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2018 Best of Gay LA Awards

All of your favorites, from bartenders to activists and more



gay LA, gay news, Washington Blade

Best of Gay LA

Welcome to the inaugural Best Of Gay LA Awards presented by the Los Angeles Blade. There were hundreds of nominations in 25 categories and thousands of votes. Here we present your picks for the best LA has to offer along with editors’ choices in most categories.


Best of Gay LA, gay news, Los Angeles Blade

Jon Davidson (Photo courtesy of Davidson)

Jon Davidson has been fighting for the rights of the underdog for most of his adult life.

An attorney focused on the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV, virtually since graduating from Yale Law School in 1979, Davidson has fought and won some of the most important cases facing LGBT Americans. But, as he says, ultimately it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the long game.

“What I’ve learned is that one of the realities of doing the LGBT rights litigation that I’ve spent most of my career doing, is that sometimes you can lose the case, but still win. Because those sorts of cases end up educating people about the things that are wrong,” Davidson told the Los Angeles Blade.

He became interested in politics in high school, around the time of Stonewall. He was boycotting grapes and lettuce in support of California farm workers and he protested the Vietnam War. He says he was excited about political change. He started taking cases pro bono.

His first big case was no small potatoes. He sued the city of Los Angeles on behalf of homeless people. Not long after, he says, in 1985 a lot of his friends started to get sick. He started looking for a way he could help.

Davidson teamed up with attorney and activist Susan McGreevy, who was at the ACLU at the time. She enlisted his help in writing the first brief to the U.S. Supreme Court about AIDS. It was about whether people with contagious diseases could be considered disabled and protected against discrimination under a law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The goal was to convince the courts that AIDS was a disabling condition.

“At the time, the Reagan administration was arguing that contagious diseases couldn’t be considered disabilities because that would mean that people with AIDS would be protected from discrimination,” Davidson says.
Another local case got a lot of attention when Davidson was working with a gay rights organization that no longer exists, on behalf of a man threatened with eviction for hanging a gay Pride flag off his apartment’s balcony. The building’s argument was that people would think it was a “gay building.” Davidson argued that people put American flags on their balconies, so why not a Pride flag?

Davidson left private practice in 1988 to work for the ACLA of Southern California. He was there for eight years, and then joined Lambda Legal, where he worked for more than 20 years.
It was Davidson’s work on a case against the Boy Scouts of America that brought much national acclaim. He was the lead lawyer on the Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America, a case that went to California Supreme Court. He lost the case, but it was part of the fight to get people to understand that the Boy Scouts were engaging in discrimination.

Davidson also helped out on the Dale case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to freedom of association allows a private organization like the Boy Scouts, to exclude a person from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.” In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA’s “expressive message” and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message. It reversed a decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, which had determined that New Jersey’s public accommodations law required the BSA to readmit James Dale, who the BSA expelled after Dale went public about being gay.

Davidson says despite losing those cases, the suits against the Boy Scouts outed the organization as discriminatory and ultimately led to a lot of pressure on them to change their position – both social and financial pressure.

“I used to joke that I’ve spent the bulk of my career fighting for LGBT people to serve in the military, get into the Boy Scouts, serve in the Los Angeles Police Department, and to get married, but I didn’t want to do any of those things. But those are four of the most conservative institutions we have in this country and they all in many ways epitomize being an American citizen,” Davidson says.

He and his longtime partner celebrated their 13th anniversary this year, which they count from the time they moved in together.

“I believe that an attack on any member of this nation or the world is an attack on all of us. But I decided more than 30 years ago I wanted to put my professional energies into and work on behalf of my community, which I define as the LGBT community and those living with HIV. That’s what spoke to me and where I felt there was a need,” he says. But, he adds, “A big part of the battle is also to remember that our community also includes several other groups who’ve been targets of the Trump administration – poor people, people of color, Muslims, people from other countries, you name it – it’s frightening. Our community needs to address the fact that many of the gains we made didn’t really help those most marginalized in our community.” (REBEKAH SAGER)


Anthony Saldana (Photo by Brett Saari Photography)

He prefers to be called a bartender rather than a mixologist, but Anthony Saldana is Micky’s top man behind the bar.

“We are more fine-tuned for speed and agility than mixing fancy drinks, because it’s always so busy,” Saldana told the Los Angeles Blade.

Born and raised in Ontario, in the inland empire, Saldana has lived in LA for the last 10 years, and worked at Micky’s for most of that time.

His first job after finishing UC Riverside was at Target as an executive manager. He says he was making $70,000 but on his first visit to Weho, a friend came running out of Micky’s with his shirt off, and told him they were hiring.

“I went in and spoke with the manager, who tore my shirt off in the office. He takes one look at me, and says I can start Monday. I told him about my Target gig and what I was making. He laughed at me and said I’d make double that,” he says.

Saldana waxes poetic about the days before the straight crowd discovered Weho.

He explains that straight guys come in to hit on drunk girls, but they don’t drink as much.

Trained using YouTube videos, this is the fourth year he’s won a Best Bartender title. In 2013, Grindr awarded him Best Bartender. He was flown to Vegas to receive the award.

“I don’t know why I keep winning, because I’m kind of an asshole,” he admits sheepishly. He adds, “If you come into my bar, and you act shitty I’m going to call you out on it. I’m very protective of my customers. I’ve jumped over the bar and thrown people out. I take shots with all of my customers. They literally love it.”

Saldana left home at 17 to “do his own thing.”

Now fairly distant from his family he says people don’t get to choose to be born into a family. “I want to choose who I love. I don’t want to be forced to love people I don’t even get along with. I travel a lot, and I take my friends wherever I go.”

His family found out about his being gay via social media. He almost married a girl. He has some complicated views on being gay, and says he gets pretty deep with customers about them all the time.

“I was born a straight man. I was in love with this female, it wasn’t until my sophomore year I had my first gay experience. I think as a child something very small could alter your thought process. I feel like the gay community always says ‘oh, you’re born gay,’ but if 10 percent of the community is born different than the other 90 percent, then that would make it a disability. I would hate to think that being gay is a disability. Personally I don’t want to be thought of as born gay… But, I’m gay now.

“I definitely appreciate a beautiful female though… and have this girl Natalie in my life that I call my wife. We’re inseparable and we do everything together, and I swear she would get married in a heartbeat, but sexually I just can’t do it. I associate with being gay,” Saldano says.

Single and dating, he has a staunch rule about never dating customers. He’s pressured a lot by men, and says he’s had to tell people he’s straight because it’s easier than telling men he’s not interested.

Despite turning a few guys away, Salgado gets gifts — lots of them. At Christmas he received a Cartier love band worth $10,000. “I mentioned that I’d always wanted one, and the next thing you know it’s getting screwed on my wrist,” he says. He’s been given a Mercedes, taken on trips, and even had someone give him money for his sick father.

“I mean people will give 10 to 20 percent to a church, whereas in the gay community they’ll give 20, 30 or 40 percent to the bars,” he says.

Although he’s known by the tattoo inked on his flat stomach, complete with washboard abs, the days of bartending shirtless are over.

A gym rat, Saldano says to keep his liver from completely failing, he only does shots of tequila, and his favorite is Don Julio anejo – always with a slice of orange. (REBEKAH SAGER)


8857 Santa Monica Blvd.



Cory Zwierzynski (Photo courtesy of Zwierzynski)

Bartender and star of “What Happens at The Abbey,” Cory Zwierzynski is the editors’ pick for Best Bartender. For nearly 25 years, The Abbey has dominated gay nightlife in West Hollywood. And Cory is almost as famous, thanks to his starring role on “What Happens at The Abbey.”

“When you start working at The Abbey,” Corey told the Los Angeles Blade, “it’s like joining a big family. We don’t just work together; we have a good time together. We have so many regulars at The Abbey that they are all part of the family too.”

Corey’s favorite moment at The Abbey so far? “People dancing to Diana Ross’ music on the dance floor with Diana Ross. It doesn’t get more memorable than that.”


692 N Robertson Blvd.



Steve Aoki (Photo courtesy of Aoki)

Steven Hiroyuki (Aoki) is one of the world’s most influential DJs. He certainly has the whole EDM circuit world jumping at venues around the world. But he’s really just an ordinary guy who grew up Newport Beach and attended USCB.

He holds degrees in feminist studies and sociology. But while in college, a spark captured his imagination when he produced a do-it-yourself record and began running underground concerts at Isla Vista, a section of residential land adjacent to UCSB. The venue became known as The Pickle Patch and it changed Aoki’s life. 

In his early 20s, Aoki built his own record label, which he named Dim Mak – a reference to his childhood hero, Bruce Lee.

Aoki has won and been nominated for a number of industry awards, both in annual competitions and in magazine rankings. In 2007, he was named Best Party Rocker DJ by BPM Magazine, Best DJ of the Year by Paper Magazine, and Best Set of the Season at the Ibiza Awards. Several years later, in 2012, he was named #15 in the Top 100 DJs in DJ Magazine, and was named America’s #2 Best DJ. Also in 2012, he won an

EDM Effect Woodie Award by MTVu, and the following year he was nominated for his first Grammy.
In 2014, Aoki was awarded two Guinness World Records, one for the “longest crowd cheer,” and also for the “most amount of glow sticks for thirty seconds.” Aoki performed at the 2015 Ultra Music Festival in Miami Beach on May 21. He also earned the Guinness record for “most traveled musician in one year,” with 161 shows in 41 countries in 2014.

To say he has been successful is an understatement.

He is the founder of the Steve Aoki Charitable Fund, which raises money for global humanitarian relief organizations and medical research. In 2015, he was named Global Ambassador for the Best Buddies program, a non-profit devoted to young people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Learn more at


Shane Ivan Nash (Photo courtesy of Nash)

As a transgender activist and talented musician, Nash has consistently shared his story and his music, helping to inspire others. When asked what he loves most about DJing, Nash said, “Your profession requires you to party, dance and create a collected consciousness. The nightlife is the release from life—we’re all on the same beat, in the same moment.”

Of his work with the LGBT community, Nash said, “I’ve helped countless people in the community start their endeavors including Trans Chorus LA and as a board member for LA Pride, I fought for the trans representation.” Learn more at


If you haven’t heard of chef Stuart O’Keeffe, then you clearly haven’t been invited to the right A-list Hollywood dinner parties.

A small town Irish hottie, who now lives in West Hollywood, O’Keeffe made a name for himself on the Food Network’s “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills.”

“I was always obsessed with America and always wanted to be on TV,” O’Keeffe told the Los Angeles Blade.

His first gig in the U.S. after culinary school in Ireland was in Napa Valley working at Meadowood Napa Valley. But restaurants didn’t suit him. He says he didn’t like the way people were treated.

“I knew I was destined to do what I wanted without the stress. I thought there must be another way, and I kind of started doing dinner parties in my apartment for friends, and they’d tell people about them. I was also working as an executive assistant, and started getting hired for private parties.

O’Keeffe can’t talk a lot about who he works for, but will mention a few celebs he says have “eaten at his tables” – stars such as Sharon Stone, Jennifer Aniston, Justine Bateman, Harrison Ford, Cindy Crawford, Jane Fonda and Christina Aguilera.
O’Keeffe has been at his job long enough and has become well known enough that he doesn’t suffer fools and although his clients tend to be high-maintenance, he lives to cook for others.

“I want people to be nice. I’m not going to bow down to people. I’m well equipped to do this. I won’t stand for people being rude. I’m fair. I mean, how much do you value yourself really,” he says.

So, why do celebs keep calling him back? He says straight up, it’s the way he looks. “I’m a cute guy from Ireland. A lot of women, I overhear them asking if I’m straight or gay. It can be funny in a really sweet way,” O’Keeffe says laughing.

He’s currently single and dating. He likes to meet guys through friends or at a bar. He says his favorites are the Abbey, Revolver and Chapel. He meets people through friends mostly, and doesn’t do the app thing. He says he’s tried it, but it’s not personal enough and he’s too old school.

O’Keeffe says the “power gays” don’t hire him much.

“They have their set people they use… I think people think that I don’t do this anymore because I do so much TV, or because they think I’m above it. But, if I have time in my schedule, I’ll do it. I don’t really turn down things. I like to keep busy. I’d like to do more things,” O’Keeffe says.

His goal is to have his own TV show on the Food Network. He has another cookbook coming out later this year, and he wants to open a restaurant in the next year or two.

He envisions a show where he can travel around the U.S. — a kind of Irish guy fish out of water. He says he loves rural America, and thinks the people are funny and sweet. They remind him of the small town he grew up in — Nenagh, not far from Limerick.

He says Irish food is different than people think. “We have some of the best meat and fish in the world where we are,” he says.

His signature dishes are chicken cacciatore, short ribs, individual baked Alaska, and a killer flourless cake – “Jennifer Aniston told me my cake was good, so it must be badass.”

For a guy that makes his living off people who don’t cook for themselves, O’Keeffe believes a major problem with Americans in general is that they don’t cook at home enough.

“People need to get back in the kitchen and start cooking. There’s so much joy in that. And it’s healthier,” he says. He adds though that he actually hates to shop. “One of the most annoying thing about cooking is going to the store and shopping for the ingredients. I tell people to go shopping one day, and cook the next day. Cooking can be stressful if you don’t know how to do it.”

When O’Keeffe isn’t cooking for actors and Hollywood executives, you can find him on Mondays at the farmer’s market, on Gardner and Fountain streets, or at his local Whole Foods.

He lists Jar, Rossoblu, and Cecconi’s as his favorite restaurants in LA.

As for his TV aspirations that dream has certainly come true, if you count Food Network,  “Stuart’s Kitchen” which aired in Ireland and New Zealand, appearances on Marie, CBS’s “The Talk,” “The Home and Family Show,” and Republic of Telly and Asiana Airlines featured Stuart in its national “Fly with Color” campaign.


Suzanne Tracht (Photo courtesy Tracht)

Chef and owner of the critically acclaimed Jar Restaurant, Suzanne Tracht has won international praise for her culinary adventures at Jar. Her countless appearances on the “Today” show, Food Network, and Extra, as well as her multiple awards led her to be  inducted into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame and participating in Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit.

“Relating to people and making them feel warm and welcome isn’t hard and you can do it in many ways, which is why I cook,” Tracht said. “I like feeding people and making them happy.”


8225 Beverly Blvd.



Brad Lamm (Photo courtesy of Lamm)

Fifteen years ago Brad Lamm was a self-proclaimed total mess. He was bulimic. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. He was an alcoholic, addicted to meth, and he supplemented all of this by taking Xanax. In 2002, he got clean.

Lamm’s journey to help others grew into an empire with two treatment centers that have helped numerous people in the LGBTQ community get clean and sober.

“I knew I was gay at 5 years old,” he says. “When I took my first drink at 15, I was deliciously soothed. By the time my first partner died in 1989, I was 19 years old and convinced not only was I going to die, but we were all going to die.”

He added, “We were part of this sad infected class with no upside… Gay men in my generation, pre-HIV cocktail, it was more than a death sentence, it was a shame sentence. It was a downward spiral. It was a grizzly and gruesome death. And I’d already been cast out of my family.”
ACT UP became Lamm’s upside. Although he was still getting high at the time, he fell into a clan he calls “purposeful,” working to make progress and trying to save his life.

“I found a place for my rage, but I thought I was going to die from alcohol and drugs, so when I didn’t, it was an amazing ‘ah-ha’ coupled with helping others, and it was all congruous with my trauma survival and being a gay man,” Lamm says.

It was in Lamm’s search for what to do with his life after getting clean that he found doctor Dr. Judith Landau, a South African psychiatrist focused on “invitational intervention,” a trauma-informed approach to helping families help their families.

“Essentially you invite your family to an intervention and the work starts from there. It suited me and it coincided with enormous energy I had around, never thinking I’d stop this litany of things that were killing me,” he says.

Lamm’s entre into the work Landau was doing eventually led to starting an intervention practice himself in New York, 13 years ago, and it really took off thanks to contacts he’d made in his former life as a TV weatherman.

“Some of the same skills I had as a journalist and some of the people I grew up in that industry with were now in TV running shows, and they knew about my remarkable turnaround.

“The ‘Today’ show said come and do a show on recovery, and Oprah said come and do a docu-series on food and that became “Addicted to Food,” an eight-part series produced for her. Then Dr. Oz said come help launch the show. And I did like 30 stories. That was the rocket fuel to this mission of helping my recovery community and their families reduce its suffering,” Lamm says.

Five years ago, Lamm opened a trauma-informed treatment center that would accept health insurance,  Breathe Life Healing Center in Los Angeles.

“Meth and alcohol was my struggle, drug and hurt, so to see treatment in my community is powerful,” he says.

He and Scott Sanders, a Tony, Grammy and Emmy winning television, film and theater producer (Sanders produced the musical “The Color Purple” for Broadway), were married and it was the first gay wedding Oprah attended.

He says he sees so much of himself in the Celie character from “The Color Purple.”

“You’re at the end of the rope and you’re so beaten down, and then all of a sudden instead of cutting Mister’s throat, you choose grace and find your way. And part of that is forgiveness. But forgiveness doesn’t mean I need to live up to anyone’s version of who I need to be,” Lamm says.

Lamm says the headline of his life continues to be defined by something famed author, Alice Walker said to him 13 years ago.

“She told me that ‘the power of you is not your story, but that you’re a ‘bodhisattva.’ I was like, what’s that? She told me to go and look it up. It means, the one who goes into the lake of fire to help another out. That’s the beauty of every person to help another. The very wreckage of my past becomes the crown jewel of my ability to help another,” Lamm says.


8730 Sunset Blvd.


Oliver Alpuche (Photo courtesy of Alpuche)

When asked what inspired the business venture that led to the opening of this premier gay bar in DTLA, Oliver Alpuche said, “I’ve lived downtown for eight years and noticed that the LGBTQ community was growing, but we had nowhere to go and meet each other. Downtown deserves a dedicated queer space 365 days a year.”

That paved the way for the DTLA Proud Festival, which Oliver created. “DLTA Proud is committed to celebrating everyone’s story, to spreading optimism, to growing our community and to expanding our definition of diversity,” he said. “I love Los Angeles because of how diverse it is.”


131 E 6th St.


S. Christopher ‘Kit’ Winter (Photo courtesy of Winter)

S. Christopher (“Kit”) Winter didn’t always want to be a lawyer.

“I wasn’t one of those kids who had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “I could envision myself doing a lot of different things. It all seemed interesting.” That curiosity is reflected in his varied career in New York between graduating from Yale in 1987 and starting law school at UCLA in 1994. “I had a little bit of career ADD after college,” Winter said. “I worked in advertising sales, graphic design, desktop publishing – and I always had a side gig.”

Those side gigs included promoting parties at Limelight, Sound Factory and other New York nightclubs featuring DJs such as Frankie Knuckles, Little Louie Vega, and Junior Vasquez; bartending at various restaurants in the West Village and Chelsea; and working catering jobs for clients including Madonna.

“I think people were surprised when I decided to go to law school,” Winter laughs. “It wasn’t something that you would have necessarily thought was in my future.”

Surprising or not, Winter excelled at law school, graduating UCLA law in 1997 in the top 10 percent of his class and winning numerous academic honors. For more than two decades since then, Winter has been practicing law in Los Angeles, in settings ranging from large national law firms to his current solo practice.

“I don’t believe in fighting for the sake of fighting,” Winter says about his philosophy. “My goal as a lawyer is to help my clients navigate their legal challenges as quickly and affordably as possible.”

Winter’s practice is focused on serving as outside general counsel to small-to-medium sized companies, encouraging his clients to take a proactive approach to avoiding legal problems and crafting effective strategies to address problems. His legal background includes experience in litigation, intellectual property and general business law, and he has authored portions of treatises relating to privacy law and technology transactions.

Winter doesn’t specifically target his practice to the LGBT community, although he says he represents a diverse group of clients.

“I’m a ‘gay lawyer’ because I’m gay and I’m a lawyer,” he jokes. “I’ve been out of the closet since I was a teenager.”

Indeed, Winter has a long history of LGBT activism extending back more than 30 years. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the co-chair of the Gay & Lesbian Co-op (with the late Sarah Pettit, a founding editor of OUT magazine), and part of a group of students who successfully lobbied the Yale Corporation to include “sexual orientation” in the university’s non-discrimination policy in 1986.

“I was sort of a big gay on campus,” Winter recalls, “writing op-eds in the Yale Daily News, arranging protests, that kind of thing.” Asked whether he contributed to the environment that led the Wall Street Journal to label Yale the “Gay Ivy” in 1987, Winter laughs, “I’d like to think so. I definitely left Yale a gayer place than I found it.”

Winter moved to New York City in 1987, in the middle of the AIDS crisis and shortly after the founding of ACT UP.  “It was a terrifying time,” Winter says. “While my straight friends from college were starting their careers or heading to graduate school, gay men were trying to survive an apocalypse.”

Winter became involved in ACT UP and found a home in gay publishing, working first at the New York Native, New York’s gay newspaper, and later serving as the founding advertising director of Outweek magazine.

He later served as the production manager of QW, a gay newsweekly (Troy Masters, Los Angeles Blade publisher was a founder and publisher of QW) for which he also briefly penned the advice column under the moniker “Queer Abby.”  “I don’t think we thought much about trademark law back then,” Winter laughs. After working as a freelance desktop publisher at various Conde Nast titles including Mademoiselle, Allure, and Details, Winter decided to pursue the challenge of a career in law, and hasn’t looked back since.

“I love being a lawyer,” Winter says. “Legal issues can be overwhelming to people, and can be fatal to businesses. Helping my clients get through that successfully is very rewarding.”

Winter is married to Patrick Jensen, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  They live in Silver Lake and have two dogs and two cats.

This year will mark Winter’s fourth time riding in AIDS/Lifecycle to raise money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center.


Laura W. Brill (Photo courtesy of Brill)

A lifetime focus on cases that promote equal rights, make Laura Brill a force in the fight against discrimination.

“One of my briefs in the early 1990s argued in the case of Lawrence v. Texas (a challenge to a state anti-sodomy statute) that discrimination based on sexual orientation was a type of sex discrimination and that the statute should be ruled unconstitutional on that basis. That same argument has been made many times over the years…this theory is now gaining recognition by courts and administrative agencies, including most prominently, in cases relating to employment discrimination.”

In the case Colin v. Orange Unified School District, Brill helped pave the way for Gay Straight Alliances. Brill discussed this significant moment: “We got the first preliminary injunction requiring the school to allow the club to meet and use school facilities just like any other club. One of my favorite moments since then has been going to gay Pride events more recently and seeing the huge numbers of wonderful high school students marching with their Gay Straight Alliance banners. I’m so happy to have had a part in helping kids have a safe environment at schools.”

“My New Year’s resolution is to do all I can to increase voter registration rates, especially among young people and especially in the LGBTQ community. Many people don’t know that young people can pre-register to vote when they are 16 or 17. Then when they turn 18 they will be automatically registered to vote,” Brill said. “Most people don’t know about pre-registration, but we need everyone registered so we can make sure government policies reflect our priorities, instead of the opposite.”

Kendall Brill & Kelly LLP

10100 Santa Monica Blvd


Laura W. Brill


LA Mayor Eric Garcetti in his office (Photo by Karen Ocamb)


Lisa Vanderpump (Photo by Toglenn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

As an entrepreneur, avid activist, author, television personality, and restaurant owner of LA staples such as Pump and SUR, Lisa Vanderpump is an LA icon. She has consistently stood up for the LGBT community, having worked as a spokesperson for GLAAD, led the AIDS Walk Los Angeles, served as grand marshal of 2017 Long Beach Pride, worked with Desert AIDS Project, The Trevor Project, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and more.

In addition to advocating for the LGBT community, Vanderpump created The Vanderpump Dog Foundation, working to help end animal abuse. She somehow also found time to produce “Vanderpump Rules,” the smash reality TV show. She’s the ultimate philanthropist who really does it all. Vanderpump has a love for all living creatures that shines through in her humanitarian efforts, making her a model ally.


Jeffery Bowman and cast members from Legendary Bingo. (Courtesy Legendary Bingo)

Beautiful drag queens, fantastic food, money, charities…Bingo! Legendary Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s is not just a great drag show, it’s a fantastic and sometimes wild night out. Jeffery Bowman is almost as legendary as Hamburger Mary’s.


8288 Santa Monica Blvd



Lyric Hyperion Theatre & Café

2106 Hyperion Ave.

323-928 2299


Where else are you going to see Diana Ross or Elon Musk tear up the dance floor? The Abbey is arguably the best-known gay bar in all of the U.S. and always a fun night out with your besties. It’s a treasured LA icon and so is owner David Cooley.


692 N. Robertson Blvd.

310-289 8410


WeHo loves the oversized drinks and darts in the back at this famous video bar.


8851 Santa Monica Blvd.

310-694 0430


“Real Housewives” star Lisa Vanderpump’s SUR is a great place for people watching, and the upscale food is, well, impressive. It’s definitely a see-and-be-seen scene that can’t be missed.


606 N. Robertson Blvd.

310-289 2824


The Northern Italian cuisine is spectacular, the decor a kind of elegant retro Roman-chic with outdoor seating. True luxe.


8764 Melrose Ave.

310-432 2000


Quite simply, the best place to go shopping for unique, curated food brands.


7310 Santa Monica Blvd.



Extensive selections of the highest-quality foods. And, at least in WeHo, it’s where the boys are.


8969 Santa Monica Blvd.



Experienced real estate agents who negotiate well for their clients. One reader said, “The Collective is the concierge service of boutique realty. And Andy Vulin is the best real estate investment teacher I ever met.”


Find the most luxurious West Hollywood or Beverly Hills home of your dreams and call Berkshire Hathaway, because no one can close it faster or more fairly. Readers praised their attentiveness to detail.


131 S. Rodeo Dr.



Whatever level of service you require for your coif, Shorty’s is the place to go.  It’s the very best place in West Hollywood for a drop in fade. People travel from all over Los Angeles to the unmistakable storefront on Fairfax.


755 N. Fairfax Ave.



Celebrity hairstylist Marco Pelusi has the best tips for looking great. “Ask your stylist to do a gloss or a shine treatment when you’re next at the salon,” he recommended. “Your hair can often dry out and look dull, lifeless, and frizzy during winter months; the added shine treatment will boost the condition of your hair and make it look healthy.”

636 N. Robertson Blvd.



One reader commented, “At Beverly Hills BMW, I walked through and decided what I wanted and with no pressure at all I left with the $90,000 ride of my dreams. No hassles, no pressure. Just great service and a brilliant ride.”


5070 Wilshire Blvd.



Honda of Hollywood has one of the best full-service shops of any dealership in Los Angeles. Our favorites are the 2018 CRVs and HRV. Great quality SUVs at a realistic price.


6511 Santa Monica Blvd.



World-class urgent care from one of the world’s leading medical institutions.


Doctors you can talk to and advice that’s easy to take because they are just like you. Comprehensive, fully loaded and state of the art.


9201 Sunset Blvd.



One of the busiest places in WeHo, 24 Hour Fitness is as much a family for some as it is a gym.

8612 Santa Monica Blvd.



A little bit of luxury goes a long way during a hard workout. Outstanding, modern and clean facilities are what make Equinox worthy of Editors’ Choice.


8590 Sunset Blvd.



Since Jan. 1, MedMen has experienced lines down the block and its fans are true believers in the almost Apple Store experience of boutique weed products of every kind. Founder Andrew Modin, almost overnight, has become a business sensation in West Hollywood and is now ramping up to take it national.


8208 Santa Monica Blvd.



Some say it has one of the highest-grade selections of any store in Los Angeles.  Its edibles and medicinal choices are outstanding.


8464 Santa Monica Blvd.



One of the world’s leading hotel names is now at home along Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Unprecedented luxury is just the tip of the iceberg of the Waldorf experience. After watching it soar skyward during construction, you know you want to spend the weekend there. Staycation!


9850 Wilshire Blvd.



Soon to experience a name change — think One Hotel — The Jeremy, as everyone now calls it, is an astounding architectural gem and gorgeous hotel overlooking Rainbow City. It’s not only a great place to stay, it’s also a destination. 


8490 Sunset Blvd.



The house that MCC founder Troy Perry built is a rollicking, down home gospel of faith and a beacon in the fight and one of the most consequential  cornerstone establishments of LGBT history in LA.

4607 Prospect Ave.



One of the most significant Reform synagogues in America is also one of the most innovative. A powerhouse of Jewish tradition and thought, Rabbi Denise Eger is devoted to community and social justice.


1200 N. La Brea Ave.



Impulse Group is an international group that advocates change toward  healthier sexual lifestyles among gay men in 18 cities around the world, based in Los Angeles. Founder Jose Ramos felt stronger community bonds and family building among peers can reduce HIV rates and save lives. Turns out he was right.



California’s largest LGBT recreational sports league is celebrating 10 gay years!  A robust and well-organized calendar of Kickball, Dodgeball, Bowling, Tennis, Soccer and Volleyball. Who says gays don’t do sports? Will Hackner and Andrew Miller want to know.



LACMA is a world-class museum and with its expansion, including an incorporation of Hollywood movie and Oscar history, it’s unrivaled. Many outstanding collections and community events, like outdoor films, make it a treasured institution.


5905 Wilshire Blvd.



One of the most important modern museums in the western United States is also one of the most iconic landmarks in DTLA. Eli Broad’s massively important contemporary art collection almost wound up in a building that would have been where the new Waldorf is today.


221 S. Grand Ave.



AHF provides services to more than 600,000 HIV+ individuals in 15 U.S. states and 36 countries worldwide and is the largest AIDS service organization in the world. Michael Weinstein founded the agency as a hospice when no hospital would care for AIDS patients and since then has grown it into a billion-dollar non-profit.


6255 W. Sunset Blvd.



Founded by Morris Kight in 1969, LA’s LGBT Center is now the world’s largest LGBT social service agency and community center and is in the middle of an expansion that will revolutionize its reach. Lori Jean, its CEO, has become one of the most important LGBT non-profit leaders in the U.S.


1625 N. Schrader Blvd.



A truly empathic provider of outstanding medical services for generations of LGBT community members in West Hollywood.


7970 Santa Monica Blvd.


Dr. Mark Nunez

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST VET: Dr. MARK NUNEZ, formerly of VETERINARY CARE CENTER, now Medical Director of VCA Miller-Robertson Animal Hospital.

Dr. Mark Nunez was previously Veterinary Care Center’s go-to doctor, known for going the extra mile to save your pet.  Dr. Nunez recently accepted a new position as Medical Director of VCA Miller-Robertson Animal Hospital

VCA Miller-Robertson Animal Hospital
8807 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90069


The go-to place for all family visits and the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood offers views that just can’t be beat.


2800 E. Observatory Rd.



The iconic outdoor theater celebrates everything about Los Angeles and features some of the greatest names in music, under the stars.


2301 N. Highland Ave.



The Human Rights Campaign brings out the star power each year in Los Angeles and is famous for an exuberant red carpet experience. On March 10, 2018 you have your next chance to take a walk.


The world’s most important LGBT film festival is also becoming one of LA’s most anticipated events.

(Mary Jo De Silva contributed to this article)


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Black Deafhood: A journey at the intersection of sexuality, disability, race

Gallaudet’s Bobbi-Angelica Morris on their activism and art



Bobbi-Angelica Morris is a Gallaudet University graduate student, activist, and artist.

Editor’s note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the CDC. Queer and Deaf/disabled people have long been a vibrant part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, a hero of the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf-Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Obama administration Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez are just a few of the people who identify as queer/Deaf/disabled. The stories of this vital segment of this queer community have rarely been told. In its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade is telling some of these long unheard stories.

“My ‘coming out’ story looks more like me telling someone my favorite cookie flavor is chocolate chip,” Bobbi-Angelica Morris, a Gallaudet University graduate student, activist, poet, photographer, videographer and visual artist, told the Blade, “than an emotional roller coaster.”

“I’ve always embodied this carefree energy pertaining to who I am, what my purpose is, and how I show up for others,” added Morris, who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing and identifies as a Black, nonbinary, queer and abolitionist artist.

Earlier this year, Morris, 23, received the Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award from the National AIDS Memorial, the San Francisco organization that displays the internationally acclaimed AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Over the phone and in email, Morris spoke with the Blade about a range of topics – from her “Deafhood” to how she felt safe at a queer Halloween party.

Morris, who uses she/they pronouns, grew up in different parts of the East Coast. They spent most of that time in Richmond, Va.  

“Growing up, most of the people around me would ask if I was gay,” Morris said, “because I fit into the stereotypical realms of present day msc [masculine] presenting dykes.”

“No one questioned me when I actually came to terms with my queer identity,” they added.

Before enrolling in Gallaudet, Morris spent most of their time as a student with hearing people in schools, where most teachers and students didn’t communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). Morris was the only Deaf student in their classes until they graduated from the University of Virginia in 2022 in Charlottesville. There, they majored in global development studies and minored in ASL with a concentration in disability studies and community development.

Growing up, Morris didn’t know about ASL or the creativity and history of Deaf culture.

“It wasn’t until I was in elementary school,” Morris said, “that an audiologist said I qualified for hearing aids.”

In their poetry, Morris, who speaks and signs their work, reflects on their family and their experience of being Deaf.

“I reflect on my own Deafhood:/ my playground fights/ with uneducated parents,” Morris writes in a poem, “When little Black Deaf girl doesn’t hear someone speak to her,/that someone thinks little Black Deaf girl is disrespectful.” 

Like many Deaf/Hard of Hearing people, who go to school when they don’t know American Sign Language, and there are no ASL interpreters, Morris felt isolated.

“I had no knowledge of the Deaf community or of Black Deaf history,” they said.

Some in Morris’s family and community couldn’t accept that Morris is Deaf. “Some, not out of maliciousness, prayed for my healing,” they said.

What Morris calls her “Black Deafhood,” has been a long journey at the intersection of sexuality, Deafness, disability, Blackness, gender, activism, and art. 

Deafhood is a “journey that a Deaf person undertakes to discover his, her or their identity and purpose in life,” according to a Deafhood Foundation statement on

Hearing people often perceive of Deafness as a disease that should be cured, and of Deaf people as incompetent, second-class, less-valued, citizens.

Just as coming out helps queer people to affirm their sexuality and connect with the LGBTQ community and history, Deafhood empowers Deaf people to have pride in themselves – to connect with the Deaf community, history and culture.

As it often goes with finding and loving your queer self, Deafhood is a process. 

In middle school, Morris watched “Switched at Birth,” the popular TV series. The teen and family drama features Deaf and hearing actors and scenes in ASL.

The show jump-started Morris’s interest in Deafness and the Deaf community. “But, I still didn’t understand my connection [with the Deaf community],” Morris said.

Curious to discover something about Deaf culture, Morris started an informal class – a club. There, they and their friends learned signs from YouTube videos.

At the University of Virginia, Morris took a sign language class. They studies abroad for a time in India.

At Gallaudet, Morris began to feel connected to the Deaf community. They are a student in the Master of Social Work program at Gallaudet’s School of Civic Leadership, Business, and Social Change. Morris will graduate with an M.S.W. degree in 2024.

They are equally committed to making art and activism – to working for social justice for Black, Deaf/disabled, queer, and other marginalized groups. A love of art and social change is etched in their bones.

“I am an abolitionist and an artist,” Morris said, “I cannot be one without the other.”

Their abolitionist identity is connected to how they experience intersectionality. Morris sees their life as connected “to the movement for total liberation of all our people, beings, and non-beings in this present day and beyond,” they said.

Because they are an artist, they have a responsibility to use their skills to educate, inspire and protect “everyone and everything that abolitionists fight for daily,” Morris said.

From early on, Morris loved being creative. During an unstable childhood, art helped Morris to express their feelings.

Fortunately, art ran in Morris’s family. “My bio-mom is an amazing artist,” Morris said, “so we would draw things together.”

Later, Morris’s god-mom gave Morris materials that sparked their interest in painting and photography.

In middle school, Morris got into spoken word poetry when one of their Boys and Girls Club mentors showed them a spoken word video. At the University of Virginia, Morris participated in poetry slams. In their Gallaudet social work program, they impressively deploy their artistic and activism chops.

Their advocacy projects are numerous. Morris is developing ASL G, a non-profit organization. The group’s mission “is to develop community garden coalitions and programming for art and health wellness through disability justice,” Morris said.

Morris was the former creative outreach coordinator of VOCA, a non-profit that supports BIPOC, Deaf artists.

“I have family members that have been incarcerated,” Morris said. “Because of that, I want to fight the injustice of the prison industry and mass incarceration.”

Morris is the president of Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI), a student club at Gallaudet.

Ableism, audism (discrimination against Deaf people), homophobia and racism are issues for Morris. “The white presence is prominent in many institutions,” they said, “often they’re predominantly white.”

Morris likes being a Gallaudet student. But, “there’s a lack of racial competency at Gallaudet as there is in the whole of America,” they said.

The queer community has provided safe spaces for Morris. 

Once, Morris and their partner attended a queer Halloween party in Charlottesville. “Half the people in attendance knew or were learning sign language,” Morris said. “I think it was then that I realized how connected the queer community was in ensuring no one was left out.”

Morris went to the party as Beast Boy, and their partner went as Raven from Teen Titans.

Follow Morris on Instagram @Blckrainbow5

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Charles Busch reflects on the paths he didn’t take in new book

‘Leading Lady’ a riveting memoir from legendary entertainer



'Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy' comes out on Sept. 12.

“Charles, I’m telling you, I go to plays in rat-infested basements where I’m the only one who shows up,” the late queer icon Joan Rivers once told the queer, legendary playwright, actor, director, novelist, cabaret performer and drag icon, Charles Busch. “I can see the actors peeking through the curtain and groaning, ‘Oh God, that old bitch in the fur coat is here. Does that mean we’ve gotta go on?’”

Busch reminded Rivers that she’d seen him perform in a rat-infested basement.

This is just one of the many stories that Busch, born in 1954, tells in his riveting memoir, “Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy,” which comes out on Sept. 12.

“Leading Lady” is a page-turner. Some of its tales of Busch’s life and career, such as his account of a Christmas party with Rivers as a guest, are dishy. Others, like his memories of trying to care for his beloved Aunt Lil, when he knew she was dying, would make even the Wicked Witch in Oz tear up.

The memoir, is, as Busch says on his website (, the story of “a talented artist’s Oz-like journey.” 

“Leading Lady” isn’t linear. This isn’t a detriment. Busch deftly intertwines memories of his life and career from his mom dying when he was seven to being raised by his loving Aunt Lil to being the author and star of the cult classic “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” to watching Kim Novak handle fans to being the Tony-nominated writer of “Tales of the Allergist’s Wife” to being creative during the pandemic.

“Storytelling is a huge part of my life,” Busch told the Blade in a lengthy phone interview, “I get into various adventures and, I think, this could be a good story to tell.”

Interviewing Busch is like chatting with a fab storyteller over coffee or a glass of wine. Except that you’re talking to a legend who’s entertained and inspired queers (and discerning hetero audiences) for decades. (I’m wearing my “Vampire” T-shirt as I write this.)  

As a playwright, Busch writes “linear” plays, with a beginning, middle and an end, he said. As a cabaret singer, “the way I sing songs is telling a story,” Busch said.

Since childhood, he’s been creating vivid scenes in his imagination. From early on, Busch has felt as if he’s both a spectator and star in the movie of his life.

It seemed inevitable that he’d write a memoir. It’s the ultimate form of storytelling. “You reach a certain point in your life,” Busch said, “where you’re more reflective and see your life as a whole.”

“You reflect on the paths you didn’t take,” he added.

Busch spent his childhood in Hartsdale, N.Y. He had two older sisters, Betsy and Margaret. His mother’s death was devastating for Busch. His Aunt Lil and Joan Rivers have been among the women who have been “mothers” to Busch since his mom died.

Once, Busch said he and Rivers dined with friends. “Joan Rivers said ‘I wish I had a gay son I could phone at midnight and discuss whatever movie was on TCM,’” he recalled.

Busch would have loved to have been Rivers’s “gay son.”

Life in Hartsdale was hard for Busch after his mother passed away. His father was often absent and showed little interest in his children.

Things were miserable for Busch when his grandmother, for a time, cared for the family. He knew, as a boy, that he was gay and hated going to school where a movie-and-theater-loving kid who liked to draw wasn’t one of the cool kids.

Yet Busch forgave his “father’s failings,” he writes in “Leading Lady, “because he gave me the theater.”

Busch became entranced with the theater when his father, an aspiring opera singer who performed in summer stock, took him to the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to hear Joan Sutherland sing the role of Amina in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula.”

Busch was saved from a life of boredom and bullying when Aunt Lil, his mother’s sister, took him to live with her in Manhattan. There, like Auntie Mame, she raised him. She prodded him into applying to the High School of Music and Art in New York City. He was accepted there.

After high school, Busch graduated with a bachelor’s degree in drama from Northwestern University in 1976.

“My Aunt Lil is the leading lady [of the title of his memoir],” Busch said, “she was the most influential person in my life.”

One of the reasons why Busch wrote “Leading Lady” was to paint a full portrait of her. “It was important that it not be this kind of gauzy, sentimental memory piece,” he said, “making her out to be a saint.”

Aunt Lil adopted Bush when he was 14. Her goal was that he would go to college, become independent, be a survivor – make a place for himself in the world.

“I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t stepped in,” Busch said.

“She was very intellectual,” he added, “I’ve never met anyone [else] with such a pure devotion to thinking. It was a little intimidating.”

Aunt Lil’s standards for caring – for giving of oneself – were so high that it was almost impossible to meet them. “She believed that you should anticipate what people would need,” Busch said, “before they told you.”

Looking back, Busch is most proud of himself when, “I’ve gone past my natural self-absorption,” he said, “when I’ve thought of someone else.”

Busch is being too hard on himself. In “Leading Lady,” and when interviewed, he’s caring and curious as well as witty, savvy, and as you’d expect, a bit campy.

His sister Margaret died recently. “She declined gradually over nine months,” Busch, said, choking up, “I gave her my bedroom and I slept on my sofa.”

Like many of her generation, Aunt Lil didn’t understand queerness or drag. But she loved Busch. She didn’t go to see his productions, he said. “She could have gone like other parents,” he said, “and been tight-lipped. And said something nice that she didn’t believe.”

But “she didn’t want to lie or be hurtful,” Busch added, “so, for her, it was: can’t I just love and support you, and not go?”

Aunt Lil didn’t get Busch’s sexuality. But she knew about secrecy. Busch learned of a terrifying secret that his aunt had long kept hidden. In the 1930s, during the Depression, Aunt Lil worked as a nurse. One day, when she worked overtime, one of the patients suffered a burn. She had to leave nursing. “Her sister in a nasty mood revealed this,” Busch said, “Aunt Lil never discussed it.”

In the 1970s, Busch had trouble getting into theater because there were only roles for actors playing straight male characters. “The only way I could get on stage was to write my own roles,” he said, “I have a rather androgynous nature.”

Busch found that the feminine within him was a place of authority and strength. “I’m fine when I play male characters,” he said, “but I’m better when I play female characters.”

Why this is so liberating for him is a bit of a mystery to Busch. “But I accept and love it,” he said.

Times have changed since Busch made his first big splash with “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” “In 1985, being a drag queen was considered a negative,” Busch said, “my generation of drag performers bristled at being referred to as drag queens.”

Busch no longer bristles. “I feel like the characters,” he said, “I enjoy costumes and getting the right wig.”

“But, I go from male to female not through trickery or anything visual, I transfer through my soul.”

In “Leading Lady,” Busch recalls AIDS and other dark moments from the past. Many of his friends and colleagues died from AIDS. “AIDS was the World War II of our generation,” he said.

But Busch, in his memoir and in his life, isn’t only looking back. He’s very much in the present. Busch is embarrassed to say he was lucky. During the pandemic, devastating to many, he made art. He did play readings on Zoom and finished writing “Leading Lady” which he’d worked on for 14 years.

During the pandemic, Busch with Carl Andress co-wrote and co-directed the movie “The Sixth Reel.” The film’s cast includes Busch, Julie Halston (Busch’s longtime muse), Margaret Cho and Tim Daly.

Busch describes the film, an homage to the Hollywood madcap movies of the 1930s, as “a comic, caper movie.” 

“I play a disreputable dealer in movie memorabilia,” Busch said, “a legendary lost film is found, and I see it as my ticket out of debt.”

The “Sixth Reel” is playing from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 at the LOOK Dine-In Cinema West 57th Street in New York City.

“I hope the run in New York will encourage people to distribute this little movie,” Busch said.

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Meet ‘one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet’

Eddie Ndopu a wizard of advocacy and glam



(Book cover image courtesy of Amazon)

(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to CDC. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf-Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian, who was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration are just a few of the people who identify as queer and disabled. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. It its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade is telling some of these long un-heard stories.)

Everything comes full circle: back to Britney Spears for Eddie Ndopu, 32, a queer, Black, disabled man who is a wizard with advocacy and glam.

“I knew I was queer early on,” Ndopu whose memoir “Sipping Dom Perignon Through a Straw: Reimagining Success as a Disabled Achiever” (Legacy Lit) is just out, told the Blade recently in an extended interview, “though I didn’t have the language for it.”

Ndopu, whose mother fled from South Africa because of apartheid, was born in Namibia. At age nine, he and his family moved to Cape Town, South Africa. He was raised by his mother, a single mom.

When he was two, he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. He was expected to die from this degenerative disability by the time he turned five.

Decades later, Ndopu knows what it means to live with declining strength, and the knowledge, that while we’ll all die, he’ll likely die sooner than most of us.

At the same time,through his queerness, disability, and imagination, Ndopu said, he embodies what it’s like to live a fabulous life.

It began when he was a child watching and listening to Spears. “Britney was the first pop star I encountered as a young boy,” Ndopu said. “She was iconic in so many ways. I adored her! I watched her dance.”

His mother gave him an album by Spears. “It was my thing,” Ndopu said, “The first thing I owned.”

Spears seemed unstoppable to Ndopu. It triggered something in him. “It made me want to be on the global stage,” he said.

Years later, Ndopu empathized with Spears when she fought to be released from the conservatorship she was under from 2008 to 2021. 

“Disabled fans, especially, were with Britney in her battle to be free,” Ndopu said, “because often, disabled people, particularly intellectually disabled people, have been denied agency. Have been denied their autonomy.”

We owe Spears an apology, Ndopu said. “It’s analogous to what disabled people go through,” he added, “we’re owed an apology for all the ways in which we’ve been made to endure so much [through ableism].” (This reporter is queer and disabled.)

Since childhood, Ndopu has loved beauty, fashion and glam. “My first dream was to be a designer,” he said, “I sketched in art classes in school.”

Ndopu daydreamed about living in the United States – about being based in New York City. He watched the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” “I didn’t watch for the stories about the characters,” Ndopu said, “I watched for the fashion! It gave me glimpses into a world where I wanted to be.”

But as his disability progressed, Ndopu lost strength in his hands. He could no longer draw. “I had to dream a new dream,” he said, “I knew I wanted to do something extraordinary. I imagined an escape.”

One day, he looked through a magazine and saw a story about a school, the African Leadership Academy, that was going to train young people in Africa to be future leaders. He applied to the school.

“They rejected me. Because they didn’t know what to do with me,” Ndopu said, “I wrote to them and got in.”

“I don’t know if I’d do that today,” but I did then,” he added, “that was my saving grace.”

Going there was Ndopu’s first big break. When he was only in his teens, Ndopu was speaking about disability justice.

After graduating from the Leadership Academy, Ndopu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Carleton University in Canada in 2014. In 2017, Ndopu was the first African student with a degenerative disability to graduate with a master’s in public policy from the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. Based at Somerville College, Ndopu received a full scholarship from Oxford.

Today, Ndopu, known for his fab oversized, bejeweled sunglasses, is an award-winning global humanitarian and social justice advocate. Time magazine has called him “one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet.”

Ndopu, fulfilling his childhood daydream, now, lives in New York City.

He is on the board of the United Nations Foundation, a group founded by Ted Turner to support the work of the UN. He works for the UN as a global advocate for sustainable development on issues from climate change to hunger.

Ndopu likes to identify as queer because, he believes, the word “queer” embodies all of his identities – from race to disability to sexuality to being fabulous. “I love to identify as queer,” he said.

In college, Ndopu was infatuated with a guy on the basketball team. He was heartbroken when his affections were unrequited. “That was the moment when I fully embraced my queerness,” Ndopu said, “I came out with my first heartbreak. There was no sitting with it. I went from zero to 100!”

Ndopu became one of the directors at Carleton’s gender and sexuality resource center. He studied queer theory.

There’s a critical contradiction for queer, disabled people, Ndopu believes. At its best, queerness (and the queer community) celebrates the full spectrum of bodies, sexuality and gender from nonbinary to pansexual to two-spirit. “The body is at the center for queer folks,” he said, “that’s something to celebrate.”

On the other side of the coin, though, the queer community doesn’t want to accept, “doesn’t want to have a conversation about bodies that aren’t the socialized idea of the body,” Ndopu said.

That often boils down to ableism toward queer, disabled bodies, Ndopu said. If you’re queer and disabled, you go through “the tension between acceptance and desire,” Ndopu said.

There are many “inspirational” memoirs by disabled people – tales of “overcoming” disability – of overpowering insurmountable odds. 

Thankfully, Ndopu’s memoir doesn’t fit this bill at all. “Sipping Dom Perignon Through a Straw” is searing and intimate. Ndopu describes his family: what it was like to grow up with an absent father, how oppressed his mother was by apartheid and how loving and caring she was of him. But much of the memoir is focused on his year at Oxford. 

For most people, queer, non-queer, disabled or nondisabled, being at Oxford would have been like being in a fairy tale. Like living the fantasy of your life.

For Ndopu, it was a crowning achievement. He had friends, studied what he wanted to study at a renowned university, and, even became student body president of his program.

Yet, from the get-go, his time at Oxford was riddled with ableism. The physical inaccessibility of the buildings was bad enough. But, Ndopu needs help 24/7 with activities of daily life from getting dressed to going to the bathroom. Finding and paying for caregivers at Oxford was a nightmare for him.

“A sharp, illuminating debut memoir,” Publishers Weekly, said of Ndopu’s book, “…Ndopu shines a light on ableism both conscious and unconscious.”

His experience at Oxford made Ndopu realize that being successful wouldn’t protect him from disability-based prejudice and discrimination. Being brilliant wouldn’t guarantee that you’d have a caregiver to help you pee. He came to believe exceptionalism is used against disabled people (and other marginalized groups).

 “The idea that we have to be resilient – that if we have enough grit we’ll overcome all obstacles is used to oppress disabled people,” he said.

You might think that, given his shortened life expectancy and experience of ableism, homophobia, and racism, Ndopu would give up hope. But you’d be wrong.

“I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!” queer and disabled icon Audre Lorde says in the epigraph to Ndopu’s memoir. 

“I deliberately chose this quote from Lorde’s Cancer Journals,” Ndopu said, “I hope I’ll die in as close to a transcendent experience as possible.”

No matter what, Ndopu will be fabulous. “It’s not a frivolous thing,” Ndopu said, “being fabulous makes me, visible.”

For too long, queer and disabled people have been invisible, he added.

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

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Red, White & Royal Blue’ director on new film, royal weddings, and more

Matthew López moves from theater to movies with gay rom com



Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in ‘Red, White, and Royal Blue.’ (Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

These days, it seems that gay rom coms are as prevalent as right-wing religious fanatics protesting said movies. There is even a preponderance of gay Christmas movies. On the Hallmark channel, no less. So, does “Red, White & Royal Blue” have what it takes to stand apart from the pack? Based on the popular novel by queer writer Casey McQuiston, “Red, White & Royal Blue” isn’t just notable for its storyline involving the budding romance between Alex, the bisexual First Son of the first female POTUS, and gay British Prince Henry. “Red, White & Royal Blue” marks the directorial debut by Tony and GLAAD Media Award-winning gay playwright Matthew López (“The Inheritance” and “Some Like It Hot”). Matthew generously made time in his busy schedule for an interview in advance of the movie’s release, which premiered last week on Prime Video.

BLADE: Matthew, considering your long and lauded history in the theater, was the prospect of directing your first feature film daunting, thrilling, or both?

MATTHEW LOPEZ: Generally thrilling, occasionally daunting. But it was only daunting in that there was just a steep learning curve. I was acutely aware of the things I didn’t know, and on occasion, there were things I didn’t know I didn’t know until I had to know it [laughs], at the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld. But it was mostly thrilling, and it was great fun, really. I’d do it again if they let me.

BLADE: With actors such as Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine in the lead roles of First Son Alex and Prince Henry, “Red, White & Royal Blue” will have no trouble drawing gay men. Do you think the actors could have the same draw on straight audiences?

LOPEZ: I hope so. I’ve spent a lifetime as an avid consumer of straight love stories, and not just because I had no other options, but because I genuinely wanted to see any of those particular films. I don’t see any reason why the stream doesn’t flow in both directions. This is as unapologetically a queer rom com as “Moonstruck” was as unapologetically an Italian rom com. It is part of what makes this movie unique. It is inescapable, but it also is, we hope, if we’re successful and if we’re lucky, it becomes part of the larger canon of rom coms, rather than simply kept in a corner. We want as many people to see this movie as possible, but we also knew that we wanted to make a movie that was as specific as possible. We never tried to hide who we were in order to find an audience. I think that kind of specificity is what people are really desiring these days.

BLADE: There are some powerful and emotional scenes in “Red, White & Royal Blue,” but the one that hit me the hardest is when Alex, son of the first female POTUS, came out to his mother Ellen, played by Uma Thurman. What was it like to work with Uma?

LOPEZ: I adore her. She was so very happy to be in this movie, which was so wonderful. She really understood Ellen. She and I had so many wonderful conversations about her before production. I involved her in a lot of costume design decisions. She was really wanting to understand this woman holistically. That scene was just so beautiful. By the time we shot it, she and Taylor had really bonded, and they had shot a lot of scenes together at that point. It was the loveliest, warmest environment on set. I mean, it was a very lovely, warm environment on set every day, but that day you can just see in that scene the genuine affection that these two actors have for one another. It was real.

BLADE: Ellen is a staunch Democrat. As a Florida native, and considering what has occurred here during the reign of the current governor, was that in any way what appealed to you about directing and co-adapting the screenplay for “Red, White & Royal Blue”?

LOPEZ: No, I loved the story, and I didn’t give a shit what the governor of Florida thinks about it. I couldn’t care less what that man thinks, only as it relates to the health of the union. I didn’t have this story growing up. I didn’t have access to characters such as these when I was younger. It took until I was in my 40s to read it, to get a novel that had a character like Alex. That I knew implicitly was really special. To me, it was really powerful to read a novel that had a queer, Latino, young man at the center who was a very positive characterization of a queer Latino man. Someone who was filled with hope and possibility. I wanted to bring that into the world. The politics in the novel and in the movie are a hopeful one. It’s not something that is, I hope, too much of a fairy tale.

BLADE: I loved seeing out actor and writer Stephen Fry’s name in the credits at the beginning, and without giving anything away, was surprised to see him, very close to the end, in the role he plays. What did it mean to you to work with Stephen?

LOPEZ: I’ve always been such a fan of his and really admired him greatly. We had had some sort of communication through other people over the years because he had seen “The Inheritance” in London. He got word to me, through our producers, how much he loved it. I had been working at one point on another film that I thought I was going to make, and when he found out that I was working on it, he was like. “I’d really love to be a small part in it if you have anything.” But I never talked to him and never met him. When this role came around [laughs], we thought, “Let’s see if he really means what he says!” He jumped at it! It didn’t take long at all for him to say, “Yes.” That was fun. Just to watch him and work with him is just a great thrill and a pleasure. It was for everybody. Everybody was really excited the day that he came on set.

BLADE: “Red, White & Royal Blue” is being released at a time when, following the passing of Queen Elizabeth and the situation surrounding Harry and Meghan, questions about the necessity of a monarchy have gotten more attention. Do you think “Red, White & Royal Blue” is a help or a hindrance in that regard?

LOPEZ: I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other about that because I think that the movie isn’t actually about the royal family. It uses the royal family as a vehicle to tell the story of a person trapped in a circumstance. I think the thing that is so amazing about Casey McQuiston’s novel is that Casey actually gives us a character that, historically, we haven’t had too much sympathy for. And yet, because Casey draws this character in a way that a lot of us can relate to, which is a person trapped against their own will and circumstances that they are powerless over, you really care for Henry and you really feel deeply for Henry. I also knew that, as we were making this film, I didn’t want the audience to think about the actual royal family when they were watching the film. Because I think if they did, they would be taken out of the story. I think we use the trappings of royalty as a way to tell our story, but it doesn’t take an opinion one way or another, because that’s not what the movie is about.

BLADE: The movie begins with a storybook royal wedding, but the real love story is the one between Alex and Henry. In recent years, the UK has begun taking actions such as the posthumous pardoning of thousands of gay men for gross indecency, and such, as well as Prime Minister Sunak’s recent apology to LGBT members of the military. With that in mind, do you think that the characters of Alex and Henry could also have a storybook wedding?

LOPEZ: Absolutely! I think the British people would support it. The British people are no different than the American people in many ways. There are, of course, great pockets of resistance to change. There is an adherence to traditionalism. I live in London, I’m a resident of the UK. The people that I know there are good and accepting people by and large. I think that Alex and Henry absolutely could have the wedding that they wanted if they wanted it.

BLADE: Have you started thinking about your next film, theater, or writing project?

LOPEZ: I’ll honestly tell you that the thing I’ve been thinking about lately is getting a fair deal from the studios for writers and for actors. As a striking writer who also happens to be a non-striking director, beyond releasing this film, my primary concern is making sure that we can go back to work with a fair contract.

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Turning pain into positive & using art as therapy – Carl Hopgood

He knew he wanted to embark on a path toward a “bold, exciting life” among other “creative people” while “doing amazing things and living”



Carl Hopgood (Photo by Magnus Hastings)

LOS ANGELES – Like many people born with an inclination toward creative expression, Carl Hopgood has known from a very young age that he wanted to be an artist.

Growing up on a small farm in rural Wales, the Cardiff-born Hopgood spent his childhood surrounded by animals and nature, letting his imagination run wild and creating worlds he envisioned with baskets, fruit boxes, flowers, stones, tabloid clippings, and other items that struck his fancy. Then, at 7, he was invited to spend an afternoon with his best friend, whose cousin was visiting; that cousin happened to be Richard Burton, and he happened to be accompanied by his even more famous wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Hopgood was not just star-struck, he was inspired.

“My world was never the same after that day,” he tells the Blade. “They told stories about Hollywood, London, glamorous parties, movies, photography… and Andy Warhol! Andy Warhol was my first artist crush. He was also born on a farm, so I felt an immediate connection.”

After that experience, he knew he wanted to embark on a path toward a “bold, exciting life” among other “creative people” while “doing amazing things and living.”

Four decades and one continental transplant later, it can safely be said that Hopgood has accomplished his goal.

A successfully established LA-based artist, he’s created a unique body of work that includes pieces in Neon, Sculpture, Film / Video Installation, and canvas painting; his collectors include Morgan Freeman, Eugiono Lopez, The Vinik Family Foundation, The Groucho Club and Rupert Everett; and recent exhibitions of his work – like his neon art installations ‘Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places’, ‘My Heart Is Open’,  and ‘You Changed My Life’ at the Maddox Gallery in West Hollywood, and ‘Chair Therapy’ at United Talent Agency’s UTA Artspace LA – have garnered a flurry of enthusiasm and increasing national attention.

Hopgood’s sculpture, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” (Photo Credit: Steve Jacqueline)

The latter installation created a particular stir with its inclusion of a controversial neon sculpture called “Just Say Gay”, Hopgood’s response to the draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation championed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; that work was acquired by prominent collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and will be on display from December 2023 at her Bunker Art Space in West Palm Beach, Florida.

When talking with the Blade, Hopgood is keen to focus the discussion on a new goal – the completion of a documentary about the creation of “Chair Therapy” – but he’s certainly willing to start the conversation by talking about the sense of queer defiance behind “Just Say Gay” and many of his other works, because the two subjects go hand in hand.

“Being a gay man of Welsh and Greek heritage,” he proudly proclaims, “the fight against bullying, repression, injustice and discrimination became central themes of my artistic expression.” 

As he explains, that fight is rooted in a traumatic childhood experience. “I was bullied by classmates,” he remembers. “They would chase after me, push me to the ground and kick me in the groin. I managed to escape and found sanctuary under a stack of chairs in the school assembly hall. The school therapist helped me cope by using a technique called Empty Chair Therapy, where you would talk to an empty chair about your feelings.

“I decided turn this pain into something positive and use art as my therapy.”

Much later, the young Hopgood would be inspired by the confrontational aesthetic of Damien Hirst – after reading a scathing criticism of one of his works in the paper – and follow in the controversial artist’s footsteps to Goldsmiths College in London, eventually becoming part of a movement with fellow graduates like Steve McQueen, Jason Martin, Ceal Floyer, Angela De La Cruz and Alessandro Raho. 

“It was an incredible moment to be a young artist in 1990s London.”

Nevertheless, after 20 years in the London art scene, he decided it was time for a change.

“I had just watched a documentary featuring David Hockney,” he explains. “The freedom and possibility of David’s work was clearly inspired by Southern California with its beautiful palette and open, sunny skies. It was a stark contrast to the gloomy weather of the UK, and the anxiety and depression that accumulated over the years. I had heard about the growing LA art scene –LACMA, MOCA and The Broad were beginning to attract an international audience – and I decided that moving to Los Angeles would be good for both my mental health and creativity.”

The choice was a fortuitous one for him – “It was the perfect time to go,” he says, “and I was ready to work in new mediums and expand my repertoire.” Then, like the rest of us, he had to put all his plans indefinitely up in the air.

“In early 2020, when the pandemic hit,” he tells us, “I would see all the bars and restaurants shuttered in West Hollywood. It was like a ghost town. Looking through the store front windows, all I could see were chairs stacked on top of each other – and that image took me straight back to my unhappy childhood.”

He decided to use it for inspiration and began work on the first sculpture in the “Chair Therapy” series (“My Heart is Open”) – which as he describes, addresses “toxic masculinity, oppression and queer identity, themes I’ve always championed.” 

Those themes are doubtless also at least partly behind his desire to see the planned documentary – titled “Fragile World” – reach fruition. Filmed during the pandemic, it profiles Hopgood by charting his personal artistic journey, but centers on the development of “Chair Therapy”, in which he combined found and vintage wooden chairs with neon lights shaped into positive words to provide hope, love and support for a community who were hardest hit by Covid and the shutdowns it necessitated.

“Seeing those stacked chairs and tables, in those empty establishments, I knew some would be forced to close for good. I felt so helpless, but I knew there was something I could do.”

“Far From Fear” by Carl Hopgood (Photo Credit: Jeff McClane)

Now, with his own hard-hit community – alongside many others – facing aggressive legislative oppression from the extremist right, he’s determined to see the film finished, so that the same empowering message of optimism embodied in his work can be spread to a larger audience as a reminder not to let the bullies break their spirit. To that end, the documentary’s director and producer, LA-based British filmmaker Kate Rees Davies, has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funding necessary to finish the project.

Another motivation, perhaps even more personal, might be found in Hopgood’s revelation of a hidden influence in another work from the “Empty Chairs” series: “Twelve Steps”, which explores the massive financial success of a California citrus industry made possible by the hard work of a segregated Mexican immigrant labor force. “I was also inspired in that piece by a line from Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos,” he says, “who was sidelined by the Greek literary community in the 1970s because he was gay. It’s a small but powerful couplet which was included in the collection ‘The Body and the Wormwood’ that reads, ‘What didn’t you do to bury me, but you forgot that I was a seed.’”

For Hopgood, perhaps, the documentary also represents a seed, one that he himself has planted in hope of spreading its positive power into the world – and he’s counting on the support of his patrons through Indiegogo for the water, light and nourishment it requires to grow.

Hopgood poses with his works, “Twelve Steps” and “Just Say Gay” (Photo Credit: Magnus Hastings)
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Renowned historian Martin Duberman reflects on a full life in ‘Reaching Ninety’

New memoir looks back at Stonewall, efforts to ‘cure’ homosexuality



‘Reaching Ninety’ is a memoir in which Martin Duberman quotes the dictum, ‘aging is not for sissies.’ (Book cover image courtesy Amazon)

Renowned queer historian, playwright, author and LGBTQ activist Martin Duberman, 93, began writing stories when he was four. “They still exist,” Duberman, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at City University of New York (CUNY), told the Blade in a telephone interview. “They’re with my papers at the New York Public Library.”

Duberman doesn’t understand what drove him to create. “I’d write these moralistic tales,” he said, “hand-sewn inside covers. About how Alice learned to do what her mother told her to do.”

Duberman who has written some two dozen books as well as plays, hasn’t stopped writing. 

Name most anything or anyone and he’s written about it: from the Stonewall Uprising to actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. His memoir “Cures” recounts how mental health professionals tried to “cure” him of his “homosexuality.”

When he was 70, he wrote “Haymarket,” a novel set in 1886 in Chicago during protests by labor activists.

His newest book “Reaching Ninety,” is a memoir. In it, Duberman recalls the people, events and work of his life – from coming out to his student years – to his relationships to his beloved puppy Emma (named after iconic feminist and anarchist icon Emma Goldman) to aging.

In “Reaching Ninety,” Duberman quotes the dictum “aging is not for sissies.” But, “The trouble is that I am one,” he adds, “It’s part of my cultural heritage.” There’s a thread running through his work, Duberman, who founded CLAGS: CUNY’s Center for LGBTQ Studies, the first university-based LGBTQ research center in the United States, said. “I’ve been trying to reinvent historical writing.” 

It’s essential if you’re an historian and you’re presenting an account of past events, to remain true to the known evidence, Duberman said. “But you have to be clear,” he added, “the evidence that has come down to us is  partial and skewed.”

At the beginning of his career as an historian, Duberman wrote with a more traditional view of history: that history could be known and chronicled objectively. As if the historian’s background had no impact on how they wrote history.

Duberman’s early work was well-received. His 1961 biography “Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886″ won the prestigious Bancroft Prize.

But, as he matured personally and professionally, Duberman began to question the pretense of objectivity. He came to see that subjectivity is an essential part of writing history.

“The historian – with their own background  – in their own time – is always present in the history they write,” said Duberman, who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1957.

Historians must adhere to the evidence, Duberman emphasized. “But, they need to decide to come clean about who they are even, in part, to write in the first person. To explain their reaction to evidence.”Historians’ reactions to the evidence they uncover about the past could impact how they write history, he noted.

Historians don’t always know the full extent of how their backgrounds contribute to their interpretations of history. But they should take it for granted that at least some of their eras and views are present, Duberman said.

“To me, the choice comes down to how explicit I should be,” he said, “and how am I going to make it known.”

This was a new way of thinking and writing about history. Take Duberman’s 1972 book “Black Mountain: an Exploration in Community.” In the 20th century, Black Mountain College was a community for artists. But it was, as per the times, homophobic. A faculty member of Black Mountain was arrested for having sex in a car with a minor, Duberman writes in “Reaching Ninety.” He was let off with a suspended sentence. He became an “instant pariah,” resigned immediately and no one from the community at the college offered any help, Duberman writes.

When writing his Black Mountain book, Duberman felt compelled to come out as gay. To be, as an historian, transparent about how his biography impacted his view of history.

“It’s hard to think well of a place that could cooperate as fully as Black Mountain did in an individual’s self-destruction,” Duberman wrote in his Black Mountain book about how the college treated the gay teacher, “indeed to have assumed it as foreclosed.”

“But perhaps I exaggerate, a function of my own indignation as a homosexual, a potential victim,” he added.

In 1972, when the book was published, Duberman’s coming out in his reaction to an incident in the history of Black Mountain College received mixed reviews.

He was denounced in historical journals. “The New York Times reviewer dismissed my coming out as a vaguely unclean bit of business,” Duberman writes in “Reaching Ninety.”

“Other people were well-disposed toward the book,” Duberman said, “they were academics, not historians.”

Historians are a conservative group of people, Duberman said. “They devote their lives to preserving — underline it — the past,” he said, “They’re not likely to be interested in any combined format that merges the past with the present.”

Duberman doesn’t have a clue as to what got him hooked on history. “It was inescapably an unconscious decision,” he said. “I was torn between literature and wanting to be a writer. To find out more about the past and how come we’re at the point of time that we are.”

When Duberman was a freshman at Yale University, the man who taught his history class was only five years older than he. “At his very first class we took to each other,” Duberman said, “and became friendly. He became a role model for me.”

“He just died at 99,” Duberman added, “we never talked openly about homosexuality. But I got the strong impression that he, too, was gay.”

Duberman, who was born in New York, wasn’t out in college or graduate school. Though, he checked out the two gay bars in Boston when he was at Harvard.

Coming out wasn’t an option for people in Duberman’s generation who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s. You could be arrested, expelled from school, kicked out of your apartment or fired from your job if you were open about who you were. People warned him “against coming out to any degree,” Duberman said.

Duberman and his older sister were raised in a secular Jewish household. His father, as a young man, escaped from working in a beet plantation in Russia to Germany and then to New York. His mother went to high school at night while working as a secretary. 

From childhood on, Duberman was bitten by a love of theater. He went to theater camp and performed in high school plays.

As a student at the (then) boys prep school Horace Mann, he played female as well as male roles. One night, his friend Bob’s girlfriend noticed that Duberman was the “actress” who portrayed a “stewardess” in a play that evening, Duberman recalls in “Reaching Ninety.”  “‘But you can’t be,’ she gasped, ‘you have such beautiful legs!’” Duberman remembers her telling him.

Duberman, a polymath, would grow up to become a privileged insider while remaining an observant, critical outsider.

His many honors include: the Vernon Rice/Drama Desk Award, three Lambda Literary Awards, a special award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for his contributions to literature and the 2007 lifetime achievement award from the American Historical Association. He’s been a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist.

He and his life-partner, Eli, a psychoanalyst, have just celebrated their 35th anniversary. He’s revered for his pioneering work in queer history.

Yet, even though he’s white, cisgender, and privileged, Duberman hasn’t ever been complacent or content. He still remembers how horrified he was back in the 1960s when he taught at Princeton. “I taught about slavery,” Duberman said, “I was thunderstruck! The white, privileged undergrads were on the verge of defending slavery.”

“It shocked me,” he said, “I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was.”

The more he taught, the more discontented Duberman got with, what he saw, as the authoritarian system of education at universities. “I didn’t see the teacher as an authority figure,” he said, “but as a fellow learner.”

Though he had tenure, Duberman resigned from Princeton because of this. Also, he dared to move from Princeton to New York. “Then, people at Princeton thought: How could you leave the loveliest town in the world,” Duberman said.

Duberman deplores Trump and anti-queer right-wingers. But he also has been a long-term critic of the LGBTQ rights movement. Queers should be less concerned about marriage equality and more concerned about issues of race, class, and economic justice, he believes.

“There’s resistance to Trump’s lies,” Duberman said, “and it’s appearing in the mainstream – in The New Yorker – even The New York Times.”

The electorate is the greatest roadblock to social change, Duberman said. “The LGBTQ community, like a lot of the country, is conservative,” he added.  

Duberman isn’t feeling terribly optimistic at this moment. But, “I keep hoping that one of the upcoming generations will turn out to be different,” he said.

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Corbett Joan O’Toole still fighting for self-determination, respect for disabled people

Author and activist on coming out, intersectionality, and a lifetime of advocacy



Corbett Joan O’Toole is the author of the acclaimed ‘Fading Scars.’ (Book cover image via Amazon)

(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, who played a heroic role in the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf-Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian who was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration, are only a few of the numerous queer and disabled people in the LGBTQ community. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. In its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade will tell some of these long unheard stories.)

Corbett Joan O’Toole, 71, a queer, disabled elder and a Ford Foundation 2022 Disability Futures Fellow, knew one thing for sure growing up in Boston: She didn’t want to be a nurse. 

O’Toole has had a physical disability since she was 12 months old. “I sometimes joke that my becoming disabled was my birthday present when I turned one year old,” she said in a phone interview with the Blade.

O’Toole has used a wheelchair since she was 30. Before that, she walked with crutches and leg braces.

As a child, she’d had surgery, O’Toole said. “I saw what nurses did,” she added. “Men told them what to do. I knew nursing wasn’t for me.”

Even as a child, O’Toole could tell that male employers had the same attitude toward secretaries. “Sitting in an office all day didn’t seem like fun,” she said, “The only other thing a white woman in my generation could be when they grew up was to be a teacher.”

“I decided to be a teacher,” O’Toole added, “where I’d have my own classroom and no man would be telling me what to do.”

When she was young, O’Toole led, by her account, a sheltered life. She didn’t know then that she was queer. “I didn’t know if I met any queer people,” O’Toole said, “but I always knew that I liked strong women. I thought they were interesting.”

And, O’Toole, like many kids and teens with disabilities then (and, even often, now) knew that little was expected of disabled people. That disabled lives weren’t highly valued. “I was in school all the time with nondisabled kids,” O’Toole said.

Nearly everything was inaccessible then from libraries to courthouses to movie theaters. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) wouldn’t be passed until decades later. “You were expected to adapt even if things were inaccessible,” O’Toole said.

If you couldn’t make it in an inaccessible world, the attitude was “you don’t have to be here,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole didn’t meet other disabled people except during the summer, when she’d spend a month at a camp for disabled kids. The director and staff were nondisabled, O’Toole said. But at camp, she got to hang out with 90 other disabled kids. O’Toole got to interact with people like herself – disabled kids living vibrant lives. “We explored nature,” she said, “we collected blueberries. Made pancakes.”

There, O’Toole developed her life-long love of sports. As an adult, she has played competitive wheelchair basketball and power soccer. At her childhood summer camp, “We did archery,” O’Toole said, “and played baseball.”

At a time when sexism was the norm, O’Toole got to do things that girls usually couldn’t do at camp. “We went fishing,” she said, “We used power tools in a woodshop,” she said, “It was empowering!”

At camp, if the kids wanted to do something, they’d figure out a way to make it accessible  – to make it work, O’Toole added.

O’Toole, author of “Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History,” a groundbreaking book that was a Lambda Literary Award finalist, graduated in 1973 from Fitchburg State University with a bachelor’s degree in education and her teaching credentials. The summer after graduation, she moved with a friend to Berkeley, Calif.

O’Toole was eager to go to California. It would get her out of the cold of New England, where getting around in ice and snow if you’re using crutches or a wheelchair is difficult. “It sounded like fun,” she said. “I’d be in a part of the country where it’s a Mediterranean climate – it’s spring or summer. No snow.”

The move to California was transformative for O’Toole.

There, people thought about disability accessibility. She met queer people and disabled people as well as many nondisabled and disabled lesbians.

“At 23, I came out,” O’Toole said, “I met a woman in a women’s workshop.”

She got to know Kitty Cone, an out disabled lesbian and disability rights movement leader. (Cone died in 2015.) She connected O’Toole to the burgeoning independent living movement. “She brought me to the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and to the disabled lesbian community,” O’Toole said.

The independent living movement believes in self-determination and self-respect for disabled people. It fights disability-based discrimination and views disability from a cultural and social, rather than a medical perspective. Independent living centers are community-based, non-profit organizations, organized and controlled by disabled people. They provide advocacy, information and other services.

“The Berkeley CIL had a lot of lesbians who were nondisabled,” O’Toole said, “we are the wives of every movement.”

O’Toole came to California at a pivotal moment in disability history – at the beginning of the modern disability rights movement. She quickly became a vital part of that history.

O’Toole, along with Cone and Judith Heumann, the disability rights movement founder who died last month, was a leader in a 1977 nearly month-long occupation by disabled protesters and their allies of a San Francisco federal building known as the “504 sit-in.” As a result of the protest, the Carter administration signed the ‘504′ regulations, which prohibited schools, hospitals, and other entities receiving federal funds from discriminating against disabled people. These regulations were the precursor to the ADA.

“Berkeley became like Mecca,” O’Toole, who is featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp,” said. “Disabled people came to Berkeley from all over the world.”

In the years since the 1970s, O’Toole’s life has contained more multitudes than even Walt Whitman could have fathomed.

She is a single mom. Her daughter, whom she adopted, has a physical disability. O’Toole was a founder of the Axis Dance Company, an acclaimed ensemble of disabled and nondisabled performers. Currently, she’s working on a novel and traveling in a self-built camper van.

But things haven’t always been easy for O’Toole. Like many disabled parents, especially those who are disabled and queer, she’s encountered prejudice.

O’Toole’s daughter is now 30. Raising her daughter, O’Toole often feared that because she was a single mother, disabled and queer, she’d lose custody of her physically disabled child. It was fraught, O’Toole said, because of the bias against queer and disabled people being parents.

“The courts – the social service system – are all too happy to take your kids away,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole had to fight to get her daughter the services and education she needed.

“Because I was a lesbian, I had to constantly be in the closet,” she said, “our of fear that they’d take my child away if I was out.”

Her lovers, if they were around school system staff, would have to pretend to “just be my friends,” O’Toole said.

For decades, long before intersectionality was a fashionable buzzword, O’Toole, who is white, has thought about the intersection of class, queerness, race, and disability.

“I grew up in a working class neighborhood,” O’Toole said. “My Dad was a firefighter. I was taught a lot about class.”

“But there was a lot of racism embedded in my world,” she added.

It wasn’t until she went to Berkeley and became part of the lesbian community that she was “in rooms with lesbians of color,” O’Toole said.

White women need to listen better to women of color, she said. “We need to follow their lead.”

O’Toole couldn’t believe how much she didn’t know about what women of color experienced. Take just one thing: “I didn’t know that parking tickets could turn into jail sentences,” she said.

“I have to do the work,” O’Toole added, “it’s not their job to educate me. It’s my racism that’s blocking me from the truth.”

Despite all of the difficulties, O’Toole is hopeful. People are resilient. They love and care for each other, she said. “What are you doing to spread hope,” O’Toole asked.

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Queer representation did not sit quiet at Emmy Awards

This year- 50% of the best drama series, 25% of the best comedy, & 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines



Gay actor Murray Bartlett won Best Supporting Actor for a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus (Screenshot/YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – The pandemic is over (in award show world anyway), and glitz and glamour have returned. That is the prevailing impression from this year’s 74th Annual Emmy Awards. The show was stunning and exciting from the outset, but even with the pomp and loud noise of celebration, a queer presence was not to be drowned out.

The tone of representation was launched immediately as announcer, queer comic, Sam Jay, looking sharp in her black tuxedo, took the mic. On camera even more than host Kenan Thompson, Jay was a presence and a personality and decidedly queer. If her gay power was not enough, the point was made when Thompson and out actor Boen Yang joked on stage. Thompson accused Yang of a comment being “a hate crime”, Yang retorted “Not if I do it. Then it’s representation.”

Representation was going to be made this evening. The visibility was significant considering, according to the GLAAD Where We Are on TV Report, out of 775 series regular characters only 92 are LGBTQ (less than 12 percent). That 11+ percent is a record high of LGBTQ characters in all of TV history. The record was set by an increase in lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters, but a decrease in gay male characters from the previous year.

For the Emmy nominations, 50% of the best drama series nominees, 25% of the best comedy, and 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines. As far as queer talent, that was more sporadic, heavily slanted towards “supporting categories” and often with queer talent all in the same category against each other.

Regardless, we showed up, as did other individuals who scored recognition for their identities. Some of the key LGBTQ representative moments included:

  • Early in the show, Hannah Einbinder did a hard flirt from the stage for Zendaya, saying that she was not on the stage to present, but rather to stare at the beautiful actress.
  • Gay actor Murray Bartlett won Best Supporting Actor for a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. He thanked his partner Matt, but strangely did not mention the famous “salad scene” (Google it…)
  • The White Lotus also won the Best Limited or Anthology series category, and bisexual Mike White won Best Director for Limited Series as well. White is the son of gay clergyman, author, and activist Mel White. They appeared on the Amazing Race as a father and son team.
  • Jerrod Carmichael won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Variety Special for his heartfelt Rothaniel in which he comes out as gay as part of the show. Carmichael wowed in a brilliant white, flowing fur coat over his bare medallioned chest.
  • Out actress Sarah Paulsen and Shonda Rhimes, who singlehandedly is responsible for 17% of all LGBTQ characters on TV, presented the Governors Award to Geena Davis for her organization Institute of Gender in Media.  The mission of the organization is representation of women in media. Davis stood before a video featuring various women artists including transgender actress Laverne Cox. The organization is the only public data institute to consistently analyze representations of the six major marginalized identities on screen: women; people of color; LGBTQIA+ individuals; people with disabilities; older persons (50+); and large-bodied individuals in global Film, Television, Advertising and Gaming.
  • Lizzo broke RuPaul’s streak to win Best Competition program. RuPaul showed up later in the show do present a major award anyway. Lizzo has not felt the need to label herself in the LGBTQ spectrum but has said, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing. I cannot sit here right now and tell you I’m just one thing. That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum, and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”

Beyond the rainbow scope of queer representation, intersectional, iconic and historic representation was also on hand:

  • LGBTQ icon Jennifer Coolidge won Best Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. It was her first award win ever. Squeals of delight could be heard in space from gay Emmy watch parties. OK. I don’t know that for a fact, but I would put money on it.
  • LGBTQ icon Jean Smart won Best Actress in a Comedy Series for Hacks, a series of which its producer called about “women and queer people.”
  • Lee Jung-jae became the first South Korean actor and first Asian actor to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Squid Game
  • Zendaya became the youngest person ever to win in the leading acting categories two times as she won for the second season of “Euphoria”
  • Hwang Dong-hyuk became the first South Korean to win Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for Squid Game
  • Sheryl Lee Ralph won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Abbott Elementary becoming only the second black woman in history to win in this category after 35 years.  Jacké Harry won for 227 in 1987. “I am an endangered species,” she sang as her acceptance. “But I sing no victim’s song.”

Yes, there was a day in the not long ago past where the mention of a single same sex spouse, or a renegade pro-lgbtq comment, made our queer hearts spill over. Those days are passed. We are getting a place at the table. Representation is starting to stand up and be heard.

For those who rightfully seek it, and seek more of it, the best advice came from Sheryl Lee Ralph: “To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream, and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t  come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like, and don’t you ever, ever give up on you.”

Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: 74th Emmy Awards:

Murray Bartlett accepts the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for The White Lotus at the 74th Emmy Awards.
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following



Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.


BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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LA Blade Exclusive: L Morgan Lee, Broadway’s newest icon sings her truth

She is the first ever trans actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination & the first trans performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer



L Morgan Lee exclusively photographed by Andrey Strekoza for the Los Angeles Blade June, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – “I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.

To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, A Strange Loop. Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.

She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination.

While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.

L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences.   Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” She adds. “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”

L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: she costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glammed drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if like it’s as if I finally got to breathe.”

When she started work on A Strange Loop, she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.

“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, has evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.” 

Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of A Strange Loop has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular.  Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”

“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”

L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”

“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”

While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in my bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

On the night of the Tonys. L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway Legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is ok with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.  

“The biggest reason I do, what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.” 

“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.”  

“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”

She needed to see a transwoman Tony Nominee. So that’s what she became.

When they call the winner on Tony Night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest icon.

However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.


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