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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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GMCLA’s ‘Solid Gold’ Gala: Honoring LGBTQ+ Champions with Iconic Diva Tributes

“Solid Gold” show will feature tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Whitney Houston

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GMCLA's SOLID GOLD, one performance only. Sunday, June 30 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles is honoring champions of the LGBTQ+ community and celebrating the music of three iconic divas at its annual gala fundraiser Sunday, June 30 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Celebrating our history through the music we love

GMCLA’s “Solid Gold” show will feature the music of superstars Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Whitney Houston, performed by the chorus’s 150 members in front of a live band with dancers. The show will include a special three-song medley joined by stars from the Drag Race universe Priyanka and Latrice Royale.

Immediately after the show, the party will move to GMCLA’s annual Gala Fundraiser, where they’ll honor Senator Alex Padilla and his wife Angela Padilla with their Civic Voice Award, and the HBO series We’re Here with their Artistic Voice Award.

GMCLA will honor Senator Padilla for his decades of work in politics as an advocate for immigrants, community building, the climate crisis, and voting rights. They will honor Angela Padilla for her work on mental health issues through her organization FundaMental Change. GMCLA will recognize We’re Here for shining a light on the impact of anti-LGBTQ legislation on the community in the South.

Alex Padilla, U.S. Senator, California.

“We deeply honor Senator and Mrs. Padilla for joining us at the Gala,” says GMCLA executive director Lou Spisto. “Each of them has dedicated many years of their life’s work to make our region a more vibrant and inclusive place, and to make the lives of all who live here healthier and safer.”

Spisto says the “Solid Gold” show also honors artists who have made an incredible contribution to the community:

“We can hardly imagine music that doesn’t play a significant part in our lives. These great artists span many decades, the 60s, 70s, 80s, into the 90s and of course, Dionne Warwick continues to inspire us today,” he says.

GMCLA performances at Disney Hall are a tradition in LA. (photo courtesy GMCLA)

Powerful choral tribute

For anyone who’s never seen the GMCLA perform, Spisto describes it as an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

“When 150 men sing together, they create a beautiful noise that’s really powerful, and it reaches across the footlights in a way that makes it hard not to feel a connection and an emotion,” he says. “When predominantly men sing love songs to and about men, simply singing those lyrics becomes very powerful, and you won’t experience that anywhere else.”

“We celebrate our community as much as we celebrate music,” he says.

The fundraising Gala supports all the work that the GMCLA does across the community. GMCLA works with the public school system to provide choral programs and empowerment programs in high schools through its Alive Music Program, which has reached more than 85,000 public school students over ten years. The Chorus also performs more than 30 free public shows across the community every year.

Spisto says these programs reflect the GMCLA’s commitment to building up the community.

“GMCLA has changed hearts and minds for 45 years now. GMCLA has participated in the movement to speak about who we are, sing about who we are, and fight for our rights,” he says.

“Things have become easier and we don’t live in the world of 1979, and it certainly differs from the world we faced when AIDS devastated our community. But we still face tough times, and we still need voices like this chorus to stand up for the Greater Community.”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles: Solid Gold and Gala Fundraiser will take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Ballroom, 300 E Green St, Pasadena, CA, Sun June 30, 3pm. You can purchase tickets at https://www.gmcla.org/

GMCLA’s Ongoing Mission

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles: Solid Gold and Gala Fundraiser take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Ballroom, 300 E Green St, Pasadena, CA, Sun June 30, 3pm. Tickets at https://www.gmcla.org/

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‘Tiger’ burning bright: an interview with Mary Timony

Today’s female-driven music scene wouldn’t be the same without her

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Mary Timony is back with a new album. (Photo by Chris Grady)

It’s hard to imagine what the current female-driven music scene would be like without Mary Timony. From Sleater-Kinney to Haim, from Angel Olsen to Mitski, the influence of Mary Timony is in every note being played, every word being sung. On her new solo album, “Untame The Tiger” (Merge), with its sly nod to Joni Mitchell, Timony has brought her many years of musical experience to the fore, resulting in what is easily her most accessible release. Beginning with the incredible six-plus minute opener “No Thirds” and continuing through the first single, “Dominoes,” and gorgeous numbers including “The Guest,” “The Dream,” and “Not The Only One,” Timony is assured to keep listeners purring along. Timony made time for an interview shortly before the album was released.

BLADE: Mary, I’d like to begin by talking to you about your musical lives in D.C. and Boston. I went to college in Boston in the early 1980s and was constantly amazed by the bands of the era such as Mission of Burma, Human Sexual Response, and ‘Til Tuesday. I moved to D.C. in the mid-1980s to go to grad school, and at the time, the music scene there was dominated by go-go music, and a smaller indie music featuring BETTY and the late Tommy Keene, among others. What do you remember about the music in D.C. as someone who grew up there?

MARY TIMONY: That’s interesting. We kind of did a switcheroo. I’m from D.C. and I moved to Boston. (In D.C.) I learned, as a teenager, about rock shows and rock music from being involved in the punk scene, the post-hardcore scene of kids here. Those are the shows I went to in high school. Basically, the Dischord (Records) bands and stuff. I saw every single Fugazi show from when they started in ’87. Before that, whatever was happening in 1985, hardcore shows by Swiz and Soulside and Kingface and I loved Ignition. Other than that, I would go see bluegrass out in Virginia and I loved go-go. I would go to see (go-go bands) Rare Essence and Trouble Funk. I was very into that stuff; that was really exciting. I think I liked go-go the most out of all of it, actually [laughs]. I would go to DC Space and 9:30 (Club), mostly for local (acts). I don’t think I ever saw BETTY, but I was a teenager then.

BLADE: Was the active music scene in Boston in the early 1990s part of the appeal for you when it came to relocating to Boston to attend Boston University?

TIMONY: The reason why I went there was because I wanted to go to a music program that was in a big university, in case I didn’t wanna study music the whole time, which is exactly what happened. I studied classical guitar for a year and then I didn’t really like the program much, so I transferred to study English. I found out about the (Boston) music scene from friends. We went to The Middle East (nightclub) and TT’s (T.T. The Bear’s nightclub). Then after college, I ended up living right down the street from The Middle East and I was there constantly.

BLADE: Good old Central Square! As a performer playing in bands including Autoclave, Helium, and Ex Hex, and as a solo artist with her own band, it’s not unreasonable to say that Mary, you are someone who plays well with others. 

TIMONY: [Big laugh.]

BLADE: What makes you such a good team player?

TIMONY: I didn’t know I was [laughs]. I’ve gone back and forth between doing solo stuff and being in bands. Mostly, I’ve done projects where I’ve written a bunch of songs and I’m trying to…I haven’t done a ton of collaborative stuff really. Ex Hex was fun because it was more collaborative. Wild Flag, the same thing, totally 100% collaborative in every way. But Helium was really my thing, but I got some great people that totally influenced it. I’ve always been doing my own thing but tried to find really good people. Music really is about connection. It’s never as good if it’s only one person’s vision. Usually, if it’s good it’s good because of the connection between the musicians. Music is a social art form, I think.

BLADE: “Untame The Tiger” is the title of your new album. In 1999, Joni Mitchell titled her album “Taming The Tiger.” Are you, in any way, making a nod to Joni?

TIMONY: A little bit because I am a huge fan. I have been since I was 18. But, it sort of came to me because I have a song called that on the record and I’m sure that probably came from ripping off Joni Mitchell. Then I just thought that’s a cool name for a record. Then I thought, “Oh, shit!” [Laughs] It’s already been taken! Then I thought about it and then I forgot about it. Then I thought about it again and finally, I was like, “It’s OK. It’s a little bit different.” And I love her!

BLADE: I’m currently reading Ann Powers’ book “Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell,” which comes out in June.

TIMONY: Oh, I’m definitely going to have to read.

BLADE: Yes, please add that to your reading list. “Untame The Tiger” is your first new solo studio album in 15 years. Are there things you write and sing about on your solo records that might be out of place on an album you would record with another one of your musical outfits?

TIMONY: Yes. That’s why this ended up being a solo record. I guess it was because of the tuning of my guitar. They were more or less finished songs. I wanted the songs to sound kind of acoustic. I also wanted to play with a bunch of musicians who I really love. All those things just made it seem like a solo record. If I’m writing for a band, like Ex Hex, which is basically the other band that I do right now, they’re not finished. I bring them in (to the band members) with that band in mind.

BLADE: I love the lush instrumental section on “Thirds” and the psychedelic sounds of “Looking For The Sun” and “The Guest.” Were there things you were listening to while writing the songs for “Untame The Tiger” that were inspiring to you?

TIMONY: I was listening to a lot of music, a ton of stuff. I don’t ever try to purposely emulate anything very often, but I can’t help it. I’d rather be influenced by stuff without really thinking about it too consciously. I always have loved listening to The Left Banke’s instrumentation and The Moody Blues’ string parts. Most of the string parts come from trying to emulate The Moody Blues [laughs] or The Left Banke. I’m obsessed with The Left Banke.

BLADE: “Walk Away Renée,” right?

TIMONY: Yes. This guy, Michael Brown, was such a genius. He wrote so much stuff as a teenager. His dad was a string arranger. Anyway, I love those string parts. I was listening to this prog-rock band The Strawbs and this early (Ronnie) Dio band Elf. (The Flying) Burrito Brothers and The Byrds, too. I love Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Richard Thompson and I was really obsessed with Gerry Rafferty’s early solo record called “Can I Have My Money Back?” I love that record. I was listening to it a ton when I was arranging the songs.

BLADE: Why was the song “Dominoes” selected as the first single from “Untame The Tiger?”

TIMONY: I don’t know. I let other people tell me [laughs]. I really hate sequencing records and I hate choosing singles. I’m just too close to it. I can’t tell what people are going to like or not. A lot of times, the ones that I like are not the ones that other people like. I asked (the people at) the label and they suggested that. I think it’s more poppy sounding. Dave Fridmann mixed that one and “Don’t Disappear” and he’s a genius mixer. and these mixers are always very pleasing and accessible sounding. I think that has something to do with it, too.

BLADE: Earlier, we talked about your long history of playing music with others, which reminded me of your guest spot singing “All Dressed Up In Dreams,” written by gay singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt for his band The 6ths’ “Wasps’ Nest” album. 

TIMONY: He’s such a genius!

BLADE: How did that come about?

TIMONY: When I moved to Boston, for a year I lived with Claudia (Gonson of Merritt’s band The Magnetic Fields), who is his drummer. I lived in a group house in Cambridge. I was friends with Claudia, and Stephin lived a few blocks away. She told me he was making this record with guest singers they wanted to go over and sing on it. I went over there one day and he taught me the song and I sang on it.  I think he’s one of the best songwriters of the last 50 years or whatever.

BLADE: I completely agree. As someone who has collaborated with Stephin, are you aware of an LGBTQ+ following for your own music?

TIMONY: I don’t know. I think maybe a little bit. I’d love that. I love everybody who can connect with it, because all I’m trying to do is connect with people.

Mary Timony (Photo by Chris Grady)
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We predict an #OscarsSoStraight evening at the Academy Awards

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Photo Credit: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

HOLLYWOOD – The 96th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, will take place on Sunday, March 10 at new early time 7 p.m. EST at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and broadcast live on ABC.

Depending on whether you are an “Oppenheimer” lover or a hater, the Academy Awards this year will come off as either a blast, i.e. as in nuclear explosion, or a bomb, i.e. as in the atomic kind.

Spoiler alert: “Oppenheimer” is set up to create scorched earth against all its competitors. 

If you are attending an Oscar party and filling out your predictions list, you will do very well if you mark “Oppenheimer” down the line. (But uncheck it in the Best Supporting Actress category. Love you Emily Blunt, but, no.) 

Here is what an LGBTQ high visibility evening would look like: “Barbie” would win Best Picture because there was Kate McKinnon, and what self-respecting LGBTQ person does not appreciate pink? It would just edge out “Anatomy of a Fall” or “Maestro,” which feature bisexual main characters. “Anatomy of a Fall” would win Best Director for Justine Triet to make up for the Best Picture snub, however. 

Best Actor would go to Colman Domingo for his portrayal of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, just edging out Bradley Cooper as the bisexual Leonard Bernstein. Two-spirit Lily Gladstone would edge out Annette Bening as the iconic Diana Nyad (Lily might actually win this, though Emma Stone is coming on strong). Sterling K. Brown would win for gay Clifford Ellison in “American Fiction” and we would ogle runner-up Ryan Gosling as Ken because even though Ken is presumably straight, we gay boys know the truth.

Lesbian icon Jodie Foster would win playing a lesbian character in “Nyad.” “Nimona” would win Best Animated Feature. “The ABCs of Book Banning” would win Best Documentary Short Film. “Barbie,” “Maestro,” and “May December” would duke it out as front runners in the screenplay categories.

None of those are likely to happen, however, with the exception of Lily Gladstone, as mentioned. Oh, and Billie Eilish may win for best song. That won’t be a particularly LGBTQ moment, however, as Eilish does not like her sexual orientation being talked about, so she won’t mention it, and we won’t either.

Because the Oscars are preceded by so many other award shows and programs, many populated with Academy voters, there usually are strong indications as to who really will get what. This year, that message has been a strong sweep and one name emerges above all others. Cue explosion: “Oppenheimer.”

It is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist who led the Manhattan Project during World War II. Oppenheimer’s complex personality is challenged as he is recruited to head the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to build the atomic bomb. With five Golden Globe Awards, seven BAFTAs, eight Critics Choice Awards, the Directors Guild Award, The Producers Guild Award, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, its dominance coming into the Oscars is clear.

Out magazine observed, “It’s been a great year in cinema for LGBTQ+ actors, directors, writers, films, and characters.” It has been. Unless the Oscar awards show producers specifically call that fact out, it may go unnoticed, however, and LGBTQ representation may be minimal. The announced presenters so far do not scream queer, with the possible exception of our favorite mom-of-a-trans person, Jamie Lee Curtis.

This is the year when we enjoy the concept of “it was an honor just to be nominated” LGBTQ-wise. It may be the year that we just appreciate that we don’t win all horse races just because we are LGBTQ or the horses are queer.

The Academy loves to be unpredictable, however, so you never know. Rainbows and unicorns may emerge. I wouldn’t bet on it.

But, Academy, come on, surprise us.

My prediction is that in the morning after this year’s ceremony, we may be social media-ing #OscarsSoStraight, and Out magazine’s “hope that the 2024 Oscars could potentially be the most queer- and trans-inclusive ceremony ever” will have gone up in a cloud of atomic smoke.

Oh well. At least you should do well at your Oscar party.

*****************************************************************************************

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

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

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

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

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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people

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Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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LGBTQ+ Critics Announce nominations for 15th Dorian Film Awards

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch the Dorians – not even via streaming – because there isn’t an actual presentation

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Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott star in ALL OF US STRANGERS, nominated for 9 Dorian Awards by the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics.

HOLLYWOOD – If you’re one of the many LGBTQ movie fans who were disappointed when your favorite queer film or performance or director didn’t get the nominations you KNOW they deserved, take heart. This year’s “awards season” just got a lot more rainbow-tinted, thanks to GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, which on Monday announced the nominations for its 15th annual Dorian Film Awards.

While they may not be as glamorous or prestigious – yet! – as the Oscars, the Dorians (named, of course, in homage to iconic queer writer Oscar Wilde and his quintessential novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”) are not to be taken lightly. GALECA is a well-established and respected organization consisting of over 500 entertainment critics, journalists and media icons, one of the largest entertainment journalists organizations in the world, with “an impressive roster of members who contribute to some of the most revered and distinct media outlets in the U.S. and beyond.” Each year, they turn a “queer eye” toward picking the best from the annual crop of entertainment, with separate awards presentations – spaced throughout the year – for film, television, Broadway and Off-Broadway, with categories focused on both mainstream and LGBTQ-themed work in these various media; and although their choices often mirror those of other awards bodies like the Academy, SAG, or the Golden Globes, they’re also known for asserting that “certain perspective” which has always helped the queer community to be at the forefront when it comes to being “tastemakers” in the wider culture.

Some of their film award categories are specifically designed for this – for instance, in addition to separate awards for mainstream and queer films, they present a “We’re ‘Wilde’ About You” award for rising stars, and include categories for “Most Visually Striking,” “Best Unsung” and “Campiest” movies of the year. Even within the general categories, however, they often elevate the kind of films that are typically passed over by more “traditional” awards – as is evidenced in their strong slate of contenders for 2024’s honors.

Most obviously, perhaps, this alternate perspective is reflected in the fact that “All of Us Strangers,” writer-director Andrew Haigh’s melancholy-yet-romantic gay ghost story that was completely left out of the Oscar nominations despite being widely touted as a favorite in several categories, received the most nods of any other film from the Dorians with 9 nominations. In second place is “Barbie,” with 7 nominations (including one for director Greta Gerwig, whose snub in the parallel Academy Awards category led to a flurry of vocal criticism on social media), queer cinema icon Todd Haynes’ “May December” (also snubbed by Oscar) is in third with 6, and Celine Song’s Korean-language “Past Lives” (5) and Greek absurdist auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” (4) rounding out the top five most-nominated titles.

It probably also goes without saying that the Dorian nominations tend to be much more inclusive of queer talent, even in mainstream categories. This year, Oscar nominees Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster are joined by fellow out LGBTQ+ actors Andrew Scott and Trace Lysette in the Best Performance and Supporting Performance categories – which, notably, are inclusive of all genders, with one individual winner in each.

This year, the Dorians also introduce three new awards: LGBTQ Screenplay, LGBTQ Non-English Language Film, and Genre Film. The latter is an especially  interesting move that seems reflective of the oft-ignored but widespread influence of “gay geek” culture as well as a response to calls for other awards bodies to make space for the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films that are often disregarded when it comes to awards due to long standing bias within the industry establishment against the artistic merits of such content.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch the Dorians – not even via streaming – because there isn’t an actual presentation, though some have been held in past years. Maybe someday they’ll be the must-see TV event we all KNOW they deserve to be, but in the meantime, don’t worry: we’ll make sure and fill you in on all the winners after they’re announced on Monday, February 26.

The complete list of nominations is below.
____________________________________________________________________________.

Film of the Year

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

May December (Netflix) 

Past Lives (A24) 

Poor Things (Searchlight)

LGBTQ Film of the Year

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight) 

Bottoms (MGM)

Passages (MUBI, SBS)

Rustin (Netflix)

Saltburn (Amazon MGM) 

Director of the Year

Greta Gerwig, Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Todd Haynes, May December (Netflix)

Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer (Universal)

Celine Song, Past Lives (A24)

Screenplay of the Year

Original or Adapted

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Samy Burch, May December (Netflix)

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Arthur Harari, Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Celine Song, Past Lives (A24) 

LGBTQ Screenplay of the Year

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Arthur Harari, Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Dustin Lance Black, Julian Breece, Rustin (Netflix)

Arlette Langmann, Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Passages (MUBI)

Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott, Bottoms (MGM)

Non-English Language Film of the Year

Anatomy of a Fall (NEON) 

The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS, Toho)

Godzilla Minus One (Toho)

Past Lives (A24)

The Zone of Interest (A24)

LGBTQ Non-English Language Film of the Year

Afire (Janus Films, Sideshow)

Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Cassandro (Amazon MGM)

Monster (Well Go USA, Gaga, Toho)

Rotting in the Sun (MUBI)

Unsung Film of the Year

To an Exceptional Movie Worthy of Greater Attention

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Lionsgate)

Monica (IFC)

Origin (NEON)

Theater Camp (Searchlight)

A Thousand and One (Focus Features)

Film Performance of the Year

Colman Domingo, Rustin (Netflix)

Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers (Focus Features)

Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple, Paramount)

Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Greta Lee, Past Lives (A24)

Trace Lysette, Monica (IFC)

Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer (Universal)

Natalie Portman, May December (Netflix)

Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Emma Stone, Poor Things (Searchlight)

Supporting Film Performance of the Year

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple (Warner Bros.)

Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer (Universal)

Jodie Foster, NYAD (Netflix)

Claire Foy, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Ryan Gosling, Barbie (Warner Bros.) 

Rachel McAdams, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Lionsgate)

Charles Melton, May December (Netflix)

Paul Mescal, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Rosamund Pike, Saltburn (Amazon MGM)

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers (Focus Features)

Documentary of the Year

American Symphony (Netflix)

Beyond Utopia (Roadside Attractions, Fathom Events)

Kokomo City (Magnolia)

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

20 Days in Mariupol (PBS Distribution)

LGBTQ Documentary of the Year

Every Body (Focus Features) 

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (HBO, Confluential Films)

Kokomo City (Magnolia)

Little Richard: I Am Everything (Magnolia)

Orlando, My Political Biography (Janus Film, Sideshow)

Animated Film of the Year

The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS, Toho)

Elemental (Disney)

Nimona (Netflix, Annapurna)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (SONY)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Paramount)

Genre Film of the Year

For excellence in science fiction, fantasy and horror

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Godzilla Minus One (Toho)

M3GAN (Universal)

Poor Things (Searchlight)

Talk To Me (A24)

Film Music of the Year

Barbie — Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, et al. (Warner Bros.)

The Boy and the Heron — Joe Hisaishi (GKIDS, Toho)

The Color Purple — Stephen Bray, Allee Willis, Brenda Russell, Kris Bowers, et al. (Warner Bros.)

Oppenheimer — Ludwig Göransson (Universal) 

The Zone of Interest — Mica Levi (A24)

Visually Striking Film of the Year

Asteroid City (Focus Features)

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Oppenheimer (Universal)

Poor Things (Searchlight)

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (SONY)

Campiest Flick 

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Bottoms (MGM)

Dicks: The Musical (A24)

M3GAN (Universal) 

Saltburn (Amazon MGM)

“We’re Wilde About You!” Rising Star Award

Ayo Edebiri

Lily Gladstone

Jacob Elordi

Charles Melton

Dominic Sessa

Wilde Artist Award

To a truly groundbreaking force in entertainment

Quinta Brunson

Ayo Edebiri

Greta Gerwig

Lily Gladstone

Todd Haynes

GALECA LGBTQIA+ Film Trailblazer Award 

For Creating Art That Inspires Empathy, Truth and Equity

Colman Domingo

Jodie Foster

Andrew Haigh

Todd Haynes

Andrew Scott

Timeless Star (Career Achievement Award)

Honoring an exemplary career marked by character, wisdom and wit, the winner of this award will be named along with the other final victors on Feb. 26. Past recipients include Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and John Waters.

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Subjects matter: an interview with author Martin Duberman

New book ‘The Line of Dissent’ debuts Jan. 8

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Gay writer and historian Martin Duberman is the very definition of a living legend. At the age of 93, with nearly 40 books to his credit, Duberman shows no signs of slowing down. His latest book, “The Line of Dissent: Gay Outsiders and the Shaping of History” (G&LR Books, 2023), out Jan. 8, compiles a dozen essays (many of which were previously published in “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide”), along with a pair of codas. Some of the names, including W.H. Auden, Alfred Kinsey, and Sylvia Rivera, will be familiar to many readers, while others are sure to be revelations. Duberman was gracious enough to make time for an interview in advance of the book’s publication.

BLADE: In the introduction to “The Line of Dissent,” you write that the book is “opinionated” and “contains no demolition jobs,” and you note “appraisals are mostly appreciative.”  Is this in response to something you’d seen other historians doing?

MARTIN DUBERMAN: Historians, being human, have a wide range of responses to the individuals they choose to write about. In my earlier books (“Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886” and “James Russell Lowell”), I felt personally more distant from the subjects. But my recent work follows the trajectory of my politics — that is, moving steadily leftward.

BLADE: Most of the essays in “The Line of Dissent” previously appeared in “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.” Was the idea to compile the essays into a book your idea or G&LR publisher Richard Schneider’s?

DUBERMAN: The idea for the book was mine though Richard was immediately enthusiastic.

BLADE: Were there any essays of yours from “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide” that didn’t make the cut for the book?

DUBERMAN: There are 12 essays in the book, and I’ve probably written some 20 (my memory’s a little shaky here), which, if accurate, would mean some seven to eight didn’t make the cut. David McReynolds would be one example.

BLADE: In many ways, “Gay & Lesbian Review” fills a void left by the loss of “Christopher Street,” as well as the death of several regional LGBTQ newspapers. What does it mean to you that a publication such as “Gay & Lesbian Review” exists?

DUBERMAN: I think the role “Gay & Lesbian Review” plays in the community is significant. No other publication reaches an educated, but not academic, audience.

BLADE: 2023 turned out to be a year in which historically significant LGBTQ people — including Bayard Rustin, Diana Nyad, and Leonard Bernstein — are the subjects of high-profile biopics. Are there one or two people about whom you wrote in “The Line of Dissent” that you think would make a good subject for a movie?

DUBERMAN: Lord, yes! Offhand, I couldn’t name even one who wouldn’t qualify for a film, and who wouldn’t find an audience. Every one of their lives was dramatic and rich. As were dozens of other LGBTQ+ people not in the book. Check out the lists in “Outwords” (theoutwordsarchive.org) as one source for candidates. It’s an invaluable resource for candidates to write about and to honor.

BLADE: Essay subjects Essex Hemphill, Andrew Dworkin, and Lincoln Kirstein are people about whom you also wrote the full-length books “Hold Tight Gently,” “The Feminist as Revolutionary,” and “The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein,” respectively. What makes a person a fascinating subject worthy of a book-length project to you?

DUBERMAN: Using “drama” as a guideline, I’d say that Sylvia Rivera’s life was especially full of vivid and sometimes hair-raising episodes. Ditto Essex Hemphill and Andrea Dworkin. A film on Andrea was recently completed, but I haven’t seen any release date for it.

BLADE: When you write a revelatory essay such as “Edward Sagarin: ‘Father’ of the Homophile Movement,” are you as excited about sharing your knowledge and/or the results of your research as you hope the reader will be when they receive the information?

DUBERMAN: My level of excitement varies with the subject. The three you cite are among the most important. In a semi-conscious way, I tend to respond to “second rank” figures — that is, people who in their own day made a substantial political contribution but the general public has forgotten.

BLADE: “The Line of Dissent” opens with the dedication: “To the current generation of queer radicals. Please hurry!” I live in South Florida, which is suffering greatly under anti-LGBTQ Gov. DeSantis and his cronies. However, we are seeing young LGBTQ people in the state taking action and becoming activists in response. That’s not just happening in Florida, but in other places, as well. Does that give you a sense of hope for the future?

DUBERMAN: Yes! I see lots of evidence of activity emerging from the latest generation. Alas, I also see Young Republicans who are equally outspoken. It could come down to a dogfight, with damn near everything at stake. For now, I’m still sticking with my optimistic prediction.

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The ultimate guide to queer gift giving

Perfect presents for everyone from roommates to soulmates

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Searching for special deliveries for that special someone? Consider these elf-approved, consciously curated presents perfect for everyone from roommates to soulmates. 


Star Wars Home Collection

Movie nights in bed get a comfort upgrade from the Force – for those who uphold Jedi code in the streets but embrace the Dark Side in the sheets – with Sobel Westex’s Star Wars Home Collection, five- to seven-piece twin, queen and king sets suitable for either alliance. Cop a bootleg of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (legal copies don’t exist, nor has it been rebroadcast since its one-and-only airing in 1978) and settle in for a snacky screening with premade Johnson’s Popcorn (a Jersey Shore staple) or Pop ’N Dulge’s DIY gourmet kits. SobelAtHome.com, $350-$390; JohnsonsPopcorn.com, $27+; PopNDulge.com, $23


Bird Buddy Smart Feeder

Avian enthusiasts get up close and semi-personal with feathered friends thanks to the Bird Buddy smart feeder that allows safe viewing via a solar-powered, app-enabled camera, along with adorable add-ons like a suet ball holder and three-in-one nutrition set to keep the neighborhood’s population happy and healthy. MyBirdBuddy.com, $299-$415


Jewelry – but make it an experience. That’s the premise behind Link x Lou, a quick-fitting accessory service providing recipients with in-person appointments for custom-linked, clasp-less 14-karat white- and yellow-gold necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings that wear until they’re worn out. Money’s on ’em lasting longer than the situationship you’ve got goin’, but may the odds be ever in your favor. LinkxLou.com, $55-$500


Orttu Shelton Puffer

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s you as an alt-timeline Tom of Finland in Orttu’s fully quilted, oversized Shelton Puffer comprised of double-layered high-sheen fabric and press-stud fastening that results in a slick style statement vers-er than you are. Orttu.com, $203


Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set

Apotheke takes the guesswork out of choosing just the right ambiance-inducing aroma with its Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set, featuring six fragrant two-ounce tins in seasonal smells that include birchwood apple, black cypress, blackberry honey, cardamon chestnut, charred fig, and firewood (with a combined 90-hour burn time), and packaged in a nostalgically illustrated gift box accentuated by festive gold detailing. ApothekeCo.com, $64


Polaris General 1000 Sport

Resort communities across the country have adopted golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation, and you can establish yourself as a local baddie in Polaris’ General 1000 Sport – in ethereal colorways like ghost gray – equipped with a four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine, 100 horsepower, 1,500-pound hitch-towing capacity, and enough street cred for Boomers to shake their fists at. Polaris.com, $17,500+


‘Arquivistas’ Crystal Book

Brazilian crystal devotee Tatiana Dorow has curated an impressive collection of more than 1,000 rare and exquisite minerals – ranging from one ounce to over 5,000 pounds – the comprehensive record of which is now compiled in the sizable coffee-table tome “Arquivistas” (Portuguese for archivist) that’s sure to satisfy, delight, and provide endless holiday-party talking points to the New Agers in your life. (You know they will.) ArtAndAnthropologyPress.com, $350


Bovem Globe Trimmer 2.0

There are plenty of manscaping tools on the market, but perhaps none are designed with your delicate bits in mind like the handsome second-gen Bovem Globe body and groin trimmer with its ergonomic textured grip, powerful 6500 RPM with low vibration, varying guards, and replaceable TrimSafe blades that tidy you up without cutting skin or pulling rough hair. Deck the halls! – no more bloody Christmas balls. Bovem.co, $60-$87


Lexington Glassworks Decanter Set

Pour one out from Lexington Glassworks’ hand-blown whiskey decanter, each one individually crafted in the company’s Asheville, N.C., studio and detailed with an elegant crackle finish that lends an air of sophistication to any home bar cart. Pair with a set of LG’s complementary rocks glasses, in the same distinguished style, for a cherished gift. LexingtonGlassworks.com, $280


Joule Turbo Sous Vide

Your fave chefs’ autopilot cooking technique hits home countertops in Breville’s sleek Joule Turbo Sous Vide stick, which cooks seasoned-and-bagged meats and veggies to a faster-than-ever optimal internal temperature (unattended, no less) before a lickety-split sear and serve results in restaurant-quality dishes deserving of at least a couple Michelin stars for your minimal-mess kitchen. Breville.com, $250


Outlines Shower Liner System

Holiday hosts can practice responsible replenishment amid our planetary plastic-waste crisis when you gift Outlines’ thoughtfully designed Shower Liner System that provides users with a machine-washable cotton top piece and fully recyclable bottom to replace when it’s time to ditch the grime. Set it and forget it with three-, six- or nine-month auto-deliveries. LivingOutlines.com, $50


Barbie Perfume

Fight the patriarchy doused in Barbie’s sweet-and-fresh fragrance that, from top to bottom, features notes of strawberry nectar and red cherry, peony and pink magnolia, and sandalwood and soft musk for an extraordinary scent that’s more than Kenough. DefineMeCreativeStudio.com, $65


AiRROBO Pet Grooming Vacuum

Posh pets enjoy salon-style luxury in the comfort of their homes when treated to a grooming session by the AiRROBO vacuum (think Flowbee for cats and dogs), a five-tool, one-stop solution for keeping furbabies’ hair, dander, allergens and mites to a minimum. The portable pamperer includes an electric clipper, crevice and de-shedding tools, and grooming and cleaning brushes housed in a space-saving, HEPA-filtered capsule. US.Air-Robo.com, $110


Aura Smart Sleep Mask

What does the future of total relaxation and deep sleep look like? Blackout darkness and complete serenity in a dream-state sanctuary when you spend your nights in the Aura Smart Sleep Mask with built-in speakers for guided meditation and snooze-inducing ASMR, zero-pressure eye cushioning, and light and sunrise therapy to help you wake rested and refreshed at home and (especially) away. Indiegogo.com, $190


Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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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

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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 deafhood.org.

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

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'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 (charlesbusch.com), 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

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(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.

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