeup artist for some of Hollywood and New York’s biggest marquis names. Vogue called their look and style a kind of “show-stopping” glam. Los Angeles is lucky to be home to this revolutionary whirling dervish of talent.

Editor’s choice: Shangela

Best Drag King: Prinze Valentino

Prinze Valentino via Facebook

Prinze Valentino is a genderqueer performing artist who came to Los Angeles from Detroit. Each time Prinze steps foot on the stage he puts his passion into each movement with purpose and enthusiasm. He strives to be an empowering queer role model for the LGBTQ+ community. LA Blade readers think he hit that goal and voted him the best.

Editor’s choice: Landon Cider

Best Drag Show: ELOTERIA at Redline

Courtesy of Redline DTLA

Located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, Redline is one of the newer gay bars to hit the scene, and LA Blade readers love ELOTERIA, the Redline Saturday night drag show.

Editor’s choice: Makeout Mondayz at Rocco’s

Best Happy Hour: Rocco’s Tavern WeHo

Rocco’s Happy Hour is set in a sexy cocktail lounge. Rocco’s provides West Hollywood with a mix of weekly events featuring an open floor plan with lots of outdoor space. Friendliness is a brand trademark, and LA Blade readers seem to agree (especially those who like to start dinking early.)

Editor’s choice: Beaches

Best Neighborhood Bar: Abbey and Chapel

Los Angeles Blade photo 

“The bartenders are amazing, very friendly and conversational!” The Chapel is the gay dance club in the heart of WeHo, the sister venue of The Abbey. LA Blade readers have declared it the best of Los Angeles’ most popular gay nightclubs. Go and enjoy the amazing DJs. Owner David Cooley has been an enormous supporter of the community with numerous fundraisers, the founding of the Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing project and supporting numerous LGBTQ organizations.

Editor’s choice: Hamburger Mary’s

Best Outdoor Dining/Drinking: Rocco’s

Launched in May 2019, Rocco’s is known as a popular LGBTQ bar, winning the LA Blade Best Happy Hour for 2022. Two years ago, Rocco’s won the Best Neighborhood Bar award and this year and last, Rocco’s has won for Best Outdoor Dining. Rocco’s is an inclusive space with LGBTQ décor that celebrates LGBTQ pride and history. The LA Blade’s readers chose Rocco’s as having the best outdoor dining due to its continued agility throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor’s choice: La Boheme

Best Brunch: Santolina

Courtesy of Santolina

At Santolina, each dish on the menu tells a different story. The cuisine is a unique fusion of Tel Aviv meets California. Chefs Michael Teich and Burt Bakman infuse vibrant herbs into a health conscious offering that LA Blade readers definitely have eaten up and named as Best Brunch 2022.

Editor’s choice: Hamburger Mary’s

Best Bartender: Cesar Morales at Beaches

Cesar Morales at Beaches via Instagram 

Beaches has become a gathering place for the social media creator and influencer community that has endorsed Cesar as a “super sweet and friendly” bartender who provides the very best in the hospitality Beaches has become known for. Cesar exemplifies The Beaches motto:  ‘Be wild and free and look good doing it.’

Located in the heart of West Hollywood, Beaches is a strong, conceptually driven and fashionable LGBTQ+ focused hybrid restaurant and lounge.

The two-story space offers two full bars and VIP seating areas where guests can take a breather, have a cocktail or enjoy our one-of-a-kind California Cuban Cuisine. Enthusiastic patrons won’t be able to resist the pull of the energy on the main room equipped with a first-class lighting and sound system; the venue houses a DJ booth with the latest DJ equipment. 

Editor’s choice: Eric Lutz at Rocco’s

Best DJ: Kimber Chronic

Kimber Chronic via Facebook

Kimber Chronic is an American DJ pop singer, songwriter, and music producer. She is known for working closely with the LGBTQIA+ community through her transgender activism. Named a “Hero of Diversity” by Stoli Vodka for her inspiring journey that began in the gritty heart of Detroit, Kimber is hands on in bringing her vision to life “of creating an arsenal of music that is married with visual themes of addiction, lust, and ferocity.”

Editor’s choice: DJ Morningstar

Best Restaurant: Bottega Louie

Courtesy of Bottega Louie

Bottega Louie adds this year’s LA Blade Best Restaurant 2022 to their long list of awards. The restaurant, which seemed to tease us mid-construction for centuries, boasts sweet and savory gourmet dishes, and valet parking. “They make ordinary items not so ordinary,” effuses one happy patron. LA Blade readers agree. It’s very likely the best place in Los Angeles to see and be seen. Hit the patio after you faint over the desserts.

Editor’s choice: Night+Market

Best Coffee Shop: Alfred Coffee Melrose Place

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Stylish yet whimsical coffee shop serving coffee and juice, plus salads, sandwiches, and pastries.

Editor’s choice: Starbucks

Best Radio or TV Station: KTLA

This year, KTLA partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and aired the “Love in Action” telethon hosted by Cher Calvin and Jai Rodriguez. The telethon supported the LGBTQ community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The telethon has raised several million dollars and featured a host of LGBTQ celebrities and allies. LA Blade readers sent back the appreciation to KTLA by naming them the best station in LA.

Editor’s choice: KCET PBS

Best Cannabis Business: Med Men

A recent review says, “Great experience there – my first time – and was greeted with a smile and good energy at the front door. Customer service was excellent – they asked what I liked, then swiftly showed me options and pricing and I was out the door in less than 4 minutes – literally. Plenty of easy parking too and five minutes from home – I think I found my new dispensary. Thanks MedMen.” LA Blade readers obviously agree.

Editor’s choice: Cannabis Café

Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: Out of the Closet Thrift Store

When you shop at Out of the Closet, 96 cents of every dollar goes back into HIV care and services. The chain is owned and operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based charity that provides medical, preventive, and educational resources for patients. “All of the proceeds go toward AIDS research. Love the cause and the workers were great,” observes one patron. LA Blade readers see it similarly.

Editor’s choice: The Abbey

Best LGBTQ Social Group: Impulse Group LA

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Winning this category for the second year in a row, Impulse Group LA was founded in 2009 by Jose Ramos. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a stronger and healthier community for gay men. Hosting more than 400 events annually in 25 cities across the globe, Impulse seeks to create a brave space to engage, support, and connect our community.

Editor’s choice: AIDS LifeCycle

Best House of Worship: Kol Ami

Los Angeles Blade file photo

In 2019 and 2021, Congregation Kol Ami won the award for Best House of Worship. In 2020 it won Editor’s Choice, and now wins the award again for the Best House of Worship this year. Kol Ami is an important leader in the Jewish, LGBTQ, and West Hollywood communities since its founding in 1992. Rabbi Denise L. Egers broke barriers to create a more inclusive Reform movement that has resulted in more LGBTQ inclusion at synagogues worldwide. (1200 N La Brea Ave, West Hollywood)

Editor’s choice: Metropolitan Community Church, InVision Church (tie)

Most Committed Activist: Jose Ramos

Jose Ramos via Facebook

Jose has been described as “a fierce LGBTQ/HIV activist, leader, founder and president of Impulse Group, AFH Director of Western Sales, triathlete and former General Manager at Target North Hollywood.” An activist since he was 14 years old, Jose launched Impulse from his kitchen table in 2009. Of the name for the group, Jose explained to WEHO Times, “The name came because we felt that there was this very short time when we are about to have sex, that we may have the impulse to use protection or not; to ask questions about sexual health or not. It’s a split second when you make a decision about your health. Knowing that there is that urge, that impulse to act on your desires, we thought that the name “Impulse” fit really well with how we could help with moment of instinct–that split second. We wanted to empower gay men to make the best decision.” LA Blade readers salute his commitment to our community.

Editor’s choice: Queen Victoria Ortega

Favorite Public Official: Robert Garcia

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Garcia celebrated his 44th birthday on Dec. 2 and is a gay Latino originally from Peru. First elected to the city council in April 2009 to much fanfare as the Council’s youngest, first Latino male, and first gay person of color. He became Long Beach’s first gay mayor in 2014 with 52.1% of the vote

Garcia has deep ties to the Democratic Party’s leadership. In the 2020 campaign he was a prominent surrogate for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign, later becoming a strong supporter of President Joe Biden. During the course of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic the mayor has acted in concert with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures including masking mandates and the push to get Californians vaccinated.

The pandemic tragically impacted Garcia directly when in summer of 2020, he lost his mother, Gaby O’Donnell, and stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, to COVID. His mother was a medical assistant who immigrated from Peru when the mayor was five years old.

Editor’s choice: Lindsey Horvath

Most LGBTQ-Friendly City: West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood 

For the third year in a row, West Hollywood has won the award for the Most LGBTQ-Friendly City. As noted previously, West Hollywood has its “boutique hotels, celebrity-owned restaurants, unparalleled nightlife and shopping, and world-renowned events.” The inclusive city, one of America’s best run cities according to some, has multiple LGBTQ bars, restaurants, and nightlife and it’s no surprise that the LA Blade readers continue to choose West Hollywood as the Most LGBT-Friendly City. 

Editor’s choice: Palm Springs

Best Local Pro Sports Team: The Dodgers

Courtesy of the LA Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise wins for a second year in a row. With six World Series championships and 23 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890, The Dodgers are committed to a tradition of pride and excellence. The Dodgers are dedicated to supporting a culture of winning baseball, providing a first-class, fan-friendly experience at Dodger Stadium, and building a strong partnership with the community. With the highest cumulative fan attendance in Major League Baseball history and a record of breaking barriers, the Dodgers are one of the most cherished sports franchises in the world.

Editor’s choice: The Lakers

Best Real Estate Firm: Oppenheim Group

Courtesy of the Oppenheim Group

Made famous by the reality show, Selling Sunset, the award-winning Oppenheim Group is a professional real estate brokerage serving buyers and sellers of luxury property in Los Angeles and Orange County. The brokerage is comprised of a close group of talented Realtors, led by the firm’s president and founder, Jason Oppenheim. A recent client exclaimed, “I would not have known about Oppenheim Group if it was not for the show. Oppenheim Group is all about professional upmarket real estate, which you effectively deliver. You showed us such lovely and beautiful homes. I liked the fact that the agents research the history of the properties, have knowledge on the area of the property/rooms and work hard to sell a property. Now looking forward to the next season where we can see more beautiful homes. Well done Brett, Jason and team!”

Editor’s choice: Compass

Best Ally: Debbie Allen

Debbie Allen received one of the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors and is receiving the 2021 Governor’s Award at the Emmys. She can now add LA Blade’s Best Ally 2022 to her award shelf. Allen was the producer of a landmark “A Different World” episode addressing AIDS and the Black community, and told AFROPUNK, “I’m happy to be here for World AIDS Day and to be working with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, it’s really just to highlight this war, this global war that we’re still in.”

Editor’s choice: Congressman Adam Schiff

Best Salon Spa: Shorty’s Barbershop

It is no contest. Shorty’s Barber Shop has won the Best Salon/Spa Award for the fourth year in a row. With amazing products and great haircuts, Shorty’s is a local favorite. In terms of its high quality products, all of them are ethically created and never tested on animals.

LA Blade readers continue to sing Shorty’s praises, “When you walk out with some merch (the styling putty and soy paste are customer favorites), you can feel good about that, too. Besides the perfect cut, Shorty’s also puts a premium on giving back, by working with the likes of Concrete Hero, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

Editor’s choice: Ole Henriksen Face/Body Spa:

Best Car Dealership: Honda of Hollywood

Honda of Hollywood exudes excitement to help its Los Angeles clients. “We take the time to explore the features that are important to you and our knowledgeable staff is here to answer all of your questions. But what would buying a new car be without a test drive first? Visit Honda Of Hollywood where we’ll get you out on the road to find a Honda vehicle perfectly suited to your needs,” they state. “Super easy, great service,” confirms one happy reviewer. LA Blade readers have test driven them into being the Best Car Dealership of 2022.

Editor’s choice: Mercedes Beverly Hills

Best Doctor/Medical Provider: AIDS Healthcare Foundation Clinics

An Editor’s Choice winner two years ago for Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Clinics has won Best Doctor/Medical Provider for the second year in a row. They represent the consistently excellent work of doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, med techs, benefits counselors, and support staff at 14 AHF Healthcare Centers and satellite clinics throughout Southern California. In its quest to rid the world of AIDS, this nonprofit organization provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy in 43 countries. Locally, says AHF Senior Director of Communications Ged Kenslea, “Our ‘circle of care’ concept starts with free and accessible HIV testing. When called for, AHF then provides swift linkage to care and follow-up treatment. We try as best we can to keep the focus on the patient by serving as their partner in care, in order to make it easier for them to adhere to their medication and care regimens to help them achieve their best selves, health and wellness-wise.”

Editor’s Choice: Los Angeles LGBT Center

Best Fitness or Workout Spot: LA Fitness

One happy reviewer reports,So happy to be back. Great gym. Can’t wait to use a locker again but I’m grateful they are being careful of covid. Clean, well-organized, and courteous staff for a much better price than the social club gym.” LA Blade voters agree.

Editor’s choice: Equinox

Best Home Furnishings: Living Spaces

Since December 2016, Living Spaces has brought a pressure-free furniture shopping experience to Los Angeles. Its two-story showroom boasts a variety of styles for every room in the house. Living spaces also carries hundreds of customizable styles in a special-order program. Living Spaces is so committed to offering their clients superior products at the best price, they will match a competitor’s price and take off an extra 10%. For that, and many other reasons, LA readers consider them the year’s best.

Editor’s choice: Restoration Hardware

Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: City of West Hollywood

Courtesy the City Of West Hollywood (Facebook)

The City of West Hollywood regularly makes history. It was the first city in the nation to have a majority-LGBTQ governing body with its inaugural City Council when the city was incorporated in 1984. Today, the City Council is majority-LGBTQ and majority female. Starting in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, West Hollywood became a beacon of hope in proving social services and support to LGBTQ community members and it has led the way in advocating for full LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ history-making extends to the city’s deep commitment to building an affirming work environment for LGBTQ employees. It’s no wonder the City of West Hollywood receives high marks from the community as the most friendly workplace for LGBTQ people.

Editor’s choice: Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: Los Angeles LGBT Center

Best Non-Profit: Ariadne Getty Foundation

Courtesy of the Ariadne Getty Foundation

Founded in 2004, The Ariadne Getty Foundation works with partners worldwide to improve the lives of individuals and communities through financial investments and social activism. AGF is proud of its achievements and continues to ensure positive social and political change to further improve lives worldwide. Its namesake, Ariadne Getty, was voted 2020’s Best Ally by readers and presented the 2021 Hero of the Year Award by Los Angeles Blade publisher, Troy Masters.

In addition to her key support of LGBTQ journalism, major donations to GLAAD and others, this year saw the opening of The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing, a cutting-edge 70,000-square-foot building in Hollywood with 98 affordable housing units for seniors ages 62 and above, LA Blade readers certainly noticed.

In the last decade Ariadne has become an increasingly visible LGBTQ philanthropist, encouraging other people of means to back Queer causes. As the mother of two, Nats and August, she has embraced gender fluidity and also championed trans rights. Getty has also been the recipient of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Vanguard award (2018) as well as receiving award-winning magazine, Variety’s Philanthropist of the Year award in 2019. 

Editor’s choice: Project Angel Food, Equality California (tie)

Best Pet Business or Vet: Laurel Pet Hospital

Laurel Pet Hospital via Facebook

Located in the heart of West Hollywood, Laurel Pet Hospital has “general practice veterinarians and specialists in internal medicine, surgery, and dentistry, we provide high-quality medical care at a reasonable price. Our facility includes a well-stocked pharmacy, in-hospital surgery suite, digital X-ray equipment, dental radiography, endoscopy, ultrasound, CO2 laser capabilities, and a closely supervised hospitalization area.” Compassionate advice and optimal care are key values.

Editor’s choice: Wag

Best Grocery/Supermarket: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s returns to the top of the heap having been named LA Blade’s Best Grocery for 2019 and 2018. In June 2021, Trader Joe’s gave all its stores nicely cut and potted rainbow roses in celebration of Pride month. Heidi Leindecker, an assistant manager for Trader Joe’s told mycustomer.com, “Trader Joe’s is a role model for hiring diversity and practicing inclusion. The company cultivates a positive image when it comes to inclusion and its brand amongst employees and consumers. Trader Joe’s puts the employee first and makes sure that everyone is treated with integrity and respect. Employees are treated equally in the same manner as customers are treated equally. As employees are treated well, the feeling naturally overflows to the customers’ positive shopping experience.” LA Blade readers feel the love.

Editor’s choice: Pavillions

Best Museum or Art Gallery: Getty Center

Courtesy of the Getty Center

Editor’s choice: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Best A&E Venue: Hollywood Bowl

County of Los Angeles 

Last year the Hollywood Bowl won for Best Virtual A&E Events. This year it is the Best A&E Venue, which demonstrates that live or virtual, in the eyes of LA Blade readers, it is the best. Since its opening in 1922, the Hollywood Bowl has been the premier destination for live music, hosting everyone from Billie Holiday to The Beatles to Yo-Yo Ma under the iconic silhouette of its concentric-arched band shell.

Editor’s choice: Greek Theater

Best Outside LA Getaway: Palm Springs

 Los Angeles Blade file photo

Palm Springs is so interested in attracting the LGBTQ community that its Visiting Greater Palm Springs website calls out the community specifically. “Ready to take a hiatus from virtual events and Zoom meetings? We don’t blame you. The desert has long been a soothing oasis for the LGBTQ community with its poolside siestas, innovative cuisine, trendy shops and outdoor activities, but now, more than ever, those things have become more than luxuries. They are necessities for self-care and rejuvenation. Consider the following list of hot spots and activities and make a splash—literally—with your best LGBTQ getaway yet,” states author Greg Archer. LA Blade readers apparently are ready to pack their bags and happily head to the desert.

Editor’s choice: Las Vegas

Best Hotel: Le Parc

The Le Parc Suite Hotel is a groundbreaking boutique hotel in West Hollywood featuring sophisticated suites and a sky deck overlooking Los Angeles.

Le Parc Suite Hotel’s extraordinary renovation embraces the local arts community and memorializes the city of West Hollywood’s diversity. Already a well-known retreat for rising stars and trendsetting celebrities, Le Parc combines the city’s design-forward aesthetic with residential-style suites. Its new LOVE mural, designed by large-format fine artist Scott Hile, of Free Spirit Fine Art, embodies the spirit of Le Parc Suites. 

Editor’s choice: Sofitel Beverly Hills

Best LGBTQ Event: OutFest

Los Angeles Blade file graphic

Each year since 1979, OutFest has been a staple film festival in Los Angeles, held during LA’s Pride season and growing in importance to become the world’s largest such festival. 

Today, it is one of Los Angeles’ most anticipated such events, even hosting events across the country. It has garnered the attention of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and even helped open the new Academy Awards Museum, hosting the billion dollar facility’s first live and in person event, Outfest Legacy Awards Gala in November. Outfest also hosts year-round programming that gives artists, filmmakers and entertainment professionals the opportunity to discover their voice, provide the pathways to the visibility of their work by all members of the public, and assure that their legacy will live on for generations to come.

Outfest strives to increase LGBTQIA+ visibility, strengthen understanding and create meaningful change by building empathy for our cause among the general public and the LGBTQ community by honoring excellence in telling the stories of our community.

Editor’s choice: DTLA ProudOutFest

Best Streaming Program Performance: Ben Aldridge

Courtesy of BritBox

Out British actor Ben Aldridge had two prominent roles streamed by LA Blade readers this year. He is well regarded for his role in “Pennyworth” as Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, the action-packed prequel story that was picked up by HBO Max this year. It was likely Aldridge’s other critically acclaimed role seen on Brit Box that thrilled Blade audiences. In “The Long Call,” he plays a gay man returning to an evangelical community that had rejected him years earlier. He is now a detective being asked to solve the mystery of a body found on the beach. Aldridge has had a great year, also being nominated for a GLAAD Award.

Editor’s choice: Ewan McGregor- Halston (Netflix)

Best Streaming Service: Amazon

Amazon Prime has so many LGBTQ-themed movies that it has constructed a top 20 list. The movie “Rocket Man” from 2019 tops the list. The list includes 2019’s “Halston,” 2020’s “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” and “Lez Bomb” and “Believer,” from 2018. 

Best Indie Streaming Service: Brit Box

Turn on your TV and head to the UK! No travel, no stress – just the best and biggest collection of British television in the U.S. and Canada on the digital video subscription service, BritBox. The streamer was created by two British content powerhouses—BBC Studios and ITV, the UK’s biggest broadcaster. BritBox features exclusive premieres, celebrated lifestyle and current series and iconic favorites, along with daytime dramas — most available within 24 hours after their UK premiere. BritBox also offers excellent curation, live programming and a user-friendly experience.

Editor’s Choice: Revry

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LGBTQ+ groups fight over Trans Athletes competing is losing ground

Public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of the Equality Act is clearly skeptical of a one size fits all of all sports everywhere

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From left, Lia Thomas, Caitlyn Jenner and Michael Phelps. (Washington Blade photo montage)

WASHINGTON – In the wake of the NCAA changing its policies regarding transgender athletes and state legislatures advancing new legislation against trans inclusion in school sports, LGBTQ advocates continue the fight to ensure athletes can compete consistent with their gender identity, although they may be losing the battle.

As public polling has demonstrated, transgender athletes competing in sports — especially trans women in women’s sports — remains unpopular even among pro-transgender people. Key figures have emerged in recent days opposing transgender inclusion amid the focus on Lia Thomas, a recently transitioned swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been smashing records in women’s aquatics.

Nonetheless, LGBTQ advocates charged with fighting for transgender rights are continuing the efforts. After a coalition of LGBTQ advocates sent a letter to the NCAA urging the organization to include a non-discrimination provision in its updated constitution, the Human Rights Campaign condemned the organization for refusing to keep the language, which appears to have the effect of allowing the sports division to decline to allow transgender athletes to compete consistent with their gender identity, and sent an action alert to supporters.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the NCAA “needs to show us their playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination” as state legislatures advance legislation against transgender kids in sports.

“The NCAA has so far proven to be an unreliable ally to LGBTQ+ athletes across the country who depend upon the organization to protect them from discrimination and now they owe these athletes answers,” Madison said.

Instead of reaffirming non-discrimination protections, the NCAA announced a change in policy that goes in different directions but appears aimed at limiting participation of transgender women without taking full responsibility for it. On one hand, the NCAA delegates to the bodies governing individual sports the policies for transgender participation, but on the other hand requires transgender women to document having limited testosterone levels over a certain period of time.

The fight now continues in state legislatures as sports bills are among the latest crop of measures seeking to limit access for transgender people. After South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem made a push for legislation against transgender kids in sports at the start of the year, the state legislature responded by advancing such a measure. On Wednesday, a South Dakota House committee favorably reported out legislation already approved by wide margins in the Senate that would make biological sex the standard for sports in an attempt to limit transgender participation.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement upon the committee vote the legislation “has nothing to do with fairness — and everything to do with South Dakota politicians using transgender youth as pawns on a political chessboard.

“Proponents of this blanket ban are hard-pressed to find examples of transgender students making South Dakota sports less fair or safe,” Ames said. “Research from The Trevor Project makes clear that many already opt out of sports due to fear of bullying and discrimination.”

Although the issue of transgender women in sports has emerged in recent years as conservative activists found a way to challenge LGBTQ rights in a way that was palatable to the public, the fervor peaked as Thomas made headlines for breaking records in the pool.

After having previously competed in men’s aquatics, Thomas — after she transitioned — began competing in women’s events and was beating her competitors by wide margins. In one event in December, Thomas came in first in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 38 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. The NCAA rules would appear to have the effect of barring Thomas from further competition.

Public polling, which has shown strong support for LGBTQ rights in general, continues to show the sentiment is against transgender women competing in sports, although the outcome of the poll can change considerably depending on the wording of the question. One Gallup poll last year found only 34 percent of those surveyed supported transgender athletes participating on teams consistent with their gender identity, while 62 percent said transgender people should have to compete with other athletes of their gender designated at birth.

One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the time may have come for LGBTQ advocates to admit a fait accompli if they want to seek broader civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations with the Equality Act or other federal legislation.

“Advocates should just admit this is a very different issue than a trans person applying for a job or finding an apartment,” the strategist said. “Equality principles differ by situation — that’s why we have separate men’s and women’s sports in the first place. The same public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of the Equality Act is also clearly skeptical of a one size fits all federalization of all sports everywhere.”

Adding fuel to the fire are recent comments from key figures in athletics.

Caitlyn Jenner, who before she transitioned was an Olympic champion in the 1970s, has been among the more prominent voices to speak out against transgender women in sports and said on a recent appearance on Fox News it represents “a woke world gone wild.”

Jenner, who came out against transgender participation in sports during her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year in the California recall election, said the NCAA “just kicked the can down the road” on the transgender sports issue and had choice words for Thomas.

“When you do transition and you do go through this, you have to take responsibility and you have to have integrity,” Jenner said. “I don’t know why she’s doing this.”

Michael Phelps, the decorated Olympic swimmer, also declined to support transgender athletes fully when asked about the issue during an interview on CNN, bringing up doping in sports in comparison.

“I don’t know what it looks like in the future,” Phelps said. “It’s hard. It’s very complicated and this is my sport, this has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is everybody being able to compete on an even playing field.”

“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership”

To be sure, advocates for allowing transgender people to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity also have their supporters in the sports world, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. On Monday, Dorian Rhea Debussy, who’s non-binary and one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, resigned in protest over recent NCAA actions.

“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership,” Debussy said. “As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA.”

Arguably, schools complying with the new NCAA policy and states enacting anti-transgender laws would be violating Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County finding anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.

One federal court last year blocked a West Virginia state law against transgender participation in sports on that legal basis. No litigation, however, appears to be in the works at this time challenging colleges or the NCAA policy.

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Theater

‘Jamie’ comes to America in triumphant Ahmanson premiere

A time when being gay is okay, where drag is fun for everybody, and there’s room for everybody but the bigots at the party

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Roy Haylock (aka Bianca Del Rio) and Layton Williams (center), flanked by Leon Craig, David O'Reilly, and James Gillan (clockwise, L-R), star in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie," running at the Ahmanson Theatre through February 20 (Photo by Johan Persson)

LOS ANGELES – The tag line for “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the London West End musical making its North American debut at the Ahmanson this month, tells us that it is “the hit musical for today.”

That is an entirely accurate statement.

With a book and lyrics by Tom MacRae and music by Dan Gillespie Sells, it’s a show that was inspired by the real-life story of a 16-year-old British schoolboy who bucked bigotry and overcame bullying to become a drag queen – or more precisely, it was inspired by the 2011 documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16,” which told his story.

Premiering in 2017, the musical opened in the Yorkshire town of Sheffield, where it is set, before moving to the West End for a successful run that earned the show several nominations at the Olivier Awards. A Broadway production was planned, but tabled (thanks to Covid), and a film adaptation was made which, after several delays (again, thanks to Covid), was released by Amazon in 2021.

Now, in lieu of Broadway, it’s receiving its first incarnation on the American stage in Los Angeles – which seems entirely appropriate, somehow, given the show’s young-and-hip appeal. Renamed as Jamie New, its proudly gay protagonist is already very much out to his family and to fellow students at his Sheffield school, but has kept hidden his secret dream to become a drag queen.

Encouraged by his friend Pritti, and with the blessing of his concerned-but-supportive mother Margaret, he resolves to emerge from a second closet by attending the prom in drag. He finds an unexpected mentor in Hugo, the owner of a shop for drag attire (himself a former drag legend named Loco Chanelle), and as his confidence grows, so does his boldness; but as word begins to spread of his planned “coming out” he faces resistance, bullying, and worse from the community around him – including a homophobic schoolmate, a conservative teacher, and the estranged father whose long-withheld acceptance is something for which he keenly longs.

Can he overcome these repressive obstacles to claim his true identity as a fabulous queen and perform for his adoring fans? If you have any experience at all with musical theatre, chances are that you already know the answer is [SPOILER ALERT] yes.

From its first few minutes, the show lets you know without a doubt that it plans not just to entertain, but to dazzle. Loaded with infectious, pop-flavored songs and providing ample opportunity for a young and limber cast of triple-threat performers to wow us with their physical prowess and their talent, it leans hard into the optimism that drives most of its characters – the select few who embrace a more cynical worldview are, not coincidentally, largely antagonists – and makes sure to keep the tone from becoming too dark for too long, even when the story gives us glimpses of a harsher side of life as a drag queen.

It seamlessly blends diverse elements of stagecraft into its visual design, taking place on a streamlined, mod, efficiently configurable set that captures both the flashy electronic milieu of the Instagram era inhabited by its youthful hero and the rough-around-the-edges vibe of the working class neighborhood in which he actually lives. And if all of that isn’t enough, it has drag.

It’s not necessarily about drag, however. In fact, while drag is very much the passion that Jamie follows on his personal journey, it’s not the destination. Nor is his story really about acceptance, either from himself, his oppressors at school, or his absent and small-minded father; it’s clear from the beginning that he’s already pretty sure of himself, and there’s never any real doubt that things are going to turn out just fine for him, in the end.

The transformation Jamie is required to make involves not so much how he sees himself, in fact, but how he sees the people around him. It’s a refreshing shift, in many ways, from the frequent drag narrative in which the end goal is self-acceptance, in that it goes on to show how self-acceptance can also lead to greater acceptance not just from others, but for others, as well.

In that spirit, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” treats all its characters with empathy, even the school bully – though it pointedly turns a cold shoulder to Jamie’s dad, whose unrelenting homophobia seemingly makes his character undeserving of even being given a name. Still, even a show with as positive an attitude as this one needs a reminder that there are still those among us who haven’t been won over – at least, not yet – and in the end it’s unequivocally easy to stand in enthusiastic solidarity as the whole happy cast comes out to take their bows.

As to that cast, Layton Williams (reprising his role as Jamie from both the UK tour and remounted West End production of the show) is every bit worthy of our full attention and adulation as he struts his stuff (and his impossibly long legs, even in expert-level heels) as Jamie.

Melissa Jacques is warm, grounded, and compelling as his mother, and she makes her second act song soliloquy, “He’s My Boy,” into a showstopper. Hiba Elchikhe embodies the spirit of girl power as Pritti, whose embrace of her Muslim identity doesn’t stop her from giving Jamie a run for his money in making a splash, and Gillian Ford makes her role as stodgy Careers teacher Miss Hodge into an audience favorite.

Shobna Gulati brings a tough-as-nails protective presence as Mom’s loyal friend Ray, and George Sampson makes sure school bully Dean is awkward and endearing enough for us to cheer for his redemption. Finally, Roy Haylock – who is better known as Bianca Del Rio and brings a level of serious queer star power to the production – proves himself to be as much of an energetic, gifted comedic performer when he’s out of drag as he is when he is in it. That doesn’t mean, however, that Bianca doesn’t make an appearance herself, when Hugo [another probably unnecessary SPOILER ALERT] brings Loco Chenelle out of retirement to cheer Jamie on.

With a uniformly talented cast, brisk direction from Jonathan Butterell, and high-energy choreography by Kate Prince, this production of “Jamie” is well-worthy of being the show’s North American debut.

It entertains, with seeming effortlessness despite the whirlwind energy on which it rides, and it reinforces our best hopes and beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in along the way. If its conflicts resolve a little too easily, and its obstacles melt a little too conveniently, we can forgive that as a tip of the hat to artistic license and theatrical convention. It’s may be as ephemeral as a photo on Instagram, unapologetically designed to be feel-good fluff – but if there was ever a time when the world needed feel-good fluff, this is it.

It is, after all, a “hit musical for today,” intended to capture and celebrate the cultural moment of the here and now – a time when being gay is okay, drag is fun for everyone, and there’s room at the party for everybody but the bigots.

And they can come too, if they’re willing to stop being bullies and start being friends instead.

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