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Actor Michael D. Cohen talks transition — and never keeping secrets

Nickelodeon star says, ‘I don’t see myself as coming out right now’

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Michael D. Cohen (courtesy Cohen)

One good aspect of the debate over impeaching Donald Trump: the trolls are so preoccupied flogging their Twitter foes, they’ve missed a story that could have once created a vortex of online cruelty. Instead, Michael D. Cohen, who plays “loveable genius” Schwoz Schwartz on Nickelodeon’s “Henry Danger” and its spinoff “The Adventures of Kid Danger,” is featured in a widely shared Time magazine article about his gender transition 20 years ago.

Ironically, it’s the convergence of stories about Trump, as well as the development of his one-man show about his transition that moved Cohen to disclose his personal story now.

“I don’t see myself as ‘coming out’ right now, Cohen told the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “I’m disclosing. I’m sharing my story. But my ‘coming out’ happened almost 20 years ago. I’ve been living my life. This isn’t a coming out and I think that’s an important distinction.

“I was never secretive about my having transitioned,” says Cohen. “I transitioned in Toronto back in 2000. I was working as an actor at the time. I told my agent, went through the physical transition, and started auditioning as a man after that. People in the community that I worked with in terms of casting directors—they knew me before and they knew me after. People who were my friends, people who were other actors, everybody in my life, my family, my extended family, everybody knew. It was never a secret. In fact, I auditioned for roles that had trans characters so it was never a secret.”

After he moved to Los Angeles and started dealing with Hollywood agents, Cohen says that he was mindful of his intentions on a “continuum of disclosure.”

“To me it was a question of when is it relevant?” Cohen says. “I would have to question my intentions. Am I bringing this up because I’m afraid if they found out or am I bringing this up because it’s relevant? I always wanted to go from the place of relevance. If I was looking for representation or something like that if it was relevant, and it usually was, I would mention it.”

One time Cohen was outed because someone knew his story and recommended him for a transgender role.

“Keeping something that feels like a secret—it doesn’t feel good,” he says. “It feels like I’m attaching some sort of shame or something to it and I didn’t do that consciously. I was as open as I needed to be.”

Cohen has a completely different take on the issue some transgender people face when a straight person claims a trans person is  “deceiving” them by not disclosing.

Other than some “weird comments on the internet,” Cohen has not had that experience. “For me, and I think a lot of people in transition feel this way, that when you do share that you have a trans history, you feel more deceptive sharing that than you do just being quiet and living your life because I’m living my truth now,” Cohen says.

“If I tell you—”Hey, there was a period in my life where I felt like I was living a lie and I want you to see me through that lens of that lie”—it’s encouraging a deception but it’s a deception that’s reversed from what you’re talking about,” he says.

“The way you see me now is the truth. That’s where my authentic self lives. Whatever people expect, that’s their business. This is the truth and this is what I’m going to show up in,” Cohen says. “I think that’s confusing for people who don’t understand the nature of gender identity and being assigned a gender identity at birth that does not fit who you are. I think that coming into your truth is living it to the best you can. I’ve had the privilege of being able to live in my authentic self and present of my authentic self. Not everybody has had that privilege or had that access for whatever reason. It makes things extraordinarily difficult for a lot of those people.”

Cohen says he’s got a whole checklist for a person he might date and that does not include someone who might accuse him of deception.

Though he hasn’t been highly visible in the LGBT movement, Cohen says he volunteered as a counselor with the Trevor Project’s Lifeline about five years ago, an experience that changed his life.

“I’ve just been very passionate about helping youth and focusing on the needs of youth who are dealing with LGBT issues—whether it’s coming out or that they feel like they are miss-assigned in their gender,” he says. “Just having the privilege of be able to work on the Lifeline, that in and of itself was transformative.”

Being able to connect with such vulnerable youth, many calling from the Deep South or other deeply religious areas where they can’t be themselves—“to be literally be their lifeline is just the most profound honor and privilege.”

And while he emphasized that most of the calls were not dramatic, some were. “They were literally about to kill themselves,” Cohen says. “To be able to speak with them and spend as much time as it took on the phone and help them transform their ideas of what is possible for themselves, there’s nothing like it….It made me grateful for how fortunate I have been and grateful for what I have been given.”

Cohen pauses, recalling one kid in particular who called the next day and left a message. “He said, ‘Please tell Michael thank you for saving my life.’ I’m choking up. How do you not get changed from something like that? To touch people and to be touched in that profound way, it’s life changing.”

Several events prompted Cohen to disclose his transition, including a longtime plan to do a solo theatrical show, which has been deferred until spring 2020 by the success of his Nickelodeon show, “Henry Danger.  Another was seeing “more and more push back from the Trump administration against the rights of people with Trans experience, I started to get more and more frustrated with feeling like I didn’t have a voice,” he says.

“I’m going to be part of the fight in terms of making this administration see, to the best of my ability with other people obviously in partnership, that what they are doing is abject discrimination, it is unacceptable, and it is hurting innocent people and rolling back advances that our society has made that is bringing us back to a lesser society instead of a greater one,” Cohen says. “I’m so disturbed about it. My intention is to help people have more room to be truthful in their own expressions.”

Cohen understands that can be confusing. “The way that I see myself is: I am male. I am a man. That is my core being. That’s always been there, that I’ve always been male. That feels like the truth in that core being way of truth,” he says.

“Transgender, to me, describes the situation that I was in as a kid and partially as an adult, too. It describes the circumstance, it describes the journey, it describes the history, it describes some of the medical issues. It describes things that are more circumstantial. It does not describe my identity, it does not describe who I am in the most core basic way,” Cohen says. “I also understand that there’s a lot of people who feel differently and that really do identify with that word and that word’s so important to them and their identity and I think that’s completely valid and needs to be respected. But for me that does not fit.

“To me, I’m in alignment right now so, why would I bring up the fact that there was a huge part of my life that I wasn’t in alignment with myself useless its relevant to that conversation? Then I would say, ‘I’ve had a Transgender experience,’ or ‘I’ve had a Trans journey,’” he says. “I have spent a lot of my life taking labels that were uncomfortable for me that I felt like I had to contort to fit and I’m not willing to do that anymore.”

The actor says he may be tied up with production of his Nickelodeon show but is checking to see if he might be free to enjoy LA Pride this year.

“I love that we celebrate this annual event and that it’s called ‘Pride’ because it’s the opposite of shame,” Cohen says. “Coming out of shame and fully showing up as who we are, no matter what it is, is so important. I’m just proud to be aligned with a community of people that is willing to show up and celebrate being who they are. That’s what it’s all about.”

To see a video of Cohen’s in-production one-man show, 4 Cubits Make a Man, go to 4cubits.com.

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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