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Greg Berlanti says gay execs were ‘least likely’ to let him cast gay actors in straight parts

The showrunner encountered obstacles within the LGBTQ community

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Greg Berlanti. (Photo Berlanti’s Facebook page)

Greg Berlanti revealed he encountered the most limitations in the entertainment industry from people in the LGBTQ community.

Berlanti, who is openly gay, is the showrunner behind the hit shows “Riverdale” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which include queer characters. He also directed “Love, Simon,” the first mainstream teen romantic comedy to feature a lead gay male character.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Berlanti says it was hardest to cast gay actors in straight roles because of gay executives.

“Early on in my career there were gay execs and gay casting people who were the least likely to let me cast an actor they knew was gay in a straight part,” Berlanti told the Hollywood Reporter. “These were the individuals who knew how important it would be.”

Berlanti says he will believe Hollywood has changed to become more inclusive when, “The majority of rooms I walk into — executive suites or writers rooms or production floors — look and feel like the rest of America.”

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My Unorthodox Life’s Ra’ed Saade dishes up Reality TV spunk

Is America’s Reality TV genre ready for frank discussions on open relationships?

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Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life star Ra’ed Saade (R) (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

HOLLYWOOD – If you are like many who have reacted harshly to Real Friends of WeHo, you may feel a bit hopeless regarding reality television and its representation of gay men. 

For all its misses, the reality TV genre still explodes across broadcast and streaming services. There are endless contests, there are weird matchmaking gimmicks and through it all, you can still find some gay fingerprints. And of course, there is Drag Race.

One of my personal guilty pleasures has been various “Real Housewives” franchises. Each franchise seems to study the behaviors of women who possess big egos, lots of money and are plied with a sloshing amount of alcohol. Sitting back in an armchair, shoveling popcorn and watching, is gay man, and executive producer, the boss and god of the Real Housewives world, Andy Cohen… (and oh yeah, me.)  There is a perverse pleasure observing a hetero world where the Higher Power is gay and watching them all descend into madness.

It is all theatrical and somewhat staged, of course. We are the fourth wall of their world, and situations are played out and exaggerated for our benefit, and from the accounts of the people we are observing, only represent a fraction of their real lives. 

Against this backdrop, Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life plays on this voyeuristic concept but is refreshingly unique and insightful. While it certainly has Real Housewives trappings, it centers around the uber-wealthy and has even had Jill Zahn, an OG New York Real Housewife, drop in to give advice, the core is less about superficial squabbles and more about cultural oppression and the quest for personal empowerment. 

The show centers around Julia Haart. Her life is literally “unorthodox” as her story arc describes her escape from the orthodox lifestyle of the ultra-conservative Haredi Jewish Community in Monsey, New York. In season one, three of her four children follow her and she mentors them into living life in the secular world as they each make personal strides to find their own unique identities. Julia herself becomes a fashion and design mogul, married to an incredibly wealthy husband Silvio Scaglia Haart, and best friend to her gay business partner, Robert Brotherton. Robert and Julia could not be more “Will and Grace” if they tried. Julia ends season one trying to matchmake Robert and find him true love. Apparently, she did not need to bother, as he had already been working on something off camera on his own.

As the sun rises on season two, we see seismic shifts have been made in the relationship statuses of the cast. Julia is now going into a divorce war with Silvio, and her oldest daughter has left her husband and their marriage which had been originally rooted in Haredi orthodox standards. Robert on the other hand, is no longer single, but has a boyfriend, with whom he has had a seven-year relationship.

Enter Ra’ed Saade, the boyfriend. Handsome and positive with a killer smile, he is somehow reminiscent of a male, Lebanese, gay Mary Richards as Lou Grant defined her in the classic sitcom.

Lou: You know what? You’ve got spunk…

Mary: Yeah, well (slight giggle)

Lou: I HATE spunk!

Ra’ed has spunk. In every sense of the word—double entendre intended. Will America “hate” his brand of spunk?

 Mary, in her day, was one of the only single working women representations on network TV. Ra’ed is the first gay Arab man on Netflix reality TV. He is sex positive and allows himself to be a walking commercial for open relationships. On the show, he mixes a deep sense of romance and being the ultimate boyfriend, a superior friend and confidant, with being frequently horny, or as he himself describes it, “a slut.”  

Ok, so maybe Mary Richards never called herself a slut.

While Ra’ed is from Lebanon, he seems to have lived elsewhere most of his life.  This is not unusual, he tells me, “The majority of the population of Lebanon live outside. We have more Lebanese people in Brazil than there are in Lebanon.” Ra’ed was born in Dubai, moved to the Philippines, lived in Holland, and then spent his high school years in Saudi Arabia. He credits those high school years as being the ones that shaped him. “Saudi Arabia is a very conservative, Muslim country. There is when I discovered that I was a homosexual gay man. Surviving three years in Saudi Arabia as a homosexual man and keeping it to myself, acting and putting on… doing all the things you do when you’re acting to cover up. That shaped a lot of things for me in my life. All the trauma of that period made me into this funny guy that knows, if I survived that, I could survive anything… I was considered an abomination and could have gotten up to the death penalty, especially in Saudi Arabia, and especially during the time that I was there. It was very frightening and scary. I didn’t tell a soul other than the people I was sleeping with, of course they knew.”   

When he came to America and Syracuse University, everything changed. He met Robert.  “It was like, opening a cave and letting the puppy come out. I smelled freedom. I felt I saw the rainbow colors in the sky every day. I just obviously fell in love. And here I am. I feel like I’ve arrived.”

It was with that survival instinct that gave him the courage to go for the Middle East edition of The Voice, and to audition for America’s Got Talent. When he hit the AGT stage, the audience loved his personality. His act?  Not so much. He got booed off.

Spunk.

In the second season of My Unorthodox Life, Ra’ed and Robert starred in the first episode describing how they were living together.  While the show misleadingly implied that their relationship was new, it was not only not new, but tried and true.   “Rob and I have been soul mates for 16 years. We know each other through thick and thin, through rich and poor, famous and non-famous and good and bad. All of it. We know each other inside and out,“ Ra’ed told me on a recent Rated LGBT Radio discussion.

Haart’s eldest daughter Batsheva was harsh when Ra’ed revealed that he believed in open relationships. She advocated for the couple to break up immediately. She made her comments right to Ra’ed’s face on camera. 

He has no regrets. “I’m such an open book and it’s sometimes bad for me… I didn’t have any hesitation because I stopped caring what people think and I am shameless, as you’ve seen on many shows. I just know the truth that is the truth,” Ra’ed said to me about his stance.  “The truth of the matter is Rob and I have been together as friends as you know, sexually active or whatever for 16 years, I mean, there is no doubt the loyalties– the love, is there. There’s no doubt that I would jump off a cliff, I would take a bullet for Rob. All of these beautiful things– but when I’m going to Ibiza …Rob and I are going to go and flirt with everybody in the club. A lot of people do that in secret. It is okay to have an open relationship when you are honest and open with your partner and you guys have set the ground rules and you both are saying, yes, we agree, both say yes, we love, we love this idea. There’s no problem with this and it’s a way more fun lifestyle. I mean that’s the truth. When you’re in a relationship, you are together to lift each other up encourage each other and just build a beautiful life. You just don’t own another person, you know.”

Hi answer is direct, unapologetic and almost innocent. Spunk.

Will there be a season three of My Unorthodox Life? Ra’ed hopes so. “The assignment was my unorthodox life.” Even if season two was the final he feels “like I completed the assignment.” If there are more seasons, “There’s a lot of facets and a lot of a lot of dynamics in my life that are unorthodox so I would love to open up more in coming seasons.”

 In the meantime, while Mary Richards famously twirled and threw her hat in the air on a Minneapolis street corner, Ra’ed is tossing his on a New York City Time Square street corner. 

It is from there that he TikTok promotes his February 10thClub Ra’ed” DJ evening of Middle East disco sounds, a one-time event he hosts. He has proven that spunk is alive and well. 

The modern version is just a tad more exciting with a unique Arabic feel and a fun infectious rhythm.

Listen to the complete interview:

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

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 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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Out & About

“Fully Lit” plays LA’s The Wiltern Thursday

“This is my first time, touring, in a major way since the pandemic,” she noted. “Now, honey, it’s ready to set the nation on fire”

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Photo by Davide Laffe

NEW YORK – Who needs to “Hark” when you can “Halleloo”? Heralding its impending arrival in the City of Angels with the righteous reassurance of a “fierce, fabulous, and fiery” experience that flat screens and social distancing simply cannot supply, the Fully Lit Tour is a live stage show starring actor, performer, drag entertainer (and, yes, dancer) D.J. “Shangela” Pierce.

“It’s gonna be high-energy. It’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be on-stage performances and never-before-heard, behind-the-scenes stories, many of them about celebrities, as well as custom mixes, death drops, and more, baby,” said Shangela, of what to expect when the tour plays LA’s the Wiltern on Thursday, January 26.

The three-season “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant—still basking in the dewy glow of cinematic cred earned from her screen time with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in 2018’s “A Star is Born”—saw that upward trajectory continue, as one of three peripatetic drag ambassadors in the three-season HBO series “We’re Here.” Alongside Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara, the trio travels from town to town, coaching and coaxing budding drag kids out of their shells, while angling to win heartland hearts and pry open closed minds (more on that later).

For the longest time up until now, having the “We’re Here” crew arrive unannounced at your humdrum day job was the only way to score same-room time with Shangla. This tour, she assures, changes all of that. 

But why “Fully Lit”? It’s so named, said Shangela, “because I’ve always had a spark for entertaining. But when I first started drag, that spark was lit even more in me. And now, through all of these fun, amazing milestones I’ve experienced in drag, I like to consider myself Fully Lit. So I’m gonna be sharing a lot of what’s led me to this moment,” she says, of a show that was conceived, written, and executed as a statement “about connecting people. Since the pandemic, we had to be so distant from each other—and now I’m really excited to come with a show that’s going to bring us all back together.”

But beyond the longtime fans for which Fully Lit functions as a mother and child reunion, Shangela says newbie fans will not emerge disappointed if they came to see the first drag entertainer to compete on “Dancing with the Stars” (and come in fourth, no less). Mentions of that recent gig, which launched her into the household name stratosphere, are liberally peppered throughout our interview.  

Savvy Shangela, always able to cut a rug but never known as a top-tier hoofer, won’t be passing on the opportunity to parlay her DWTS notoriety into live performance gold. “My four dancers and I have been working nonstop,” she told the Blade, while steeped in rehearsal two days before the tour opened in Boston on January 19. “This is my first time, touring, in a major way since the pandemic,” she noted. “Now, honey, it’s ready to set the nation on fire… In this 90-minute show, I wanna give fans everything they have come to expect from Shangela. And I’m going to be bringing a lot of my learning and excitement and energy from “Dancing with the Stars” into this project.”

That’s all well and good, we noted, but what will she be wearing? “Well, I mean, it’s Shangla,” she shot back. “I’m not coming on stage with a pair of socks, honey.”  

On the topic of naked displays and raw emotions, talk turned back to her work on “We’re Here”—which co-producer Shangela notes is not an elimination series where manufactured conflict often guides the narrative. “It’s a real-life docu-series,” she says, of the show. “I stress the words ‘real life’ because that’s exactly what we’re experiencing and that’s what I believe comes through when people watch the show.” But don’t confuse “real” with “professionally qualified.” Shangela credits the “We’re Here” track record of successfully nurturing aspiring drag performers to the fact that she’s “gone through a lot of the experiences” happening to “the daughters and drag kids I mentor. I’m not a trained therapist or licensed mentor or a coach in any way. I’m just a real person. So I try to put myself in their shoes and listen to them, but also listen to people who are not familiar with who we are and have opposition to us—and hopefully, bring them to a space where they are more open.”

Asked what she’s open to, we pointed out a rare case of box-not-checked from the pre-tour press material, which notes that as a drag performer, Shangela’s dug her heels into the good earth on six of our planet’s continents—which begged the question: Why hasn’t she parlayed this year’s career-high notoriety into a docu-series shadowing Shangela and other queens as they take up residency in the best (only?) club in Antarctica?

Oh baby, I don’t need to take anyone with me,” she insisted. “I’m Shangela. I’m ready to do a show right on the continent. It will happen. It will happen. Hopefully by the next time we talk, I’ll be able to say, “And now I’ve done all seven, thank you, Baby. Thank you so much!”

The Blade will continue to follow this important story as it presumably develops. In the meantime, Shangela’s Fully Lit Tour comes to LA at the Wiltern (3790 Wilshire Blvd.) on Thursday, January 26, For tickets: https://shangela.com/pages/tour.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

Real Friends of WeHo proves to be the epicenter of…Something

The Daily Beast called it a “colossal gay nightmare” & “it stinks as badly as the alley dumpster behind The Abbey after jockstrap night” 

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Screenshot/YouTube MTV

HOLLYWOOD – The “groundbreaking” new reality show launched this week, and man, was there drama. Too bad it wasn’t on the show itself.

Across the meta-sphere, pearls were clutched, and faces were hand-palmed, and the comments went from bitchy and nasty to bitchier and nastier. The WeHo Times “didn’t hate it”, and “kind of related” (but, hello, the show is set in… WeHo.)

The Wrap called it a show “we didn’t need.” The Decider (whose decision is that you “skip” the show) describes the program as “just watching six gays proclaim that they ‘aren’t here for drama’ and ‘don’t tolerate foolishness’ even though they are now contractually obligated to be present for drama and endure an exhausting level of foolishness. It’s a given that none of this is real, but it should at least be entertaining.”   

Those were the nice reviews. 

The writer of the blogshere LGBTQ Nation claimed that the show turned his “brains into real skull goo” and wrote a meandering non-sensical massacre of a review to prove it. None were quite as vitriolic as the Daily Beast however, that called it a “colossal gay nightmare” and stated that it “stinks as badly as the alley dumpster behind The Abbey after jockstrap night.” 

I will have to take his word for that. I saw the show but have no desire to check out said dumpster.

Whether the vitriol is deserved or not, the viewers seem to have stayed away. Or at least, their interest did. The social media accounts for the show have a paltry number of followers so far. Only 3% of Google reviewers liked the show.  It currently has a .8 out of 5-star rating on IMDB. 

The show is really not that bad. Each of the guys has a reason for being on the show, and if they owned their individual motives rather than trying to be generalist and “representative,” the show could be intriguing.  

The biggest failure was in how the show rolled out in the first place. The show came on like a wrecking ball and landed right on itself. The opening claim that “West Hollywood is the epicenter of the gay world” was demonstrative of the arrogance that will likely kill it.

There are gay people in LA that would dispute that West Hollywood is the epicenter of the Los Angeles gay world, let alone the rest of the globe. San Francisco, New York and London may also have something to say about being gay centers. So, unless the intention was to piss off everyone not in West Hollywood, the opening line and its prominence in the promo for the show, was a big marketing mistake.

The next failure was rudeness and failure to “read the room” metaphorically. By forcing itself in between RuPaul’s Drag Race and Untucked programs, while stealing time from them, the show runners were completely clueless as to how eventful and anticipated those shows are to their viewers each week. Literally trying to force them to watch “Real Friends” was presumptive that the new show had earned the affection necessary to succeed in that program slot. It clearly had not.

Thus the show seems set up to fail. By promoting that it is thoroughly in love with itself, it has not given the audience a chance to know if we are really even interested in a second date. 

I personally am going back for one. The guys on the show are specific to the here-and-now of gay, design, fashion and entertainment West Hollywood life. It would be nice if they seemed conscious at all of the horror of AIDS we lived through there back in the day, or gave a passing interest to the current right-wing attacks on trans kids, but then their prototypes, the Real Housewives franchises, don’t try to be The View either.

Brad Goreski is featured as the name-dropping designer whose first episode confession is that he has been secretly feeding his husband chicken disguised as turkey. It comes off cuter than it sounds. Goreski is the mouthpiece for most of the show’s self-aggrandizement and I thought he was more charming when he was on What Happens Live, and was more… real.

Todrick Hall is the cast member supposedly of great controversy, and takes his chance to explain and be humble around it. If he was selling, I bought it. I was also mystified – his supposed “scandals” are nowhere near Erika Jayne or Jen Shah levels, but with all the attacks, you would think they were.

Up and coming actor Curtis Hamilton is intriguing, as he is using his participation in the show to come out as gay publicly. We will see how the show handles that, and how his life plays out, but if things do not go well, it is the time in one’s life where one needs friends.

Dorión Renaud is also an intriguing cast member. He is the CEO/founder of Buttah Skin. As an accomplished black gay man fighting against others with more privilege, he could be absolutely fascinating. So far, he is not. He has an emotional armor and seems on guard with a tone of toxic masculinity. He does have a moment where he admits to being painfully socially awkward.

It is at this moment, that rather than showing some compassion, social media influencer Joey Zauzig throws him out of the party for being “negative.”  Joey’s own story on the show needs some depth-infusion. He claims to have “a million followers” across various social media platforms while showing his Instagram page of 200-something thousand. For an “influencer”, that is not a lot.

The first episode features Joey’s engagement to his beautiful boyfriend. It is a story of how they fell in love looking at each other’s pictures and are now destined to be together for life. While that all could be true, the show did not take the audience along for the ride, so it all seems manufactured and artificial. There is no heartwarming emotional moment, at least, not for us.

Jaymes Vaughan, the final cast member, actually brings moments of romance tingles in scenes with his husband Jonathan Bennett. Their brief banter and impromptu kiss came off as authentic and real and charming. There is transparency that the producers actually wanted Jonathan for the show. He refused them, so they went with Jaymes. That disclosure was a bit embarrassing, and while getting more feelings for Jaymes because of it, it made you want to reject the show even more.

In the show Sex and the City, New York City felt like another character in the show. WeHo does not feel present in this show by contrast. Unlike other similarly structured reality shows, the show’s production itself DOES seem like another character presence and is discussed on camera regularly. At this point, it is unclear if that breakdown of reality TV protocol is refreshing or irritating.

Goreski laid claim to being the epicenter of the gay world. In an interview Zauzig predicted “some people are not going to like us and some people are going to love us.”

So far, the lovers have not shown up, and the only epicenter to be seen is one of, potentially unfair, unprecedented disdain.

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

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 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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Movies

‘Women Talking’ is the timely film everyone should be talking about

Filmmaker Sarah Polley explores shocking abuse in culturally significant effort

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Ben Whishaw, Rooney Mara, and Claire Foy in ‘Women Talking.’ (Photo courtesy of United Artists Releasing)

With the Hollywood awards season well underway, the public conversation around movies these days is mostly around the movies that have begun to emerge as early champions. 

That makes this the perfect time to bring up “Women Talking,” a movie not many people have seen – yet – but that more people should be talking about.

Adapted for the screen and directed by Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley, it’s based on a 2018 novel of the same name by Miriam Toews (which itself was loosely based on real-life events in Bolivia), and set in an ultraconservative Mennonite colony, isolated from the wider world by both distance and strict religious tradition, in which dozens of girls and women have been drugged with animal tranquilizers and sexually assaulted in the night by a group of men over the course of several years – only to be accused of lying or told that their attacks and injuries were perpetrated by “ghosts or demons.” Now, they’ve now been offered a choice – either forgive their attackers and continue living in fear or leave the community and be expelled from the church; with only a few short hours to decide, a group of townswomen convene in a barn to weigh the dilemma, and to make the impossible choice of what to do.

In Toews’s book, and therefore Polley’s film, the shocking circumstances of the story are reimagined in an American setting, and the scenario is framed – in the spirit, perhaps, of an increasing sense of public conscience that favors commemorating the victims of violence over elevating the victimizers’ names in the cultural record – through the eyes of the women; we never see the faces of their attackers, nor hear their names. Their identities, in fact, are irrelevant; for these women, what matters is making an impossible choice whether to brave the unknown evils of a world outside their experience or resign themselves to endure the all-too-familiar evils to which they are accustomed, forced upon them by male elders who seemingly think of them as little more than human livestock.

That’s a position that feels unsettlingly relevant in the climate of today’s America, and though both book and movie were conceived and executed before the devastating Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, the timing of “Women Talking” couldn’t be more powerful or relevant. In watching these onscreen women attempt to find justification within their faith to defy the strictures that leave them powerless and without protection, it’s impossible not to notice the reflected significance; though the arguments they rehash – obedience to the teachings of their church, accepted gender roles within their culture, the “rightful place” of women in society, and all the other well-rehearsed topics inextricably tied to the ideals of feminism and basic human rights – often feel to us like the antiquated rhetoric of a bygone era, we cannot help but be aware that the principles they struggle to define, considered by many of us to be long-settled and self-evident, are currently anything but.

That’s entirely the point, of course. Polley’s film derives considerable power from the juxtaposition of an old-fashioned lifestyle into a contemporary setting; most of what we see on the screen – clothing, mores and manners, the quaint routine of a daily life lived without technology and off the grid – belies any connection to the 21st century, and when we are occasionally reminded that we’re watching a story that takes place in modern times, it’s jarring.

Indeed, there’s an unabashedly “meta” effect that permeates throughout, heightened by a theatrical approach to the narrative that spends more of its time on dialogue than on action – after all, the title is “Women Talking” – and takes place mostly in a single location. The movie’s studied mix of emotion and intellect, its prominent agenda and its progressive political leanings, all land with us as if we were watching a play, rather than a movie. Yet Polley ingeniously expands into the cinematic realm to connect with us though our eyes as well as our ears, particularly with the use of rapid-paced flashback collages that cut away from a character to wordlessly convey crucial details of their backstory, deepening both our insight and our empathy in the process.  

She also takes pains to illuminate the emotional triggers – fear, rage, even guilt over perceived culpability – that bubble to the surface as her traumatized characters try to form a unified front; by tracking the way these lingering psychic scars affect the dynamic among this group of survivors, determining the positions they take and setting them at odds against each other, her movie helps open us up to empathy for those whose memory pain sometimes drives them to act against their own self-interest. Yet things aren’t unrelentingly grim, nor are they always somber; there are frequent interspersions of humor, appreciations of beauty, and expressions of love. It’s this focus on lived inner experience that keeps “Women Talking” grounded in the human and enables it to indulge in lengthy theoretical discourse about justice, ethics, and theology without feeling like an exercise in aloof didacticism.

To that end, a gifted ensemble of players, each obviously relishing the chance to do work of such substance, turns in a remarkably gripping collection of performances. Standing out in the showiest roles, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley offer up unforgettable moments throughout the film, while a softer Rooney Mara serves as a warm and intelligent heart; screen veterans Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy bring depth and dignity to their roles as elders in this female contingent, with multi-Oscar-winner Frances McDormand leaving her stamp in a brief but indelible supporting turn; out gay actor Ben Whishaw shines as a gentle schoolteacher enlisted by the women to take the minutes of their meeting, a sole reminder that men can be allies, too; and nonbinary performer August Winter, cast as a transmasculine colony member, adds an affirming thread of queer inclusion to the mix, opening the door for one of the film’s most unexpected – and powerful – moments.

It’s not surprising, given the talents of Polley and her cast (not to mention the expert cinematography of Luc Montpellier and a stirring score by Hildur Guðnadóttir), that “Women Talking” has quietly gained momentum as an awards contender – even though it doesn’t go into wide release until Jan. 20. Whether it can pick up more prizes than the buzzier titles currently leading the race remains to be seen. Even in a post-#MeToo Hollywood, female-led films are often overlooked for the big awards, and the industry’s supposed progressive leanings rarely prevent it from shying away from polarizing subject matter.

Incredibly, in 2023, the subject of women seeking freedom to have agency over their own bodies feels more polarizing than ever, and women are fighting for it under oppressive regimes from Iraq to Indonesia, let alone in parts of the USA.

That’s why, whether it wins any awards or not, “Women Talking” is still one of the most culturally significant movies on the shortlist.

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Books

Hoover is a conflicted, flawed human in new biography

‘G-Man’ explores how he created an unrivaled personal fiefdom

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(Book cover courtesy of Viking)

‘G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century’
By Beverly Gage
c.2022, Viking
$45/837 pages

“We’re sorry we can’t be in the front row to hiss — no kiss you,” two fans wrote in a telegram to Ethel Merman in the 1930s when they couldn’t make the opening of one of her shows.

The Merman friends were J. Edgar Hoover and his “right-hand man” Clyde Tolson.

“G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century” by Yale historian Beverly Gage is the first biography of Hoover to appear in 30 years. Gage has done the unimaginable. She makes you want to read about J. Edgar Hoover. “G-Man” won’t make you wish you were one of Hoover’s BFFs. It’ll compel you to see Hoover, not as a villainous caricature, but as a conflicted, flawed human being.

“G-Man” is not only a fascinating bio of Hoover, who directed the FBI from 1924 until the day he died on May 2, 1972 at age 77. It’s a page-turning history of the United States in the 20th century.

Hoover, who played a key role in the “lavender scare” of the 1950s, hated and harassed Martin Luther King, Jr. and engaged in an anti-Communist crusade, has “emerged,” Gage writes, “as one of history’s great villains, perhaps the most universally reviled American political figure of the twentieth century.”

In “G-Man,” Gates, drawing on recently released files, tells the story of how Hoover came to power and used the tools of the “administrative state,” to, as Gage writes, “create a personal fiefdom unrivaled in U.S. history.”

But, Gage makes clear, it’s a misreading of American history to think that Hoover was a lone, evil rouge.

During his time as FBI director, Hoover had the support of eight presidents (four Democrats and four Republicans) and of Congress. Gage documents how much of the American public, for most of Hoover’s 48 years as FBI director, shared his racist, homophobic and rabidly anti-Communist views. 

Hoover, a life-long D.C. resident, “embodied conservative values ranging from anti-Communism to white supremacy to a crusading and politicized interpretation of Christianity,” Gage writes.

“Far from making him a public scourge,” she adds, “these two aspects of his life garnered him the admiration of millions of Americans, including many of the country’s leading politicians, for most of his career.”

Hoover never openly identified as gay. He sent FBI agents out to warn anyone gossiping that he was gay to stop spreading rumors. Once, Hoover learned a D.C. bakery employee  had said he’d “heard the director is a queer,’” Gage reports. Hoover dispatched FBI agents, Gage writes, “to threaten and intimidate him into silence.”

There’s no evidence of Hoover having sex with another man. A story (told in an earlier bio) of Hoover wearing a dress at a gathering lacks credibility, Gage says. Because the woman who told the anecdote had been arrested for perjury.

But, using sources that weren’t available to previous biographers, Gage argues persuasively that Hoover and Tolson were for decades what we would call, today, a same-sex couple.

Beginning in 1935, Hoover and Tolson plunged into a whirl of nightlife – going to nightclubs and hanging with celebrities, Gage reports. 

Hoover kept some things about his relationship with Tolson private, Gage writes, “yet what is most striking about their budding relationship is not its furtive quality but its openness, vitality, and broad social acceptance.”

Hoover and Tolson vacationed together yearly in Florida and California.

Officially, their friends and colleagues, said the couple was “too masculine” to be queer, Gage writes, “reflecting a mid-century view of male homosexuality as something for ‘sissies’ and outliers.”

But, “Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover,” Gage reports Ethel Merman recalled decades later of Hoover in the 1930s. “A lot of people have always been homosexual. To each his own.” 

Neither Tolson or Hoover married or thought about marrying a woman. When Hoover died, he left most of his estate to Tolson. We don’t know what they did in the bedroom, Gage says, but Hoover and Tolson behaved like spouses.

Unfortunately, Hoover’s feelings for Tolson didn’t stop him from playing a crucial part in the “lavender scare” or from having the FBI monitor the D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society.

“G-Man” documents Hoover’s racism in sobering detail. Gates doesn’t downplay Hoover’s racism, role in the 1919 or 1950s red scare; lavender scare; or  harassment of Vietnam war protesters.

In “G-Man,” Gage helps us understand how Hoover’s views were formed: from his shame at having a mentally ill father to the “muscular, masculine” Christianity of his childhood to his life-long connection to Kappa Alpha, a racist George Washington University fraternity that believed in the “Lost Cause” of the South.

“G-Man”is an illuminating and engrossing read – with movie stars, history, gangsters and a humanized villain. 

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

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Sports

Musk on hockey Pride uproar: ‘Pendulum has swung a bit too far’

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov cited religious beliefs for why he refused to wear a Pride-themed jersey

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter CEO and owner Elon Musk has joined the chorus of anti-gay voices on Twitter cheering-on the NHL player who sat out a warmup this week because he’d have to don a team jersey featuring rainbow colors. 

The controversy that resulted from Philadelphia Flyers’ defenseman Ivan Provorov’s decision in turn sparked outrage from LGBTQ+ activists and allies, as well as a pro-religious freedom backlash among conservatives, including a gay one followed by Musk.

“The pendulum has swung a bit too far,” tweeted the Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX mogul. 

Provorov, 26, told reporters after the Flyers-Ducks game on Tuesday: “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

Provorov, who is Russian-born, said his religion is Russian Orthodox, a Christian faith that equates same-sex marriage with Nazism and supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a divine mission in opposition to Pride parades and gay rights.

Following Provorov’s boycott of the pre-game fundraiser, in which every other member of the Philadelphia Flyers participated, social media erupted; Fans were divided over whether Provorov was exercising his freedom of religion or being homophobic. Although his coach, team and the National Hockey League supported his decision, some complained he should have been benched for the game. 

One NHL analyst, E.J. Hradek, even suggested Provorov should go back to Russia. 

Musk responded to a gay conservative’s RT of that video, who stated, “The gay movement, in about 7 years, went from “equal rights!” to “go f***ing die in a trench war if you don’t wear a pride shirt!” 

Musk’s response in turn drew attention to Maxwell Meyer of Austin, Texas, the policy chief at a venture capital firm who writes on Substack about his support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his “Don’t Say Trans or Gay” law, deadnames out transgender HHS Asst. Sec., Adm. Rachel Levine, and works for a fellow Stanford alumnus and California native who writes negative stories about Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.)

Meyer responded to Musk with a plea as a “gay American.” 

It’s important to note three things: First, that Provorov’s views were respected. He was not punished or disciplined for his refusal to take part in the warmup, which on special nights traditionally involves special jerseys. In fact, he has the support of his team, his coach, the NHL and many fans. 

Fox News reports sales of Povorov jerseys have skyrocketed, and are in fact selling-out at some retailers. 

The only people who lost anything that night were the LGBTQ+ charities that benefit from auctions of the Pride jerseys and Pride tape-adorned hockey sticks, given that the auctioneer had one fewer jersey and stick with which to raise money for those marginalized groups.

Second, someone needs to tell Povorov and his newfound supporters sexual orientation is not a choice. An analysis of the DNA of nearly half a million people from the U.S. and the U.K. concluded that genes account for between 8% and 25% of same-sex behavior.

And finally, as the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Musk’s tweet comes amid a continuing spike in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on his social media site. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Anti-Defamation League and other groups found that hate speech on Twitter rose after Musk purchased the platform.

Anti-gay slurs, in particular, increased from an average of 2,506 times per day to 3,964. 

The Blade reached out to Musk for comment but did not receive a response as of press time. Last summer, Musk was disowned by his out transgender daughter in her court filing, seeking to legally change her name and gender, and has frequently drawn criticism for tweeting anti-queer and other divisive memes.

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Celebrity News

Legendary musician David Crosby dies at 81

In a career spanning six decades Crosby’s influence was felt by generations of Americans. He was also an ally to the LGBTQ community

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David Crosby (Screenshot/YouTube 2metersessions)

SANTA YNEZ, Calif. – David Crosby, arguably one of the most popular and enormously influential singer-songwriter-guitarists of the last century known for his folk ballads and rock standards, has died at the age of 81.

In a statement released by his wife Jan Dance and family to entertainment media outlet Variety Thursday afternoon the family said:

 “It is with great sadness after a long illness, that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away. He was lovingly surrounded by his wife and soulmate Jan and son Django. Although he is no longer here with us, his humanity and kind soul will continue to guide and inspire us. His legacy will continue to live on through his legendary music. Peace, love, and harmony to all who knew David and those he touched. We will miss him dearly. At this time, we respectfully and kindly ask for privacy as we grieve and try to deal with our profound loss. Thank you for the love and prayers.”

A founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and a two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, he was remembered in a Facebook post by former bandmate Graham Nash writing:

“David was fearless in life and in music,” Nash said. “He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy. These are the things that matter most.”

In a career spanning six decades Crosby’s influence was felt by generations of Americans. He was also an ally to the LGBTQ community. In a May 2020 article, Rolling Stone writer Althea Legaspi, writing about the opioid overdose death of pioneering out lesbian musician Melissa Etheridge’s son, Beckett Cypher, who died at 21 noted that Crosby was the sperm donor.

Etheridge and Cypher, who met in 1988 during a video shoot, have two children — daughter, Bailey, and son, Beckett. For several years after their births, people speculated about the identity of the sperm donor for the children. In 2000, the couple revealed it was fellow musician David Crosby.

While the then-couple were vacationing in Hawaii, they met up with Crosby and his wife, Jan, and began discussing their want to have children, but they had a dilemma as to whom to have as a sperm donor. “And Jan said, ‘What about David?’ ” Etheridge told Rolling Stone. “It came from her, which was the best, most perfect way.” They thought it over for a year before they made the call. “For one, he’s musical, which means a lot to me, you know, and I admire his work,” says Etheridge. “And he has his own life, has his own family.”

Crosby told Rolling Stone he didn’t hesitate at his wife’s proposition that he be the donor. “Melissa and Julie are good people,” he said. “Nice set of values, they’re funnier than shit, and they’ve got courage. All rare stuff. You could see that they were in love with each other.”

Etheridge and Cypher split up in 2000, but they continued to co-parent. Etheridge is also the mother of twins, son Miller and daughter Johnnie.

Crosby’s support of the LGBTQ community was also expressed on his Twitter account:

Crosby earned 10 Grammy nominations and one win in his lifetime leaving behind a formidable contribution to the American Songbook.

A look back at his career is here on Variety: (Link)

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Events

Best of LGBTQ LA 2023

Sixth annual special issue celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. Twenty thousand Blade readers then voted and the winners are presented here

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – Welcome to the sixth annual special issue of the Best of LGBTQ LA! The Los Angeles Blade is proud to celebrate the best of our community as this special recognition issue becomes a Los Angeles tradition. 

The year for LGBTQ people and families has been uniquely challenging and the accomplishments made throughout this past year seem more relevant than ever. We got past some of the pandemic restrictions, but anti-LGBTQ forces got more aggressive and violent. It was a year in which we relived the attempted insurrection from the year prior while learning details of all that happened behind the scenes, and who was responsible. It was also a year when LGBTQ families and our gender non-conforming population came under direct political and physical attacks. 

In Los Angeles, we had a change of leadership after enduring our own local scandals tainted with racism and homophobia. Through it all, our community did not allow our fabulousness to dim. We are strong and know how to fight back. This could not be more evident as you enjoy these highlights of Los Angeles living that demonstrate the best of LA’s LGBTQ community.  

Los Angeles Blade readers nominated finalists; the top five vote getters in each category were then added to the final ballot. Twenty thousand Blade readers then voted and the winners are presented here. The Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists.

LGBTQ Icon Sheila Kuehl Honored with Hero Award presented by the Ariadne Getty Foundation

Courtesy of Sheila Kuehl

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – “I haven’t been this happy since I was in my 20s,” says out former Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who will celebrate her 82nd birthday on Feb. 9. “The freedom of deciding or not deciding every day what you want to do without any weight on you, without any expectations on you, without any demands on you, is enormously freeing and really, really pleasant.” 

After almost three decades as an elected leader and actively fighting for progressive issues, Kuehl’s final day in office representing the Third District was Nov. 22, 2022 — a day filled with celebration and grateful tears shed by colleagues and friends. 

Now she’ll have time to write. The working title for her planned autobiography is “My Life As I Remember It: Probably a Novel.”

Much of that life has been in service of advancing LGBTQ rights, for which Kuehl is being honored by the Los Angeles Blade and the Ari Getty Foundation on Jan. 18 at 10 DTLA during the Blade’s Best of LGBTQ LA Readers’ Choice Awards 2023. 

In an odd flash of fickle fate, Kuehl culminated her long legislative career in much the way as she began it — protected by bodyguards from threatening bullies. In 1994, the bullies were knuckle-dragging followers of Far Right rhetorical bombastic bomb-thrower Newt Gingrich. Today, the bullies are followers of Gingrich’s heir, Donald Trump, some of whom the Department of Justice considers domestic terrorists

In Kuehl’s case, her primary bully was LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who LA Magazine dubbed “the Donald Trump of L.A. Law Enforcement.” Last Sept. 14, after two years of fiercely fighting Villanueva over alleged LASD wrongdoing, a slew of Sheriff’s deputies pounded on Kuehl’s door at 7:00am, served her with a search warrant in a corruption investigation, and escorted her outside barefoot to a face a throng of reporters and TV news cameras. 

The raid was big news but backfired on Villanueva, who subsequently lost his bid for re-election. The LA Times reported succinctly: “A Times review of the case found it is based on the testimony of just one person, a former Metro employee named Jennifer Loew, who brought her bribery complaint to at least four law enforcement agencies, but found a receptive audience only at the Sheriff’s Department. The Times found no evidence to support Loew’s allegation.”

1994 was also a year of living dangerously. Gingrich was elevated to the traditionally respected position of Speaker of the US House of Representatives and pledged to implement his anti-gay, lie-based Contract with America, civility be damned. Meanwhile Kuehl and her best friend Torie Osborn were watching a new LGBTQ movement grow and get stronger as thousands of LGBTQ people, AIDS activists, Queer Nationals and allies took over the streets in 1991 after California GOP Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed AB 101, the gay rights bill he had promised to sign. 

“Thousands and thousands of us were on the street, as opposed to just being in the closet and hiding in a lot of shame,” says Kuehl. “I had not really thought about running. I was engaged in more of the Women’s Movement, especially domestic violence issues, sexual assault issues, trying to get any law in California to deal with domestic violence, which it didn’t have at the time. We founded the California Women’s Law Center. 

“There was a lot going on in the ’70s and ’80s and there was a lot to push back against,” Kuehl continues. “There’s a difference between working towards something when there’s nothing there and working to gain something back — like the loss of Roe v Wade (the federal law permitting abortion). Our expectations grew, but there was nothing in place to protect us. I actually had not thought about running. But I had been up and back to Sacramento many times testifying on new domestic violence bills that I helped to draft before I was elected and I understood from sitting for so many hours at committee hearings that there was no silver bullet genius talent in these members, that they were just like me — and in some cases, less capable because they hadn’t been to law school. They didn’t really understand the issues.”

Then, on Jan. 17, 1994, two earthquakes happened at once – the Northridge earthquake and Kuehl’s decision to enter politics. 

“There was broken glass and fallen pictures and glasses and everything all over my house. I picked up the LA Times and it says, ‘Terry’s not running,’” she recalls, referring to Assemblymember Terry Friedman. “I think, ‘Okay, this is my chance if I’m going to be one of those people sitting in those chairs and try to make a difference.’ I started exploring running, and frankly, I didn’t think at that moment about how historic it would be. I didn’t think about being the first gay person if I got through whatever. I felt more like a feminist progressive that needed to be there to add that voice to the table.”

Kuehl quickly discovered that she was making history. But her victory as the first gay person elected to the California State Legislature was fraught with danger, with so many death threats, then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown ordered a bodyguard for her protection. “I had to wear a bulletproof vest the whole first year that I was in the legislature,” Kuehl told Spectrum News1

But braving those threats and doing the work, then and now, is not the only reason Sheila Kuehl is an LGBTQ hero. She recognizes her place in the largely invisible long span of LGBTQ history. 

“Just as people have said they’re standing on my shoulders,” Kuehl says, “I stood on a lot of shoulders, too.”

West Hollywood’s Mayor Sepi Shyne honored with a Stop the Hate award

Courtesy of Sepi Shyne

Mayor Sepi Shyne made history in November 2020 when she was elected becoming the first out LGBTQ Iranian elected anywhere globally and the first woman of color elected to West Hollywood’s City Council. Actively progressive in her politics, Shyne is constantly seeking to improve the lives of her constituents, friends, family, and the greater community of the City affectionately referred to as WeHo.

“West Hollywood is a vibrant tourist destination and one of the most walkable as well as LGBTQ+ safe cities in America. Our visitors and residents love to frequent our businesses, so helping to keep them in business is a priority. One of my joys of living in West Hollywood is walking down the street to neighborhood restaurants or cafes and enjoying a meal or an oat milk latte,” Shyne told the Blade in an interview after her first anniversary of being sworn into office on December 7, 2021.

As a woman of color and as a minority as well, Shyne is keen to maintain awareness of the ongoing needs of the diverse communities that comprise her city. “Aside from COVID, the social justice movement impacted the City of West Hollywood by awakening our community to the truth that systemic racism, even in our progressive city, needs to be dismantled,” she noted.

After her sister was sworn into office as Mayor earlier this month at City Hall, in which the Mayor and her mother opened the ceremony with comments in their native Fārsī language, Soodi Eshraghi, made a few poignant remarks:

Good evening mayor, mayor pro-tem and council members, my name is  Soodi Eshraghi, I am incoming mayor Shyne’s sister, representing the Baha’i Faith.

A little girl with big brown eyes frightened in a new country and not speaking the language. In her short years this little girl had experienced the trauma of war as well as the compulsory hijab which forced her to cut her hair short, choose a boy’s name to be able to play on the streets with her cousins. Yet, her resilience and tenacity allowed her to overcome challenges faced by many immigrants and build a life for herself and become a lawyer. Her choice of academia was a reflection of her passion for justice and equality. Her decision to run for office was for the same exact reason, and more. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the lives of those around her, bringing about opportunities conducive for betterment of life, especially her constituents. Mayor Sepi Ghafouri Shyne, your family is extremely proud of you and we are always ready to support you every step of the way. 

The prayer I’ll be reciting from the Baha’i writings is on the destiny of America with the hope that this nation can become promulgator of peace and the oneness of humanity.

O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. 

These hearts are radiant with Thy love.

These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings.

O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious.

Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world.

O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy.

Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

 

Best Drag Performer: Lolita Colby

Lolita Colby/Facebook

Lolita Colby is now a 10-year drag veteran, having launched her career in a Miami bar. She now creates legendary moments at Rocco’s in West Hollywood.  “I don’t know if this is a cliché or not, but it takes a really strong man to put on a dress,” says this year’s Best Drag Performer winner. Given the current right-wing attack climate in the United States, that statement is truer than ever. “Many drag artists do not realize the importance we bring to the community. Drag artists break boundaries. We stand up against the norm. We do a lot of things that other people are afraid of.” Lolita’s 30,000 TikTok followers, 18,000 Instagram followers, and a host of LA Blade readers agree with her fan that called her “Absolutely Gorgeous.”

Runner Up: GottMik

Best Drag Show: Makeout Mondays at Rocco’s

Rocco’s WEHO/Facebook

Last year’s Editor’s Choice is this year’s winner. The 5,000-square-foot Rocco’s, located at 8900 Santa Monica Blvd., wowed boystown with the best drag on the LA scene. Crowds flocked to the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente in the heart of WeHo. “This is the funnest place EVER and their drag shows are so much fun! The food is great and the atmosphere is awesome!” wrote a happy visitor. A second chimed in, “They have some epic drag shows that are different and entertaining!”  LA Blade readers obviously agreed.

Editor’s choice: Thirsty Thursdays at Beaches, West Hollywood

Best Influencer: Gigi Gorgeous

Screenshot/YouTube

The LA Blade’s Best of 2020 winner, Gigi Gorgeous, again takes the top spot. Gigi is a YouTube star, transgender activist, author, television personality, actress, and model. With nearly 8 million followers across her social platforms, she has almost half a billion views on her popular YouTube channel. She is a self described “lover of beauty, fashion, and a good party.”  

 Runner Up: Ambers Closet

Best Queer Artist: Nats Getty

Nats Getty, (Right) at The Talmadge on March 17, 2022 in Los Angeles.
(Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for The Art of Elysium)

Check out Nats Getty’s “Undecided 10” signed art prints. Writer Karen Ocamb said of him, “Nats Getty was an artist long before he knew it. His soul was forged in the fight between the fire of freedom and the cold dictates of a society he tried mightily to understand and follow, only to fail and fall into rebellion, a fury of authenticity that still feeds his art and serves his independent, progressive, philanthropic spirit today.” Getty himself stated, “Philanthropy — and advocacy — is something that is very important to me. I made 600 masks that were donated to hospitals and nursing homes on the frontlines, and 400 masks for the Strike Oil website, where 100 percent of proceeds have gone to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank…Everything I create from a jacket to an art piece has a story and serves a purpose in my personal journey.”  LA Blade readers cheered his generous spirit and named him this year’s best artist.

Runner up: Guadalupe Rosales

Best LGBTQ Bar: Heart

Heart WeHo/Facebook

Heart WeHo threw what it called “the biggest most lavish NYE celebration in West Hollywood” with three DJs, two levels, and two packed rooms of dancing and featured DJ Liza Rodriguez from Brazil. The premier watch party for the premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was a sold out “amazing night of love.” Patrons call Heart “the happening spot” and “super fun.” LA Blade readers voted in kind.  

Editor’s choice: Bar 10

Best Brunch: The Abbey

The Abbey/LA Blade file photo

Patrons cite a “fabulous outdoor terrace” and “fun ambiance” for making the “world famous” Abbey this year’s go-to spot for brunch. The Abbey launched 31 years ago as a small coffee house by David Cooley as a safe space for the gay community. “Come as you are,” was its mantra. The stained glass window décor inspired the religious-themed name and atmosphere. LA Blade readers got religion this year and brunch toasted The Abbey as the best.

Editor’s choice: Stache West Hollywood

Best Restaurant: The Nice Guy

The Nice Guy/Facebook

With a delicious menu that ranges from roasted veggies to exotic pizzas (lobster pizza with sunny vodka sauce anyone?), to incredible pasta, steak, and seafood, The Nice Guy has been named this year’s best. The aesthetic is described as “decadent Mafia” that brings a unique social experience encouraging conversation and camaraderie. As they say, thanks to the mafioso deliciousness and good vibes, if LA Blade readers tried to escape, The Nice Guy just keeps pulling them back in again.

Editor’s choice: Bottega Louie

Best Radio or TV Station: KTLA

KTLA Studios off Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood (KTLA/Facebook)

This year KTLA aired the annual telethon in support of Project Angel Food’s vital work of feeding critically ill men, women, and children in Los Angeles County. Janene Drafs, vice president and general manager of KTLA 5, told the LA Blade, “This show gets better and better every year, and we are thrilled to extend our relationship with Project Angel Food. KTLA has a 75-year tradition of being there for LA, so providing this very special program to connect our community of viewers with Project Angel Food’s work serving the most vulnerable in our community at large is what being ‘L.A.’s Very Own’ is all about.” With more than 400 LGBTQ relevant stories on its website, KTLA has demonstrated that it has its finger on the pulse of LGBTQ interests. From tracking U.S. progress on LGBT rights to reporting that California reached the milestone of 10% of its legislature being LGBTQ, KTLA is there for the community. LA Blade readers show their gratitude by calling them the best.

Editor’s choice: 104.3 Pride

Best Cannabis Retailer/Lounge: Green Qween

Green Qween/Facebook

 Business partners Andres Rigal and Taylor Bazley launched Green Qween as “a queer-driven cannabis dispensary in an industry where LGBTQ+ and BIPOC representation have been lacking.” Donating a portion of proceeds to the DTLA Proud Community Center, Green Qween sees itself as an incubator for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC cannabis brands and growers. LA Blade readers just see them as the best.

Editor’s choice: The Artist Tree

Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: Cake and Art

Cake & Art/Website

Cake and Art has proudly served the community since 1976. It is the renowned producer of custom cakes, cupcakes, and more. They brag, “For 46 years, Cake and Art has specialized in imaginative birthday cakes for Hollywood’s biggest entertainment industries and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Clinton, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and many more.” Cake and Art was founded by Glenn von Kickle when he was 45 years old. Glenn, who’s gay, started the shop where he could be himself, and in a community that would appreciate what he was doing. Current owner Tom Rosa came on board as a business partner, and became the spirit that made sure von Kickle’s legacy endured. Cake and Art’s history arcs between being the place to get the cake no one else will think of, or attempt, to heroes of the anti-same sex wedding cake wars. When gay marriage started, they filled the gap for many consumers rejected by their usual bakeries. As for being “LGBTQ owned,” Tom has said “I’ve never been considered ‘the gay bakery’…I was sitting there thinking, what does that mean?  What are the parameters of a gay bakery?  Is it creative?  Is it sensational?  Is it fabulous?  Do we all dress in rainbow?” Well Tom, whatever it means, it means that you have been voted the best of them.

Editor’s choice: Urban Pet

Best LGBT Social Group: Impulse Group LA

Impulse Group 2019 international summit (Photo courtesy AHF)

Impulse is doing something right. They have won this category for three years in a row. Impulse Group LA was founded in 2009 by Jose Ramos. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a stronger and healthier community for gay men. Hosting more than 400 events annually in 25 cities, 12 countries across 5 continents across the globe, Impulse seeks to create a brave space to engage, support and connect our community. This year their outreach included HIV testing, a strong showing for World AIDS day, and embarking on a fight against Monkey Pox.  

Editor’s choice: Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles

Best House of Worship: Congregation Kol Ami

Los Angeles Blade file photo

In 2019, 2021 and 2022, Congregation Kol Ami won the award for Best House of Worship. In 2020 it won Editor’s Choice, and now wins the award yet again for the Best House of Worship this year. Kol Ami is an important leader in the Jewish, LGBTQ, and West Hollywood communities since its founding in 1992. Rabbi Denise L. Egers, who plans to retire in 2024, broke barriers that resulted in more LGBTQ inclusion at synagogues worldwide. Kol Ami describes itself as “a progressive, Reform congregation rooted in a rich Jewish tradition, with commitment to social justice, diversity, and a world in which all individuals are honored and connected. Our congregation celebrates an LGBTQ+ core at the center of a profoundly diverse community.” (1200 N La Brea Ave, West Hollywood) 

Editor’s choice: InVision Church Los Angeles

Most Committed Activist: Gabby Leon and Terri Jay

Indigenous Pride LA/Facebook

Gabby Leon and Terri Jay jointly came to the realization that there was a need for an event to create visibility and celebration of the Two Spirit identities. The concept of a festival that celebrated and honored Native American LBGTQ roles and traditions was born. The idea blossomed into a reality and Los Angeles now has the cultural Indigenous Pride LA, which “honors, and acknowledges all indigenous peoples’ plight, especially those who are Two Spirit and/or identified with the contemporary labels and terms of cisgender and transgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, and intersex.”

Editor’s choice: Princess Murray

Favorite Public Official: Karen Bass

Karen Bass takes the oath of office from Vice-President Kamala Harris
(Photo Credit: Bass for Mayor Campaign)

On Nov. 17, Karen Bass spoke to Los Angeles for the first time as its first woman and second Black mayor. She addressed economic hardship and declared a state of emergency over the homeless crisis. Vice President Kamala Harris has stated of Bass, “I saw how she would tirelessly fight for the people … the people of our state and the people of our nation. Karen Bass has a long history of always being on the side of people, fighting for the people.” The people who read the Blade have embraced that reputation and declared her their favorite public official.

Runner-Up: Lindsey Horvath

Most LGBTQ-Friendly City: West Hollywood

Photo Credit: City of West Hollywood/Jon Viscott

There are some who will claim that the city of West Hollywood is perfect. In terms of being the most LGBTQ-Friendly City, they may be right. The city was born out of a determined campaign by LGBTQ activists, seniors, and renters on Nov. 29, 1984. The city has a rich history and can be credited for launching iconic rock and punk musical acts. With approximately 39,000 residents, it has been called “Los Angeles’ hottest destination for the entertainment industry.” It boasts celebrity-owned bars and restaurants, unparalleled nightlife and shopping. It hosts world impacting events like the HBO Emmy Party, Sir Elton John’s Annual Oscar Party, WEST HOLLYWOOD PRIDE and the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, the largest Halloween street party in the world. Many feel that West Hollywood sets a standard for super creative individuals representing the state-of-the-art on trends and new ideas.

As far as West Hollywood being “perfect”, the Human Rights Campaign has the receipts. It scored West Hollywood as earning 100 out of 100 possible in terms of LGBTQ friendliness.  LA Blade readers already knew that as they name West Hollywood the friendliest city for the fourth year in a row.

Editor’s choice: Beverly Hills

Best Local Pro Sports Team: LA Dodgers

Courtesy of the LA Dodgers

Things have changed since 1970. That year, Dodgers player Glenn Burke was traded away when the owners found out he was gay. What a difference half a century makes. This year, the Dodgers kicked off Pride month in LA with their game against the New York Mets. Burke’s family threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and 18,000 special Pride packages to the game were sold. Fans showed up in droves wearing rainbow paraphernalia and Pride caps and jerseys were available for purchase. So, yes, things have changed and LA readers have declared the Dodgers the best local team for the third year in a row.

 Editor’s choice: LA Sparks

Best Realtor: Josh Flagg 

Josh Flagg, an original cast member on the show “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles” on Bravo, represents more than a decade’s worth of high-end deals in the real estate industry. He has wowed the Los Angeles real estate market. Flagg, who’s gay, has sold well over $2 billion worth of property and is among the city’s top five real estate agents. He has represented many American billionaire families such as the Gettys and DeBartolos. Adam Levine, Shonda Rhimes and Steve Aoki are also clients.

Editor’s choice: Compass

Best LGBTQ Ally: California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Governor Gavin Newsom and his children welcome President Joe Biden to California
(Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

As Florida and Texas all but declared war on transgender kids and their families, one governor did more than shake his head in shock and disbelief. He did something about it. On Sept. 22, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill, one of many LGBTQ affirming of the year, that aims to legally protect trans youth and their parents who need to flee conservative states due to personal persecution and the oppression of gender-affirming care availability. His statement read, “States across the country are passing laws to demonize the transgender community especially transgender youth and their parents… the hate demonstrated by these laws is unfathomable and contributed to soaring suicide rates… This is unacceptable and we must fight for our youth and their parents.”

Editor’s choice: Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union

Best Salon/Spa: Spa Montage

Spa Montage Beverly Hills/Facebook

Spa Montage’s clients are raving. “The best spa in LA,” states one. “Very old school glam, full of antique style and old world charm,” declares another. Yet another goes right to the heart of a good spa: “The team here is just fantastic.” Goop also professes its love, “From prenatal massages to really good facials, the Montage is one of those luxe hotel spots that pulls no punches when it comes to pampering.”  LA Blade readers agree.

 Editor’s choice: Burke Williams

Best Car Dealership: Honda of Hollywood

Honda of Hollywood/Facebook

Honda of Hollywood is deservedly proud. “At Honda of Hollywood, we strive for excellence during every visit. Our team of experts is here to help you with all of your automotive needs…Whether you’re from Hollywood, Los Angeles, or another city, get in touch with our team to experience superior customer service,” they state. “Great staff, friendly service, feels like a small family-like environment” promises one customer. “Amazing dealership. Recommend 100%,” states a second. LA Blade readers have test driven them into being the Best Car Dealership for the second year in a row.

Editor’s choice: BMW of Beverly Hills

Best Doctor/Medical Provider: AIDS Healthcare Foundation

AHF’s 2023 Rose Parade® Float/Facebook AHF

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS healthcare in the world. It currently has 1,725,070 patients in care across 45 countries. As a global non-profit, it provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy. Their float in this year’s Rose Parade was “No Place Like Home.” Their local fans, and LA Blade readers, agreed naming them the year’s best for the third year in a row.

Editor’s choice: Cedars-Sinai

Best Fitness: LA Fitness, Hollywood

LA Fitness, Hollywood/Facebook

LA Fitness can tell you why you should get fit with them. “LA Fitness offers many amenities at an outstanding value. Gym amenities may feature Functional Training, state-of-the-art equipment, basketball, group fitness classes, pool, saunas, personal training, and more!” Its clients call out its wide range of equipment, friendly staff, great classes and convenient parking. For the second year in a row, LA Blade readers have named LA Fitness the best.

Editor’s choice: Crunch, West Hollywood

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: AIDS Healthcare Foundation

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been an Editor’s Choice for most LGBTQ-Friendly workplace, and this year the LA Blade readers agree, voting it into the top spot. AHF represents the consistently excellent work of doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, med techs, benefits counselors, and support staff at 14 AHF Healthcare Centers and satellite clinics throughout Southern California. A recent employee reports, “The people here are so welcoming and full of joy. Corporate also does a great job of making you feel included and often have outreach events.”

Editor’s choice: Getty Museum

Best Non-Profit: LA LGBT Center

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Founded in 1969, The Los Angeles LGBT Center provides programs and services for LGBTQ people. The organization’s mission centers on four key areas: health, social services, housing, and leadership and advocacy. 

This year, as a response to the 2021 Hate Crime Report from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, the Center made an even deeper commitment to the LGBTQ community to fight: “I have served our Los Angeles community for nearly 17  years, and it pains me to say that I have never been more concerned for our collective safety than I am right now,” said Terra Russell-Slavin, Chief Impact Officer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “Across the country, armed white supremacists are showing up en masse to intimidate drag performers. Hospitals and healthcare facilities that provide care to transgender patients are closing their doors to bomb threats. Our nightclubs and safe spaces are being threatened and attacked. And our trans community is being deliberately targeted by far-right groups and our lawmakers on a daily basis. It’s not surprising that we see the ripple effects of that violence here in Los Angeles. I hope our community knows that their Center will fight like hell for them, and will always be here as a place of refuge.” LA Blade readers seem to understand the importance and need for the LA LGBT Center in these growingly contentious times, naming them the Best Non-Profit of the year.

 Editor’s choice: Project Angel Food

Best Museum/Art Gallery: The Getty

The Getty/Facebook

The Getty is a Los Angeles treasure. In its two locations, it represents more than 6,000 years of art. Besides a library collection of books, archives, and services, the museum holds more than 100,000 artwork images as well as special collections. The Getty Center, with its bird’s eye view of Los Angeles, is located in Brentwood and showcases European art amid modern architecture. Its second location is the Getty Villa Museum, which lies along the coast and displays ancient Greek and Roman art in a recreated Roman house. The Getty embarks on numerous philanthropic projects including several supporting the LGBTQ community.  LA Blade readers have shown their appreciation for the second year in a row by naming the Getty as the Best Museum of the year.

Editor’s choice: LACMA

Best Theater: Geffen Playhouse

Geffen Playhouse/Facebook

The Geffen Playhouse, located in Westwood, is a not-for-profit theater company founded by Gilbert Cates in 1995. It has been a key hub for theater in Los Angeles since its opening and produces plays in two theaters in the Geffen Playhouse, which is owned by University of California Los Angeles. Patrons compliment it on its breadth of productions, excellent staff, and comfortable seating. LGBTQ audiences have appreciated works like “The Inheritance,” which cited key LGBTQ history allusions. In support of the play’s theme and to give audiences a sense of context, The Geffen published a “dramaturgical deep dive” into LGBTQ history on its website. 

The Geffen has made diversity a mission. Its commitment includes this statement: “In recognition of the essential examination of systemic racism and injustices, we at Geffen Playhouse commit to continued analysis and expansion of our own institutional practices in order to be part of the solution. Our vision for the Geffen is that people of all races, faiths, sexual orientations, abilities, genders and backgrounds find it an easily accessible and highly relevant source of art that reflects the dynamic human experience and galvanizes a more equitable and vibrant community.”  For this, and great theater, LA Blade readers have deemed them the Best Theater in LA. 

Editor’s choice: Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood

Best Music Venue: The Hollywood Bowl

The Hollywood Bowl/County of Los Angeles

Two years ago, the Hollywood Bowl won for Best Virtual A&E Events. Last year it was named the Best A&E Venue. This year, it won again – for Best Music Venue. This can only lead you to conclude that live or virtual, artistically or musically, in the eyes of LA Blade readers, it is perennially the best. Since its opening in 1922, the Hollywood Bowl has been the premier destination for live music, hosting everyone from Billie Holiday to The Beatles to Yo-Yo Ma under the iconic silhouette of its concentric-arched band shell. This past year saw such LGBTQ-friendly acts as Ricky Martin and Grace Jones. Can this year top that? Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Game of Thrones and Janet Jackson will surely try.

Editor’s choice:  The Walt Disney Concert Hall

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Entertainment Company: Warner Bros. Discovery

Warner Brothers Discovery/Website

Warner Bros. Discovery tells us that they are “the stuff that dreams are made of.” They are a relatively new combined company. The new company combined WarnerMedia’s premium entertainment, sports, and news assets with Discovery’s leading non-fiction and international entertainment and sports businesses. The combination is a premier global media and entertainment company that promises to offer us the “most differentiated and complete portfolio of content, brands and franchises across television, film, streaming and gaming.” Hyperbole aside, they brought us “White Lotus” and gay boys Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen to welcome in the new year. LA Blade readers were impressed.

Editor’s choice:  The Walt Disney Company

Best Screenwriter: Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy at the Golden Globes 2023/Screenshot YouTube NBC Universal 

It is no surprise that LA Blade readers called out Ryan Murphy as the best screenwriter of the year. The bigger question is — for which script? Murphy is prolific, having written literally hundreds of scripts in 2022. He wrote scripts for his “American Horror Stories,” “Dahmer-Monster, the Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” “9-1-1,” “9-1-1 Lone Star,” “American Horror Story,” “The Watcher,” and “Ratched” shows. The new year does not promise a slowdown. Upcoming, he scripts the mini-series “A Chorus Line,” the series “Consent,” and the TV movie “One Hit Wonders.” 

 Editor’s choice: Our Lady J

Best Actor: Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox courtesy of Netflix

The iconic Laverne Cox impressed LA Blade readers this year. She, of course, is the American actress and highly visible LGBTQ advocate. She burst on the scene with her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” This gave her the notoriety of becoming the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. In 2015, she was the first trans woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special as executive producer for “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word.” In 2017, she became the first transgender person to play a transgender series regular on U.S. broadcast TV as Cameron Wirth on CBS’s “Doubt.” This year, LA Blade readers were impressed by her performance as Kacy Duke in the mini-series “Inventing Anna.” 

Editor’s choice:  Jennifer Coolidge

Favorite Musical Artist: Cardi B

Cardi B (Screenshot via YouTube)

This year, the famed Grammy-winning “WAP” rapper seemed to impress LA Blade readers as much with her pro-LGBTQ candor as she did with her talent. She ended the previous year as an officiant at a same-sex wedding, “I’m going to get these two beautiful ladies married. It’s not only a special day for you guys, but it’s a special day for me, and I want to thank you for making me a part of your beautiful journey,” she said at the time. This year, she slapped down those who wanted to doubt or play down her bisexuality. “I ate bitches out before you was born …..Sorry I don’t have razr phone pics to prove it to you,” she snarked on Twitter. Just in case you are not yet clear on where she stands in regard to LGBTQ people, she made the point clear: “If you homophobic you just ugly.” Her favoritism by our readers appears to be well-earned.

 Editor’s choice: Dolly Parton

Best LGBTQ Event: GLAAD Awards

GLAAD Awards 2022 Los Angeles/Masters

Last year, the annual GLAAD awards was a star-studded ceremony held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills hosted by Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and DJ “Shangela” Pierce. The ceremony included appearances by Andrew Garfield, Troye Sivan, JoJo Siwa, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, Mira Sorvino, Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo, and more. Anti-trans legislation and the “Don’t Say Gay” bills were addressed during the show. President and CEO Kate Ellis denounced the hateful political activities in her speech, “These bills are designed to erase us as a community, but GLAAD will not let that happen. We have never been more committed to our vision of a world where everyone can live the life that they love.” With that, LA Blade readers expressed their love for GLAAD.

Editor’s choice: DragCon LA

Best Regional Pride: LA PRIDE

LA Pride/Facebook

Our readers were torn over this category. It was the closest vote in all of the categories, but LA Pride just barely edged out WeHo Pride for Best Regional Pride.

Readers were blown away by the events Parade, which drew a massive crowd of more than 130,000 people to the streets of Hollywood.

When the first L.A. Pride Parade, which was organized by Rev. Bob Humphries, Morris Kight and Rev. Troy Perry (founder, Metropolitan Community Church) organized the world’s first permitted LGBTQ+ Pride parade, held on June 28, 1970 in Los Angeles, such numbers were unimaginable.

The 2022 parade, like the original parade returned to its roots after decades of being hosted by the City of West Hollywood, starting at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga in Hollywood and running along Hollywood Blvd., Highland Avenue and Sunset Blvd. 2022 parade goers might be surprised to learn that the first parade also attracted a massive crowd of more than 50,000.

The return of LA Pride was not only a return to its roots, it was also a return to Pride in Los Angeles in general after a 2 year Covid-hiatus.

Readers were also excited by the massive LA Pride Festival, branded “LA Pride in the Park” for 2022 in Los Angeles State Historic Park, featuring electric performances by Christina Aguilera, Anitta Bob the Drag Queen, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, and over 20 other sizzling acts. Over 20,000 ticketed fans were in attendance for this first festival outside of West Hollywood since 1984.

WeHo Pride Weekend also saw exuberant celebrations for it’s first solo Pride execution, an event managed by events company JJLA. It was held in and around West Hollywood Park that included a free street fair that represented a diverse array of LGBTQ+ community groups; a three-day ticketed OUTLOUD Raising Voices Music Festival, the Dyke March and Women’s Freedom Festival, and an inaugural WeHo Pride Parade.

Editor’s choice: WeHo Pride and DTLA PROUD

Best Hotel: Sunset Tower

Sunset Tower Hotel/Facebook

The New York Times called it “Hollywood’s Grand Dame Hotel.” LA Blade readers just called it the year’s best. With a dramatic setting on the Sunset Strip and elegant Art Deco styling, the Sunset Tower was designed in 1929 by architect Leland A. Bryant. It boasts former residents Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Billie Burke, Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Paulette Goddard, Zasu Pitts, and even gangster Bugsy Siegel. Hotelier Jeff Klein purchased the building in 2004, enlisting designer Paul Fortune to revive the property’s classic art deco style and then in 2018, Klein put his personal touch on another refresh, restoring the Sunset Tower’s heart and soul while not compromising its character. The hotel’s rooms were elegantly refurbished and its famous Tower Bar was expanded to include a dark and sexy bar, reimagined restaurant, and updated pool area. Further additions have included a bright and airy 7,000-square-foot gym in John Wayne’s former apartment, and the Joanna Vargas Spa one level above offering expert facials and massages. 

Editor’s choice: San Vincente Bungalows

Best Coverage of LGBTQ Issues by a Mainstream News Outlet: John Fenoglio of KTLA

John Fenoglio/KTLA 5 Facebook

LA Blade readers appreciate hearing the news from one of our own. Out reporter John Fenoglio appears to have our backs. He is quoted as saying, “LGBT people are the targets of more hate crimes than any other minority. A San Pedro resident and veteran I met today knows firsthand what that feels like. Don’t hate… But do fight back and fight smart.”

Editor’s choice:  Elzie Lee “LZ” Granderson of the LA Times

Best LA Region Airport: Hollywood/Burbank Airport

Hollywood-Burbank Airport/Hollywood-Burbank Airport Facebook

Hollywood Burbank Airport is legally and formerly marketed as Bob Hope Airport after entertainer Bob Hope. It is a public airport three miles northwest of downtown Burbank. LA Blade readers seem to agree with airport patrons who have declared “this place just treats you like family and customer service is simply awesome.” 

Editor’s choice: LAX

Best Podcast: MARSHA MOLINARI’s “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha”

Marsha Molinari/Instagram

In the run up to election day, no LGBTQ related podcast or media (admittedly including Los Angeles Blade) did more to give a platform to LA Mayoral Candidate Rick Caruso than Marsha Molinari’s Podcast “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.” She gave Caruso a challenging but fair airing on a variety of LGBTQ topics. And it didn’t go unnoticed.

The local culture, fashion and nightlife icon is also mastermind behind the H.Wood Group, owner of some of LA’s hottest clubs and best restaurants (The Nice Guy earned the award for Best Restaurant). Molinari is also nationally prominent LGBTQIA+ Transgender & Human Rights Activist and Creative Director of J.Molinari Jewelry… Marsha does it all.

Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” explores raw human experiences with conversations that lead to a true sharing with the goal of improving how we view one another. The show, with its focus on overcoming adversity and bringing people together, is not shy about engaging in uncomfortable conversations, but comfortably so. Subjects include all things LGBTQIA+, life purpose, self-worth, confidence, mental health, race, ethnicity, sexism, ageism and so much more.

 Editor’s choice: Rob Watson, Rated LGBT Radio Hollywood

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Sports

NHL player skips Pride Night warmup, claims religious exemption

The Flyers regularly wear special warmup jerseys pregame & raffle them off. This was the first time that they had done Pride jerseys

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Photo Credit: Philadelphia Flyers/NHL

PHILADELPHIA – Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; Many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

Flyers coach John Tortorella stood by Provorov’s decision, telling reporters he respected the player for being “always true to himself.”

“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and his religion,” Tortorella said. “That has to do with his belief and his religion. That’s one thing I respect about Provy, he’s always true to himself. And that’s where we’re at with that.” The coach declined to comment further, but added, “We talked as a team here with Provy, and that’s where we’re at.”

Despite the win over the Ducks, the Flyers are being either slammed on Twitter, or hailed, for the decision to let Provorov play. 

While a user named @SaltySeaFl praised Provorov because he did not “cave to the new state religion,” and asked those criticizing him, “Where’s your tolerance?” sportswriter Rachael Millanta tweeted in response to the player’s words about respecting “everybody’s choices:” “Being LGBT+ is not a “choice.”

“This isn’t something new,” wrote sportswriter Stephanie Driver of broadstreethockey.com, regarding the Pride Night event. “The Flyers regularly wear special warmup jerseys pregame and raffle them off. This was, however, the first time that they had done Pride jerseys. In the past, they have done rainbow tape and many players declined to use it.”

Other players on the team have not hesitated to show their support for Philly’s queer fans. Flyers forward Scott Laughton and teammate James van Riemsdyk have partnered with several LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations and host members of the community at every home game. Laughton arranged to have a 13-year-old nonbinary fan beat the traditional drum before the puck dropped on Pride Night. 

The team issued a statement noting its commitment to inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ+ community but made no mention of Provorov or his “choice.” 
Brian Kitts, the co-founder of the nonprofit organization You Can Play, which has worked with the NHL on its Hockey Is For Everyone campaign, issued its own statement, noting “there is still work to be done to change hearts and minds.” Sports reporter Devin Heroux quoted You Can Play as saying the organization has reached out to the Flyers to offer support on “this continuing educational journey.”

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The Los Angeles Blade interview: Iszak Henig

LA Blade Sports Editor Dawn Ennis interviews Yale trans swimmer Iszac Henig in his first interview since the NCAA championship last March

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Screenshot/YouTube

NEW HAVEN, Ct. – Ten months have passed since the first historic matchup of two out, NCAA transgender student-athletes, competing against one another for a national championship: trans man Iszac Henig vs. trans woman Lia Thomas.

Although Henig represented Yale’s women’s swim team in that contest, he made it clear in a March 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Blade: I’m not a woman,” Henig said. “I am just a guy trying to go as fast as I can.”

Now, in his first interview since that championship, and after sharing his story with the world in The New York Times, the Yale University senior from Menlo Park, Calif. sat down with the Blade to talk about switching to swim with the men’s team, his plans after graduating, the trolls on social media and anti-trans politics. Also, he revealed: he has a girlfriend. 

“I wonder, politically, do you align with progressive politics, or is politics something that doesn’t interest you?” the Blade asked. “Are you conservative?”

“I was having the conversation with my girlfriend last night,” said Henig, 21. Earlier in the conversation, he deflected when asked if he had someone he’d consider a partner. Then he let it slip he was dating a classmate at Yale, and we shared a laugh. “I will admit to it, yes,” he said with a smile. 

“So, I started talking about political identity. She’s a politics major, so this is sort of her jam,” said Henig. “Politics does interest me in that it is incredibly relevant to my life, incredibly relevant to the lives of people that I care deeply about. Policy has widespread impacts. And so, I think from that level, it is interesting to me. I’m a citizen who votes. It’s interesting to me in terms of political identity, generally progressive, sort of left leaning. That follows naturally from how I was raised and how I was taught to view the world and how I choose to view the world.”

How Henig views the world is with compassion, something that came up repeatedly in the conversation on Zoom last week. He said he learned that at home, growing up in Menlo Park.

“My parents always have sort of instilled a level of kindness, compassion, thoughtfulness,” he said. 

A competitive swimmer since he was four, Henig was one of the top 20 high school swimmers in California at 18, and one of the top 100 swimmers in the country. As he explains in his Times essay, Henig also excelled in the pool at Yale, but floundered in his identity in the company of women, especially in the locker room. He told the Blade that gap year he took during the pandemic provided an opportunity for him to explore who he was, who he wanted to be, and after working with a therapist, finally come out as the man he’d known himself to be since he was a teen. 

“The first time I verbalized it was at 14, to my mom,” said the college senior, who realizes, in hindsight, he needed more time. “The climate was different. I was young. I was a teenager and I was not ready to advocate for myself in that way that I would have needed to.” 

But to those who believe children, even teens, cannot possibly know they are trans, Henig says: 

“I was certain. There was no doubt in my mind. You know, people are like, ‘Oh, kids are too young to know.’ No,” said Henig, “We’re sure. We’re certain.”

What’s it like swimming with the other guys at Yale? “It’s been great. It’s been awesome,” he said. “I love the guys on the team. It’s been a really cool experience for me, just spending time with them.” 

He shrugs off the negative reports by anti-trans reporters at Fox News and the National Review, who have focused on his top surgery and his performance since starting on testosterone eight months ago. Although he wrote in his op-ed that his times are “about the same as they were at the end of last season,” Henig is bashed for finishing 79th out of 83. 

“A lot of the articles are like, ‘This guy stinks at swimming, he got 79th out of 83.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I could have told you that myself! You don’t need to remind me, you know?’ I knew I was coming in bottom of the pack,” he said. “A lot of the comments have been like, ‘Oh, you know, a real man would want to win, or a real man would want to care.’ And I’m like, ‘You need to meet more men!’ I’m sorry, not every man is the same. There are so many good reasons to be an athlete, and winning is one of them, but it’s not the only reason. I love my sport and I get to race and I get better because the people around me are better than me.”

Trolls will also comment on his posts that feature his flat chest, saying awful things like this: “So sad to see you cutting your own body parts. It is the same as cutting your arms or legs so sad. You would regret this once your brain has finish developing and stop taking hormones.” 

“There’s no sort of nice way to put it: It sucks, right? It’s never going to be a positive experience,” he said. “I had someone comment on my Instagram posts, literally like, ‘Oh, I wonder if you were molested as a child?’ And I was like, first of all, that is so disrespectful to survivors, you know? And that is a completely unrelated thing. And second, I’m so sorry that you think that that’s okay to say to someone, that people have treated you in a way that you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a normal thing to say.’ And you block.”

Henig said he never responds to hate but does offer kindness, and stays on-brand with compassion.

“What I try and remember, what I try and live by, is you can’t respond to hate. That is never going to be productive. What I try and do is find compassion,” he said. “I say, ‘Okay, you are saying this to me for a reason, and I am so sorry that whatever has happened in your life that has led you to this point, where you think that it’s okay to say something like that to someone.’”

Henig credits his friend and supporter, trans trailblazer Schuyler Bailar, with providing advice to handle the haters with the same energy that comes from being a fellow competitive swimmer: “I think, in an ideal world, that derives naturally from sport, from teamwork. You learn how to say, ‘We fundamentally disagree, but let’s get something done together. Let’s find common ground.’”

Bailar has also showed him the power of advocacy. “But I probably wouldn’t self-identify as an activist,” he said. “I think I think I’d opt for advocate athlete.”

Once he graduates in May, he’s hoping to work in renewable energy, calling climate change his passion. But he said he won’t be swimming competitively after this season and has ruled out the Olympics. Henig hopes to become, in his words, a NARP: “A Non Athletic Regular Person.” Or, as he also put it: “Just some guy.” And maybe, someday, just some dad. 

“The idea of motherhood, fundamentally, was uncomfortable to me, and I’m actually quite excited about the idea of fatherhood,” he told the Blade. “I was pretty sure that I’m going to be dead by 30. I’m really glad to say that I absolutely don’t feel that way anymore, because transition has been so life affirming. I do want kids. I do want a family.”

To the trans kids living in states of hate, where laws and policies may prevent them from competing in sports as their authentic selves or receiving gender-affirming healthcare, Henig has this message: “Do what you need to do to keep yourself alive, to keep yourself safe as long as you can, until you have the opportunity to do something else. Know that we’re fighting. There are so many people on the ground trying to make changes, trying to prevent bills from getting passed, trying to get resources to places that don’t have them. It’s something that I want to continue to support.” 

By writing his essay and talking to reporters, Henig hopes he can also reach those who aren’t supportive of inclusion and trans healthcare. “I would really like to call people in, and ask, ‘If you can, set aside a belief that you currently have, and open your mind to trying something new.’ See if you can say, ‘Okay, you know what? What could I learn today? What can I open my mind to?’ That would be my ask, because I think the world just needs more empathy, more compassion in general.”

This is Iszac’s first interview following his moving essay in The New York Times:

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