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Oscar announcement brings LGBT surprises

Some unfortunate omissions but some jewels

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Oscar viewing parties, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy AMPAS)

The Oscar nominations for 2017 have been announced, and while there are, as usual, a few surprises as to who has been included and who has been left out, most savvy film aficionados will find the list of competitors a close match to their expectations.

It’s been an unusually rich year for “award bait” movies. In many (if not most) past Oscar races, there have been one or two clearly worthy front-runners and the rest of the crop has seemed like filler.

Even so, the Oscars have never been about quality alone; politics have always played a part in determining nominations and especially winners. In this year’s contest, not surprisingly in a cultural context rife with polarizing controversy, that observation may be truer than ever.

Categories that are traditionally all-male include women. Greta Gerwig received a nod for her direction of “Lady Bird” and “Mudbound” garnered a nomination for its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, the first female to be so-recognized.

Black talent has also been acknowledged. Jordan Peele earned well-deserved (and pleasantly surprising) nominations for both directing and writing his brilliant blend of horror and social satire “Get Out,” which was also included as a Best Picture contender. That movie’s star, Daniel Kaluuya, is also a nominee for Best Actor as is Denzel Washington, for his work in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” a rare instance of two black performers included in the running for that prize.

The most obvious area of improvement this time out, however, is the amount of recognition the Academy has given to LGBT-themed movies and performances.

Most prominent, of course, is “Call Me By Your Name.” This gay coming-of-age story may have generated some controversy over the age gap between its two protagonists (especially after the revelations about Kevin Spacey’s long history of age-inappropriate sexual advances), but it overcame such concerns to become one of the best received and most recognized films of the year. Its nomination for Best Picture is no surprise, nor is its presence in the categories of Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, though its nod for Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love” in the Best Original Song category may have raised some eyebrows.

What’s disappointing and telling is the exclusion of co-star Armie Hammer (considered as a likely bet for a Best Supporting Actor bid) and, even more shocking, Luca Guadagnino for the Best Director prize. The latter snub seems particularly pointed, considering that Guadagnino is one of the film’s few openly gay contributors, underscoring the not-unfair criticism that, though “Call Me” is an LGBT-themed movie, its participants (including both lead actors) are straight.

On the other hand, James Ivory, who is also an out gay man, was nominated for his adaptation of André Aciman’s book; no stranger to Oscar attention (“A Room With A View,” “The Remains of the Day” and “Howard’s End”), he is considered a front-runner to take home the statuette.

Unfortunately for fans of Timothée Chalamet, his chances of a win are far less likely.  Though he grabbed some trophies early in this year’s awards season, he has since been eclipsed by Gary Oldman’s powerhouse turn as Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour,” which has dominated the Best Actor category at most of the recent ceremonies. Oldman is a well-loved performer who has been passed over several times for past work; on top of that, “Darkest Hour” proved its popularity among industry insiders by making a surprising show in the Oscar list, even grabbing an unexpected slot in the Best Picture roster. Both of those factors make it impossible to doubt that Chalamet, despite giving us one of the most unforgettable film performances in recent memory, will be going home empty-handed.

There are other LGBT-relevant films singled out in this year’s nominations.

Though not explicitly gay-themed, Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” does feature a tenderly handled subplot involving a gay character. That film is well-represented in the competition, and stands a reasonable chance of winning any of its nods for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Saorise Ronen) or Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf).

Likewise, Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which leads the nomination tally with a total of 13, is not an LGBT movie but an exploration of “otherness” in a world dominated by straight, white, cis-gendered male identity. It also prominently features a gay character, an older commercial artist whose happiness is blocked at every turn by homophobia and the psychology of the closet, played by actor Richard Jenkins. 

For his likable performance, he has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor; like Chalamet, though, his chances are overshadowed by a powerhouse front-runner — Sam Rockwell, whose work as an evolving racist cop in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is considered the clear favorite for the win.

Finally, in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, the Chilean/German co-production, “A Fantastic Woman,” secured a nomination. The story of a transgender woman fighting transphobia for the right to mourn after the death of her lover, it should also have gotten recognition for its star, trans actress Daniela Vega, who gave one of the strongest performances of the year, by any standard. As a foreign performer, and a relatively inexperienced and unknown one, she didn’t stand much of a chance. But the Academy missed a chance to show support and solidarity with the trans community by giving her a nod. Even so, the film’s nomination is a major step, although the omission of “BPM (Beats per Minute)” within the same category, is a disappointment.

It’s too early in the race to make predictions. Though “Three Billboards” is currently considered the favorite to win (along with its star Frances McDormand and the previously mentioned Rockwell), controversy over its handling of racist themes (as well as some critical backlash over the contrivances of its story) may lower its chances as the big night draws nearer and “Shape of Water” made such a strong showing in the nominations that its popularity among Academy voters is impossible to ignore.

Even given such causes for doubt, however, it seems certain that Oscar will not be duplicating the triumphant validation it delivered for queer awareness with last year’s selection of “Moonlight” for Best Picture.

This year, it looks like the LGBT community will be an also-ran.

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Sports

NBA referees required to wear logo of anti-queer airline Emirates

Emirates airline logo patches adorn uniforms worn by gay ref Bill Kennedy and trans nonbinary ref Che Flores

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Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

NEW YORK — Although the national airline of Dubai announced a new global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association back on February 8, it’s only now that some have noticed that for the first time, commercial patches promoting Emirates are now prominently displayed on every NBA referee’s uniform. 

That includes out gay NBA ref, Bill Kennedy, who publicly came out in 2015 a week after he ejected a player for hurling homophobic slurs during a game. And the Emirates logo is also part of the uniform worn by the first trans nonbinary NBA referee, Che Flores. 

Out NBA referee Bill Kennedy. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Sports)

As of press time, neither Kennedy nor Flores have commented on the sponsorship. Kennedy is in his 26th season with the NBA; for Flores, this is their third season. As Sportico reported in February, “financial terms of the tie-up have not been disclosed.” 

But as Outsports noted last weekend, that presumably lucrative contract the NBA signed with Emirates puts the league in cahoots with the Emirate of Dubai, which is one of seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., where homosexuality is illegal, and punished by death, according to Equaldex. Gender transitions are illegal there, too, and nonbinary identity is not legally recognized. There are no LGBTQ+ protections from discrimination whatsoever, adoption by gay couples is illegal, LGBTQ+ citizens cannot serve in the military or donate blood, and conversion therapy is perfectly legal. 

It’s been this way in the U.A.E. for generations, but despite that, the NBA appeared all too happy to jump in bed with bigots. 

“Emirates is a world-class airline that shares our commitment to engaging fans around the world in new and creative ways,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum in a statement released by Emirates on Feb. 8.  “As basketball continues to be recognized as the fastest growing sport globally, this collaboration will showcase the excitement of the NBA to the millions of people who fly Emirates every year.”

When asked about the U.A.E’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws last year by the StarTribune, Tatum said: “The values of the NBA go with us wherever we go. It doesn’t mean that we agree with all the laws and policies in the more than 200 countries and territories where we do business. We don’t. But what we make sure is whenever we do an event in a particular market, that the values of the NBA, that those travel with us: the values of diversity, inclusion and of equity.”

Emirates does tout its support of women and “gender equality in the workplace” on its website.

The head of Emirates used the word “pride” to describe his feelings about the deal, without a trace of irony.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum inspecting a Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

“We are proud to establish a global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association to become its Official Global Airline Partner,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Group Chairman and Chief Executive. “This collaboration will also see Emirates become the league’s first referee jersey patch partner and the inaugural title partner of the NBA Cup.  With basketball’s popularity around the world, we are excited to work with one of the most globally recognized and prestigious professional leagues.  The NBA is a valuable addition to our sponsorship portfolio as it allows us to connect with a vast global fanbase, including in the U.S., where the game is an integral part of the country’s sport culture.”

The airline itself is controlled by the Dubai government’s principal investment arm. Emirates is already partnered with eight soccer teams, and owns Arsenal FC’s stadium naming and front-of-shirt rights. The airline also sponsors three of tennis’ four Grand Slam events, as well as one of cycling’s top teams — UAE Team. Added together, Emirates is a sponsor across 24 international sports properties, according to Sportico

While both the WNBA and NBA have long been advocates of the LGBTQ+ community, this new partnership appears to put Emirates above any other allyship, according to the airline’s own statement. For example, the NBA changed the name of its 2025 NBA In-Season Tournament to the Emirates NBA Cup. Emirates signage appeared throughout Gainbridge Fieldhouse at the All-Star Game in Indianapolis, and was seen by fans in 214 countries and territories in 60 languages on television, digital media and social media. And there’s more, according to the Emirates press release: 

“The sponsorship will also allow Emirates to enjoy a presence at other marquee league events, including as a partner of NBA Crossover – an immersive fan event at NBA All-Star – and as the presenting partner of the NBA Finals Legacy Project, which features the dedication of new NBA Cares Live, Learn, or Play Centers in each NBA Finals team market.  Emirates branding will also be visible through virtual in-arena signage and on top of the backboard during nationally televised NBA games, beginning with the 2024 NBA All-Star Game.

“Fans will have the opportunity to watch NBA content on all Emirates flights via the airline’s inflight entertainment system, including long-form documentaries, player profiles, interviews and more.

“The marketing partnership will also allow basketball fans to purchase a wide range of official NBA merchandise, including basketballs, sportswear and vintage collectibles, with co-branded collaborations to follow later this year.  The merchandise will be sold at the official Emirates Store at Emirates’ Headquarters in Dubai and online at www.emirates.store, which delivers worldwide.  Emirates Skywards members can also redeem Miles to purchase items from the exciting range.”

Kennedy, Flores and every other NBA ref have been wearing the Emirates patch since the NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis on Feb. 18, broadcast live around the world. The patches promote an airline operated by a country where being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary is punishable by death. 

Yet they’re only now being noticed. 

Closeted referees have to wear them, too. And starting in 2025, so will refs working in the WNBA, a league that openly welcomes out LGBTQ+ coaches and players. Even the NBA’s minor league refs will be required to wear those Emirates patches later this year.

The Blade has reached out to the NBA, WNBA and Emirates for comment.

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Sports

WNBA star Brittney Griner & wife Cherelle expecting first child

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the WNBA star shared with Instagram followers

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Cherelle & Brittney Griner are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news on Instagram. (Photo Credit: Brittney Griner/Instagram)

PHOENIX — One year after returning to the WNBA after her release from a Russian gulag and declaring, “I’m never playing overseas again,” Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and her wife announced they have something even bigger coming up this summer. 

Cherelle, 31, and Brittney, 33, are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news with their 715K followers on Instagram

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the caption read, with the hashtag, #BabyGrinerComingSoon and #July2024.

Griner returned to the U.S. in December 2022 in a prisoner swap, more than nine months after being arrested in Moscow for possession of vape cartridges containing prescription cannabis.

In April 2023, at her first news conference following her release, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made only one exception to her vow to never play overseas again: To return to the Summer Olympic Games, which will be played in Paris starting in July, the same month “Baby Griner” is due. “The only time I would want to would be to represent the USA,” she said last year. 

Given that the unrestricted free agent is on the roster of both Team USA and her WNBA team, it’s not immediately clear where Griner will be when their first child arrives. 

The Griners purchased their “forever home” in Phoenix just last year. “Phoenix is home,” Griner said at the Mercury’s end-of-season media day, according to ESPN. “Me and my wife literally just got a place. This is it.”

As the Los Angeles Blade reported last December, Griner is working with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts — like Griner, an out, married lesbian — on an ESPN television documentary as well as a television series for ABC about her life story. Cherelle is executive producer of these projects. 

Next month, Griner’s tell-all memoir of her Russian incarceration will be published by Penguin Random House. It’s titled Coming Home, and the hardcover hits bookstores on May 7.

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Books

New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery

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(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Movies

Trans filmmaker queers comic book genre with ‘People’s Joker’

Alternative ‘Batman’ universe a medium for mythologized autobiography

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Vera Drew and a friend in ‘The People’s Joker.’ (Image courtesy of Altered Innocence)

It might come as a shock to some comic book fans, but the idea of super heroes and super villains has always been very queer. Think about it: the dramatic skin-tight costumes, the dual identities and secret lives, the inability to fit in or connect because you are distanced from the “normal” world by your powers  – all the standard tropes that define this genre of pop culture myth-making are so rich with obviously queer-coded subtext that it seems ludicrous to think anyone could miss it.

This is not to claim that all superhero stories are really parables about being queer, but, if we’re being honest some of them feel more like it than others; an obvious example is “Batman,” whose domestic life with a teenage boy as his “ward” and close companion has been raising eyebrows since 1940. The campy 1960s TV series did nothing to distance the character from such associations – probably the opposite, in fact – and Warner Brothers’ popular ‘80s-’90s series of film adaptations with gay filmmaker Joel Schumacher’s much-maligned “Batman and Robin,” starring George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell in costumes that highlighted their nipples, which is arguably still the queerest superhero movie ever made.

Or at least it was. That title might now have to be transferred to “The People’s Joker,” which – as it emphatically and repeatedly reminds us – is a parody in no way affiliated with DC’s iconic “Batman” franchise or any of its characters, even though writer, director and star Vera Drew begins it with a dedication to “Mom and Joel Schumacher.” Parody it may be, but that doesn’t keep it from also serving up lots of food for serious thought to chew on between the laughs.

Set in a sort of comics-inspired dystopian meta-America where unsanctioned comedy is illegal, it’s the story of a young, closeted transgender comic (Drew) who leaves her small town home to travel to Gotham City and audition for “GCB” – the official government-produced sketch comedy show. Unfortunately, she’s not a very good comic, and after a rocky start she decides to leave to form a new comedy troupe (labeled “anti-comedy” to skirt legality issues) along with penguin-ish new friend Oswald Cobblepot (Nathan Faustyn). They collect an assortment of misfit would-be comedians to join them, and after branding herself as “Joker the Harlequin,” our protagonist starts to find her groove – but it will take negotiating a relationship with trans “bad boy” Mr. J (Kane Distler), a confrontation with her self-absorbed and transphobic mother (Lynn Downey), and making a choice between playing by the rules or breaking them before she can fully transition into the militant comic activist she was always meant to be.

Told as a wildly whimsical, mixed media narrative that combines live action with a quirky CGI production design and  multiple styles of animation (with different animators for each sequence), “People’s Joker” is by no means the kind of big-budget blockbuster we expect from a superhero — or in this case, supervillain — film, but it should be obvious from the synopsis above that’s not what Drew was going for, anyway. Instead, the Emmy-nominated former editor uses her loopy vision of an alternative “Batman” universe as the medium for a kind of mythologized autobiography, expressing her own real-life journey, both toward embracing her trans identity and forging a maverick career path in an industry discourages nonconformity, while also spoofing the absurdities of modern culture. Subverting familiar tropes, yet skillfully weaving together multiple threads from the “real” DC Universe she’s appropriated with the detailed savvy of a die-hard fangirl, it’s an accomplishment likely to impress her fellow comic book fans — even if they can’t quite get behind the gender politics or her presentation ot Batman himself (or rather, an animated version voiced by Phil Braun) as a closeted gay right-wing demagogue and serial sexual abuser.

These elements, of course, are meant to be deliberately provocative. Drew, like her screen alter ego, is a confrontation comedian at heart, bent on shaking up the dominant paradigm at every opportunity. Yet although she takes aim at the expected targets – the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, corporate hypocrisy, etc. – she is equally adept at scoring hits against things like draconian ideals of political correctness and weaponized “cancel culture”, which are deployed with no quarter from idealogues on both sides of the political divide. This means she might be risking the alienation of an audience which might otherwise be fully in her corner – but it also provides the ring of unbiased personal truth that keeps the movie from sliding into propaganda and elevates it, like “Barbie”, to the level of absurdist allegory.

Because ultimately, of course, the point of “People’s Joker” has little to do with the politics and social constructs it skewers along the way; at its core, it’s all about the real human things that resonate with all of us, regardless of gender, sexuality, ideology, or even political parties: the need to feel loved, to feel supported, and most of all, to be fully actualized. That means the real heart of the film beats in the central thread of her troubled connection between mother and daughter, superbly rendered in both Drew and Downey’s performances, and it’s there that Joker is finally able to break free of her own self-imposed restrictions and simply “be” who she is.

Other performances deserve mention, too, such as Faustyn’s weirdly lovable “Penguin” stand-in and Outsider multi-hyphenate David Leibe Hart as Ra’s al Ghul – a seminal “Batman” villain here reimagined as a veteran comic that serves as a kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure in Joker’s quest. In the end, though, it’s Drew’s show from top to bottom, a showcase for not only her acting skills, which are enhanced by the obvious intelligence (including the emotional kind) she brings to the table, but her considerable talents as a writer, director, and editor.

For some viewers, admittedly, the low-budget vibe of this crowd-funded film might create an obstacle to appreciating the cleverness and artistic vision behind it, though Drew leans into the limitations to find remarkably creative ways to convey what she wants with the means she has at her disposal. Others, obviously will have bigger problems with it than that. Indeed, the film, which debuted at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, was withdrawn from competition there and pulled from additional festival screenings after alleged corporate bullying (presumably from Warner Brothers, which owns the film rights to the Batman franchise) pressured Drew into pulling it back. Clearly, concern over blowback from conservative fans – who would likely never see the film anyway – was enough to warrant strong arm techniques from nervous execs. Nevertheless, “The People’s Joker” made its first American appearance at LA’s Outfest in 2023, and is now receiving a rollout theatrical release that started on April 5 in New York, and continues this week in Los Angeles, with Washington DC and other cities to follow on April 12 and beyond.

If you’re in one of the places where it plays, we say it’s more than worth making the effort. If you’re not, never fear. A VOD/streaming release is sure to come soon. 

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Travel

Hot fun in the desert sun: Your Palm Springs guide

Hiking, dining, bar hopping, and more await

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There are plenty of hiking options for visitors to Palm Springs. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Palm Springs is a favorite destination of mine. I have lots of friends there and there is always something new to do. This trip was no exception. Hiking in two new natural areas. A cabaret shows at Oscar’s. Swimming with the USMS Masters at the Palm Springs Swim Center. A bagel at Townie Bagels and a baguette at Peninsula Pastries. And a cocktail at PSP Air Bar were among the highlights.

WHAT TO DO

Enjoy the Villagefest Thursday night downtown. They block off the street, and it becomes a huge farmers market and art show.

Hit the PS Air Bar for an airline themed evening. They have piano bar Sunday nights in the front. Shop at the Revivals store in the same complex.

Hike in the new Prescott Preserve, formerly a golf course.

Take a hike at the South Lykken Trailhead in Oswit Canyon. Enjoy the cacti and wildflowers. We saw 3 big horn sheep in the meadow. Check out the Oswit Land Trust website for more information.

Go shopping on Sunny Dunes just off South Palm Canyon drive where you will find vintage stores, the Tool Shed leather bar, the new Club 541, antique stores, and a cactus and succulent gift shop (as well as Townie Bagels). Then walk or bike along the new trail along the river just south of Sunny Dunes Road. They even have the plants marked. All are steps from the Motel 6 Downtown.

NIGHTLIFE

Catch a show or go to the Sunday T Dance at Oscar’s. They also have a drag brunch both Saturday and Sunday called “The Bitchiest Brunch.” I saw the fabulous trio, Brandon, and James with Effie, on a Thursday night.

Toucans Tiki Lounge has a popular drag show Monday night. Pick up some new underwear or adult novelty items at the Not So Innocent store next door, 200 N. Palm Canyon.

The Tool Shed at 600 E. Sunny Dunes has a Sunday beer bust and BBQ. They also have an underwear night on Thursdays.

Hunters Palm Springs on Arenas Road has a fun happy hour. (This is the same owner as the one in Wilton Manors, Fla.) You will find 10 other bars nearby.

Fasten your seat belts for the Karaoke Thursday night at PSP Air Bar. The airline themed speakeasy is inside Bouschet. Sit in an old first class American Airlines seat (or an old coach Southwest Airlines seat) while the captain pours you a drink at the PS Air Bar. Then enjoy a show at the Revolution Stage Company next door.

WHERE TO EAT

Grab your morning bagel and coffee at Townie Bagels at 650 East Sunny Dunes. Get there early or expect a line. They open at 6:30 a.m. They are at 650 E. Sunny Dunes Road and have a cult following.

Enjoy a café Americano and pastry at Ristretto For Coffee Lovers (500 S. Palm Canyon Drive).

Enjoy a French baguette or pastry at Peninsula Pastries, 611 S. Palm Canyon in the Sun Plaza. They are only open Thursday to Sunday starting at 8:30 a.m. Get there early to avoid the line. All baked goods use French flour. Like Townie Bagels, they are quite popular. Next door is the Palm Greens Café for a healthy lunch.

Nature’s Health Food and Café (555 Sunrise Way) has fresh juices like carrot juice and vegetarian items like the eggplant wrap. You can sit outside on their patio with your to-go food.

Pick up fruit, yogurt or a pre-made sandwich at Grocery Outlet, Bargain Market in downtown Palm Springs.

GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND

I took United through Denver on the way out and through their Houston hub on the way back. United had the best fare and best departure times so I chose them despite my disdain for their policy charging for carry on for basic economy passengers. I had Economy Plus so I got a no charge carry on.

Palm Springs has a cute, small airport with a huge outdoor area. It’s the nicest airport I have ever been to. However, pack something to eat as they have few food options at the moment.

Hop on the #2 SunLine Bus across the street from the airport to go downtown. It’s a two block walk and costs $1. Rental car not needed if you stay downtown. (The lines for the rental cars can be long and they are packed with fees and surcharges.) I used Uber when not taking the SunLine. (SunLine.org)

Leave your bike helmet at home. The city does not have a shared bike system and is not pedestrian friendly outside of the downtown area despite being flat and having a warm climate.

WHERE TO (AND NOT TO) STAY

I stayed at the very handy and very affordable Motel 6 Downtown, 600 S. Palm Canyon. It is across the street from the Sun Plaza, which consists of many shops and restaurant, is a short walk to the bars on Arenas Road, is around the corner from Townie Bagels and the Tool Shed Bar, and more. Rooms are cleaned daily without asking – unheard of with most motels and hotels. The internet is good. No annoying resort fees. Free coffee every morning at 6 a.m. Get a quiet room on the third floor facing east.

Beware of junk fees like resort fees at other Palm Springs hotels. Most hotels in Palm Springs now have them and they are only disclosed on third party booking sites at the end of the reservation process making the room rate look lower than it actually is.

Often, they are lumped under “taxes and fees” to make you think the government requires them. My favorite (not) was the mandatory “community impact fee” at the Hotel Zoso. It is for a mandatory contribution to a charity.

Happily, I have yet to see hotels add a “pillow fee” or “key fee.”

Palm Springs has many lodging options including VRBO and specialty resorts. Men will like the new Twin Palms Resort as well as their sister property, The Descanso Resort. Both are excellent. Service is top notch. Lunch catered everyday. And more.

MORE INFORMATION

GED is the local magazine. RAGE Monthly out of San Diego also covers PS as does the Los Angeles Blade.

The weekly is the Coachella Valley Independent, which covers upcoming events, restaurants, hikes, local politics and more.

Palm Springs also has a gay radio station. Pick up a copy of their KGay desert Guide or view them at kgaypalmsprings.com (106.5 on the FM dial).

You won’t run out of fun things to do in Palm Springs and summer is their value season.

There is nowhere else where you can enjoy the desert sun surrounded to the west and north by snow capped mountains. And you won’t find a gayer city anywhere.

Bill Malcolm is an award-winning travel writer. His syndicated travel column in run by select LGBTQ publications throughout North America. You can find him on Facebook and read his columns at the travel blog section of the IGLTA website. He received no compensation of any kind for this column.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch

Sen. Butler delivers keynote address

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Sen. Laphonza Butler speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund held its annual National Champagne Brunch at the Grand Hyatt on Sunday, April 7. Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) delivered the keynote address.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Social Media Platforms

Instagram battles financial sextortion scams, blurs DM nudity

When sending or receiving these images, people will be directed to safety tips, developed with guidance from experts, about potential risks

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Instagram app start up screen on iPhone/Los Angeles Blade graphic

Editor’s note: The following article is provided as a public service for readers regarding actions taken by Instagram, a social media platform, dealing with a subject of general interest and concern. The Los Angeles Blade has not verified the information contained herein.

By Meta Public & Media Relations | MENLO PARK, Calif. – Financial sextortion is a horrific crime. We’ve spent years working closely with experts, including those experienced in fighting these crimes, to understand the tactics scammers use to find and extort victims online, so we can develop effective ways to help stop them.

Today, we’re sharing an overview of our latest work to tackle these crimes. This includes new tools we’re testing to help protect people from sextortion and other forms of intimate image abuse, and to make it as hard as possible for scammers to find potential targets – on Meta’s apps and across the internet. We’re also testing new measures to support young people in recognizing and protecting themselves from sextortion scams.

These updates build on our longstanding work to help protect young people from unwanted or potentially harmful contact. We default teens into stricter message settings so they can’t be messaged by anyone they’re not already connected to, show Safety Notices to teens who are already in contact with potential scam accounts, and offer a dedicated option for people to report DMs that are threatening to share private images. We also supported the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in developing Take It Down, a platform that lets young people take back control of their intimate images and helps prevent them being shared online – taking power away from scammers.

Takeaways:

  • We’re testing new features to help protect young people from sextortion and intimate image abuse, and to make it more difficult for potential scammers and criminals to find and interact with teens.
  • We’re also testing new ways to help people spot potential sextortion scams, encourage them to report and empower them to say no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • We’ve started sharing more signals about sextortion accounts to other tech companies through Lantern, helping disrupt this criminal activity across the internet.

Introducing Nudity Protection in DMs

While people overwhelmingly use DMs to share what they love with their friends, family or favorite creators, sextortion scammers may also use private messages to share or ask for intimate images. To help address this, we’ll soon start testing our new nudity protection feature in Instagram DMs, which blurs images detected as containing nudity and encourages people to think twice before sending nude images. This feature is designed not only to protect people from seeing unwanted nudity in their DMs, but also to protect them from scammers who may send nude images to trick people into sending their own images in return.

Nudity protection will be turned on by default for teens under 18 globally, and we’ll show a notification to adults encouraging them to turn it on.

When nudity protection is turned on, people sending images containing nudity will see a message reminding them to be cautious when sending sensitive photos, and that they can unsend these photos if they’ve changed their mind.

Screenshots showing a message reminding user to be cautious when sending sensitive photos.

Anyone who tries to forward a nude image they’ve received will see a message encouraging them to reconsider.

Screenshots showing a message encouraging them to reconsider when a nude image is forwarded.

When someone receives an image containing nudity, it will be automatically blurred under a warning screen, meaning the recipient isn’t confronted with a nude image and they can choose whether or not to view it. We’ll also show them a message encouraging them not to feel pressure to respond, with an option to block the sender and report the chat.

Screenshots showing an automatically blurred under a warning screen when someone receives an image containing nudity.

When sending or receiving these images, people will be directed to safety tips, developed with guidance from experts, about the potential risks involved. These tips include reminders that people may screenshot or forward images without your knowledge, that your relationship to the person may change in the future, and that you should review profiles carefully in case they’re not who they say they are. They also link to a range of resources, including Meta’s Safety Centersupport helplinesStopNCII.org for those over 18, and Take It Down for those under 18.

Screenshots showing safety tips about the potential risks involved when sending or receiving these images.

Nudity protection uses on-device machine learning to analyze whether an image sent in a DM on Instagram contains nudity. Because the images are analyzed on the device itself, nudity protection will work in end-to-end encrypted chats, where Meta won’t have access to these images – unless someone chooses to report them to us.

“Companies have a responsibility to ensure the protection of minors who use their platforms. Meta’s proposed device-side safety measures within its encrypted environment is encouraging. We are hopeful these new measures will increase reporting by minors and curb the circulation of online child exploitation.” — John Shehan, Senior Vice President, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“As an educator, parent, and researcher on adolescent online behavior, I applaud Meta’s new feature that handles the exchange of personal nude content in a thoughtful, nuanced, and appropriate way. It reduces unwanted exposure to potentially traumatic images, gently introduces cognitive dissonance to those who may be open to sharing nudes, and educates people about the potential downsides involved. Each of these should help decrease the incidence of sextortion and related harms, helping to keep young people safe online.” — Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University.

Preventing Potential Scammers from Connecting with Teens

We take severe action when we become aware of people engaging in sextortion: we remove their account, take steps to prevent them from creating new ones and, where appropriate, report them to the NCMEC and law enforcement. Our expert teams also work to investigate and disrupt networks of these criminals, disable their accounts and report them to NCMEC and law enforcement – including several networks in the last year alone.

Now, we’re also developing technology to help identify where accounts may potentially be engaging in sextortion scams, based on a range of signals that could indicate sextortion behavior. While these signals aren’t necessarily evidence that an account has broken our rules, we’re taking precautionary steps to help prevent these accounts from finding and interacting with teen accounts. This builds on the work we already do to prevent other potentially suspicious accounts from finding and interacting with teens.

One way we’re doing this is by making it even harder for potential sextortion accounts to message or interact with people. Now, any message requests potential sextortion accounts try to send will go straight to the recipient’s hidden requests folder, meaning they won’t be notified of the message and never have to see it. For those who are already chatting to potential scam or sextortion accounts, we show Safety Notices encouraging them to report any threats to share their private images, and reminding them that they can say no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

For teens, we’re going even further. We already restrict adults from starting DM chats with teens they’re not connected to, and in January we announced stricter messaging defaults for teens under 16 (under 18 in certain countries), meaning they can only be messaged by people they’re already connected to – no matter how old the sender is. Now, we won’t show the “Message” button on a teen’s profile to potential sextortion accounts, even if they’re already connected. We’re also testing hiding teens from these accounts in people’s follower, following and like lists, and making it harder for them to find teen accounts in Search results.

New Resources for People Who May Have Been Approached by Scammers

We’re testing new pop-up messages for people who may have interacted with an account we’ve removed for sextortion. The message will direct them to our expert-backed resources, including our Stop Sextortion Hubsupport helplines, the option to reach out to a friend, StopNCII.org for those over 18, and Take It Down for those under 18.

We’re also adding new child safety helplines from around the world into our in-app reporting flows. This means when teens report relevant issues – such as nudity, threats to share private images or sexual exploitation or solicitation – we’ll direct them to local child safety helplines where available.

Fighting Sextortion Scams Across the Internet

In November, we announced we were founding members of Lantern, a program run by the Tech Coalition that enables technology companies to share signals about accounts and behaviors that violate their child safety policies.

This industry cooperation is critical, because predators don’t limit themselves to just one platform – and the same is true of sextortion scammers. These criminals target victims across the different apps they use, often moving their conversations from one app to another. That’s why we’ve started to share more sextortion-specific signals to Lantern, to build on this important cooperation and try to stop sextortion scams not just on individual platforms, but across the whole internet.

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The preceding article was previously published by Instagram here: (Link)

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Cynthia Erivo to be honored at LA LGBT Center Gala

This year’s gala features a special musical performance by pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts

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Cynthia Erivo performs "Alfie" for Dionne Warwick at the 46th Kennedy Center Honors (Screenshot/YouTube CBS)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest queer-serving nonprofit organization, announced Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress, singer, songwriter and producer Cynthia Erivo will be honored with the Schrader Award at this year’s Center Gala on May 18, 2024.

A global sensation and proud queer woman, Erivo will be recognized for her stellar achievements in entertainment and activism championing the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I’m thrilled to continue my support for the Los Angeles LGBT Center—an organization that does so much for our community,” Erivo said. “I can’t wait to celebrate with my fellow presenters and honorees, and of course, our queer family in LA.”

Mickalene Thomas, considered one of the most influential visual artists of our time, will be honored with this year’s Vanguard Award. ​​Thomas is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist whose work has yielded widely celebrated aesthetic languages within contemporary visual culture. An out lesbian, she’s recognized for her advocacy and commitment to intersecting complexities of Black and female identity within the Western canon.

“It’s an honor to be recognized alongside Cynthia and so many other talented members of our community,” said Thomas. “I’m excited to kick off an incredible Pride season in LA with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

This year’s gala will also feature a special musical performance by power pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts. 

“We are facing unprecedented attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, which means the Center’s work is more urgent than ever,” said the organization’s CEO, Joe Hollendoner. “Now is the time to strengthen our support for the movement and celebrate with fierce, radical joy.”

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

Delivering a 25-year-old gay lost love letter across time & distance

Los Angeles Blade contributor and gay YouTube vlogger ‘StanChris’ delivers a 25-year-old love letter across the Atlantic

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A special moment during a unique adventure that started with a discovery of a letter in a dusty bureau inside a Boston antique market. (Screenshot/YouTube StanChris)

By Chris Stanley | BOSTON, Mass. – Celebrating one of my younger brother’s birthdays I took him thrifting a few months ago and while we were in an antique marketplace exploring, he found an interesting item in a bureau that ended up being a modern day adventure- in the name of gay love.

Please watch my videoblog below oh and at the end, especially for you folks living on the West coast, I have a special request for your assistance.

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Chris Stanley, a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade, is a Boston-based YouTube vlogger and social media influencer with 400K plus followers. He is also on TikTok and Instagram as ‘StanChris’ and along with his best mate, fellow vlogger and influencer Artem Bezrukavenko @itsartbezrukavenko, document their lives, capturing stories and their interactions in the LGBTQ+ community.

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The trans man, journalist, & filmmaker embedded with the Taliban

New documentary TRANSITION presents an astounding scenario with depth and sensitivity by documentary filmmaker Jordan Bryon

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Australian trans man, journalist, and filmmaker Jordan Bryon with members of the Taliban. (Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

HOLLYWOOD – Imagine taking this plot into the creative meeting at a major studio:  “It is right before the Taliban take control of Afghanistan. A transgender journalist has been living in transition. He becomes embedded with a group of Taliban warriors – and gets to know them. Here’s the kicker—he even goes and gets his gender-affirming surgery WHILE being embedded.”

You can hear imaginary murmurs from the theoretical executives. “Nah, who would DO that?”  “Implausible. They would get found out.” And a third, “No. No one would believe that could happen.” 

They might determine that it tries to create a truth that no one will believe.

As it turns out, they, and you, CAN believe it, because it happened. It has already been turned into a film, but not a dramatized fictional one – it is now a documentary. The documentary not only gives you the experience of a transgender activist embedded, and in action, but equally astounding, it was made by a woman. If you know anything about the Taliban, you will know that a woman wielding a camera around them is hard to fathom.

The film is ACG Unwritten’s “Transition,” released through Gravitas Ventures. In the film, Australian trans man, journalist, and filmmaker Jordan Bryon gains incredible access to a Taliban unit during the fall of Afghanistan. While he is in his own personal transition, so is the country around him. As he and his local videographer, Teddy, embed with the Taliban, Jordan conceals his physiology and is accepted as a man. If the Taliban had found out, he and Teddy would have been stripped and killed. In the film, Jordan struggles with the moral and ethical dilemmas that come with his unique situation. “Reality is far more complex that ‘this is the way things are.’ We wanted to find humanity in dark places, we wanted to explore the gray areas.”

I sat down with Jordan and his filmmaker partner, Monica Villamizar, on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio and the episode The Trans Man Who Embedded with the Taliban: The Hot New Doc TRANSITION. The film is a mind-blowing chronicle of personal transition played out against the backdrop of a cultural one. It still begged the question, why would a nice trans man like Jordan, raised and supported by a gem of a mom back in Australia (we meet her in the film), subject himself to the danger and potential vitriol he would have encountered had he been discovered, or even suspected of being trans?

Monica Villamizar in an Afghan school for girls. (Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“It’s wild. I experienced a lot of discrimination and even violence in Australia because I always had these labels that followed me around. When I went to Afghanistan, because they have such a limited understanding of LGBTQ people, I was anonymous. They didn’t really know if I was a man or a woman, so I became just ‘Jordan” and that anonymity really gave me a blank slate to reimagine myself as to who I wanted to be in the next chapter of my life. Obviously, I am talking as a privileged Australian. For Afghan LGBTQ people, it can be a fatal experience,” he answers. Jordan had been in Afghanistan for five years before it fell to the Taliban. He was not willing to let that “small” fact deter him, when he still had so much more he wanted to give back by revealing the true Afghanistan to the world.

“I am a documentary filmmaker,” he tells me. “Like all of us documentary filmmakers, I am on the hunt for stories that are going to give the audience insight into something they may not know that much about. My mom, you met her in the film, is a bloody legend. She raised me to always speak out for the underdog. Having always been an underdog myself, growing up queer in a small rural town in Australia, I’ve always had an underdog affiliation. I’ve lived in Jordan, Palestine, and Afghanistan, all underdog countries. Making films in these countries, especially Afghanistan, is an absolute gift. Afghanistan is largely undiscovered in many ways and the headlines we see in the media are only one dimension of the country. It is a complex, multi-dimensional country that blows your mind the more you get to know it. Being a filmmaker in Afghanistan is the best chapter of my life I have ever had.”

As to his own identity, Jordan says, “I love being trans. I do not see myself as being a man or a woman. I see myself as being a cluster-fuck of both and everything in between. “ While Joran has gender-affirming surgery in the film, he still celebrates the decades that he lived as a nongender individual within a female presenting body. 

For her part, Monica felt a responsibility as a journalist to capture this piece of history, even though she did not have the same privilege that Jordan experienced. A paradox of the film shows is how Jordan gains more freedom in this toxic masculine world as he transitions, than Monica. The film deftly chronicles the increasing oppression of women as the Taliban transitions to power. Monica experiences this firsthand as her freedoms become more limited operating behind the camera. “I was with Jordan, Kiana, and Teddy for some of the filming where I could have freedom of movement as a woman, but when Jordan was traveling with the Taliban unit, but when they went remote, I had to stay back in a hotel. They had to go through various Taliban checkpoints where I could not be in the car, I could not be seen because I am a woman. I was locked up in a hotel, communicating with the crew via telephone messages.” Even with those restrictions, through the team, Monica was able to capture film that showed Afghanistan in way no one around the world had seen before.

(Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Monica points out the most unique aspect of the film: getting a reporter’s viewpoint through a nonbinary lens. She calls out the journalism establishment that has female reporters covering one kind of story, and male reporters who are very “gung ho” covering others. Here you have a nonbinary reporter’s vision being captured. “How Jordan approached people was so interesting. More rich. We wanted to explore these complexities and nuances. How Jordan disarms the Taliban members with his personality, it is very interesting. We would not have gotten that kind of footage and intimacy through another reporter’s eyes.”

Transition is a film about a country being regressed to its prior oppression. It is a film about one man’s transition into his more finely honed authenticity. 

Mostly though, it is a film that will impose a transition on you, the audience member. It will take you from pre-conceived notions about both situations to a deeper more multi-dimensional understanding.

Therefore, Transition is ultimately about truth. Afghanistan’s truth. Jordan’s truth.

And the truth each one of us chooses to see and believe in the world.

Transition had its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival to audience and critical acclaim and has captivated audiences around the world as an Official Selection at Sheffield DocFest, Sydney Film Festival, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Watch Docs Festival and the Human Rights Film Festival where it won the Audience Award.

You can view it on all on-demand platforms.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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