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Gwen Baba: Forging a path for generations to come

Gwen Baba honored by Gay Men’s Chorus

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Gwen Baba is pictured here with Prop 8 plaintiffs Lawrence and Gregory Zarian. (Photos courtesy GMCLA)

Longtime Human Rights Campaign board member and community activist Gwen Baba was honored by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, under the leadership of new executive director Jonathan Weedman, at the 6th annual Voice Awards Celebration on May 20 at the J.W. Marriot at L.A. Live.

Some longtime politicos think it’s about damn time.

“Gwen has been a longtime advocate for celebrating women’s contributions and their impact on causes that matter,” says R. Christine Hershey, co-founder of Access Now for Lesbian and Gay Equality (ANGLE) and the Victory Fund, L.A. County Small Business commissioner and of Hershey Cause Communications. “She was a key voice and my partner-in-crime during the ANGLE years during which we saw a huge consolidation of LGBTQ political power. She was one of a very small group of women doing this work.”

Hershey notes that Baba helped bring women back to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, where she served as a board member. It was the mid-late 1980s, during the horrific AIDS years.

“That was a really difficult time in the community,” recalls Baba, who was then in her late 20s. “A lot of our board members were dying and passing away; staff was dying and passing away. And it really felt like a war zone.”

“For those of us who came out in the late 70s-early 80s, we had to handle some really difficult stuff,” said West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem John Duran, ANGLE co-founder, former chair of the LIFE AIDS Lobby and GMCLA Board Chair. “Back then, in the late 70s, LGBT people were still criminalized. We were considered criminals; we were considered mentally ill. A lot of us began to tire. And in through the door walked this woman, Gwen Baba. And she had such a presence of grace and we looked at her and there was such a big sigh, like, ‘Ahhh! New leadership!’”

Though the gay environment was originally unwelcoming to women, women were much needed and became powerhouses—women such as Torie Osborn, who became executive director; the late politico Jean O’Leary, who moved her nationally-recognized, must-attend Women’s Night to the Center; and current L.A. LGBT Center CEO, Lorri Jean. Baba, a commercial and residential real estate investor, also helped lead the Center’s historic first capital campaign to raise money for their new headquarters in Hollywood.

“I grew up with the message that I could do anything but that didn’t mean I still didn’t feel discrimination, either as a woman, or as a lesbian,” says Baba.

Baba served on the Center’s board, with a term as co-chair, from 1986 to 1997.

She joined the board of the Human Rights Campaign in 1996, serving two-terms as board co-chair from 2002 to 2005. There, too, she served on the capital campaign for HRC’s headquarters in Washington DC and sat on several committees. Baba has also been an anchor for HRC’s L.A. chapter, a steadfast presence during changing times.

“Gwen Baba helped build the Human Rights Campaign into the organization we are today,” said HRC President Chad Griffin on a tribute video.

“Gwen was president of HRC from 2002-2005,” said attorney Diane Abbitt, ANGLE co-founder who headed HRC’s political action committee and serves on the GMCLA board. “Those were very, very hard times. She led HRC during the time that [President George W.] Bush was in office and Karl Rove was running things. That’s leadership.”

 

“Gwen speaks for everybody. Her voice carries a lot of weight,” said David Bohnett, head of the David Bohnett Foundation upon whose board Baba sits. She also sits on the board of the California Community Foundation.

During her acceptance speech, Baba noted that her daughter Gabrielle turned 17 on May 22nd, “a birthday she proudly shares with Harvey Milk.” Gabrielle was at her high school prom so she missed the festivities, including meeting composer Stephen Schwartz, who was also honored, along with Logo.

“LGBT organizations have long made a huge difference in Gabrielle’s life,” Baba said, and she was happy when GMCLA came to her school as part of the Alive Music Project.

Right now, Baba said, “the world feels pretty crazy to her, as it does to all of us. Like we walked into a Living Salvador Dali painting. We’re sinking under the weight of alternative facts and outright lies.”

But struggle is familiar. “Fighting alternative facts is nothing new for the LGBTQ community,” Baba said. “We’ve been doing it for decades. No, we can’t be “cured”, we can’t pray the gay away, we’re not crazy or sick or perverse or unfit to be parents.

“For LGBTQ people, alternative facts aren’t just ridiculous diversions. They’re designed to control us, to demean us, to deny us our joy and our freedom,” she said. “They’re promoted by people who demand we think and behave as they do. But that we will never do. Because we are inherently creative, in our activism and our art, in our satire and our song.”

Baba brought it home to the artistic audience. “So when politicians want to defund the arts, they really hope to silence our dissent. They choose not to accept that LGBT people are woven into every corner of this planet. And we will not be quiet.”

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Events

Project Angel Food’s 2021 Telethon raises $1.1 million

Project Angel Food is thankful to have received support from friends and the community providing the funding needed to sustain their service

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Eric McCormack led a toast, lifting a glass with all the stars in studio to Chef Randy (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Project Angel Food)

HOLLYWOOD – Los Angeles charity Project Angel Food succeeded in raising $1,126,090 far surpassing their fundraising goal of $800,000 in their 2021 Telethon which aired on KTLA 5 Saturday evening. The Telethon, LEAD WITH LOVE 2021 was presented by City National Bank.

Hosted by by Will & Grace star Eric McCormack and KTLA anchor Jessica Holmes along with Loni Love and Alec Mapa as co-hosts, the evening broadcast opened with a surprise greeting from British Rockstar musician Ringo Starr.

It’s been a difficult year for everyone, and Project Angel Food is thankful to have received so much support from friends and the community and providing the funding needed to sustain the expanded service to those in need, preparing and delivering over one million medically tailored meals to our most vulnerable neighbors.  Project Angel Food Executive Director Richard Ayoub said, “I am overwhelmed with gratitude and inspiration.  The success of this tells me Los Angeles is with us every step of the way.”

A good deal of celebrity star power helped to boost the donations which were taken in by phone, online, and text. Loni Love, author, and host of The Real, presented her $25,000 winnings from her recent appearance on ABC’s Celebrity Family Feud. Her donation joined that of actor Jamie Lee Curtis who called in live via Skype, made a $10,000 gift from her family foundation.

The Herb Ritts Foundation offered a “match challenge” of $75,000, agreeing to match donations coming in over an hour up to $75,000. The match was reached in just 27 minutes.

Other big donors for the night included: $50,000 each from Susanna Blinkoff & Jordan Corngold, Connie Frank, and Mary Fisher; $30,000 National Rongxiang Xu Foundation & Human Heritage Project; $26,000 from Michael J. Libow; $25,000 from Stanley and Joyce Black Family Foundation, Block Party WeHo, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation, WEN Hair and Body Care by Chaz Dean, Whole Foods Market, and Main Street Catering…and our thanks to everyone who donated! 

A special Tribute was paid to Chef Randy Nakamura, who died from COVID this past year, by celebrity chefs Cat Cora and Stuart O’Keeffe, and actor Brad Garrett, who met Chef Randy at Project Angel Food.  Eric McCormack then led a toast, lifting a glass with all the stars in studio to Chef Randy, followed by a special performance by LeAnn Rimes, singing Throw My Arms Around the World, beautifully capturing the spirit of the evening.

Highlights and behind-the-scenes of the night can be seen at Project Angel Food’s website…and it’s still possible to donate by texting LOVE20 to 50155.   

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Events

LA Pride breaks silence announces ‘Thrive with Pride’

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LOS ANGELES – After weeks of ‘stay tuned’ on its website and no real engagement with the media or the LGBTQ community, Christopher Street West Association Inc. the nonprofit organization that produces the annual LA Pride celebration announced its planned June programming for LA Pride 2021 on Thursday.

Pride 2021 activations are themed around the daily reminder to Thrive with Pride.

LA Pride weekend will kick-off on Thursday night, June 10th with a concert exclusively presented by and live streamed on TikTok featuring hyper-pop diva Charli XCX and a showcase of up and coming LGBTQ+ performers across genres. In-person concert opportunities are not available at this time. Fans and followers can follow @tiktokforgood and @lapride on TikTok for updates and advanced promotions. 

Further, a televised special titled “Thrive with Pride Celebration” is set for Saturday, June 12th airing 9:00pm-10:00pm PDT on ABC 7 Los Angeles, the most-watched station in Southern California, will feature special guests, performances and LA Pride honorees. 

“To thrive means to flourish and progress despite the circumstances. Pride this year is a moment for you to stop and breathe,” said Sharon-Franklin Brown, CSW board president. “It’s a moment to remember you’re not just surviving one of the hardest years in recent memory, but growing into your truth. This is why we were so intentional in our planning. We want to bring a moment of celebration, a moment to highlight the community, and an opportunity to give back. If we as a community can come together, even for a moment, to realize we’ve broken down some barriers put on us, it’ll strengthen our resolve to continue tearing more down for those to come after us.” 

“After an unprecedented year of challenge and struggle, I am so pleased that this year’s pride festivities embrace the spirit of the first pride parade and our activist roots,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. “By bringing together LGBTQ+ communities from every corner of our City, we will uplift all voices and elevate the important work of the icons of the LGBTQ movement who sacrificed everything in their young lives at the time so we can all celebrate together in 2021. With a mix of virtual and potential in-person events, this year’s festivities will keep our community safe and connected while providing every Angeleno an opportunity to embrace giving and volunteerism.” 

In recognition of the incredibly difficult work Los Angeles social justice and non-profit organizations have put into achieving equity, actionable change and stability, LA Pride will launch a 30-day give back campaign to support these efforts. Pride Makes a Difference will highlight opportunities for Angelenos to sign up to either volunteer, or donate goods and/or money to local organizations in Los Angeles County. Pride Makes a Difference is a new program in conjunction with Big Sunday. As part of these new efforts, drop off locations will be set up all throughout Los Angeles. A list of selected local organizations and drop off sites will be available soon to choose from, as well as the sign-up details and commitment.

“Our utmost priority in whatever we’re doing to celebrate Pride this year ensures safety and follows CDC-approved pandemic guidelines,” continued Brown. “That’s why we’re announcing this programming first. Any potential in-person celebratory activations will be announced at a later date in the coming weeks. The more we put safety first, the more likely we’re able to plan big physical events in the future, including Pride 2022, where we can celebrate who we are, where we came from, and where we need to go.”

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Bars & Parties

33 Taps Owner Ryan Floyd has Big Plans

33 Taps will now be a part of the official Silverlake gay bar crawl

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Courtesy of Ryan Floyd

WEST HOLLYWOOD Ryan Floyd signed the contract for his first restaurant after working for 10 years in LA as a  finance guy. He said he hit the decade mark and realized, “I want to do something on my own.” He liked the industry, and knew the business side after working as CFO for a successful restaurant development and management firm. Now, after more than a year in lockdown, he’s got big things planned for his spot 33 Taps, and his next venture, Stache in West Hollywood.

In 2016, Floyd bought a storied beer bar and country diner once known as The Crest on Sunset, making him the third consecutive gay owner of the location. The Crest on Sunset had been running since the late-1980s, with a loyal local clientele – most of the staff was gay, most of the customers were gay. “A friend brought it to me and I thought, this could be a good step for me,” Floyd explained, “I bought the assets and license and rebranded it as 33 Taps.” 

33 Taps formally opened in September 2016, and will celebrate its five-year anniversary in the fall. “The first year was really stressful,” Floyd remembers, “we were under capitalized. I lost money for the first six, seven months. It was scary.” The former investment banker had sunk all his own cash into the business, and it wasn’t until the end of 2017 that 33 Taps began to find its footing, and its niche. 

Floyd credits his team for the longevity of the spot, and for helping keep the business open during its first year and all the years that followed. Many of the employees had even been at that location before the sale – the general manager at 33 Taps, Peaches, has been working at the address for more than 30 years.

Before the pandemic hit, business was good. “Seventy-five percent of our patrons are local,” Floyd said proudly. “We’ve really established ourselves as a place where people love to watch LA sports — the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Rams. And we also have a huge Drag Race following.” The bar finally returned to its weekly Drag Race viewing parties just in time for the grand finale episode last Friday. According to Floyd, more than a third of the clientele is LGBTQ. 

As Los Angeles slowly begins to reopen, and businesses and bars can welcome back customers, 33 Taps is greeting the post-COVID world with some new changes. “During the pandemic I had entered the liquor license lottery.” For businesses hoping for a budget break, the State of California holds a yearly liquor license lottery in which restaurants and bars can try their luck at a discounted license. “The state will issue however many licenses they think the market should absorb. You can buy those licenses for $15,000, which is a full liquor license — a type 47. Whereas on the open market, prices go from $100,000-$120,000.” It was his fourth year entering the lottery, and his first time winning. It took the state months to process the license, but it finally issued 3725 Sunset Blvd. its first-ever liquor license. It’ll be the first time in 40 years that the location will have a full bar.

A numbers man, Floyd explained an added benefit of a liquor license kicking in now. “Beer and spirits go through cycles. Beer had a very long, 10-year run. In 2005, there were 300 breweries in the United States, and now there’s over 5,000.” Floyd recites these statistics with a sportscaster’s excitement, “beer had this huge run, but now spirits have taken the lead again.” With the city’s reopening looking more and more optimistic, and more and more people wanting to celebrate big after a year in their living rooms – the new liquor license could not be better timed. “We want to program our Friday and Saturday nights. We’ve never been open beyond 11 o’clock, now we can stay open until 1 a.m. and actually have a bar crowd.” He’s lining up a slew of parties, bringing some much needed queer nightlife programming to the Silverlake scene. 

33 Taps will now be a part of the official Silverlake gay bar crawl, for all those on their way to dance at Akbar or a party at The Eagle. It rounds out the trio, offering its own flare – a modern neighborhood restaurant and sports bar. 

Each spot brings something different to the table. Akbar is beloved for its brand of queer punk quirk; the also beloved Eagle offers its loyal leather-clad following the gritty gay bar of years past. 33 Taps is the grad-school jock of the group, a lovable charm and an always here for a good time attitude. Floyd offered the elevator pitch: “You can listen to great music, drink from a full bar and also have some great food.” The 33 Taps food menu has always been one of its strongest assets, offering customers a chef-driven menu of craft burgers and fries. A top-notch bite at a gay bar is hard to come by, and the plates at 33 Taps put most bar menus to shame. 

He teased a few details of his highly anticipated new venture: Stache. Coming to West Hollywood this summer, Stache is lucratively situated across the street from Beaches and TomTom, and down the block from Weho heavy-hitters, Rocco’s and The Abbey. “Stache will also be a full restaurant and full bar, with a nightlife component as well,” Floyd shared. While he can’t reveal plans just yet, he promises big monthly parties, disco and drag. The new website, stacheweho.com, describes Stache as, “an all-inclusive social house for every form of self-expression.” The site also attributes the mustache in the name and logo as a symbol of resilience in the gay community, honoring those lost to the AIDS epidemic.

After the closing of so many iconic LA gay bars during the pandemic, Ryan Floyd’s Stache is a welcome addition to the WeHo strip.

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