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2018 Best of Gay LA Awards

All of your favorites, from bartenders to activists and more

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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.

LOCAL HERO: JON DAVIDSON

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)

BEST BARTENDER: ANTHONY SALDANA

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)

MICKY’S

8857 Santa Monica Blvd.

310-657-1176

mickys.com

BEST BARTENDER, EDITORS’ CHOICE: CORY ZWIERZYNSKI

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.”

THE ABBEY

692 N Robertson Blvd.

310-289-8410

theabbeyweho.com

BEST DJ: STEVE AOKI

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 steveaoki.com

BEST DJ, EDITORS’ CHOICE: SHANE IVAN NASH

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 ShaneIvanNash.com.

BEST CHEF: STUART O’KEEFFE

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.

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST CHEF: SUZANNE TRACT

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.”

JAR

8225 Beverly Blvd.

323-655-6566

thejar.com

BEST BUSINESSPERSON: BRAD LAMM, BREATHE LIFE HEALING CENTER

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.

BREATHE LIFE HEALING CENTER

8730 Sunset Blvd.
800-929-5904

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST LGBT BUSINESSPERSON: OLIVER ALPUCHE, REDLINE

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.”

REDLINE

131 E 6th St.

redlinedtla.com

BEST LAWYER: S. CHRISTOPHER WINTER

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.

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST LAWYER: LAURA W. BRILL, KENDALL BRILL & KELLY LLP

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

310-556-2700

Laura W. Brill

BEST ALLY: MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

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

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST ALLY: LISA VANDERPUMP

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.

BEST DRAG SHOW: LEGENDARY BINGO AT HAMBURGER MARY’S

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.

HAMBURGER MARY’S

8288 Santa Monica Blvd

323-654-3800

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST DRAG SHOW: LYRIC HYPERION, GREEN EGGS AND GLAM

Lyric Hyperion Theatre & Café

2106 Hyperion Ave.

323-928 2299

BEST BAR: THE ABBEY

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.

THE ABBEY

692 N. Robertson Blvd.

310-289 8410

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST BAR: REVOLVER

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

REVOLVER

8851 Santa Monica Blvd.

310-694 0430

BEST RESTAURANT: SUR RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE

“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.

SUR

606 N. Robertson Blvd.

310-289 2824

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST RESTAURANT: Cecconi’s West Hollywood

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

CECCONI’S

8764 Melrose Ave.

310-432 2000

BEST GROCERY STORE: TRADER JOE’S   

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

TRADER JOE’S

7310 Santa Monica Blvd.

323-969-8048

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST GROCERY STORE: PAVILIONS

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

PAVILIONS

8969 Santa Monica Blvd.

310-595-1730

BEST REAL ESTATE AGENCY: THE COLLECTIVE REALTY

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.”

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST REAL ESTATE AGENCY: BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY

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.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY

131 S. Rodeo Dr.

310-844-6434

BEST STYLISTS: SHORTY’S BARBER SHOP

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.

SHORTY’S

755 N. Fairfax Ave.

323-297-0554

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST STYLIST: MARCO PELUSI

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.”
MARCO PELUSI

636 N. Robertson Blvd.

310-967-0999

BEST CAR DEALERSHIP: BEVERLY HILLS BMW

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.”

BEVERLY HILLS BMW

5070 Wilshire Blvd.

877-794-4678

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST CAR DEALERSHIP: HONDA OF HOLLYWOOD

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.

HONDA OF HOLLYWOOD

6511 Santa Monica Blvd.

323-466-3247

BEST MEDICAL PROVIDER: CEDARS SINAI URGENT CARE

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

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST MEDICAL PROVIDER: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MEN’S MEDICAL GROUP

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.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MEN’S MEDICAL GROUP

9201 Sunset Blvd.

310-550-1010

BEST FITNESS FACILITY: 24 HOUR FITNESS

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

8612 Santa Monica Blvd.

310-652-7440

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST FITNESS: EQUINOX FITNESS

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.

EQUINOX FITNESS

8590 Sunset Blvd.

310-289-1900

BEST MARIJUANA DISPENSARY: MEDMEN

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.

MEDMEN

8208 Santa Monica Blvd.

323-848-7981

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST DISPENSARY: ZEN HEALING WEST HOLLYWOOD

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

ZEN HEALING

8464 Santa Monica Blvd.

323-656-6666

BEST HOTEL: WALDORF-ASTORIA

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!

WALDORF-ASTORIA

9850 Wilshire Blvd.

310-860-6666

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST HOTEL: JEREMY HOTEL

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. 

JEREMY HOTEL

8490 Sunset Blvd.

310-424-1600

BEST HOUSE OF WORSHIP: FOUNDERS METROPOLITAN COMMUNITY CHURCH

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.
FOUNDERS

4607 Prospect Ave.

323-669-3434

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST HOUSE OF WORSHIP: KOL AMI

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.

KOL AMI

1200 N. La Brea Ave.

323-606-0996

BEST LGBT SOCIAL GROUP: IMPULSE GROUP LA

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.

IMPULSE GROUP LA

EDITORS’ CHOICE: BEST LGBT SOCIAL GROUP: VARSITY GAY LEAGUE

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.

VARSITY GAY LEAGUE

BEST MUSEUM: LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

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.

LACMA

5905 Wilshire Blvd.

323-857-6000

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST MUSEUM: THE BROAD

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.

THE BROAD

221 S. Grand Ave.

213-232-6200

BEST NON-PROFIT: AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION

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.

AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION

6255 W. Sunset Blvd.

323-860-5200

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST NON-PROFIT: LOS ANGELES LESBIAN & GAY CENTER

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.

LGBT CENTER

1625 N. Schrader Blvd.

323-993-7400

BEST VET: LAUREL PET HOSPITAL

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

LAUREL PET HOSPITAL

7970 Santa Monica Blvd.

323-654-7060

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
310-657-7050.

BEST LA ATTRACTION: GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

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

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

2800 E. Observatory Rd.

213-473-0800

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST LA ATTRACTION: HOLLYWOOD BOWL

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

HOLLYWOOD BOWL

2301 N. Highland Ave.

323-850-2000

BEST RED CARPET EVENT: HRC LA DINNER

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.

EDITORS’ CHOICE, BEST RED CARPET: OUTFEST

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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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

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

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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.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

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

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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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For better and for worse, Oscar makes history again

The biggest queer moment of the night was Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

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Jessica Chastain accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress (Screenshot/ABC)

HOLLYWOOD – By the time you read this, the biggest moment from this year’s Oscars will already be old news – but before we can move on to a discussion of what the wins and losses reveal about the state of LGBTQ+ representation, inclusion, and acceptance in the Hollywood film industry, we have to talk about it anyway.

When Will Smith stepped up onto that stage at the Dolby Theatre to physically assault Chris Rock – a professional comedian, doing the job he was hired to do in good faith that he would be safe from bodily harm while doing it – for making an admittedly cheap and not-very-funny joke, it was a moment of instant Oscar history that overshadowed everything else about the evening.

There’s been enough discussion about the incident that we don’t need to take up space for it here – tempting as it may be – other than to assert a firm belief that violence is never a good way to express one’s disapproval of a joke, especially during a live broadcast that is being seen by literally millions of people.

Smith, whether or not he deserved his win for Best Actor, succeeded only in making sure his achievement – which could have been a triumphant and historic moment for Black representation in Hollywood, not to mention an honorable cap for his own long and inspiring career – will be forever marred, and the palpably insincere non-apology that replaced what could otherwise have been his acceptance speech was only a textbook example of putting out fire with gasoline.

Yet that polarizing display also allows us a springboard into the much-more-important subject of queer visibility in the movies, thanks to another Smith-centered controversy (and there have been so many, really) from the early days of his career that sheds a lot of light on the homophobic attitudes of an industry almost as famous as playing to both sides of the fence as it is for the art it produces. 

Back in 1993, riding his success as a hip-hop artist-turned actor and springboarding from his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame into a movie career, Smith appeared in the film adaptation of John Guare’s critically-acclaimed play “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing a young con artist who preys on a wealthy Manhattan couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), convincing them to give them money and even move into their home before they eventually discover the truth after coming home to find him in bed with a male hustler.

Unsurprisingly (it was 1993, after all), some of the play’s homosexual content was “softened” for the film version, but Smith was still called upon to perform in a scene depicting a kiss between himself and co-star Anthony Michael Hall. After initially agreeing, he abruptly changed his mind (due to advice from friend-and-mentor Denzel Washington, who warned him that kissing a man onscreen could negatively impact his future career) and refused to do the kiss, necessitating the use of camera trickery to accomplish the scene.

Decades later, Smith expressed regret at the choice, saying it was “immature” and that he should have gone ahead with the kiss – but the story nevertheless provides some insight about the pressure placed on actors in Hollywood to appear heterosexual for their audiences, no matter what.

Despite advancements, that pressure continues today – and Smith, whose unorthodox and publicly rocky marriage already has put him under an arguably unfair microscope, has also been alleged (most notoriously by trans actress Alexis Arquette, who made controversial comments about the couple shortly before her death in 2016) to be participating in a sham marriage in an effort to conceal both his own and his wife’s queer sexuality, may well have been feeling it when he was moved to assert his masculinity at the Academy Awards.

True or not, such rumors still have the potential for ruining careers in Hollywood; and while it may be a facile oversimplification to assume that homophobia was behind Smith’s ill-advised breach of decorum, it’s nevertheless a topic that goes straight to the heart of why the Academy, even in 2022, has such an abysmal track record for rewarding – or even including – openly queer actors on Oscar night.

Granted, things have improved, at least in terms of allowing queerness to be on display at the ceremony. On Sunday night, out Best Actress nominee Kristen Stewart attended with her fiancée, Dylan Miller, with the couple sharing a public kiss on the red carpet as they arrived for the festivities; the trio of female hosts – which included out woman of color Wanda Sikes alongside fellow comedians Amy Schumer and Regina Hall – called out Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill with a defiant joke during their opening presentation.

Jessica Chastain – who won Best Actress for playing unlikely LGBTQ ally and AIDS advocate Tammy Faye Baker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – made an emotional speech decrying anti-LGBTQ legislation and advocating for all people to be “accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror.”

Numerous participants in the evening, whether male or female, queer or straight, took the opportunity to push gender boundaries with their couture for the evening (thanks for that, Timothée Chalamet). Elliot Page, joining Jennifer Garner and JK Simmons for a “Juno” reunion, became the first trans man to be a presenter at the Academy Awards. Finally, two beloved queer icons shared the stage for the evening’s finale, as Lady Gaga was joined by wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli, frail but full of obvious joy at being there, to present the award for Best Picture.

The biggest queer moment of the night, of course, was also one of the first: Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Accepting the award (for which she was considered by far the front-runner), De Bose proudly highlighted her queerness alongside her other intersecting identities, saying “You see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength and life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate.”

The evening’s other queer nominees did not fare so well. “Flee,” the Danish documentary about a gay Afghan refugee’s escape from his homeland as a teen, made history by scoring triple nominations as Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Animated Feature, but it went home empty-handed. Stewart – the only other openly queer acting nominee – lost to Chastain for Best Actress, and the divisive but queer-themed “Power of the Dog” lost its bid for Best Picture to “CODA,” as well as all of its multiple acting nominations – though its director, Jane Campion, already the first woman to be nominated twice for the Best Director Prize, became the third woman to actually win it.

Of course, the Oscar, like any other award, should be bestowed upon the most deserving nominee regardless of sexuality, gender, or any other “identity” status, and it seems unreasonable to expect all the queer nominees to win – though some might feel a little reparative favoritism wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing when it comes to balancing the scales. Even so, nobody has a chance to win if they’re not even nominated, and that’s where Oscar has repeatedly and persistently fallen short.

According to a recent report from Professor Russell Robinson, Faculty Director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Race, Sexuality & Culture, analysis of more than half a century of Academy Award acting nominations reveals that out of 68 nominations (and 14 wins) for performers playing LGBTQ roles, only two nominees – neither of whom went on to win – were LGBTQ-identified in real life.

While actors like Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), and the late William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) garnered career-boosting acclaim along with their Oscars for playing queer characters, there are no equivalent success stories for queer actors playing straight roles – indeed, only eight openly queer performers have gotten a nomination for ANY role, queer or otherwise, in the entire history of the Oscars, and no transgender performers have ever received one at all.

While one might believe statistics like this are at least beginning to change, bear in mind that both of Benedict Cumberbatch’s two Oscar nods so far were for playing gay men, including this year’s “Power of the Dog” (the first was for playing real-life queer hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”).

The topic of whether straight actors playing queer characters is appropriate at all is of course a hotly-debated one, with reasonable arguments – and queer voices in support of them – on both sides. We won’t attempt an in-depth examination of that issue here, but what is obvious even without the above statistics is that the Academy – or rather, looking at it from a wider scope, Hollywood itself – has a deeply-ingrained prejudice against queerness, regardless of how loudly it proclaims itself to be an ally.

Yes, progress has undeniably been achieved, especially within the last few years; the strong showing of films like “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and other LGBTQ-oriented titles on recent Oscar nights has gone neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

Yet the Academy – as well as the industry it represents – has a pattern of responding to criticism over its inclusiveness in half-measures. It takes more than a hashtag to end sexual harassment of women in the workplace, no matter how many times it’s flashed on the screen during an awards show, and it takes more than a token nomination every few years to give an underrepresented population a fair place at the table, too.

This year’s ceremony was not without its missteps. The choice to bump awards from the broadcast for time while simultaneously devoting minutes to a James Bond tribute or a performance of a song (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s “Encanto”) that wasn’t even nominated; accompanying the annual “In Memoriam” tribute to the year’s dearly departed with a choreographed dance and vocal performance; the insensitivity of rushing some winners (like “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, accepting when his film won for Best International Feature) to finish their speeches while letting others continue uninterrupted; these and other ill-considered decisions had already blemished the show before “the slap heard ‘round the world” ever happened.

Nevertheless, this Oscar show felt more authentic than many in recent memory. There was a raw, unpredictable quality to it, perhaps rooted in the Academy’s controversial choice to relegate several “lesser” awards to a pre-show presentation, that manifested itself in the uncomfortable response of the audience to the often sharp humor of hostesses Sikes, Schuman, and Hall – who mercilessly skewered Hollywood’s say-one-thing-do-another approach to sexism, racism, homophobia and more throughout the show, often with visible apprehension over how their jokes might land.

Nervousness notwithstanding, their presence and their comedic calling-out of industry hypocrisy, along with the willingness of the celebrities in the house to laugh about it, was an element that lifted the proceedings enough to make them not only bearable, but sometimes even enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean the Academy can rest on its laurels. While it’s become common for their awards show – and all the others, for that matter – to serve as a kind of celebrity roast, where jokes are made and laughed at about the industry’s hot-button issue of the day, the persistent problems in Hollywood can’t be corrected just by allowing its workers to blow off steam by making fun of them once a year.

The film industry thinks that by going along with self-mocking humor about its own misogyny, racism, and homophobia, it gets a pass to continue ignoring the growing demand from the public to eliminate those same toxic ingredients from its standard recipe.

Perhaps the Smith incident, based as it seems to have been in a show of masculine dominance, will prompt some soul-searching within the entertainment community over its own rampant hypocrisy. Let’s hope so, because if the Academy Awards are ever to be truly inclusive in their representation of every segment of our society, no matter who they are or who they love, that’s something that has to happen first in the movies their prizes are meant to honor.

We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but we’re not there yet.

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Jessica Chastain Accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress:

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