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“Star Wars” comes of age with “The Last Jedi”

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Carrie Fisher makes her final appearance as Leia Organa in “The Last Jedi.” Photo courtest of Disney/Lucasfilm.

When George Lucas conceived the first “Star Wars” movie, it was as a nostalgic homage to the space-cowboy movie serials of old, shaped by his own cinematic influences and informed by classical myth; but along with all that, it was also a sort of political parable that captured the zeitgeist of a society emerging from the polarizing murkiness of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War.  In its tale of plucky rebels standing up to an oppressive regime, it expressed a yearning for a better world, and, through two sequels, carried that hope to a triumphant conclusion.

In the intervening years, much of this context has been lost on audiences introduced to these movies after the fact; what was once an expression of optimism for the future came to be considered mere escapist fantasy, a commercial enterprise designed to reinforce a kind of juvenile idealism while raking in unimaginably huge amounts of cash.

With J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” the rebooted saga regained much of its sense of giddy joy and excitement, echoing the original in its playful tone while hinting at deeper payoffs to come –  but nothing in it prepared us for the way “The Last Jedi” boldly reclaims the urgency and relevance that made the series a cultural touchstone in the first place.

As hero-turned-recluse Luke Skywalker says in the film, “this is not going to go the way you think.”

Throughout Johnson’s iconoclastic film, every preconception is undercut and undermined.  He plays on the audience’s familiarity with the territory, serving up all the comfortable tropes only to smash them and send the story careening off into unforeseen directions.  Heroes make bad choices, missions fall apart, daring plans backfire; everything we think we know about “Star Wars” is challenged and summarily dismissed.

The archetypes that populated this saga are humanized in his vision; weary, conflicted, blinded by hubris, and full of regret, they are haunted by the mistakes of the past – just like the tragic heroes of the Greek myths which have been the blueprint for these continuing adventures all along.  The “Force,” instead of being treated like a super power, regains its mystical status – a cosmic mystery to be grasped, rather than a magic weapon to be wielded.

The movie’s biggest departure, however, has to do with the way that Johnson dismantles the black-and-white morality that has always been a defining condition of these films.  The lines between the good guys and the bad are suddenly blurred, and we begin to see elements of each in the other.  In this way, “The Last Jedi” approaches the maturity that has always been waiting, just out of sight, within the “Star Wars” mythology.

That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t retain all the good-natured charm of its predecessors, or that it discards all their recognizable elements.  Indeed, it’s full of the kind of quippy one-liners and self-referential humor that has marked these films from the beginning.  Chewbacca is still around, of course, along with the anticipated menagerie of fanciful creatures and all your favorite droids. There are dazzling special effects, imaginative new worlds, breathtaking space battles, and plentiful light saber action, all accompanied by the mandatory strains of John Williams’ soaring musical score.

Still, it’s Johnson’s determination to tear down the old and make way for the new that allows his film to strike a resounding chord that fits the era just as deeply as the one sounded by the iconic original back in 1977.

The most obvious reverberation comes from the unabashed parallels between real world politics and the situation portrayed in the film’s conflict between an alliance of freedom fighters (notably called “the Resistance”) and a fascistic regime bent on enslaving the galaxy.  In Trump’s America – despite the film having been written months before the 2016 election – the allegory seems almost too perfect; and the film’s emphatic rejection of a conventional narrative underscores its clear message that it’s time to discard old ways of thinking that no longer serve us and open ourselves up to new ideas.

It also offers up a clear suggestion of where to look for those ideas.  While past incarnations of the “Star Wars” world have been dominated by white male characters, the newer films have made a deliberate effort to introduce diversity into this galaxy far, far away.  “Jedi” takes that even further by emphasizing a host of strong, brave, and intelligent women among its throng of protagonists.  It is they who provide the true leadership, while the “traditional” heroes – stuck in their old patterns – are trying to blow things up or turning away from the fight in disgust.  This is not to say that Luke Skywalker doesn’t live up to his reputation and enjoy his day in the sun (or rather, suns); but it is notable that the movie takes pains to remind us that women are more than deserving of their place at the table.

Although acting has never been the first hallmark of any of these films, there are some truly impressive performances.  Mark Hamill, taking delight in the opportunity to strip away the shine of his iconic character, gives us the best performance of his onscreen career as the older, crankier Luke; and Adam Driver doubles down on the brooding instability he brought to Kylo Ren in “Force,” continuing to evoke the angsty millennial even as he develops this complex character into one of the most compelling movie villains in recent memory.

Of course, special mention must be made of the late Carrie Fisher, making her final appearance in the role that made her a star.  Princess (now General) Leia is an important presence in “The Last Jedi,” allowing the actress the chance to leave a lasting and vivid impression of both herself and a character that has become a symbol of hope and empowerment for women – and rebels – the world over.

Ultimately, though, the true MVP of “The Last Jedi” is the man at its helm.  Director Johnson has brought a fresh, contemporary style to his undertaking that makes this arguably the most elegantly cinematic “Star Wars” entry to date.  Exquisitely framed, artfully staged, and poetically orchestrated, his movie is both exciting and eloquent – a visually stunning piece of filmmaking that transcends pop entertainment to become art.

It’s also proven a slap in the face to some fans, who have taken to the internet to accuse “The Last Jedi” of betraying the “Star Wars” heritage; such is the nature of popular culture in an age where everyone has instant access to a public forum to express their disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they want.

LGBTQ fans may have their own reason to be disgruntled.  Despite hopeful theories from fans, [MINOR spoiler alert] Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) don’t become a couple in “The Last Jedi.”  To be fair, there’s not much time in the action for romance, and the possibility remains that at least one of these characters may yet come out as the franchise’s sole representative of the gay community.  Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy – the ultimate decision maker for the franchise – has said more than once that she is open to introducing a gay character, so there’s still good reason to hope that the concluding film of this current trilogy may finally bring a queer presence to the universe of “Star Wars,” and at last round out the inclusive environment its creative team has taken such pains to bring to “The Last Jedi.”

Of course that message of inclusivity, though it may be welcomed by the majority of fans, has drawn the ire of some in the “Alt-Right” community – so much so, in fact, that a group called “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” took it upon themselves to subvert the movie’s audience approval score on the popular (and influential) Rotten Tomatoes website by using “bots” to post thousands of negative reviews and skew the percentage.  A moderator for the group admitted to the campaign to trash the film because of its “feminist agenda.”

Any true fan knows, of course, that “Star Wars” has always had social justice at its core – and the effort  Johnson’s movie makes to embrace that ideal and bring it to the forefront is reason enough to celebrate “The Last Jedi.”

The fact that it annoys the Alt-Right is just icing on the cake.

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Events

Trans Pride LA celebrating 25 Years with series of events

Trans Pride LA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest, dedicated celebrations of Trans Pride in the country

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Trans Pride Los Angeles/WeHo Times

By Mike Pingel | LOS ANGELES – Trans Pride LA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest, dedicated celebrations of Transgender Pride in the country, lifting trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive folks! Spotlighting the Trans*Lounge program as well as other services provided at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, this all-ages, free event expects 1,400+ attendees over two days.

Friday evening, June 14, will kick off with a vibrant TPLA Welcome Mixer, followed by a line dancing lesson by Stud Country instructors Kira and Abigail, and a viewing of the new gallery exhibition “Ides of Gender” by artist Zach Oren.

Saturday, June 15, the Trans Pride Festival will once again take over The Village and McCadden Pl. with interactive workshops, 40+ market vendors and resource partners, six different food vendors, a portrait studio by photographer Devyn Galindo, and a Trans Pride Talent Showcase featuring the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, Fei Hernandez, Amilia, Bailey Moses, and more.

This event is entirely free on both days, June 14 · 6 pm – June 15 · 6 pm PT. All events will take place at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza and Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood. Admission is completely FREE all weekend. To grab your tickets and see the up-to-date schedule, visit: lalgbtcenter.org/tpla202.

Here is the two-day schedule of events:

Friday, June 14th:

6:00 PM – 8:15 PM – TPLA Welcome Mixer Join us in the Village Courtyard at 1125 North McCadden for a welcome cocktail mixer unveiling this year’s Trans Pride exhibit titled “Ides of Gender” by artist Zach Oren. Non-alcoholic beverage options are available.

8:30 PM – 9:30 PM – Queer Country Line Dancing Performance & Lesson by Stud Country instructors Stud Country’s instructors, Kira Kull & Abi Hamilton, will provide a performance that will make you say “yeehaw.” It will be followed by a queer country line dancing lesson open to all.

8:15 PM – 10:00 PM – Cocktail Mixer & Gallery Viewing Continue exploring Trans Pride’s Gallery Exhibit “Ides of Gender,” grab a bite or simply grab a drink while catching up with (new) friends.

Saturday, June 15th:

12:00 PM – 6:00 PM – Trans Pride Festival We are shutting the street down and spreading Trans Joy everywhere! This event includes a Children & Families Activity Area, Live Performances & Entertainment, Educational Workshops, Market Vendors & Resource Fair, Free Food Vendors, and a Trans Pride Talent Showcase! ASL Interpreters will be available throughout the festival stages & workshops.

Trans Pride Los Angeles is hosted by the Trans* Lounge program, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s groundbreaking education & empowerment program dedicated to serving Los Angeles’ trans and gender expansive community. ASL and bilingual (Spanish/English) interpretation will be available both days.

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Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel has written six books, Channel Surfing: Charlie’s Angels & Angelic Heaven: A Fan’s Guide to Charlie’s Angels, Channel Surfing: Wonder Woman, The Brady Bunch: Super Groovy after all these years; Works of Pingel and most recently, Betty White: Rules the World. Pingel owns and runs CharliesAngels.com website and was Farrah Fawcett personal assistant. He also works as an actor and as a freelance publicist. His official website is www.mikepingel.com

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Sports

‘Deeply disappointing:’ Lia Thomas loses case to compete in Paris

Anti-trans activist Riley Gaines calls it a “victory” and demands NCAA strip trans champion of “every award, title and record”

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Trans All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition. (Screenshot/YouTube ESPN)

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND — Transgender All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition, after a worldwide ban on trans women athletes was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And for the first time since granting an interview to ESPN in May 2022, Thomas is speaking out, as is her fiercest critic, Riley Gaines

The University of Pennsylvania graduate commented on this week’s ruling in a statement issued through her attorney, saying that the decision should serve as a “call to action for trans women athletes.”

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

On Wednesday, three CAS judges dismissed the athlete’s request for arbitration with World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming organizations around the world, claiming rules regarding transgender competitors introduced two years ago were discriminatory.

Three months after Thomas became the first out trans Division I NCAA champion in March 2022, World Aquatics voted to prohibit transgender women who had been through male puberty from competing in elite meets for cisgender women. Only trans women who had completed their medical transition by the age of 12 were allowed to compete with cisgender women. The organization introduced an “open category” in its 50-meter and 100-meter races across all strokes, which would allow athletes whose gender identity differs from the sex they were presumed to be at birth to compete with anyone else. But they would no longer be allowed to compete with other women who were not trans. 

In asking CAS to overturn the ruling last year, Thomas argued that the guidelines were discriminatory, “invalid and unlawful,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported. But the judges dismissed her claim, stating she hd no standing and is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming “for the time being,” so the policy does not apply to her.

“She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as ‘Elite Events,'” according to the judges. “The panel concludes that she lacks standing to challenge the policy and the operational requirements in the framework of the present proceeding,” said the court in its ruling.

The judges said USA Swimming had no authority “to modify such scope of application” of the world governing body’s rules.

World Aquatics said it welcomed the CAS decision in a case “we believe is a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport.” 

Even had the court ruled in her favor, Thomas is not named on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next month.

To failed swimmer turned vocal anti-trans inclusion activist and paid shill Riley Gaines, that is “great news.” 

“Great news! Lia Thomas won’t be able to compete in women’s category at the Olympics or any other elite competition. He has just lost his legal battle in Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling,” Gaines posted on her social media Wednesday, misgendering Thomas. “This is a victory for women and girls everywhere.”

But Gaines did not stop there. A few hours later, she shared an article about the ruling from the right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, and threw down a challenge to the NCAA: “Now the @ncaa needs to strip him of every award, title, and record he stole from a deserving female athlete.” 

Other conservative anti-trans media such as The Daily Mail and other outlets also hailed the decision. But above the fray, one voice has consistently stood out in support of Thomas: Her friend, Schuyler Bailar, who became the first trans athlete to compete on a NCAA Division I men’s team when he swam for Harvard. He called the CAS ruling, “devastating.” 

“This is not inclusion. This is textbook discrimination,” Bailar said in a post on Instagram. “And it is a result of the vicious, disgusting, anti-trans and misogynistic rhetoric that has infected this country and the world. Rhetoric that is not based in science but rather in hatred, fueled by power hungry people who do not care truly about women or women’s sports. I’m not sure what is next in this moment — but history will not look back favorably on this decision.” 

The Blade has reached out to Thomas through her representative for comment and did not receive a response as of press time.

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Notables

Pioneering trans computer scientist Lynn Conway dies at 86

If you are reading this on your mobile phone, you owe it to Conway who pioneered the microchip technology that makes it possible

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Lynn Conway, faculty headshot, University of Michigan by Charles Rogers and at Xerox Corp. by Margaret Moulton

By Erin Reed | ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Yesterday, news broke that transgender woman and computer pioneer Lynn Conway passed away at the age of 86. Her story is nothing short of remarkable.

Conway helped pioneer early supercomputers at IBM but was fired after she transitioned. She went “stealth” and had to rebuild her career from the ground up, starting as a contract programmer at Xerox with “no experience.”

Then, she did it all over again, pioneering VLSI—a groundbreaking technology that allowed for microchips to be made small enough to fit in your pocket, paving the way for smartphones and personal computers. In 1999, she broke stealth, becoming an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Conway first attempted to transition at MIT in 1957 at the age of 19 years old. At the time, the environment was not accepting enough for transgender people to do so. She would have faced enormous barriers to medical transition, as few doctors were knowledgeable enough to prescribe hormone therapy a the time. Like many transgender people seeing enormous barriers to care, she spent the following years closeted.

Eventually, she was hired by IBM where she helped develop the world’s fastest supercomputer at the time on the Advanced Computing System (ACS) project. The computer would become the first to use a “superscalar” design, which made it capable of performing several tasks at once, dramatically improving its performance and making it much faster than previous computers. Despite her pivotal role in the project, she was fired when she informed her employer that she wanted to transition.

What she did next is nothing short of remarkable. Realizing that as an openly transgender woman in 1968, few companies would hire her, she went “stealth” and pretended she had no significant prior experience in computers.

She quickly advanced through the ranks and was hired by Xerox, where she famously developed VLSI, or Very Large Scale Integration. This groundbreaking technology allowed for thousands of transistors to be packed onto a single chip, revolutionizing electronics by making cell phones and modern computers possible through miniaturization and increased processing power.

Conway didn’t stop there. After gaining fame for her computer innovations, she came out in 1999 to advocate for transgender people. She was among the early critics of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, an anti-trans researcher still cited today by those working to ban gender-affirming care.

Conway slammed Zucker for practicing “reparative therapy,” a euphemism for conversion therapy. Notably, Zucker’s research continues to make false claims that “80% of transgender kids desist from being trans,” numbers based on his clinic’s practices, which closely mirrored gay conversion therapy. That clinic has since been shut down over those practices.

Often, those opposed to transgender people paint a picture of gender transition as something new, unique, or unsustainable. Similarly, many who transition are told they cannot be successful as transgender individuals.

Such claims are often weaponized by anti-trans activists like Matt Walsh, who once mockingly asked, “What exactly have ‘transgender Americans’ contributed?” Conway’s life was a resounding rebuke to these attacks. She attempted to transition at a young age in the 1950s, revolutionized computing twice from scratch, and made the cell phone Walsh likely used to post such a question possible.

Perhaps more importantly, Conway’s life gave transgender people another gift: a visible example that we can grow old, and a reminder that we have always been here. In a world where so many of us have had to hide in silence or stealth, where representation has been denied, and where we are told that our lives will be too dangerous to live, Conway proved that one can be trans and live a long, fulfilling, and proud life.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Events

Ricky Martin makes Pride debut at LA Pride in the Park

Martin entertained the crowd with live vocals and hip movements, and he serenaded his hardcore fans with several Spanish songs

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Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

By Paulo Murillo | LOS ANGELES – LA Pride kicked off a weekend-long celebration of Pride Month this past Saturday with Ricky Martin shaking his “bom bom” to a sea of fans at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

The event also featured performances by JoJo Siwa, RaiNao, Tokischa, MUNA, and cast members of HBO’s “We’re Here,” including Sasha Velour, Latrice Royale, Jaida Essence Hall, and Priyanka.

The LA Pride in the Park music festival, produced by Christopher Street West (CSW), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 1970, spanned over 20 acres and featured a variety of activities, exhibitor booths, vendors, games, and food and drink options.

Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES
Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES
Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

Martin entertained the crowd with live vocals and hip movements, and he serenaded his hardcore fans with several Spanish songs, reminding those in attendance that his music career extends beyond “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in the U.S. to other Spanish-speaking countries.

According to reports, this year’s performance marks Martin’s first headlining appearance at any Pride event since he publicly came out as gay via his website in 2010. This year also marks him as the first openly gay Latin artist to perform center stage at LA Pride.

Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

Martin had a lot to prove with his LA Pride gig, following in the high-heeled footsteps of LGBTQ+ diva giants Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, who graced the LA Pride stage in the past two years.

This year’s theme, “Power in Pride,” celebrates the LGBTQ+ community’s ability to live authentically through strength and resilience.

Ricky Martin performs at LA Pride in the Park – Photo by Paulo Murillo for WEHO TIMES

“His participation in LA Pride in the Park goes beyond mere entertainment. It symbolizes a powerful affirmation of queer Latin identity and a celebration of diversity within the LGBTQ+ community,” said Gerald Garth, president of the Christopher Street West board, in a statement.

@wehotimes @Ricky Martin gave it his all as the headliner of this year’s @LA Pride music festival. Here he gyrates all over the place for Living La Vida Loca. #wehotimes #wehonews #lapride #pride #pridemonth #gaypride #lgbtpride #rickymartin #ricky ♬ original sound – WEHO TIMES

The event also included a “sober space” featuring games and activities, an Erotic City area with displays and appearances catering to the kink community, a sports section, and plenty of giveaways.

The LA Pride celebrations continued on Sunday with the LA Pride Parade through the streets of Hollywood, followed by a daylong street fair.

To learn more about LA Pride, visit: https://lapride.org/

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. His work has appea

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Celebrity News

Christian writer apologizes for attacking LGBTQ+ ally Dolly Parton

Andersen, who self identifies as a Christian mom & Bible study leader, apologized for her attacking the Country Icon

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Country Icon, singer-songwriter and long time LGBTQ+ ally Dolly Parton. (Screenshot/YouTube Dolly Parton)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Freelance writer Ericka Andersen, who self identifies as a Christian mom and Bible study leader, in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment apologized for her attacking Country Icon, singer-songwriter Dolly Parton over her allyship and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.

Indianapolis-based Andersen told Yahoo Entertainment on Saturday that the widespread backlash made her realize she shouldn’t have used Parton to press her argument. “I regret using Dolly as the example for the point I was making in the article,” she said.

“As I wrote in the piece, I love her and think she does some incredible things for the world. We all make poor choices in how to frame things sometimes. This was one of those moments for me! Dolly is one of the few people who is beloved by all and who loves all. The world is lucky to have her.”

In a piece for the far-right extremist magazine The Federalist, Andersen had written:

“In a world where division is the default, she collects fans of every political stripe, refusing to denigrate anyone, and regularly proclaims, “I love everybody,” when asked how she does it. 

This response is usually seen as a nod toward the LGBT alliance during interviews with media folks forever fixated on this particular group.”

Andersen then notes:

“When asked about her diverse community of fans, Parton always mentions Christianity, saying she does her best “not to judge” and only “to love” for that reason. 

Related

But Parton’s version of love, which includes condoning immoral sexual behavior (“be who you are,” she’s said), is unaligned with God’s vision for humanity. Like so many secularized spiritual leaders, Parton equates love with agreement, but the two are not reciprocal. Love doesn’t mean we must accept sinfulness as good to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.”

The Federalist was widely denounced on multiple social media platforms for its attack of the beloved Country Icon.

Paul Richmond, a Monterey, California-based queer artist and art instructor, who is an acquaintance of the singer and has created a couple of artwork pieces for Parton, was asked by the Blade for his reaction to the homophobic parsing of Parton’s character by the Federalist writer.

Richmond said: “There is nothing that exemplifies how desperate for attention and unhinged the far right has become than by this attack on America’s sweetheart. Dolly has always shown kindness and empathy for others, which is what all supposed Christians should be striving for.”

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Events

54th Annual LA PRIDE Parade Today! STEP OFF at 11AM

The LA Pride Parade and Block Party will take over the streets of Hollywood Sunday, continuing a two-day celebration of Pride Month

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LA Pride/Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – (KABC) – HAPPENING TODAY! Come out to the 54th annual @lapride Parade in Hollywood! The parade’s grand marshals are “Star Trek” legend George Takei, LAFD Chief Kristin Crowley and legendary wrestler Cassandro El Exótico. 🏳️‍🌈Can’t make it? Watch it here at 11am: https://t.co/IlpUMCBBHj — ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) June 9, 2024

JUNE 9, 2024: STEP OFF at 11AM

The best Parade viewing spots are along the middle of Hollywood Blvd, or on Highland, opposite the ABC7 broadcast area. Step-off is at 11AM sharp, so get there early to get a good spot.

If you can’t be with there in person, be sure to watch the parade live on ABC7, LA Pride’s Official Television & Streaming Partner.

PARADE BLOCK PARTY

June 9, 2024
ADJACENT TO PARADE ROUTE HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD

We’re keeping the celebration going on Sunday by throwing the ultimate free Block Party adjacent to the Parade, open from mid-day and going into the evening. With a performance stage, large vendor village, food & bevs, pop-up bars, and more, it’s the place to be to after the Parade. Last year, 35,000 people enjoyed this free Parade “after-party,” don’t miss it!

The Block Party vendor booth application deadline has now passed. Stay tuned to learn more about the cool things we have in store!

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Movies

New Cyndi Lauper doc brings overdue spotlight to queer ally

‘Let the Canary Sing’ captures a unique, era-defining star

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Cyndi Lauper’s remarkable career is revisited in ‘Let the Canary Sing.’ (Photo courtesy of Paramount Plus)

Every era in our cultural memory has given rise to popular artists that helped to define them, but few can be said to have made as definitive an impact as Cyndi Lauper in the early ‘80s. Splashing onto our airwaves and across our television screens (courtesy of the newly minted MTV) with a defiantly upbeat and colorful blast of society-shifting energy, her proclamation that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” caught the world off guard with a feminist anthem disguised as a good-time party song, and her sense of quirky punk style became an iconic influence over the “look” of an entire decade. In some ways, you could almost say Cyndi Lauper was the ‘80s.

For many people who grew up or came of age during her rise from unknown girl singer to pop music phenomenon, that might be the extent of their knowledge of her life and career. Despite the success (and Grammy Award) she achieved with her first few hits, the ever-roving eye of public attention inevitably moved on to the next new superstar, and her later efforts – while not exactly ignored – never managed to garner as much attention.

That doesn’t mean she has been inactive, though, as her die-hard fans (and there are many) well know; this is especially true in the queer community, where she has long been recognized and celebrated as a staunch ally – which is why it seems apt that Pride month should coincide with the release of “Let the Canary Sing,” a new documentary profile of Lauper that premieres on Paramount Plus this week.

Directed by Emmy-winning documentarian Alison Ellwood, “Canary” takes its name from a comment made by the judge in a legal case that opened the door for Lauper’s stardom – no spoilers here, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out more. It undertakes the telling of a well-rounded and comprehensive life story to cast that stardom in a new light. Maintaining a comfortable sense of chronology, it begins with Lauper’s childhood, growing up in Brooklyn (and later, Queens) in a close-knit family as the middle child of three with a divorced single mother, and follows the trajectory of her life – rebellious, risk-taking teen to driven, passionate artist and activist – through her love of music, her rise to fame, her struggle to evolve in an industry that rewards predictable familiarity, her emergence as an LGBTQ advocate, and her expansion into a genre-leaping artist whose reach has extended beyond pop culture to earn her renown for her versatility. It also covers her accomplishment as the first woman to win a Tony Award as sole composer of the music and lyrics of “Kinky Boots,” the Harvey Fierstein-scripted drag-themed Broadway musical which made a star of Billy Porter – and nabbed her another Grammy (for its Original Cast Recording), to boot. Bolstered by extensive current interview footage with Lauper herself, as well as elder sister Elen, younger brother Fred, and other important figures from her personal and professional life, it finds an arc that reveals its subject as an authentic and uncompromising visionary dedicated to “lifting up” the entire human race.

That would sound hyperbolic – and probably more than a little disingenuous – if Lauper did not come across so palpably on camera. Whether it’s footage from a decades-old Letterman show or newly filmed commentary shot specifically for the film, her “true colors” come shining through (forgive us for that one, we couldn’t resist) to provide ample evidence that, even if she didn’t always know where she was going, she always knew it would be the direction of her own choosing. Indeed, as the movie makes clear, much of the reason behind Lauper’s fade from the pop spotlight was the result of her refusal to repeat herself, to compromise her own path by delivering pale copies of the formula that had made her an “overnight success” after 15 years of trying. Although the documentary doesn’t insinuate this, it’s impossible for us not to suspect that homophobic backlash following her public embrace and advocacy of the queer community – something surely intertwined with her close bond to sister Elen, an out lesbian who is positioned in Ellwood’s film as a key pillar of both emotional and artistic support in Lauper’s life – may have had something to do with the mainstream music industry’s ambivalence toward her as she pursued her artistic impulses beyond the flashy appeal of her debut album. 

In any case, “She’s So Unusual,” as a debut album title, proved to be an ironic foreshadowing of the very reasons she was unable to “stay in her own lane” well enough to remain in the good graces of a public (or, perhaps more truthfully, of record executives) that only wanted more of the same. Lauper has never been one to conform, and it’s made her vulnerable, like so many other unrelenting female voices both before and after her, to the mainstream insistence on reinforcement of the comfortable over the breaking down of boundaries.

“Let the Canary Sing” captures all of this succinctly, yet with layered and sophisticated nuance, as it pays its tribute to a pop icon whose seminal work has continued to resonate after more than 40 years. Unavoidably, perhaps, it sometimes feels like a “Behind the Music” episode or a “puff piece” for an artist about to launch a new project – indeed, Lauper announced a “farewell tour” of 23 cities, as well as a “companion piece” greatest hits album release, on the eve of the movie’s streaming debut – but it pushes past such irrelevant comparisons thanks to the palpable sincerity conveyed onscreen, not only from her, but from all the people in her orbit whose comments about her are included in the film.

Of course, it must be said that anyone who’s not a “Cyndi Lauper fan”, whether by virtue of generational gaps or personal tastes, will probably not be drawn to watch a filmic love letter to her, and that’s a shame. It (and she) has the power to make viewers into true believers not only in her talent, but in her message of acceptance, inclusion, and unconditional love. Part of that, hinges on Ellwood’s skill as a filmmaker and teller of real-life stories, but the lasting impact rests on the persona of the star herself, who exudes a genuine air of transcendence and makes us not only feel instantly comfortable, but completely “seen” and validated, no matter who we are or which spectrum we might be on.

It’s hard to fake the kind of sincerity that makes that possible, and nothing about “Canary” suggests that Cyndi Lauper has any interest in being fake, anyway.

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Flipping the Script: Chris Colfer on his new book & LGBTQ+ Pride

Actor Chris Colfer, speaks to NBC News’ Joe Fryer about his latest book, & the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in books and media

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Chris Colfer speaks about his new book and LGBTQ+ representation. (Screenshot/YouTube NBC News)

(NBC News) NEW YORK – Actor Chris Colfer, known for his starring role as Kurt Hummel on “Glee”, speaks to NBC News’ Joe Fryer about his latest book, “Roswell Johnson Saves The World!” and the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in books and media.

Watch:

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Far-right publication attacks Dolly Parton over her LGBTQ allyship

“There is nothing that exemplifies how desperate for attention & unhinged the far right has become than this attack on America’s sweetheart”

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Country Icon and superstar singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, chats with Hunter Kelly, the host of PROUD Radio on Apple Music Country featuring music and interviews with LGBTQ country artists and allies last December. (Screenshot/YouTube Hunter Kelly)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In an article published Thursday in the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ online magazine The Federalist, Indianapolis-based freelance writer Ericka Andersen, who self identifies as a Christian mom and Bible study leader, attacks Country Music icon and megastar singer-songwriter Dolly Parton.

Parton, a long time ally of America’s LGBTQ+ community, was taken to task by Andersen who wrote:

“In a world where division is the default, she collects fans of every political stripe, refusing to denigrate anyone, and regularly proclaims, “I love everybody,” when asked how she does it. 

This response is usually seen as a nod toward the LGBT alliance during interviews with media folks forever fixated on this particular group.”

Andersen then notes:

“When asked about her diverse community of fans, Parton always mentions Christianity, saying she does her best “not to judge” and only “to love” for that reason. 

But Parton’s version of love, which includes condoning immoral sexual behavior (“be who you are,” she’s said), is unaligned with God’s vision for humanity. Like so many secularized spiritual leaders, Parton equates love with agreement, but the two are not reciprocal. Love doesn’t mean we must accept sinfulness as good to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.”

When the magazine promoted Andersen’s piece on X (formerly Twitter) it amplified her homo/trans phobias.

 

Paul Richmond, a Monterey, California-based queer artist and art instructor, who is an acquaintance of the singer and has created a couple of artwork pieces for Parton, was asked by the Blade for his reaction to the homophobic parsing of Parton’s character by the Federalist writer.

Richmond said: “There is nothing that exemplifies how desperate for attention and unhinged the far right has become than by this attack on America’s sweetheart. Dolly has always shown kindness and empathy for others, which is what all supposed Christians should be striving for.”

A sampling of reaction on social media platforms from other Parton supporters generally echoed Richmond’s reaction:

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Madonna pays tribute to the queer community for Pride 2024

Pop Diva and superstar musical artist Madonna expressed her gratitude to her legions of LGBTQ+ fans in a Pride Month post

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Madonna speaking at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards 2019 in New York City. (Screenshot/YouTube GLAAD)

NEW YORK – Taking to her Instagram account on Thursday, June 6, Pop Diva and superstar musical artist Madonna expressed her gratitude to her legions of LGBTQ+ fans. The singer also urged her fans to embrace Pride and their queer identity.

“When Truth or Dare was released in 1991 I had no idea it was going to cause such a stir 🌈🌈🌈 But that could be said of most of the things I do!!
I simply wanted to capture the world. I was living in—and share it with the world.
I am forever grateful to the gay community that has always supported me from day one!!!
When I arrived in New York for the first time in 1979 — They made an awkward girl from Michigan feel like she fit in, like she wasn’t a freak and. That it was OK to be different. I am forever indebted.
In this increasingly chaotic world, we are living in. I will never stop fighting for diversity, inclusiveness and equal rights for all!!!

DON’T HIDE YOUR PRIDE! 🏳️‍🌈!
Let’s celebrate this month and every month ! 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈.”

The American singer and actress has long been recognized as a LGBTQ+ icon.

According to her biographical entry in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Madonna was introduced to the gay community while still a teenager growing up in first Pontiac and then later Rochester Hills, north of Detroit, Michigan.

It was her ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, a gay man, who first told her that she had something to offer the world. He also introduced her to the local gay community of Detroit, Michigan, often taking her to local gay bars and discotheques.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Madonna began as one of the first “notable” names in the entertainment industry to publicly advocate in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

More recently the singer was honored at the annual GLAAD Media Awards in 1991 for ‘Raising Gay Awareness’ and again in 2019 as an ‘Advocate for Change’. 

Read her entire biographical entry here: (Link)

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