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Queery: Matthew Bianchi

The substance abuse counselor answers 20 questions

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Matthew Bianchi (Photo courtesy Bianchi)

Matthew Bianchi was saved. Yes, you read that right. And he’s not at all shy about telling you he believes in God. “I am a spiritual person who has found a renewed relationship with God,” he told the Los Angeles Blade.

But it wasn’t something that just came out of the blue. He spent years addicted to prescription opiates and benzodiazepines, an addiction so intense it drove all of his closest friends away and nearly destroyed his family. 

“My mother was exhausted doing everything possible to keep me alive and to get the help I needed,” he said.

“After a couple of failed rehabs and detoxes, finally I surrendered to the powers of the universe or what I like to call God. And that made everything a thousand times easier. I let go of control and gained a completely new perspective on my life and things around me instantly.”

He entered treatment at Gosnold on Cape Cod in 2005 (a third attempt) and spent nine months there before realizing he had found not only a spiritual calling but a professional one too.

He returned to school at the University of Boston and became a credentialed substance abuse counselor, working for the treatment center that helped save his life.

Today, Matthew is helping to build Pride Recovery LA, a solely LGBTQ outpatient treatment center in WeHo.

He jumped in like an entrepreneur, branding the agency and focusing on outreach, business development and establishing it as a refuge that increasingly focuses on the needs of people struggling with methamphetamine and sex-addiction.

“In recent months, several people have died from methamphetamine that is enhanced with fentanyl,” he said with great urgency in his voice, as if reaffirming his commitment.

He has also taken a special interest in building recovery and intervention services for trans people.

“Everything is so connected,” he says.“Many of us grow up to find ourselves traumatized by a million cuts of marginalization, losing access to our families, our faith and the basic support system we thought would never fail us.  Some of us get lost trying to negotiate that pain, soothing it with substances that slowly replace us. That’s where my passion comes in.”

The recovery community of Los Angeles is huge. AA offers dozens of meetings every day in Los Angeles and there are sober living services and rehabs in just about every neighborhood, many of them LGBT specific.

“I  know we can be a healthier community. We are rich with resources and love.  Life does get better, if you let go and let god.” Matthew said.

And with that he laughed aloud, “Why just last night my husband surprised me with a trip to LAX and this morning I woke up in a Mexican jungle town.  Thank god I am sober and can experience love…and Mexico.”

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell? 

I came into my sexuality around the age of 15.  I never had to “come out” because I have an older brother who is gay who came out years before and laid the path for me.

Who’s your LGBT hero? 

My partner, Roger, who faced significant adversity and the things you would expect a gay man to experience who lived through the 80’s.

What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?

Mulholland Drive Overlook after nightfall

Describe your dream wedding.

Small, out of the country, closest family and friends.  The dogs.  No tuxedos and no tulle.

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Veterans who are not getting the well-deserved respect and care that they desperately need. 

What historical outcome would you change?

Aside from thousands of years of the heinous torture of LGBTQ people?,  The decimation of the Mayan culture. 

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

Discovering Grace Jones

On what do you insist?

Honesty, Starbucks and turn signals on the 101.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

Facebook post about my partner taking me away for my 30th birthday.

If your life were a book, what would the title be?

THE COURAGE TO CHANGE

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

Nada.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?

No attachment, no separation, no beginning and no end.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Thank you and keep fighting!

What would you walk across hot coals for?

To save a life.

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

That we are all the same.

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

Anything that properly portrays our culture and educates others about who we are.

What’s the most overrated social custom?

Not wearing white after Labor Day .

What trophy or prize do you most covet? 

Seeing a client happy with years sobriety.

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

The answer to this question.

Why Los Angeles?

Why not?

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Commentary

It’s about visibility not ‘labels’ & it’s about ‘erasure’ & LGBTQ+ identity

LGBTQ+ isn’t a “label” it is a state of being that a human is born with and must be acknowledged, especially by an LGBTQ+ publication

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Jim & his 19-year-old Trans son Sasha on NBC's The Voice (Screenshot via NBC)

SANTA CRUZ – Nearly everyday there are comments posted to the Facebook page of this publication asking why the terms Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or Out or openly LGBTQ et cetera are necessary in reporting a story or used in a headline.

The short and most obvious answer of course is that this news publication is about, written by, and published for the LGBTQ+ community, its allies and that’s that. Sadly, in today’s political environment and frankly echo chambers both left and right that message doesn’t seem to resonate.

On Saturday this newspaper published a story about the people depicted above, a father and son musical duo who competed on NBC’s ‘The Voice.’ Nothing special? Actually no, there was indeed something extraordinary, the son is Trans, and that fact was noted in the headline. There was a question raised by a commenter- why did the person being Trans matter?

In a single precise explanation, it is about visibility and for LGBTQ+ youth in particular that is a critical life altering reality. The youth need to be able to see themselves in other people, they need to be able to contrast and compare, and most assuredly they need that affirmation that their sexual identity or gender identity, or both, is validated.

While as Editor I’ll delete hate filled vitriol and just plain internet trolling by those who hide behind their keyboards and pass judgements in a New York minute, but I have left the comments that ask why it is so necessary to “label” up because there is a need for those people to ask that question and then maybe have members of the community answer.

LGBTQ+ people, young, middle aged, even seniors need to read documentation that their stories are part of a greater community. There is not a difference for the LGBTQ+ community than there is for other minorities in this regard- Black, LatinX, Asian, First Nation, (Native American) and so forth. That documentation of these stories is validation and is also very much embracing the uniqueness that characterizes any grouping of humanity.

Yes, it IS important to say so and so is L,G,B,T, or Q+ and yes while inclusivity and full equality is very much the desired and longed for ultimate outcome, it would be a disservice to simply erase the essence of a person’s being and the complexity of the human factor.

Removing the sexual orientation and or gender identity, simply because one wants to see a so-called level playing field when the reality is that the LGBTQ+ community is far from that playing field and certainly no where near any semblance of equal treatment?

That would be erasure. LGBTQ+ isn’t a “label” it is a state of being that a human is born with and must be acknowledged, especially by an LGBTQ+ publication.

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

Brody Levesque is a veteran journalist and the Editor of the Los Angeles Blade.

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Viewpoint

Global community needs to help save Brazil’s democracy

Jair Bolsonaro trying to undermine judicial independence, LGBTQ rights

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the country’s independence holiday, Sept. 7, to rally his supporters in protests against Brazil’s democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary; basically the only institution at present that checks the president’s authoritarian aspirations. Over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has provided a safe space for human rights protections, specifically LGBTQI+ rights. If the court falls, it would be the downfall of Brazil’s democracy, posing a threat to its diversity.

Over the past decade, the Brazilian LGBTQI+ community has accomplished historical victories through numerous Supreme Court rulings, including a ruling in 2013 to legalize gay marriage. While these victories were celebrated, they were also bittersweet. As the LGBTQI+ community gained ground in equality; Bolsonaro’s far-right party gained political space, and unfortunately, the hearts of some of my dearest family members.

Bolsonaro’s accession to power in 2018 came with a wave of conservative, reactionary and LGBTQI+phobic discourse that shook every aspect of Brazil’s public and private life. As the minds of minorities in the country darkened and as I fought against depression, I saw my friends suddenly rushing to register their partnerships or change their civil names fearing that the rulings allowing for their rights could be overturned. Three years later, with judicial independence under attack, our nightmares are becoming a reality.

Bolsonaro’s government has significantly impacted the LGBTQI+ movement by abolishing the LGBTQI+ National Council and significant budget cuts to Brazil’s once globally recognized HIV/AIDS prevention program. Moreover, policies aiming to fight racism or promoting gender equality are also being abandoned or defunded.

Inflation, hunger, unemployment and extreme poverty are on the rise. In the case of further democratic erosion, we are getting the conditions set for a humanitarian crisis in Brazil.

Brazil’s stability is of interest to the entire region and the world. Considering the country’s influence in Latin America, a coup could generate a domino effect across the continent. Hence, political, social, and economic international stakeholders should raise awareness and pressuring Bolsonaro’s administration

Historically, social minorities are the first ones to be sacrificed in political turmoil. As I wrote this text, news came along that indigenous land rights are being bargained and that Bolsonaro will take this attack on the environment to his speech at the United Nations. As has happened in Poland and Hungary, soon Bolsonaro will turn his gun to the LGBTQI+ community. It is clear by now that Bolsonaro envisions Brazil as a leader of far-right conservatism in the world.

That is why we need the global community to stand with us. As we take to the streets calling for impeachment, Bolsonaro still counts with the support of important stakeholders. Businesspeople are among the president’s most supportive groups, despite the economic disaster we have been through. If they can’t see the obvious internal consequences of eroding democracy, then international pressure should make them see it.

We need clear statements by political parties, foreign media, think tanks, financial groups, etc., that the attacks on Brazil’s institutions and minorities will cost the economic sector money. With this, we can unlock the impeachment process and rebuild Brazil’s legacy as a country that celebrates diversity.

Egerton Neto is the international coordinator for Aliança Nacional LGBTI+ in Brazil and Master of Public Policy candidate at the London School of Economics.

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Commentary

The 10th anniversary of the official end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers were ruined by the time DADT officially ended

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Franklin Burch of Los Angeles, 70, at the 1993 March on Washington (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Franklin Burch was ecstatic marching down the street waving a small American flag and an “Uncle Sam: I Want You” poster during the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. “Gays and lesbians have a right to serve,” the 70-year old gay vet from Los Angeles told the Washington Post on April 25, 1993. “This is America, and we have these rights.”

An estimated 700,000 LGBTQ and allies agreed, marching past the White House and pouring onto the Mall, many grasping for hope during the horrific Second Wave of AIDS. An idealistic optimism was palpable. Gays had voted en masse to elect Bill Clinton as President of the United States, ejecting the Reagan-Bush administration that ignored the deaths of a generation of gay men. Clinton had promised money for AIDS research and pledged nondiscrimination policies, including lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military.

Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer and Navy Petty Officer Keith Meinhold with ACLU/SOCal’s Ramona Ripston and ANGLE’s David Mixner at an HRCF “Lift the Ban” event in West Hollywood Park Auditorium (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 
 

ANGLE’s David Mixner, a Clinton friend from the anti-Vietnam War days, strenuously pointed out that the US military was America’s largest employer, enabling gay people stuck in hateful environments to get out, get an education, see the world and serve their country. Not giving gays that opportunity was unfair, and therefore, unAmerican.

The March on Washington program opened with a stunning Robin Tyler-produced encapsulation of the moment – a sense of pride in our patriotism. To a recording of military theme songs, flag-bearing gays and lesbians who had been drummed out of the military marched onstage, accompanied by some active-duty military coming out publicly based on Clinton’s promise.

Navy Petty Officer Keith Meinhold and Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer ended the procession, with Cammermeyer calling everyone to attention. The crowd – including me – stood at attention, too, tears streaming down our faces at the courage of our people to serve a country that still treated us as deviants. 

Dorothy Hajdys, Allen Schindler’s mother, at DADT protest in Long beach (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

Then Dorothy Hajdys took the stage carrying a framed photo of her son, Petty Officer Third Class Allen Schindler, murdered six months earlier in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by two shipmates. The coroner said Schindler’s injuries were worse “than the damage to a person who’d been stomped by a horse.” Schindler could only be identified by the tattoos on his arm. The March on Washington crowd gave Hajdys a 10-minute standing ovation. We knew the cost of freedom.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a letter from Clinton, who didn’t attend or send a video, as expected. “I stand with you in the struggle for equality for All Americans, including gay men and lesbians,” Clinton wrote. “In this great country, founded on the principle that all people are created equal, we must learn to put aside what divides us and focus on what we share.”

Liberal Democratic icon Senator Edward M. Kennedy spoke via an audio tape, comparing our March to the famous civil rights march of 1963. “We stand again at the crossroads of national conscience,” Kennedy said.

But there were hints of a coming storm. Robin Tyler tore a Clinton telegram of apology on stage as unacceptable. “A Simple Matter of Justice” banner flapped in the background as beloved ally actress Judith Light said:  “I am grateful to you, the gay and lesbian community, for the impact you are having on all of society. I am grateful for your teaching Colin Powell about equal opportunity. I am grateful for your teaching Sam Nunn about moving into the 20th Century. I am grateful for your teaching George Bush about the consequences of irresponsible neglect and misuse of power. And you are in the process of teaching President Clinton the importance of being a leader and the dangers of compromising with what is right and just.”   

But teaching doesn’t equal lessons learned. Clinton betrayed us, agreeing to a Nunn-devised “compromise” on lifting the gay ban called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner evoked horrific “gay sexual predator” images as they went aboard a submarine to ask sailors how they’d feel lying in such proximity to a gay shipmate. The subtext was clearly an invitation to harass those suspected of being gay and lesbian. Witch hunts were sport.

David Mixner, Diane Abbitt, Roberta Bennett, John Duran protesting DADT (Photo by Jeremy Bernard)  

The cruelty of DADT went beyond the physical. If a buddy on the frontlines in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), the gay servicemember could not share the fear, the pain, the trauma because letters back home were checked and psychiatrists and chaplains had to report gay-related confessions. The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers were ruined by the time DADT officially ended a decade later, on Sept. 20, 2011.

Today, marking the 10th anniversary of the official repeal, the Veterans Administration concedes it is still catching up with all the damage governmental politics created. It’s estimated that more than 114,000 LGBTQ servicemembers or those perceived to be LGBTQ were discharged between Franklin Burch’s service in World War II and the repeal of DADT. 

“Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created. LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services,” writes Kayla Williams, a bisexual veteran and assistant secretary for public affairs in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs on the VA blog. 

Clinton’s betrayal broke our hearts and ruined lives. But amazingly, it did not stop us — which attorney C. Dixon Osburn, a civilian graduate of Georgetown University Law, recounts in his just released must-read book Mission Possible: The Story of the Repealing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ 

This is the stunning story of how Osburn and attorney Michelle Benecke, a Harvard Law graduate and former Army captain, founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to immediately help desperate servicemembers and work with nonprofit allies and law firms to challenge DADT in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

Mission Possible completes an important trilogy about LGBTQ people serving in the US military, next to Coming Out Under Fire, by Alan Bérubé and Randy Shilts’ Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military.

These books are not only LGBTQ history, but about our patriotism and what drives our private lives — and how government has intervened to block us at every step based on bias. 

Dixon Osburn leading protest of DADT (Photo courtesy Osborn/SLDN) 

Mission Possible is also a book about endurance, ingenuity and triumph. If a united gay voting bloc and 700,000 people on the Mall and thousands more back home didn’t give Clinton enough clout or backbone to keep his promise to lift the gay military ban – SLDN needed a smart, comprehensive strategy and a willingness and stamina to keep their eyes on the distant prize of repealing DADT. After educating an anti-military community and fighting a “graveyard mentality” that believed that lifting the gay ban was impossible, they had to figure out how to secure bipartisan support.

And there was bipartisan support, privately. “Party sticks with party, unless there’s a breakthrough, Osborn says, noting that GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told him: “You have to create the moment so I can be with you.” 

With the discharge of the Arab linguists, DADT became less an issue of civil rights and more publicly an obstacle to national security. There are scores of nail-biting behind-the-scenes stories about how SLDN shifted the public and military consciousness from July 1993 to September 20, 2011, “when President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, or recruiting and retention.”

President Obama signs the certification stating the statutory requirements for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been met 9-20-2011 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

December 18, 2010 – on Osburn’s birthday – the Senate finally voted to deliver more than 60 votes to overcome Republican Sen. John McCain’s repeated and stubborn use of the filibuster to block repeal. There are echoes of political machinations of today.

There are crafty stories, as well, illustrating the absurdity of DADT. For instance, Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, Osburn writes, “was the epitome of the competent, well-regarded openly gay soldier who put a lie to the belief that his mere presence would weaken military readiness. He was out to his Army buddies and had even introduced them to his boyfriend.” In 2006 at Fort Hood, he started getting anonymous emails and “calls warning him that he was being watched and to ‘turn the flame down.’” He sought advice from his commanding officer which triggered an investigation, with which Manzella fully cooperated. The Army concluded he wasn’t gay and told him to go back to work. He was subsequently deployed to Iraq, then Kuwait, unsure whether a new commander would discharge him. 

SLDN reached out to Manzella to see if he’d be willing to do a 60 Minutes interview, explaining the pros and cons if he went forward. He said yes, but how to do it knowing the Army wouldn’t grant permission? SLDN communications director Steve Ralls came up with a plan. “Manzella signed up to run in the Army marathon in Kuwait. At a predetermined point, he veered off-course to a waiting car that whisked him to a hotel, where he changed into civilian clothes and met with correspondent Lesley Stahl. After the interview, he changed back into his running clothes, the crew doused him with sweaty water, and the car whisked him back so he could cross the finish line,” Osburn writes. “Once the segment was broadcast, the Army could no longer pretend that Manzella wasn’t gay, or that ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a law with an on-off switch. He was discharged six months later and became one of the many vocal advocates for repeal.”

On December 22, 2010, President Barack Obama kept the campaign promise he made and signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’  We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.  We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for.  Those are the ideals that we uphold today,” Obama said.  “And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.”

President Barack Obama signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 during a ceremony at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., Dec. 22, 2010.
(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“There’s been a lot of progress in the last 10 years – despite the last four,” Osburn says. “It’s all been teed up by SLDN.” 

But we still are not fully first-class citizens, though we now have the right to serve and die for our country. The Equality Act is next.

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

Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist, who now works for Public Justice. She has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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