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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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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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Florida

Florida county’s school policy critics say “essentially targets LGBTQ+ kids”

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident

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Screenshot/YouTube students in a classroom generic news coverage

TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. 

Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. 

While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,”  advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.

Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”

Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”

Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.

Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.

Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. 

In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.

“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”

The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0.  According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed. 

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The White House

White House announces 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be presented to those named at the White House on July 7, 2022

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Megan Rapinoe, an Out Olympic gold medalist is among those named ((Screenshot/YouTube via U.S. Soccer )

WASHINGTON – The White House today released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor,  the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7, 2022.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the Out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ+ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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