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Fresno State honors gay foster dad

Laotian-American parent transforming lives of others



Eric Calderon-Phangrath. (Photo Courtesy Calderon-Phangrath)

Eric Calderon-Phangrath does not see himself as an LGBT activist or as a guy whose goal it is to promote an LGBT equality agenda. But on May 19, in front of 4,305 people gathered on the Fresno State University Campus for a commencement ceremony of the University’s school of education, he symbolized LGBT Pride, inclusion, and equality.  

Standing onstage, an openly gay, first generation Laotian-American foster dad, Calderon-Phangrath, 28, was bestowed the prestigious Dean’s Medal. The program notes indicate that he was selected because he is “the perfect embodiment of someone who is dedicated to transforming the lives of others.”

Sporting an impressive gold medal around his neck, Calderon-Phangrath’s trembling hands gave way to poise and grace as he explained his long, 12-year road to graduation to a rapt crowd.  

In 2005, the then-17-year-old enrolled at Fresno State, only to leave months into his freshman year to move to Seattle to care for his older brother, who was injured while serving in Iraq.  Several years later, Calderon-Phangrath said, “I came back to Fresno and married my best friend and biggest cheerleader, my husband, Carlos. We became foster parents and have adopted some amazing boys with unique abilities, due to their medical histories and their trauma. My boys have taught me to be a better parent and to put their needs before my own.”

Gay marriage. Same-Sex parenting. It was astounding – and important – to see how inclusive Fresno State, in the middle of California’s ultra-conservative San Joaquin Valley, was in selecting an openly gay candidate for this award and how effusively embracing the audience was of his recognition.

“Eric Calderon-Phangrath is a highly ethical, gifted, and compassionate person who has and will make an impact on others. He has the heart and skills to become a superb special educator. He has thrived in our university setting where we value and support students from all walks of life,” says Prof. Cheryl McDonald, coordinator of the Special Education Credential Program.

“I feel like this achievement, this recognition, has allowed me to show people that just because I’m gay, it doesn’t make me any different than anyone else,” Calderon-Phangrath told the Los Angeles Blade by phone two days after the event.  

“I let go of all the nervousness, knowing that I was going to be able to tell my story,” he continued.  “More than anything, I was able to speak to my family.”

There are many layers to Calderon-Phangrath family. First, there are his parents, who haven’t always been accepting. His mother is from Cambodia, and his father is from Laos; they both fled to the United States to escape horrors of the expanding Vietnam War. The family lived in poverty and worked in the fields around Fresno to give Calderon-Phangrath and his four siblings a better life.   

English was not Calderon-Phangrath’s first language, but he succeeded in school. “Growing up, I always felt the need to overcompensate in everything I did so that my achievements could outshine the fact that I was attracted to other boys,” he explains.   

Being gay was something Calderon-Phangrath was determined to hide.  “I always felt that my sexuality was shameful and disgraceful to my family.  So, I stayed closeted, and put on a show to prove how ‘straight’ I was.”

Eventually, while living in Seattle, Calderon-Phangrath came out to his family.  After an acrimonious “this is my truth” phone call with his mother and father, Calderon-Phangrath considered ending his life.  

Fortunately, in his darkest moment, his older brother unexpectedly dropped by his apartment and, in a life-altering conversation, Calderon-Phangrath was told he was loved and accepted for who he was.

Calderon-Phangrath soon returned to Fresno, and, with the support of his sisters and brothers, his parents eventually learned to accept their gay son. “Once they saw me living my life to the fullest, without any barriers, feeling like I wasn’t hiding a secret, they saw that I was happy,” he says.

And, on the night that Calderon-Phangrath received one of Fresno State’s top honors, his parents were beaming.  “My mom and dad were extremely proud,” Calderon-Phangrath, says, beaming over the phone.  “Though they still don’t fully understand everything I was saying (because English is their second language), they got pieces of it.  It went full circle.”

For Calderon-Phangrath’s husband, Carlos, and their sons — Paul, 6, Xavier, who turns 3 in July, and Andre, almost 2 — it was a moment they will not soon forget.

Married on Aug. 31, 2013, Calderon-Phangrath always wanted a large family.  Carlos, 36, also a graduate of Fresno State, needed a little convincing. But in 2015, they began the process of becoming foster parents. Now they have three beautiful boys, who have various degrees of special needs. They are the main inspiration for Calderon-Phangrath’s decision to go into special education.  

“Special Ed was something I was afraid of doing because I didn’t understand it,” Calderon-Phangrath recalls. “Now that I’m living it and going through it from the parent’s perspective, I feel like I can be a greater resource to a parent who has a special needs child because I can relate.”  

Calderon-Phangrath will continue at Fresno State to earn his Special Education teaching credential this fall and already has two job offers. What’s more, he knows he is a proud gay male, modeling for his children and the community how powerful self-acceptance and openness can be.

“The most important piece was for my children to hear their ‘papa’ tell his story and acknowledge them and my husband,” he says, pausing, filling up with emotion.  

“After it was all over, my oldest son said, ‘when I grow up, I want to be just like you.’  I had a moment,” Calderon-Phangrath says. “When the university selected me for this honor, they said, ‘you know there are no awards or prizes that come with it.’  But, that moment with my son is the biggest reward I could ever imagine.”

Brad Bessey is an Emmy-Award winning television producer, husband and father.

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Pride Special

2021 Palm Springs Pride was much more than a Pride celebration

Everything Pride — literally everything — the pandemic had robbed from us was on full display-the first full-scale in person Pride since 2020



Palm Springs Pride 2021 (Blade photo by Troy Masters)

PALM SPRINGS – Even the Palm Trees were sashaying this weekend as the 35th Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival freed the city from the doldrums of a pandemic that, while not exactly over, certainly felt that way, at least for a weekend.

Everything Pride and everything Palm Springs — literally everything — the pandemic had robbed from us was on full display, yet with an added zest: It was the first full-scale Pride celebration in California since January 2020 and people were ready to celebrate. Last year’s event was held virtually on Facebook.

Thousands upon thousands of mostly maskless people of every stripe swarmed the city over the three days from one end to the other, something that seemed unimaginable even just a few weeks ago.  

87 year old Dan Bertin wiped a tear from his eye when the Los Angeles Blade asked him why he had decided to attend Palm Springs Pride. “I got off the phone this morning with my son in London, he’s gay like me,” he laughed, “and he told me his husband and my newborn grandson will arrive on a flight from Paris on Friday next week. I am so happy, I just had to celebrate.”

Lydia, the mother of 9 year old Stanton says her son insisted they attend the Festival on Sunday. Mom told the Blade, “at this point he says he is gay so I thought he should see this.” Stanton, who was wearing a mask since he is not vaccinated, said he knew he wasn’t alone but he had no idea there were so many people like him. Pointing to other kid passersby he said, “Look, they are just like me.”  His mom corrected him. “Don’t make assumptions about people, Stanton.” He laughed and ran into the bounce house Festival organizers had set up for kids and his mom followed.  “I couldn’t sit this one out so we drove up from the border today. I’m so proud to be his mom.”  Stanton, she said, was born Stacy.

Tammy Green said the event was her first public event since Covid. “I am so damned tired of all this isolating I could scream.  I’m fully vaccinated and ready for some lovin’ so if you know any hot dykes you can hook me up with I also waxed just for Pride baby!”

Joel Stern and his husband Randall flew in from Seattle:  “We love Palm Springs and we love Pride so when we found cheap airfares on Alaska from Seattle to Palm Springs on Pride week, we jumped,” said Joel. “Yes, this bitch forget to book a hotel room,” snapped Randall. “So I made him splurge on $1200 a night AirBnB and we have a mansion with a pool and are headed back now!”

John W, a homeless and differently abled Transman who has one arm, said he lives in Palm Springs. He got misty-eyed petting Cody, the dog owned by Arturo Jimenez and his partner, LA Blade publisher Troy Masters, saying “I can’t have a dog but I love them.  I have too many PTSD’s and can barely take care of myself. But today, at Pride, surrounded by people willing to talk to me, I feel free and even the sudden loud noises aren’t triggering me.”

Scott E. from New York says met a “Daddy” on Grinder who invited him to Palm Spring Pride after a round of x-rated pics. “Honey, I booked that ticket and here I am, but he was a no show.  It’s fine,” he said as he grinned and gestured at a man of a certain age, “I’m sure I’m gonna be fine.”

Evan Caplan, who visited Palm Springs Pride from Washington, D.C., said “Palm Springs Pride was an opportunity to get away from everything in DC and enjoy the weather, the festivities, and the opportunity to meet all sorts of different people. It was a magical escape to party on the streets and feel welcome by everyone in the city. It was also a reaffirmation of the spirit of the gay community coming together after a challenging and difficult year,” he added. 

Tracy S. flew in from Nashville. The 32 year old Public Relations agent said he came out during the Pandemic and was too shy to attend Nashville’s Pride event, so he jumped on a Southwest flight “that cost nearly nothing” for his first trip to the desert or to SoCal.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever be the same,” he said.

Robin Tyler, the LA based 79 year old Lesbian activist and comedian, took to the mainstage of the event on Friday night and brought the house down. Her favorite joke of the evening: “I met a man in Palm Springs who said he was from Texas. Texas, where men ARE men, and women are nothing. There the right wing courts believe that life begins at conception, and ends at birth!”

Robin Tyler performing at PS Pride 2021 (Courtesy of Robin Tyler)

On Sunday, the parade kicked off at Palm Canyon Drive, slowly making its way to the entrance to the Pride Festival at Amado Road where thousands of smiling people, some still waving flags and their signage from the parade, drag queens decked out galore, young and old, Daddy’s and pups, lined the parade route. Dozens of floats, jumping to the blaring music with writhing go-go boys and some more sedate offerings passed by as merchants hawked their wares. 

Mary Rostow and her wife June watched the parade pass by waving at old friends.

“I am seeing people I haven’t seen in years and it makes my heart sing,” Mary said. “We haven’t got that many Prides left and it really means a lot to me that they pulled this together. June, who was wearing a mask that said “Vaxed” said “We really have a lot to celebrate”

Members of the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first chorus consisting of Transgender, Non-Binary, Intersex, Gender-Non-Conforming and Gender-Fluid individuals) performed “More Friends Than You Know,” a stirring song about diversity and acceptance and empowerment after marching in the parade.

Alan Uphold, a former board member of the Chorus who recently relocated to Palm Springs from Los Angeles with his husband Jeff Olde, was moved to tears by their performance, saide the song “gets me every time.”

Many other local businesses and organizations also had a presence in the parade; a group with Planned Parenthood received loud cheers as they marched by, while Wang’s in the Desert, a popular Palm Springs Pan Asian Cuisine restaurant, mounted a red-and-yellow dragon’s head on the back of a truck. Men in leather hawked drink specials outside downtown bars, and hundreds watched the event while eating on restaurant patios. 

Milling about the nearly 200 booths, the glow on people’s faces told the real story.

“We have 4 bags of souvenirs, including the Los Angeles Blade,” said Drexel Simpson from Phoenix. “It’s our first trip since Covid and there’s simply no way to tell you how liberating it is to hang out with people, no masks on, hugging old friends, kissing them like old times and just getting back to normal. It’s like the Covid Liberation Pride. And I hope the world follows.”

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Pride Special

Monét X Change joins Kiva to Celebrate Pride

Kiva, the sought-after cannabis brand, is following through once again with their second annual partnership with world famous drag superstar Monét X Change.



Monét X Change via KIVA

LOS ANGELES – ’Tis the season of rainbow sponsorships. Pride partnerships between companies of all sizes and queer celebrities of all caches abound. In the whirl of Pride collabs, it’s important to know which companies are for real.

Kiva, the sought-after cannabis brand, is following through once again with their second annual partnership with world famous drag superstar Monét X Change. Monét went Live on Kiva’s Instagram Thursday evening, hosting a candid conversation with viewers on Pride, cannabis and how the two are intertwined. 

On her Instagram Live, Monét started off the bat by calling out other companies who “slap on a rainbow” and call it a day. Kiva is not one of those companies. This Pride month, Kiva has made donations to GLAAD and has pledged to continue their involvement and support of the LGBT+ community year-round, something with Monét cited on Live as especially noteworthy.

GLAAD is an internationally recognized LGBT+ organization that works ubiquitously in the worlds of entertainment, news, and digital media to accelerate acceptance and celebrate LGBTQ+ stories.

Monét X Change gained fame on the 10th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she won Miss Congeniality. She went on to win (in a tie) the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. Working her way to the top of the industry, she is now regarded as one of the most popular and successful queens to come out of the show, frequently partnering with her pal from New York, Season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen.

You can now find Monét everywhere in almost every facet of the entertainment world. Most recently, Monét released “Love Like This” – a beachy bop with a fresh queer Caribbean sound.

Joining Monét’s Kiva live stream was a colorful bunch of up and coming New York queens, including the in-demand Jacklynn Hyde, her leggy New York sister Tina Twirler and the crown-snatching Sabbyiana. 

Back by popular demand, Kiva is relaunching the much asked for Tropical Punch Camino Gummies. These fruity little edibles are a Pride spin-off of Kiva’s popular line of Camino gummies. A light, refreshing edible with 5mg THC per dose perfect for Pride month.

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LA Pride breaks silence announces ‘Thrive with Pride’



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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