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Why do we need LGBTQ media? (Photos)

Examining the role of our alternative press

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LAPD Chief Willie Williams at his first news conference (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

It was the last day of Passover, a calm and tranquil Sunday in West Hollywood. And then the news started bubbling up about an attack on the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in San Diego County by a 19-year-old with a semiautomatic weapon. One woman was dead and three others, including the rabbi, were wounded.

The shooting came one day after President Trump’s speech before the National Rifle Association and major news coverage of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign announcement video using the Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville where white supremacists carrying tiki torches chanted “Jews will not replace us!” The teenager arrested for shooting up the Poway synagogue apparently left an anti-Semitic screed on the Internet. Authorities said they would investigate the attack as a hate crime.

I read these news reports through rainbow-colored glasses. White supremacy isn’t limited to anti-Semitism or racism. But hatred for LGBT people is such a given, we often don’t even get a mention in their screeds. That’s what I look for or extrapolate as an LGBT reporter.

LGBT people live intersectional lives and feel an empathetic gut-punch when any bias-based attack hits the news. But LGBT African Americans are not included or cross-indexed in an overview of racist hate crimes. And there is a whole separate category for the epidemic of murders of trans women of color. The Consumer Health Foundation, taking in access to healthcare, housing, jobs and violence, for instance, said in 2018 that the life expectancy for a trans woman of color is 31. Bamby Salcedo, founder and CEO of [email protected] Coalition, puts it closer to 22.

This horrifying statistic is ignored, as are other facts and assessments. The Williams Institute and the Center for American Progress have reported that those most at risk for poverty are African-American lesbian couples with children in the South. How can you put food on the table if you can’t get a job because of your real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity? But where is discussion of the Equality Act in the mainstream media?

Morris Kight and LAPD Chief Daryl Gates. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

LGBT people are officially second-class citizens, no matter how much money we do or don’t have; or how much we contribute to politicians or non-profits; no matter how many voters we turn out; no matter if the media is taken with one of us credibly running for president of the United States.

To be sure, the mainstream cares when there’s a big newsworthy event or a phenomenon like the epidemic of gay teen suicides that led to the It Gets Better movement. Remember that? Well, LGBT kids are still killing themselves.

But for the most part, we are ignored or erased from the narrative. For example: on Feb. 22, 2019, Thomas T. Cullen, US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “The Grave Threats of White Supremacy and Far-Right Extremism,” which is posted on the Justice Department’s website.

In it, Cullen writes: “In 2009, Congress took an important step in arming federal investigators to deal with hate crimes by passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This law makes it possible to prosecute as hate crimes violent acts committed against victims because of their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity or disability. The law provides stringent maximum penalties, including life imprisonment, if someone is killed during a hate crime.”

Matthew Shepard was gay but Cullen curiously omits sexual orientation when talking about the hate crime bill.

The LGBT press offers an alternative to that void, to that willful and benign ignorance. And we have since at least 1947 when Lisa Ben typed Vice Versa onto several carbon copies to distribute the “magazine” to other lesbians she met covertly. Homosexuality was criminal in many states until 2003 when the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law criminalizing consenting adult gay sex in Lawrence v Texas.

But ironically, it was the Supreme Court that enabled gay people to find one another through the distribution of ONE Magazine. ONE Inc, which had broken off from the Silver Lake-based Mattachine Society, founded in 1950 by Harry Hay, started publishing ONE Magazine in 1952. But in 1954, the Los Angeles Postmaster Otto Olesen refused to mail the publication, describing the Oct. 1954 issue as “obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy.” But ONE fought back and while it took until 1958, it prevailed in the landmark First Amendment case. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner credited the victory in One, Inc. v. Olesen with enabling him to distribute Playboy magazine through the mail, thus jump-starting the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

ONE reported in the next issue: “For the first time in American publishing history, a decision binding on every court now stands. … affirming in effect that it is in no way proper to describe a love affair between two homosexuals as constitut(ing) obscenity,” according to a report about the case in the LA Times.

Protest vs. LAPD. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

That perception, however, didn’t hold with the general public and the LGBT community is still fighting harmful beliefs that we need to change or die.

Nonetheless, LGBT people have persisted throughout our history: Jim Kepner, a writer for ONE Magazine, collected many of the publications aimed at informing and bolstering LGBT people, all of which he turned into an archive that now resides with ONE Institute at USC. That includes The Ladder, published by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, from 1956-1972 and The Lesbian Tide, published by Jeanne Cordova, who ensured that ONE had a lesbian section curated by Yolanda Retter. ONE also houses Alan Bell’s BLK Magazine and other publications such as The LA Advocate, first published before the Stonewall Riots to let gay people know about protests against LAPD bar raids.

Larry Kramer’s Frontiers cover.

Perhaps most importantly, the LGBT press recorded the devastation of the AIDS crisis—and not without financial risk and consternation. When Frontiers publisher Bob Craig reprinted Larry Kramer’s explosive essay, “AIDS 1,112 and counting…,”— first published in the New York Native, Issue 59, March 14-27,1983—bar owners threw the magazine out lest it scare off patrons who didn’t want to even think about the mysterious new disease killing gay men.

As the alternative to the mainstream media, it often falls to us to ask the questions other reporters may not even think about. That’s what happened in April 1992, after the LA Riots finally forced longtime anti-LGBT LAPD Chief Daryl Gates to resign. Mayor Tom Bradley and the LA Police Commission introduced new Chief Willie Williams at a news conference broadcast live to the city.

I sat up front. LGBT civilians had major problems with the LAPD—the Christopher Commission Report indicated that cops often dubbed gays “NHI” – meaning “No Human Involved.” But gay and lesbian officers also felt harassed on the job—as evidenced by Sgt. Mitch Grobeson’s lawsuit that included testimony that he did not receive backup in a dangerous situation.

When I asked Williams about how he would treat gay officers and how he would enforce non-discrimination policies, the whole room went silent. Officials blanched with consternation since they clearly had not prepared him for the question. Seconds later, the clicks from photographers’ cameras deafened the air as Williams answered that he had a track record in Philadelphia of working with the city’s gay community and would do so here. One of his first stops after being sworn in was at the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. It was all major news, but mostly to us.

Today, we have Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon as broadcast stars and the general public seems more inclined to like us. But on the ground, it’s still hard to come out, LGBT teen suicide is still prevalent, trans murders are still an epidemic and Trump and some states are still trying to roll back or stop LGBT rights.

And yet we continue to prevail— and the LGBT press continues, as well.

Luis Sandoval and his partner Renato Perez (Photo courtesy Sandoval)

Take Luis Sandoval, who recently came out on Univision. It’s had a big impact on him and his audience. “I finally was honest and transparent with the audience and by doing so, I was opening a little door to start the conversation about important issues that have been part of my own experience: such as bullying, suicidal thoughts, lack of rights, depression and many more issues that affect our LGBTQ community,” Sandoval told the Los Angeles Blade.

Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, most of the gay males I would see on TV were dying of AIDS. It was terrifying to think I was also gay,” he said. “There were no role models to look up to. Now that I am on the other side of the screen, I feel it is my responsibility to make a difference, even if it is only one person at a time. If I can save one life, or make someone’s life a little easier, it will be worth my while.”

And this is why reporting on LGBT people not as a “social issue” but as human beings fighting for civil rights is central to the mission of the LGBT press.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center and NLGJA are hosting a free Big Queer Convo with LGBT journalists Bettina Boxall, LZ Granderson, Luis Sandoval and me on Wednesday, May 8 at The Village. Visit lalgbtcenter.org/bqc for more info.

Lisa Ben (aka Edythe D. Eyde) published the first lesbian hand-typed magazine Vive Versa in 1947, with Rev. Flo Fleischman (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

San Francisco political activist Jose Sarria (aka the Widow Norton) with Hal Call, conservative Mattachine Society journalist and gay bookstore owner at Jim Kepner’s memorial in 1998. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis and publishers/editors of The Ladder (1956-1972) with Rikki Striecher, owner of Maud’s lesbian bar, and Karen Kiss and Paris Poirie, directors of “Last Call at Maud’s,” a favorite film at Outfest.

Barbara Gittings (left), editor of The Ladder (1963-66), and partner photographer Kay Lahusen at Stonewall 25 in NYC (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Jim Kepner, editor/contributor of ONE Magazine in the 1950s, and Jeanne Cordova, author, columnist, publisher of The Lesbian Tide, Community Yellow Pages, and Square Peg Magazine at a fundraiser for ONE Archives. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

John Burnside, Mattachine Society and Radical Faeries co-founder Harry Hay, ANGLE co-founder David Mixner, “In The Life” creator/producer John Scagliotti and unidentified man. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

LIFE Lobby Executive Director Laurie McBride and Frontiers News Magazine publisher Bob Craig (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

BLK Magazine publisher Alan Bell, Catch One’s Jewel Thais-Williams, Black AIDS Institute Founder Phill Wilson at ONE Institute April 13, 2019 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

The Advocate’s Editor-in-chief Richard Rouilard, writer Jackie Collins, producer/manager Barry Krost at an NLGJA party in the early 1990s. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Sydney Brinkley, founder, editor and reporter for the San Francisco-based Blacklight, interviews Rev. Deborah Johnson, founder of the Inner Light Ministries, after a Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in Los Angeles in the 1990s. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Michael Goff and Sarah Pettit, founders of OUT Magazine in the early 1990s, with newly elected California Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Judy Wieder, who became the then-30-year old Advocate’s first woman editor in chief in 1996, with Roy Aaron, the longtime journalist who founded the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in 1990. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

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Southern California

Whittier Pride cancelled- Henderson, Nevada based non-profit steps in

Non-profit International Cultural Movement for Equality is sponsoring ‘Whittier Proud’ on September 25 at the Doubletree Inn

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Graphic via Whittier Proud

WHITTIER – A disagreement that led to a split in the organizing committee to host what would have been the second Whittier Pride Festival ended up canceling the event. Pride was set to be held Saturday, Sept. 25 at Central Park.

According to the Whitter Daily News, two years ago, the event drew between 5,000 and 8,000 people but was reduced to a car parade in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Another caravan was held in June, but a full festival was expected this year.

Reporter Mike Sprague from the Daily News noted that two groups — both calling themselves Whittier Pride — applied for a permit.  According to Sprague, one group, which reportedly split off from the original organization, filed first and received permission on Aug. 23 from the Whittier Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.

That final approval would have required the City Council to sign off on but in an email to the Daily News, Whittier Assistant City Manager Shannon DeLong said the group had withdrawn its application.

The second group’s application wasn’t considered due to a ‘first come first serve’ process the City Manager Brian Saeki told the Daily News in a telephone interview last Friday.

“We received two applications for the same event on the same day and time,” Saeki said. “For us, it was all procedural. We moved forward with the first application.”

There will be a Pride event this month as Henderson, Nevada based non-profit International Cultural Movement for Equality is sponsoring ‘Whittier Proud’ on September 25 at the Hilton DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Whittier.

Event organizer Richard Anthony Cortez, the creative director of ICME, told the Blade that his organization’s efforts are not tied to either of the two other groups at all and that ‘Whittier Proud’ is a separate partnership with the Whittier DoubleTree Hotel for a weekend of Pride events to celebrate diversity.

The ‘Whittier Proud’ has an Eventbrite page for tickets and a Facebook page for further information Cortez said.

Whittier City Councilmember Henry Bouchot, who told the Daily News by phone Friday that he has supported the festival without taking sides and he’s sorry the event will not be held this year.

“Hopefully, this is just a one-year hiatus that can come back,” Bouchot said. “I’m a supporter of the Pride Festival and would like to see it return to our city.”

Calls to the Pride groups by the Blade for comment were not returned.

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California

Lt. Governor Kounalakis establishes Transgender Advisory Council

“Establishing this council gives transgender leaders the space to have an open dialogue with key stakeholders […]”

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Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (center) attending SF Pride in 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor)

SACRAMENTO – Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced Monday that she has established a council of transgender leaders to create a dialogue between state leaders and the transgender community in California.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the council includes transgender activists, advocates, and elected officials from across the state. Its goal is to bring attention to the issues faced by the transgender community by inviting stakeholders in advocacy, government, and different industry sectors to hear directly from the council.

“Here in California, I’m proud we have enacted many protections for LGBTQ+ people, but we still have work to do, and that is especially true for issues facing our transgender and nonbinary family, friends, and neighbors,” said Lt. Governor Kounalakis.  “Establishing this council gives transgender leaders the space to have an open dialogue with key stakeholders who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to hear directly from them. I hope bridging this gap will help to amplify important issues and bring more understanding of the community. I look forward to the opportunity to listen, to learn, and to help elevate the voices of the members.”

“This California Transgender Advisory Council is historic,” said council member and California TRANScends Executive Director Ebony Harper. “I’m extremely honored to serve in this capacity and grateful for our Lieutenant Governor for seeing the need.”

“I congratulate Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis for her leadership in organizing the Lt. Governor’s Transgender Advisory Council,” said council member and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton. “At a time when so many political leaders see transgender Americans as a political opportunity to exploit and target, Lt. Governor Kounalakis is reaching out to help, integrate and provide opportunity.  I look forward to working with my colleagues within California’s transgender community and the Lt. Governor to advance employment, housing and healthcare opportunity and equity for all Californians.”

“This is historic for the state of California,” said the [email protected] Coalition President and CEO Bamby Salcedo. “Having an official body composed of trans people under the Lieutenant Governor’s office sets a precedent for other states to follow. I am so grateful to live in such an inclusive state!”

“I am beyond thrilled to work in partnership with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to create what will hopefully be the first of many Transgender Advisory Councils,” said council member and Equality California Program Manager Zizi Bandera. “To have a high-ranking state official show their solidarity with our community in this way means a lot. I am honored to continue the work of so many transgender advocates whose relentless passion for justice and liberation have made this possible.”

The advisory council will meet regularly and is comprised of transgender leaders from across the state, including the following people:

  • Ian Anderson, Legal Services Project Manager, Transgender Law Center
  • Zizi Bandera, Program Manager, Equality California
  • Blossom Brown, Activist
  • Ebony Harper, Executive Director, California TRANScends
  • Drian Juarez, Vice President of Training and Culture, Folx Health
  • Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilmember
  • Evan Minton, Activist
  • Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO, [email protected] Coalition
  • Rosio Leon Velasco-Stoll, Fresno Spectrum Center

In addition to establishing the Transgender Advisory Council, Lt. Governor Kounalakis co-sponsored several important measures in the California Legislature this year, including AB 378 (Bauer-Kahan), which was signed by Governor Newsom and eliminates gendered language referencing constitutional officers in California law, and AB 245 (Chiu), which is currently on the Governor’s desk and would ensure that California public colleges and universities allow transgender and nonbinary students to have their name and gender accurately reflected on academic records.

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West Hollywood

Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center for Los Angeles opens

First facility of its kind nationwide serving Trans and Non-Binary individuals and communities of, by and for Trans and nonbinary individuals

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Connie Norman Trans Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Friday Sept 10, 2021 (Photo Credit: Ged Kenslea)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – In a location that once housed the Aids Healthcare Foundation’s Linn House, a hospice for people dying from AIDS, the first facility of its kind nationwide serving Trans and Non-Binary individuals and communities of, by and for Trans and nonbinary individuals opened Friday, September 10.

Named for and dedicated in honor of Connie Norman, known as the ‘AIDS Diva,’ a fearless Transgender and AIDS activist who died of the disease in 1996.

The Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, will serve as a home for several Trans-led organizations including FLUX, a national division of the Aids Healthcare Foundation and the Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC). The center will focus on building capacity, advocacy and overall health and wellness of the Transgender and Non-Binary communities.

The 20,000 square-foot building has been repurposed to function as a sort of ‘WeWork’ space for Trans-led organizations to have a place to do their work, grow and be affirmed.

Named after a Diva like Connie Norman, supported by an institution like AHF and led by two respected Trans orgs like the UWC and FLUX—this is historic!  An entire building where trans people are at the helm, making decisions and innovating,” said Queen Victoria Ortega, Founder and International President of FLUX. “We are committed to making sure our community has a voice. Now, we have this incredible building as a home for those voices. I believe that great things are going to happen here, really great things!

The Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, 1001 N. Martel Street (Photo credit: John Johnston)

Norman was a force to be reckoned with according to Los Angeles based filmmaker Dante Alencastre’s 2020 documentary film AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman, which was released 25 years after Norman’s death.

In a short bio published by FLUX the group noted, “Connie Norman (1949 – July 15, 1996) was an AIDS and gay and transgender rights activist with ACT UP/LA. Beginning in 1991, she was the host of the first daily commercial talk radio show about gay issues in Los Angeles, and also co-hosted a television show. After her death from AIDS, ACT UP scattered her ashes on the White House lawn.’

Veteran LGBTQ journalist and the former Editor of the Los Angeles Blade, Karen Ocamb membered the formidable Norman in a March 31, 2021 commentary piece published to mark Trans Visibility Day.

“It was the late ‘80s and I was still new to “gay” journalism so I followed standard reporter practice of mingling with the crowd, getting a sense of what was going on, then asking to speak with the organization’s spokesperson. […]

For a bit I was stuck in my transition from old mainstream to LGBTQ/AIDS thinking. Luckily, Connie decided to educate me anyway. She invited me to her home — which she shared with her gay husband (who I recognized from 12 Step rooms) and LOTS of cats – and sat me in front of a video of her teaching a class of students about what it meant to be transsexual or transgender. […]

Connie and Rob Roberts during his hunger strike to draw attention to AB 101, the California gay civil rights bill, (Photograph from the collection of Karen Ocamb)

Connie was so generous with so many people- she made so many of us feel warm and loved and supported.

Curiously, after the video ended, Connie’s friend Harry Hay and his partner John Burnside (who turned out to be relative neighbors in WeHo) showed up and educated me about gays being Nature’s third sex. It was an amazing night. Connie was so generous with so many people. Most importantly for me – aside from being a reliable source of information so I could do my job properly — she smiled when she saw me. She made so many of us feel warm and loved and supported.”

When Connie Norman was living her final days at AHF’s Chris Brownlie Hospice, she bequeathed her childhood teddy bear to me, asking that I please help look after her Trans sisters and brothers she was leaving behind. I can think of no better way to honor that request than with this Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center that we dedicate today,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF and a good friend of Norman’s. 

Norman’s teddy bear will also now take up residence at the new facility in a commemorative plexiglass display case. In addition, September 10th 2021 will also be known as Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Day via proclamation by the City of West Hollywood.

The facility will also be home to a food bank opening onsite Monday, September 13th (12 noon- 2:00 pm). A ‘Clothing Closet’ to assist Trans and other individuals will also open onsite in the future and an AHF Healthcare Center serving the needs of Trans and nonbinary patients is set to open in 2022.

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