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Mariah Carey headlines free AHF World AIDS Day concert

Shrine Auditorium packed for AHF’s 30th anniversary

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Mariah Carey performs onstage during the AHF World AIDS DAY Concert and 30th Anniversary Celebration featuring Mariah Carey and DJ Khaled at the Shrine Auditorium on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Usually an organization celebrates a company milestone or a holiday with an office party, cake and balloons. But to commemorate the 30 years since AIDS Healthcare Foundation went from much-needed, culturally competent hospice care to the world’s largest AIDS organization, Los Angeles-based AHF treated its HIV+ patients, employees, board of directors and volunteers to a free concert from Grammy-winning singer Mariah Carey at the 6,300-seat Shrine Auditorium.

Also there to celebrate the anniversary and commemorate World AIDS Day (Dec.1) were dancer Debbie Allen and her Debbie Allen Dance Academy and award-winning music producer DJ Khaled, both of whom have previously partnered with AHF.

The audience went wild with the guest performance by Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Ne-Yo, whose dapper style was in sharp contrast to raise-the-roof energy of DJ Khaled.

There were funny moments, too. Emcees Laverne Cox, the history-making Emmy-winning (Daytime) and nominated (Primetime) actress/transgender activist, and Mario Lopez, the Emmy-winning host of Extra who was also nominated for his performance as HIV-positive Olympic swimmer Greg Louganis, in Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story – worked well together. Their entertainment chops were unexpectedly put to the test when Carey’s appearance was delayed by some technical difficulty and they had to vamp to fill the time before an excited crowd.

In her introduction to Mariah Carey, Cox talked about the importance of stopping the spread of HIV and added, “it’s just as important is stopping the spread of stigma.” But, after the grand wind up—the duo was stopped short.

“It’s a diva situation here,” Cox said, immediately calming the awkward situation, as if everyone in the auditorium understood the code. Then Cox filled the gap by putting on a show herself, strutting across the stage like a diva model. “This moment is everything for me. I love being on stage waiting for Mariah Carey,” she said, showing a little leg, claiming Mariah would approve.

When the curtain was finally raised on Carey standing in a very tight dress, she posed in her best display of diva-tude, basking in the warmth of adulation before launching in four crowd-playing songs. The only difference between the dancing, singing, and primping-in-place of fans in the front row and the balcony was a manufactured distance. Otherwise, the room rocked as one with Mariah Carey.

And she responded. Stopping the show, and despite the tightness of her dress, she curtseyed down to reach out to fans who were reaching out to her. She accepted and held up a tee shirt and said thank you for a tee shirt she said she’d never wear – and then agreed to sign the arm of a woman who said she wanted that autograph tattooed. The fan, who said her name was Mary, was helped up on stage, shrieking until Carey said she actually had to get on with the show. Unfortunately, the pen didn’t work but Carey seemed genuinely gracious about the whole fan-interruption. In other words, it wasn’t a stunt, she seemed to genuinely relate to her fans—and she didn’t lip-synch. Even when she ended after four songs, the crowd seemed to accept that no amount of foot-stomping and shouting her name would bring her back. Mariah Carey is a diva; they were used to it.

Interspersed with the concert and unguarded fun were moments reminding everyone it was a World AIDS Day commemoration and why they do the work they do. American Idol Season 4 finalist Vonzell Solomon gave a heartfelt performance, interspersed with stirring comments from people with HIV— Taylor Hendricks, Joey Terrill and Cameron Adams—who brought her HIV-negative baby onstage with Josh Rodgers as the crowd applauded the advancements that kept them alive and thriving against the backdrop of people lost to the disease. It was a stark reminder in one visual moment of the expanse between death and the threat of death then—and life today, with the reminder of work still be done.

And prevention was underscored. AHF honored Impulse Group United, the international advocacy and empowerment group funded by AHF that is “dedicated to promoting healthier sexual lifestyles among young gay men in 20 cities around the world.” AHF President Michael Weinstein presented Kevin Pakdivichit, AJ Alegria, Impulse founder Jose Ramos and Rig Rush with the Chris Brownlie Community Champion Award, named in honor of gay political activist, Weinstein’s best friend and AHF co-founder Chris Brownlie, for whom the first AHF AIDS hospice was named. Brownlie died in 1989.  Ramos said he approached Weinstein about doing something about AIDS after seeing a friend die. “It changed me,” he said.

AHF Board of Directors Agapito Díaz, Curley Bonds, Gabriel Maldonado, Ken Bentley and Condessa Curley illustrated the dedication of professionals to ending the ongoing scourge of HIV/AIDS, especially in communities of color. “Today’s space was created so that we could bring celebrities, community, artists and advocates together to have an intersection of conversation that will transform and reform around the country and around the world,” AHF board member Gabriel Maldonado, Founder and CEO of TruEvolution, a Riverside-based LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization, told the Los Angeles Blade.

When Weinstein took the stage, he tossed aside his scripted remarks and spoke extemporaneously, including introducing the raucous crowd to his husband, Frank, who also received an enthusiastic ovation. “I want to thank the hundreds of AHF patients who have put their trust in us,” Weinstein said, noting that the work of fighting HIV/AIDS is far from over.

Weinstein also alerted the audience to the work AFH does around the world—and in forgotten areas like Puerto Rico, which is still devastated from the hurricane more than two months ago.
Weinstein announced that he was flying to Miami for another World AIDS Day event – and to honor the heroic Mayor of San Juan, with whom AHF has been working closely. “It’s still about love, compassion, and helping people who need our help,” he said.

Florida State Rep. David Richardson (first openly gay state rep in state), Carmen Yulin Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, PR and AHF president Michael Weinstein on Dec. 1 in Miami, Florida. (Photo courtesy AHF)
AHF will hold a series of events across the world to continue to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS, including free concerts in Haiti, Mexico City and throughout the United States where HIV testing will be provided, as well.

AHF cites UNAIDS: over 36 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world. Each year 2 million people become infected with the virus and 1 million people die of AIDS-related causes. While millions of people today are accessing lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, millions more still desperately need it. The end of the epidemic is only possible, if governments and world leaders Keep the Promise on AIDS.”
Visit AHFWAD.org for more information on the concert events AHF will host in Miami, Haiti and Mexico City.

(Note: all AHF concert photos shot by Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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