Connect with us

News

Homeland Security detains members of Mexican Gay Men’s Chorus

But the profiling didn’t keep these gay men down

Published

on

Photos courtesy GMCLA.

Resistance. Defiance and solace through camaraderie and song. That’s what gave birth to the Gay Men’s Chorus movement, first in San Francisco when about 100 men moved their fourth rehearsal onto the steps of City Hall on Nov. 27, 1979 and sang for the first time in public at the candlelight vigil for assassinated gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Two months later, 99 gay men came together in Plummer Park to form the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.

And for 40 years now, GMCLA has served as beacons of hope and love through the AIDS crisis and the roller coaster ride of politics and cultural warfare. They intend to do it again, despite the inconvenient threats from the Department of Homeland Security.

The launch of GMCLA’s 40th anniversary season on Oct. 13 was intended to mark this unique convulsive moment in US history with an extravagant celebration of diversity and building bridges with Coro Gay Ciudad de México—the Gay Men’s Chorus of Mexico City.

“As we started we watched lots of videos of gay choruses,” Oscar Urtusástegui, Board President and founding member of Coro Gay Ciudad de México, told the Los Angeles Blade about the origins of the joint concert, “and the one we most wanted to be like was GMCLA. For a 5-year-old organization such as ours, sharing the stage with such a prestigious organization is an honor, and at the same time makes the friendship much stronger between us.”

Both he and GMCLA executive director Jonathan Weedman want their collaboration “to show that building bridges – between two choruses, two cities and two countries – only makes us stronger and more powerful,” Urtusástegui said.

But their plans were almost ruined by the knee-jerk ignorance of profiling racism espoused by President Donald Trump. As members of Coro Gay Ciudad de México traveled through customs and immigration at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston on their way to Los Angeles Sunday morning. Oct. 7, they were detained by Homeland Security after an officer found sheet music in their luggage—despite having their airfare underwritten by GMCLA sponsor Southwest Airlines.

Professor Jorge Gutierrez.

The issue started when university professor Jorge Gutierrez was pulled aside to verify that he was not the same Jorge Gutierrez suspected of stealing a truck, according to an account in the Los Angeles Times.  Several chorus members chatted with him about the concert while he waited, which led to officers becoming suspicious that the 52-member group were entering the US as paid performers, not as tourists, as their visas indicated—plus that sheet music.

A Homeland Security officer called Weedman and said he thought “these guys weren’t being truthful or forthcoming, and they were considering deporting them back to Mexico,” Weedman told The Times. Weedman assured the officer that they were not being paid, explained the nature of the concert and advised him that “it would be an international incident” if they deported the chorus since the concert host committee included LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. After a 13-minute chat, the Homeland official decided to let the chorus proceed to LA.

“The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a call to comment on Monday,” The Times reported.

By Monday night, the group was in LA and enjoying full rehearsals with GMCLA.

“We are very glad that our brothers and sisters from Mexico City Gay Men’s Chorus all arrived safely late last night, after their experience being detained in Houston by the Department of Homeland Security,” Weedman tells the Los Angeles Blade. “We have had this trip planned for over a year, all had been granted US Visas and this came as a great shock. But given the serious deterioration of United States and Mexico relations under the Trump administration and the President’s endless offensive comments about the Mexican people—coupled with the appalling and inhuman treatment of people seeking asylum at the US-Mexican border—I can’t help but think they were singled out.”

“We are here to give a message of unity between two countries,” Professor Gutierrez tells the Los Angeles Blade. “For us, it’s a dream to perform with the GMCLA and that dream almost vanished at the Homeland Security Department in Houston. Our only fault was to carry in our luggage, sheet music. I had to convince the officer we were not getting paid and we were only trying to fight for human rights because we think no matter what, everyone should be treated equally no matter where they come from.”

“After the great invitation we received a year ago from our dear friend and now brother Jonathan Weedman, we have been not only working very hard, but also dreaming of sharing not only the stage but the experience with almost 300 of our new family, the GMCLA chorus,” says Urtusastegui. “On Sunday that dream almost vanished by a very bad experience at the Houston airport. But we are so lucky now to say we all made it through and this only gives us more reason to keep on doing what we’re doing, with more passion and more heart.”

GMCLA, Coro Gay Ciudad de México, and the Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles will perform at the Alex Theatre in Glendale in the opening concert of GMCLA’s 40th season on Saturday, Oct. 13. Wonder if they’ll dedicate a song to Homeland Security.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Illinois

Illinois high school investigates ‘anti-queer’ bathroom survey

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey

Published

on

Anna-Jonesboro Community High School (Photo Credit: Anna-Jonesboro Community High School)

ANNA, Il. – An unofficial student survey that made the rounds at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School located in the Southern tip of Illinois last week has the local LGBTQ+ community angered and LGBTQ+ students alarmed.

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey that asked: “Yes, I want queers to go in the bathroom,” or ” No, I don’t want queer kids to go to the bathroom with us normal people.”

Screenshot courtesy of NBC-affiliate, WPSD-TV 6, Paducah, Kentucky

Rob Wright, the superintendent told NBC News affiliate WPSD 6 News that school administrators found out about the survey this past Wednesday.

“We began investigating. We’re still investigating. At this point in time, I really can’t give any information regarding any individuals or discipline measures,” said Wright. “But, I can tell you that this type of harassment is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated. And once the investigation is complete, the appropriate discipline will take place where warranted.” 

The Rainbow Café LGBTQ Center in neighboring Carbondale, Illinois, responded to the survey, “My understanding is that it was an association that was brought upon the students and a parent that’s cosigning for it that made the Anti-Queer Association, basically trying to repeal the Keep Youth/Children Safe Act,” Michael Coleman a member of the Cafe’s board of directors told WPSD. “Basically stating that we are supposed to have inclusive bathrooms for those who are transgender or non-binary or non-conforming,” he added.

Coleman also told the station that bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.

Noting that the high school’s LGBTQ+ students are feeling alarmed and that there are no safe spaces, He said that the message he wanted to convey to those students is to let them know they have a safe space available with his organization. He also shared a message to those responsible for the survey.

“Come to Rainbow Cafe. We offer a plethora of resources and training,” he said. “I’m actually the one that does all of the training for different local agencies, schools. We do training on an individual basis as well, so you know, I like to tell people: If you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t spew hate about it because you don’t understand something.”

“They really feel very unsafe in that environment in Anna-Jonesboro and that they felt that nothing was going to get done,” Coleman said. “That by us taking that stand, that initiative, they really feel like it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Superintendent Wright said to WPSD that “he is personally disappointed that this happened at the school.” The station asked Wright if the staff at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School will provide counseling to the LGBTQ+ and other students affected. His response was that the school has always had counseling and other resources available to students.

Continue Reading

Ohio

Akron, Ohio non-profit gears up to assist LGBTQ+ young adults

“Although there’s a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights”

Published

on

Giovonni Santiago (Photo courtesy of META Akron Facebook page)

AKRON, Oh. – The Motivate, Educate, Transform and Advocate (META) Center has provided support to Northeast Ohio trans and gender-nonconforming youth from ages 7 to 19 since 2016. Now, Giovonni Santiago, the founder of the Akron, Ohio, based nonprofit, is gearing up to support people in their 20s. 

Santiago started the group to “create social change and foster acceptance” by providing housing coordination, legal advocacy, emotional support and community outreach, reports the Akron Beacon Journal

“Sometimes, it’s just allowing people to have a place to go,” Santiago told the Beacon Journal. “It’s like they don’t need to have a conversation. They just need a safe place.”

“I do this work because I want other people to live their life authentically,” he said.

Santiago says that parents who see their child “expressing differently than society would say they should” seek his help.

“A parent might say, ‘Well, my daughter likes to play with trucks’… and it’s not just a one-time thing,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It might be nothing, and it might be something.”

“We want them to know that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We want people to feel valid with who they are.”

Although META is based in Akron and does much of its work in Northeast Ohio, Santiago says his group has a national impact, helping approximately 200 people a year, according to the Beacon Journal.

“It entails support groups, one-on-one peer support with myself, we send out care packages after individuals have gender-affirming surgery, we offer a clothing closet, so we send clothing to individuals who need clothes,” he said. 

Santiago, who is also the Northeast Ohio organizer for Equality Ohio, knows first-hand the struggle that trans kids face, as he too is a trans man.

“As trans people, the journey is not just ours,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It affects our families, it affects our friends. It affects everyone.”

According to the Beacon Journal, he entered the U.S. Air Force during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military era. After his Air Force service, Santiago earned a degree in early childhood education and began teaching preschool.

At 27, Santiago began his medical transition at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2013. He tells the Beacon Journal that he was the doctor’s first trans patient.  

“I was born female, and knew that I belonged in a male body,” he said. “So, I tell people that I’ve been transitioning, and I’ve been transitioning for eight years.”

Santiago is a highly regarded LGBTQ organizer. According to the newspaper, he was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People and honored by NBC Out in 2018.

Although Santiago helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights. Santiago added that nearby Cleveland is “No. 4 on the list for where Black trans women are murdered.”

“We’ve always been here, but we’ve had to live in fear,” he said. “Even now in Ohio, there are zero protections for LGBTQ people”

Continue Reading

California

Visalia’s city council proclaims October ‘LGBTQ history month’

“Thank you to the council for doing this […] When we started this work five years ago, we didn’t know how we would be received in the city”

Published

on

Downtown Visalia, CA (Photo by Devon Jones, City of Visalia Economic Development Manager)

VISALIA, Ca. – In a proclamation this past Monday, the city council paid tribute to The Source LGBTQ+ Center’s work in the Visalia LGBTQ+ community, including Tulare and Kings Counties over the past five years. The council also proclaimed October as LGBTQ+ history month presenting ‘The Source’ a plaque noting the nonprofit’s recent expansion.

“In 5 years, The Source has become the largest LGBT center between Los Angeles and Sacramento,” the plaque reads in part, The Visalia Times-Delta newspaper reported.

“We started with just an idea that we came up with on Main Street – back when it had antique stores,” said Nick Vargas, director of development and cofounder of The Source. “From that idea, other people have joined us and I have been able to do the best work of my life, helping the citizens of Visalia, particularly the LGBTQ youth, those living with HIV, and their families.”

On Saturday, the fifth annual Pride Visalia organized by ‘The Source’ was held at a different time of year and in a brand new location, Valley Strong Ballpark, supported by communications giant T-Mobile. The center’s annual Halloween Gala was also held Saturday night at the Bello Vita Venue. 

“Thank you to the council for doing this, it means a lot to us. When we started this work five years ago, we didn’t know how we would be received in the city,” Vargas said. “It means a lot to be here today, I would love it if you all showed up to PRIDE Visalia… but just knowing we have the support of the council and the city, is a lot.”

On its website, ‘The Source’ specifies that the center’s mission is to “provide spaces within our communities for the LGBT+ population to Learn, Grow, Belong, Transform, Question + Support.”

Visalia, the Tulare County seat, is the gateway to Sequoia National Park, and only forty-one miles south of Fresno located in the conservative San Joaquin Valley region of central California. In Congress, the area, California’s 22nd congressional district, is represented by Republican Devin Nunes, who has been unresponsive to LGBTQ+ concerns, having been labeled anti-LGBTQ+ by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California.

The Times-Delta also reported that The Source is also hosting its first-ever AIDS Walk to raise awareness as well as funds. The walk is scheduled at 11 a.m. on Oct. 30 on NW 2nd Avenue. 

Pride Visalia 2021 sponsored by T-Mobile:

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular