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Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95

The socialite was known for tabloid scandal and fashion empire

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Gloria Vanderbilt. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Actress, fashion designer and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt died at her home on Monday after a battle with stomach cancer. She was 95.

Her son, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, confirmed the news to CNN.

“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” Cooper said in a statement to CNN. “She was a painter, a writer, and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they’d tell you, she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern. She died this morning, the way she wanted to – at home, surrounded by family and friends.”

Vanderbilt was born on Feb. 20, 1924 as the only child to Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. When he was 45, Reginald died of cirrhosis of the liver leaving his 18-month-old daughter to be raised by her mother. Vanderbilt and her half-sister Cathleen Vanderbilt each inherited half of a $5 million inheritance.

Gloria Morgan was known to frivolously spend her daughter’s inheritance partying with her identical twin sister Thelma Morgan by her side. When Vanderbilt was 10 years old, her paternal aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney stepped in to fight for custody of her niece. What followed was dubbed “the Trial of the Century” and Vanderbilt became the country’s “poor little rich girl.” The custody battle was tabloid fodder for months in 1934.

Whitney won the court case and Vanderbilt was sent to live on her aunt’s Long Island, N.Y. estate. Gloria Morgan received limited visitation rights.

In 1982, an NBC mini-series, titled “Little Gloria… Happy at Last,” aired based on the famous trial. It was nominated for six Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award.

At age 17, Vanderbilt moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. She married agent and alleged mobster Pat DiCicco in 1941. The couple divorced in 1945.

The same year she married conductor Leopold Stokowski. The couple had two children, Leopold Stanislaus “Stan” Stokowski, 68, and Christopher Stokowski, 66. Vanderbilt and Stokowski divorced in 1955.

In 1956, she married director Sidney Lumet but the couple divorced in 1963.

Vanderbilt married author Wyatt Emory Cooper in 1963. They had two children, Anderson, 52, and Carter. The couple remained married until Cooper’s death in 1978 from open heart surgery. Tragedy struck again when Carter committed suicide at the age of 23.

In between marriages she also had relationships with author Roald Dahl, filmmakers Howard Hughs and Gordon Parks, singer Frank Sinatra and actor Marlon Brando.

Vanderbilt spearheaded the movement of turning tight jeans into a women’s fashion staple in the 1970s. She partnered with Indian designer Mohan Murjani’s Murjani Corporation to create jeans known for having her signature and swan logo embroidered on the back. She would go on to release a line of perfume and home goods with her name.

In 2001 she opened up her first art exhibit which was considered a critical success.

Vanderbilt was also a bestselling author for her 2016 book”The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Loss and Love,” which she co-wrote with Anderson. She and Anderson also appeared together in the 2016 HBO documentary, “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.”

Anderson paid tribute to his mother with a special obituary that aired on CNN.

 

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Just came across this photo with @andersoncooper and Carter. It was probably taken around 1979. It seems like yesterday.

A post shared by Gloria Vanderbilt (@gloriavanderbilt) on

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Events

Cynthia Erivo to be honored at LA LGBT Center Gala

This year’s gala features a special musical performance by pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts

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Cynthia Erivo performs "Alfie" for Dionne Warwick at the 46th Kennedy Center Honors (Screenshot/YouTube CBS)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest queer-serving nonprofit organization, announced Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress, singer, songwriter and producer Cynthia Erivo will be honored with the Schrader Award at this year’s Center Gala on May 18, 2024.

A global sensation and proud queer woman, Erivo will be recognized for her stellar achievements in entertainment and activism championing the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I’m thrilled to continue my support for the Los Angeles LGBT Center—an organization that does so much for our community,” Erivo said. “I can’t wait to celebrate with my fellow presenters and honorees, and of course, our queer family in LA.”

Mickalene Thomas, considered one of the most influential visual artists of our time, will be honored with this year’s Vanguard Award. ​​Thomas is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist whose work has yielded widely celebrated aesthetic languages within contemporary visual culture. An out lesbian, she’s recognized for her advocacy and commitment to intersecting complexities of Black and female identity within the Western canon.

“It’s an honor to be recognized alongside Cynthia and so many other talented members of our community,” said Thomas. “I’m excited to kick off an incredible Pride season in LA with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

This year’s gala will also feature a special musical performance by power pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts. 

“We are facing unprecedented attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, which means the Center’s work is more urgent than ever,” said the organization’s CEO, Joe Hollendoner. “Now is the time to strengthen our support for the movement and celebrate with fierce, radical joy.”

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

Delivering a 25-year-old gay lost love letter across time & distance

Los Angeles Blade contributor and gay YouTube vlogger ‘StanChris’ delivers a 25-year-old love letter across the Atlantic

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A special moment during a unique adventure that started with a discovery of a letter in a dusty bureau inside a Boston antique market. (Screenshot/YouTube StanChris)

By Chris Stanley | BOSTON, Mass. – Celebrating one of my younger brother’s birthdays I took him thrifting a few months ago and while we were in an antique marketplace exploring, he found an interesting item in a bureau that ended up being a modern day adventure- in the name of gay love.

Please watch my videoblog below oh and at the end, especially for you folks living on the West coast, I have a special request for your assistance.

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Chris Stanley, a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade, is a Boston-based YouTube vlogger and social media influencer with 400K plus followers. He is also on TikTok and Instagram as ‘StanChris’ and along with his best mate, fellow vlogger and influencer Artem Bezrukavenko @itsartbezrukavenko, document their lives, capturing stories and their interactions in the LGBTQ+ community.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

The trans man, journalist, & filmmaker embedded with the Taliban

New documentary TRANSITION presents an astounding scenario with depth and sensitivity by documentary filmmaker Jordan Bryon

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Australian trans man, journalist, and filmmaker Jordan Bryon with members of the Taliban. (Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

HOLLYWOOD – Imagine taking this plot into the creative meeting at a major studio:  “It is right before the Taliban take control of Afghanistan. A transgender journalist has been living in transition. He becomes embedded with a group of Taliban warriors – and gets to know them. Here’s the kicker—he even goes and gets his gender-affirming surgery WHILE being embedded.”

You can hear imaginary murmurs from the theoretical executives. “Nah, who would DO that?”  “Implausible. They would get found out.” And a third, “No. No one would believe that could happen.” 

They might determine that it tries to create a truth that no one will believe.

As it turns out, they, and you, CAN believe it, because it happened. It has already been turned into a film, but not a dramatized fictional one – it is now a documentary. The documentary not only gives you the experience of a transgender activist embedded, and in action, but equally astounding, it was made by a woman. If you know anything about the Taliban, you will know that a woman wielding a camera around them is hard to fathom.

The film is ACG Unwritten’s “Transition,” released through Gravitas Ventures. In the film, Australian trans man, journalist, and filmmaker Jordan Bryon gains incredible access to a Taliban unit during the fall of Afghanistan. While he is in his own personal transition, so is the country around him. As he and his local videographer, Teddy, embed with the Taliban, Jordan conceals his physiology and is accepted as a man. If the Taliban had found out, he and Teddy would have been stripped and killed. In the film, Jordan struggles with the moral and ethical dilemmas that come with his unique situation. “Reality is far more complex that ‘this is the way things are.’ We wanted to find humanity in dark places, we wanted to explore the gray areas.”

I sat down with Jordan and his filmmaker partner, Monica Villamizar, on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio and the episode The Trans Man Who Embedded with the Taliban: The Hot New Doc TRANSITION. The film is a mind-blowing chronicle of personal transition played out against the backdrop of a cultural one. It still begged the question, why would a nice trans man like Jordan, raised and supported by a gem of a mom back in Australia (we meet her in the film), subject himself to the danger and potential vitriol he would have encountered had he been discovered, or even suspected of being trans?

Monica Villamizar in an Afghan school for girls. (Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“It’s wild. I experienced a lot of discrimination and even violence in Australia because I always had these labels that followed me around. When I went to Afghanistan, because they have such a limited understanding of LGBTQ people, I was anonymous. They didn’t really know if I was a man or a woman, so I became just ‘Jordan” and that anonymity really gave me a blank slate to reimagine myself as to who I wanted to be in the next chapter of my life. Obviously, I am talking as a privileged Australian. For Afghan LGBTQ people, it can be a fatal experience,” he answers. Jordan had been in Afghanistan for five years before it fell to the Taliban. He was not willing to let that “small” fact deter him, when he still had so much more he wanted to give back by revealing the true Afghanistan to the world.

“I am a documentary filmmaker,” he tells me. “Like all of us documentary filmmakers, I am on the hunt for stories that are going to give the audience insight into something they may not know that much about. My mom, you met her in the film, is a bloody legend. She raised me to always speak out for the underdog. Having always been an underdog myself, growing up queer in a small rural town in Australia, I’ve always had an underdog affiliation. I’ve lived in Jordan, Palestine, and Afghanistan, all underdog countries. Making films in these countries, especially Afghanistan, is an absolute gift. Afghanistan is largely undiscovered in many ways and the headlines we see in the media are only one dimension of the country. It is a complex, multi-dimensional country that blows your mind the more you get to know it. Being a filmmaker in Afghanistan is the best chapter of my life I have ever had.”

As to his own identity, Jordan says, “I love being trans. I do not see myself as being a man or a woman. I see myself as being a cluster-fuck of both and everything in between. “ While Joran has gender-affirming surgery in the film, he still celebrates the decades that he lived as a nongender individual within a female presenting body. 

For her part, Monica felt a responsibility as a journalist to capture this piece of history, even though she did not have the same privilege that Jordan experienced. A paradox of the film shows is how Jordan gains more freedom in this toxic masculine world as he transitions, than Monica. The film deftly chronicles the increasing oppression of women as the Taliban transitions to power. Monica experiences this firsthand as her freedoms become more limited operating behind the camera. “I was with Jordan, Kiana, and Teddy for some of the filming where I could have freedom of movement as a woman, but when Jordan was traveling with the Taliban unit, but when they went remote, I had to stay back in a hotel. They had to go through various Taliban checkpoints where I could not be in the car, I could not be seen because I am a woman. I was locked up in a hotel, communicating with the crew via telephone messages.” Even with those restrictions, through the team, Monica was able to capture film that showed Afghanistan in way no one around the world had seen before.

(Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Monica points out the most unique aspect of the film: getting a reporter’s viewpoint through a nonbinary lens. She calls out the journalism establishment that has female reporters covering one kind of story, and male reporters who are very “gung ho” covering others. Here you have a nonbinary reporter’s vision being captured. “How Jordan approached people was so interesting. More rich. We wanted to explore these complexities and nuances. How Jordan disarms the Taliban members with his personality, it is very interesting. We would not have gotten that kind of footage and intimacy through another reporter’s eyes.”

Transition is a film about a country being regressed to its prior oppression. It is a film about one man’s transition into his more finely honed authenticity. 

Mostly though, it is a film that will impose a transition on you, the audience member. It will take you from pre-conceived notions about both situations to a deeper more multi-dimensional understanding.

Therefore, Transition is ultimately about truth. Afghanistan’s truth. Jordan’s truth.

And the truth each one of us chooses to see and believe in the world.

Transition had its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival to audience and critical acclaim and has captivated audiences around the world as an Official Selection at Sheffield DocFest, Sydney Film Festival, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Watch Docs Festival and the Human Rights Film Festival where it won the Audience Award.

You can view it on all on-demand platforms.

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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 The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, 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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Theater

Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle announces 2023 award recipients

The 54th Annual ceremony took place on Monday, April 8, 14 different productions were honored, celebrating a wide range of LA theater

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The audience at the THANK YOU FIVE event held at The Matrix Theatre Company stage in October 2023 sponsored by Rogue Machine Theatre, Joshua Bitton and Isidora Goreshter in support of IATSE members affected by the 2023 SAG strike. (Photo Credit: Rogue Machine Theatre/Facebook)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle has announced their award recipients for 2023. Kill Shelter (Theatre of NOTE) received the prestigious Production award, with additional honorees named in 17 other categories. In total, 14 different productions were honored, celebrating a wide range of Los Angeles theater.

Theatre of NOTE’s Kill Shelter and Pasadena Playhouse’s A Little Night Music received the most awards for a single production. Both productions were also factored into Special Awards, with Kill Shelter author Ashley Rose Wellman winning The TED SCHMITT AWARD for the World Premiere of an Outstanding New Play and A Little Night Music being a significant part of The JOEL HIRSCHHORN AWARD for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre winner Pasadena Playhouse’s The Sondheim Celebration.

The 54th Annual ceremony took place on Monday, April 8th at 8 pm PST. For the first time in LADCC history, a presentation was live stream simulcast on both Instagram and Facebook @LADramaCritics. The live replay can still be viewed on the LADCC’s YouTube channel at @ladramacriticscircle3508 or at https://ladramacriticscircle.com/2023-awards/.

As previously announced, the LADCC has named the following Special Award Honorees:The POLLY WARFIELD AWARD for Best Season by a Small to Midsized Theater is given to Rogue Machine: John Perrin Flynn (Producing Artistic Director), Guillermo Cienfuegos (Artistic Director), Elina de Santos (Co-Artistic Director), and Justin Okin (Producing Director).                                                                                                                               

The GORDON DAVIDSON AWARD for Distinguished Contributions to the Los Angeles Theatrical Community is presented to Joseph Stern.

The JOEL HIRSCHHORN AWARD for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre is presented to Pasadena Playhouse for The Sondheim Celebration.

The MILTON KATSELAS AWARD for Career or Special Achievement in Direction is presented to Michael Michetti.

The KINETIC LIGHTING AWARD for distinguished achievement in theatrical design goes to Pablo Santiago who will receive a cash prize from Kinetic Lighting (https://kineticlighting.com/).

The TED SCHMITT AWARD for the World Premiere of an Outstanding New Play is awarded to Ashley Rose Wellman for Kill Shelter (Theatre of Note). Ms. Wellman will also receive a cash prize from our Schmitt Award sponsor, The Black List  (https://blcklst.com/).

The MARGARET HARFORD AWARD for Excellence in Theatre is given to Echo Theater Company, Chris Fields, Founding Artistic Director.

The complete list of award recipients for 2023 is as follows:

PRODUCTION

Kill Shelter; Theatre of NOTE

MCCULLOH AWARD FOR BEST REVIVAL

A Little Night Music; Pasadena Playhouse

DIRECTION

Shaina Rosenthal; Kill Shelter; Theatre of NOTE

WRITING-ORIGINAL Bernardo Cubría; Crabs in a Bucket; Echo Theater Company
Rosie Narasaki; Unrivaled; Playwrights’ Arena and Boston Court Pasadena.                       

WRITING-ADAPTATION

Aaron Posner; Life Sucks; Interact Theatre Company

MUSIC DIRECTION

Alby Potts; A Little Night Music; Pasadena Playhouse

CHOREOGRAPHY 

Joyce Guy; Much Ado About Nothing; A Noise Within

Casey Nicholaw; Mean Girls; Hollywood Pantages Theatre

MUSIC & LYRICS

Michael Shaw Fisher; Exorcistic: The Rock Musical; Orgasmico Theatre Company

LEAD PERFORMANCE

Merle Dandridge; A Little Night Music; Pasadena Playhouse

Edwin Lee Gibson; Fetch Clay, Make Man; Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre

Ashley Romans; Kill Shelter; Theatre of NOTE

FEATURED PERFORMANCE 

Tasha Ames; Do You Feel Anger?; Circle X Theatre Co.

Casey Smith; Do You Feel Anger?; Circle X Theatre Co.

ENSEMBLE

Life Sucks; Interact Theatre Company 

SCENIC DESIGNAlexander Dodge; The Engagement Party; Geffen Playhouse

LIGHTING DESIGN

Dan Weingarten; The Tempest: An Immersive Experience; The Shakespeare Center LA and After Hours Theatre Company

COSTUME DESIGN

Kate Bergh; A Little Night Music; Pasadena Playhouse

Lou Cranch; Crabs in a Bucket; Echo Theater Company

SOUND DESIGN

Alyssa Ishii; Unrivaled; Playwrights’ Arena and Boston Court Pasadena.

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Daniel K. Isaac; Every Brilliant Thing; Geffen Playhouse

PROJECTION / ANIMATION DESIGN (was missing a comma)

Yee Eun Nam; Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum

PUPPET DESIGN

Emory Royston; Kill Shelter; Theatre of NOTE

Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) Info: The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle current officers consist of President Jonas Schwartz-Owen (TheaterMania, BroadwayWorld/LA), Vice President Dana Martin (Stage Raw), Treasurer Hoyt Hilsman (Cultural Daily), Co-Secretaries Martίn Hernández (Stage Raw) and Philip Brandes (Stage Raw, LA Times, Santa Barbara Independent), Website/Social Media Co-Chairs Socks Whitmore (Stage Raw) and Patrick Chavis (LA Theatre Bites, The Orange Curtain Review) and Awards Chair Tracey Paleo (Gia On The Move, BroadwayWorld/LA).

The current 2024 membership of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (in alphabetical order): Lara J. Altunian (Stage Raw, L.A. Dance Chronicle), Philip Brandes (Stage Raw, LA Times, Santa Barbara Independent), Katie Buenneke (Stage Raw, TheaterDigest.substack.com), Patrick Chavis (LA Theatre Bites, The Orange Curtain Review), F. Kathleen Foley (Stage Raw),  Anita W. Harris (LATheatrix.com), Martίn Hernández (Stage Raw), Hoyt Hilsman (Cultural Daily), Travis Michael Holder (TicketHoldersLA.com), Deborah Klugman (Stage Raw), 

Harker Jones (BroadwayWorld/LA), Dana Martin (Stage Raw), Myron Meisel (Stage Raw),                                                                                                                                               Terry Morgan (Stage Raw, ArtsBeatLA.com), Honorary Member Steven Leigh Morris (Stage Raw), Tracey Paleo (GiaOnTheMove.com/ BroadwayWorld/LA), Melinda Schupmann (ShowMag.com, ArtsInLA.com), Jonas Schwartz-Owen (TheaterMania, BroadwayWorld/LA), Don Shirley (Angeles Stage on Substack), and Socks Whitmore (Stage Raw).

Citation Totals by Production

A Little Night Music; Pasadena Playhouse; 4 wins

Kill Shelter; Theatre of NOTE; 4 wins

Life Sucks; Interact Theatre Company; 2 wins

Crabs in a Bucket; Echo Theater Company; 2 wins

Do You Feel Anger?; Circle X Theatre Co.; 2 wins

Unrivaled; Playwrights’ Arena and Boston Court; 2 wins

The Tempest: An Immersive Experience; The Shakespeare Center LA and After Hours Theatre Company; 1 win

Mean Girls; Hollywood Pantages Theatre; 1 win

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum; 1 win

Every Brilliant Thing; Geffen Playhouse; 1 win

Exorcistic: The Rock Musical; Orgasmico Theatre Company; 1 win

Fetch Clay, Make Man; Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre; 1 win

The Engagement Party; Geffen Playhouse; 1 win

Much Ado About Nothing; A Noise Within; 1 win

Citation Totals by Company

Pasadena Playhouse; 4 winsTheatre of NOTE; 4 wins

Center Theatre Group; 2 wins

Interact Theatre Company; 2 wins

Echo Theater Company; 2 wins

Playwrights’ Arena and Boston Court Pasadena.; 2 wins

Circle X Theatre Co.; 2 wins

Geffen Playhouse; 2 wins

The Shakespeare Center LA and After Hours Theatre Company; 1 win

Hollywood Pantages Theatre; 1 win

Orgasmico Theatre Company; 1 win

A Noise Within; 1 win

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Sports

Applause & criticism for Coach Staley’s trans-inclusive stance

“If you’re a woman, you should play. If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports… you should be able to play”

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South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball head coach Dawn Staley. (Screenshot/YouTube NBC News Today)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — If not for a conservative transphobic blogger, this moment should be a celebration of NCAA women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and the women of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

On Sunday, they concluded their undefeated season with a decisive win and a championship title. But when Staley faced reporters before that big game, Outkick’s Dan Zakheske asked her an irrelevant, clickbait question about transgender women in sports, referring to them as “biological males.” 

Staley could have ignored the question, or stated she had no opinion, but instead the legendary coach offered a crystal clear endorsement of trans women competing in women’s sports, something outlawed in her home state of South Carolina for girls in kindergarten through college. 

“I’m of the opinion,” said Staley, “If you’re a woman, you should play. If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play. That’s my opinion.”

Zakheske clearly wasn’t satisfied with that declaration of allyship and Staley swiftly cut him off. 

“You want me to go deeper?” she asked. 

“Do you think transgender women should be able to participate,” he started to say, when the coach stole the ball and took it downtown on a fastbreak. “That’s the question you want to ask? I’ll give you that. Yes. Yes. So, now the barnstormer people are going to flood my timeline and be a distraction to me on one of the biggest days of our game, and I’m okay with that. I really am.” 

Staley is herself a Hall of Fame player a leading voice for diversity. 

Reaction to her comments were swift, from LGBTQ+ rights organizations, athletes and inclusion opponents. 

“Coach Staley simply spoke the truth that trans women are women and should play if they want,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a post on Instagram. “All of us can take a page from Coach Staley’s playbook as a sports leader and as a person of high integrity guided by faith, compassion and common sense.” 

A White House pool reporter revealed President Biden called Coach Staley Sunday evening to congratulate her and the Gamecocks on their championship win. But it’s not clear if she and the president, an outspoken supporter of transgender rights, discussed her remarks on trans athletes. 

A number of Black leaders in the LGBTQ+ movement applauded Staley for taking a stand. 

“Coach Staley has always been a trailblazer, but she’s also shown that true leadership is about advancing justice and equality for everyone,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “By expressing her full-throated support for transgender athletes’ inclusion in sports, she’s sending an important message — our shared humanity matters. 

“Coach Staley showed courage and vulnerability, in choosing to answer the question and make a powerful statement of support for trans people on one of the biggest days and biggest stages in sports history,” said Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in a statement. “Not only does that make her a leader we can all aspire to like, it makes her a class act. She has etched her legacy in the history books with her play, her coaching, her heart and her smarts.”

In congratulating Staley on her championship title victory, Dr. David J. Johns, the CEO and executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, also commended her for “her unwavering advocacy and support for transgender people in sports.” 

“In a time when transgender athetes face unjust scrutiny, discrimination and exclusion from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, her courage to speak truth to power and in support of inclusion and fairness sets a powerful example for us all, and is a testament to her integrity and compassion.”

The NBJC leader was referring to Monday’s announcement by the NAIA, the governing body of athletic programs at small colleges nationwide, voting 20-0 to essentially ban trans women from competing with other women beginning August 1, as ESPN reported.

“It is a shocking and devastating development that the NAIA, an organization that has done so much to open doors, is now slamming those doors shut on transgender athletes,” said Sasha Buchert, Lambda Legal’s senior attorney and director of the organization’s nonbinary and transgender rights project. 

“Instead of standing up in support of transgender young people, the NAIA has simply turned its back on them — permanently depriving them of the benefits of competition. Would that they had the courage of victorious University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who didn’t miss a beat in clarifying that transgender women should be able to play.” 

However, praise for Staley’s stance was not universal. 

Riley Gaines, failed former college swimmer and paid shill for the anti-inclusion organization, Independent Women’s Forum, called Staley “entirely incompetent or a sell-out” on Fox News. “Personally, I don’t think she believes what she said.” 

Gaines has turned her fifth-place tie with out trans NCAA champion Lia Thomas into a career as a crusader against inclusion and a former advisor to the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Val Whiting, a former Stanford University and professional women’s basketball player, tweeted her strong disagreement with Staley. “A lot of my basketball sisters feel differently but trans women do not belong in women’s sports. It’s not fair nor safe for biological women. There has to be another solution for trans women to be able to compete athletically besides having them compete against biological women.” 

Zaksheske’s Outkick colleague, anti-trans pundit David Hookstead, also went all-in with a transphobic post. 

“Dawn Staley says she supports men who identify as women competing against real women in sports. Her view could literally destroy women’s basketball forever. Why won’t more people stand up for women?”

Hookstead then boasted that Staley blocked his account. 

South Carolina Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace retweeted Zaksheske’s account of his interaction with Staley, calling her support of trans athletes “absolute lunacy.” That in turn won praise from Caitlyn Jenner, who retweeted Whiting and posted her thanks to Rep. Mace, along with this comment: “There is nothing complicated about this issue!” 

What is complicated is that Jenner has never explained why she has competed with cisgender women in golf ever since her transition almost a decade ago. 

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Theater

Monsters of the American Cinema

Monsters of the American Cinema, Rogue Machine Theatre’s latest show, brings queer family horror to the LA stage

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Logan Leonardo Arditty & Kevin Daniels (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Boundaries between blood, race, and sexuality are tested to their limits in Rogue Machine Theatre’s newest production, Christian St Croix’s Monsters of the American Cinema, opening April 6 in West Hollywood.

In Monsters, Remy Washington, a gay Black man whose husband has recently died, finds himself navigating single parenthood to his husband’s white teenage son, Pup, while managing solo ownership of a drive-in cinema. While Remy and Pup bond over their love of classic horror movies, their relationship comes under strain when Remy learns that Pup has been bullying a gay kid at school. 

Kevin Daniels and Logan Leonardo (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

San Diego-based playwright St. Croix says he was inspired to write the play by the diverse family types he sees in his everyday life.

“We’re beginning to tell more and more stories about LGBTQ parents the new monsters of some of those relationships,” he says. “I wanted to share the spotlight on the gay parent who isn’t the biological parent of the child and oftentimes doesn’t share blood or even skin.”

Setting the play around a drive-in theatre and using classic horror movies as a motif allows St. Croix to challenge American cultural norms using major symbols of Americana.

“I wanted to create more stories centered around these symbols of Americana and how those of us who are outside the idea of what these things were created for – gay people, Black people – interact with them,” he says.

He says he was inspired to write the play after a sleepless night led him to catch the classic 1954 horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon on late-night TV.  

“The effects are so cheesy in that movie. It’s so old it’s so corny, but at the time when it was released, I imagine it terrified people. And it got me to thinking about things that once terrified audiences, and the stories that can be created from that.”

Logan Leonardo Arditty and Kevin Daniels (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

One of the interesting choices in Monsters is telling a story about homophobic bullying where the bully is centered. St. Croix says he wanted to present a take on bullying that isn’t often seen or discussed.

“You know how they say that oftentimes bullies are coming from a bad home life themselves? Or, if they’re anti-gay, they must be gay themselves? I wanted to explore that idea because I found with my experience with a being bullied…I found that none of those things turned out to be true,” he says. “A lot of the time, their home life is okay, you know? They’re not reenacting something that they’re experiencing at home. Something else is going on.”

Christian St Croix (Photo by Jay Henslee)

The play has won plaudits for its deft blending of comedy, drama, and magical realism, as well as its handling of racial and sexual taboos in productions across the country since premiering in Seattle in 2022. It also won the 2021 Carlo Annoni Prize, one of the largest international honors for queer playwrighting.

For the Los Angeles premiere, St. Croix has mostly stayed out of the production process, but he says he’s excited to see what the cast and director John Perrin Flynn have created. He says he’s long been a fan of Kevin Daniels, who plays the grieving husband Remy.

“I met him the first time in the callbacks and I told him I’m a fan of your work, and I think he thought I was just being nice, and it’s like, ‘No, bro. I’ve seen you on Frasier, Why Women Kill, Council of Dads,’” he says. “We’re social media buds now and we he sends me pictures of the rehearsals. We share music ideas. We actually teamed up together to do a mix tape to kind of accompany the show.”

“Logan Leonardo, our Pup, is a phenomenal young actor. He absolutely killed it in his call backs,” he says.

Kevin Daniels and Logan Leonardo Arditty (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

St. Croix says he wants people who see his play to take away the message that they have to confront the monsters in their lives and themselves.

“They surround us. We can’t escape them. But there are Pockets where  you have to connect with the other, you know be the co-workers or, in the case of Monsters, family.”

Monsters of the American Cinema produced by Rogue Machine Theatre, plays at the Matrix, 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, from Apr 6 to May 19, Fri-Mon only.

Tickets at https://www.roguemachinetheatre.org/

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Movies

Star turn makes excellent ‘Ripley’ a showcase for Andrew Scott

Reasserting the queerness of an author who boldly pushed boundaries

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Andrew Scott stars in ‘Ripley.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

There’s something about an anti-hero that appeals to us all. Why else would so many of our greatest stories revolve around a character whose behavior goes against everything we’ve been raised to believe is right?

Actually, that question probably answers itself. For many of us, the things we are raised to accept about life in the human world often feel less acceptable once we’ve gone through a few years of adult experience, which tends to put us at odds with the so-called “norms” of conformity. Naturally, this can be frustrating from time to time – and while that might not be enough to make us go “rogue” without regard law or ethics, it’s certainly sufficient to fuel our guilty fantasies.

That, along with the literary skills of Patricia Highsmith, the queer novelist who created him, is why the character of Tom Ripley has been engrossing us in various forms for nearly 75 years. The eponymous anti-hero of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (originally published in 1955) went on to feature in three additional books by Highsmith, and was subsequently brought to life in multiple small-and-big-screen incarnations, perhaps most prominently by Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film adaptation. These versions managed to skirt the book’s obvious queer subtext, but queer audiences recognized it anyway. Now, thanks to creator, writer, and director Steve Zaillian, Highsmith’s starry-eyed sociopath has returned in an eight-episode series – which pares the title down to the short-but-evocative “Ripley” – that debuts on Netflix April 4, and portrays his adventures with an eye toward honoring Highsmith’s intent while delivering the kind of up-front queerness that the author could never have dreamed of accomplishing in her heyday.

Not that this “Ripley” is exactly “out and proud,” though the actor who plays him – Andrew Scott (“All of Us Strangers”) – certainly is. The acclaimed Irish thespian brings his own queerness to the table in illuminating a character whose survival depends on never calling attention to himself – and though the series moves the action ahead a few years to1960, it’s still a world where any hint of “deviance” is likely to draw suspicion. That’s the last thing Tom Ripley needs; he’s a con artist, the mid-20th-century equivalent of modern-day “phishing” scammers, grifting gullible marks from his squalid, one-room New York City apartment. He’s good at what he does, an anonymous figure hiding in a sea of strangers – but when a wealthy shipping magnate tracks him down with a request for help and the offer of an all-expenses-paid excursion to Italy, he sees it as an opportunity to change his life for the better.

That opportunity, as it turns out, involves a barely remembered college acquaintance named Dickie (Johnny Flynn), whose post-graduation trip to Europe has become a years-long vacation on the Mediterranean coast from which his father – Ripley’s surprise benefactor – would like him to return. Sent on a mission to convince his old schoolmate to go home, he is instead spellbound by the idyllic seaside setting and opulent lifestyle that surrounds him – and also by Dickie himself. He ingratiates himself into the young man’s life, winning his sympathies despite some initial awkwardness. Not so easily persuaded is Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge (Dakota Fanning), whose lingering distrust must be overcome if Ripley is to enact his new master plan to claim Dickie’s life of expatriate luxury as his own.

Thanks to its source’s relative familiarity, “Ripley” makes no effort to hide the fact that its anti-hero is a shady guy; we see from the start that he’s a liar and an opportunist. What Zaillian manages to do, unlike others who have adapted the novel, is move past a clinical focus on Ripley’s psychology to give us a less prosaic – and therefore more complex – interpretation of the character. Much of this comes from a script that echoes Highsmith’s hard-boiled style by framing the story (and its protagonist) in a shadowy, amoral universe, enhanced by the stylish black-and-white treatment delivered by Robert Elswit’s cinematography, which leans into both the paradigm-challenging Euro “art cinema” from the period of its setting and the gritty chiaroscuro contrasts of film noir, setting up an instinctual understanding that this narrative, like its visuals, is composed entirely in shades of gray.

In the show’s engrossing first episode, this is a particularly effective hook, style coupling with context to underscore the bleakness of Ripley’s daily routine in New York, which is no less soul-crushing, perhaps, than the more lawful ones into which most of us are locked. Though we see that he’s a predator, it’s hard not to relate to his struggle, and by the time we get to the next chapter and meet Dickie and Marge, we’ve already entered a mindset in which easy ethical judgments become unconvincing and shallow. Our sympathies are effectively split; we’re either on nobody’s side or on everyone’s, and maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Needless to say, perhaps, this tricky transference would not be possible without the presence of a consummate actor in the title role, and Scott fits the bill beyond expectation. Though at first he reads as a bit old for the character, that notion quickly disperses – indeed, his weathered features bespeak the effects of a hard-knock life, the kind that makes a person willing to do anything to break free. More crucially, the unmistakable authenticity of his inner life is communicated with exquisite precision, engaging our empathy even as we recoil from the Machiavellian logic that guides him, and the clear conflict between his not-so-hidden feelings for Dickie and the agenda to which he has committed is made all the more stark by the ring of queer truth that underpins the performance. It’s a tour-de-force turn by an actor whose skills become more breathtaking with each subsequent role.

Fanning, whose equally adept performance provides a powerful counterpoint to Scott’s, is a strong contender for our sympathies, by virtue as much of the intelligence she brings as the peril into which it will eventually put her, and Flynn’s Dickie wears the weight and damage of his upper class status like a chain he can never quite break, making us dread the seemingly inevitable fate that awaits him even as we subliminally sign on to Ripley’s endgame with a sense of guilty (but unapologetic) satisfaction. Also notable is nonbinary actor Eliot Summers (child of former Police frontman Sting), who brings another level of queer identity into the narrative as another old acquaintance of Dickie’s that throws an unwelcome wrench into the works of Ripley’s plan.

Based on its first two episodes, “Ripley” certainly lives up to the anticipation that naturally awaits any adaptation of a high-profile story, and reasserts the queerness of an author who boldly pushed boundaries as far as censors of her time would allow. That’s more than enough to warrant staying with it until the end – and, if audience numbers warrant a renewal, through additional installments that might chronicle the less well-known escapades spun in Highsmith’s sequels. What cinches the deal, though, is the masterful performance that takes centerstage, which represents yet another escalation – and well-deserved triumph – in the rise of the talented Mr. Scott.

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Books

Story of paralysis and survival features queer characters

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ opens your eyes and makes you think

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(Book cover image courtesy of University of Wisconsin Press)

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ 
By Barbara Ridley
c.2024, University of Wisconsin Press
$19.95 / 227 pages

It happened in a heartbeat.

A split-second, a half a breath, that’s all it took. It was so quick, so sharp-edged that you can almost draw a line between before and after, between then and now. Will anything ever be the same again? Perhaps, but maybe not. As in the new book “Unswerving” by Barbara Ridley, things change, and so might you.

She could remember lines, hypnotizing yellow ones spaced on a road, and her partner, Les, asleep in the seat beside her. It was all so hazy. Everything Tave Greenwich could recall before she woke up in a hospital bed felt like a dream.

It was as though she’d lost a month of her life.

“Life,” if you even wanted to call it that, which she didn’t. Tave’s hands resembled claws bent at the wrist. Before the accident, she was a talented softball catcher but now she could barely get her arms to raise above her shoulders. She could hear her stomach gurgle, but she couldn’t feel it. Paralyzed from the chest down, Tave had to have help with even the most basic care.

She was told that she could learn some skills again, if she worked hard. She was told that she’d leave rehab some day soon. What nobody told her was how Les, Leslie, her partner, girlfriend, love, was doing after the accident.

Physical therapist Beth Farringdon was reminded time and again not to get over-involved with her patients, but she saw something in Tave that she couldn’t ignore. Beth was on the board of directors of a group that sponsored sporting events for disabled athletes; she knew people who could serve as role models for Tave, and she knew that all this could ease Tave’s adjustment into her new life. It was probably not entirely in her job description, but Beth couldn’t stop thinking of ways to help Tave who, at 23, was practically a baby.

She could, for instance, take Tave on outings or help find Les – even though it made Beth’s own girlfriend, Katy, jealous.

So, here’s a little something to know before you start reading “Unswerving”: author Barbara Ridley is a former nurse-practitioner who used to care for patients with spinal cord injuries. That should give readers a comfortable sense of satisfaction, knowing that her experiences give this novel an authenticity that feels right and rings true, no faking.

But that’s not the only appeal of this book: while there are a few minor things that might have readers shaking their heads (HIPAA, anyone?), Ridley’s characters are mostly lifelike and mostly likable. Even the nasties are well done and the mysterious character that’s there-not-there boosts the appeal. Put everyone together, twist a little bit to the left, give them some plotlines that can’t ruined by early guessing, and you’ve got a quick-read novel that you can enjoy and feel good about sharing.

And share you will because this is a book that may also open a few eyes and make readers think. Start “Unswerving” and you’ll (heart) it.

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

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Notables

Ella Matthes, publisher of Lesbian News Magazine, dies at 81

Longtime publisher and editor of Lesbian News Magazine, Matthes successfully ran Lesbian News Magazine from 1994 until 2022

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Ella Matthes, longtime publisher and editor of Lesbian News Magazine. (Photo: Gladi Adams/the June Mazer Archives, West Hollywood)

LOS ANGELES – Ella Matthes, longtime publisher and editor of Lesbian News Magazine, passed away from a heart attack on March 16, 2024 at The Little Company of Mary hospital in Norwalk, California. She was 81 years old.

Matthes successfully ran Lesbian News Magazine from 1994 until 2022. The Lesbian News, more commonly known as the LN, had the distinction and responsibility of being North America’s longest running lesbian publication. Founded in 1975 in Southern California by Jinx Beer, LN began as the lone voice for lesbian issues and evolved throughout the years under Matthes’ leadership to become the nation’s foremost voice for lesbians of all ages. 

Some of the iconic cover stories have included names such as Melissa Etheridge, kd lang, Ellen DeGeneres, Marlee Matlin, Hillary Clinton, Toni Braxton, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Judith Light, and Janet McTeer. 

Her numerous contributions to the LGBTQ+ community earned her a slew of recognitions and awards. She was the recipient of the 2002 Women’s Night Gay & Lesbian Center’s “Lesbian & Bisexual Women Active in Community Empowerment Award;” the 2002 “Business Alliance of Los Angeles Community Involvement Award;” the 2003 Southern California Women for Understanding “Community Service Award;” and the 2012 Vox Femina Los Angeles “Aria Award.” 

A native of Los Angeles, California, Matthes graduated from Dorcey High School and attended UCLA for a brief period. She played the saxophone in high school and was a competition bowler for many years. 

At the young age of fifteen, she went to work at Great Western Savings in the print shop and developed a passion for printing. By the time she was in her twenties, she purchased Superior Printers and ran it for decades. However, something else kept tugging at her heartstrings. Ella felt lesbians weren’t receiving a lot of support and visibility and wanted to do something about it. So, in 1994, she purchased Lesbian News Magazine from Deborah Bergman who had acquired it from its original owner, Jinx Beers. 

Ella Matthes built a mission statement around her vision for all lesbians. “The editorial vision of the LN has always been to inform, entertain, and be of service to women who love women of all ages, economic class, and color. We hope women from all walks of life will not only find something of themselves in the LN, but also be accepting of those with differing opinions. Lesbian News is our small contribution to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liberation movement.”

She is survived by her brother Carl Matthes and her wife Gladi Adams. Ella and Gladi had been together for 26 years and married July 13, 2013.

Donations in her name can be made to the June Mazer Archives in West Hollywood, CA.

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Events

Guide to Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite

On April 11, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT), Pride Nite tickets will go on sale to the general public, subject to availability

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Photo Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort)

BURBANK, Calif. – Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite returns to the Disneyland Resort for its second year with colorful celebrations, joyful photo opportunities, event merchandise, fabulous food and divine drinks.

As  previously shared, this separately ticketed, after-hours event will be held at Disneyland park on June 18 and 20, 2024. Today, we’re excited to share more details about the fun you can expect at this event, plus information on when tickets will go on sale! 

Themed Entertainment, Food and More Coming to Pride Nite

Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community, bringing allies and community members together as Disneyland park is illuminated with rainbow projections. In addition to the colorful décor, here’s just some of the entertainment, photo opportunities and themed menu items in store for you: 

  • As the evening begins, direct your attention to the skies above The Happiest Place on Earth as you view an inspirational display of colors, pyrotechnics and music during the Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite Fireworks – WELCOME!   
  • The Welcome Pride Cavalcade invites you to celebrate with favorite characters Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Clarabelle in their multicolor outfits for an upbeat procession through Disneyland park. 
  • Whirl, twirl, sparkle and sway under the stars at the Pride Nite Dance Club along the Rivers of America. 
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite – Ohana Dance Party 
Everyone’s favorite extraterrestrial, Stitch, leads the Ohana Dance Party in Tomorrowland, where a DJ will be spinning tunes to celebrate “ohana” – family.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite – Country Line Dancing 
If your feet favor a twist to a western beat, be sure to join the Country Line Dancing at The Golden Horseshoe.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite Food and Beverage – Funnel Cake with Cereal Milk and Multi-Colored Marshmallow Cereal Topping 
Enjoy savory snacks and sweets curated specially for the party, including these new items: Key Lime Pudding and Red Berry Sangria at River Belle Terrace, 5 Spice Popcorn Chicken at The Tropical Hideaway, Funnel Cake with Cereal Milk and Multi-Colored Marshmallow Cereal Topping at Stage Door Café and Firecracker Loaded Fries at Hungry Bear Restaurant, to name a few! Specialty menu items will also be available at Cafe Orleans and additionally, Plaza Inn will offer a dining package which includes reserved viewing for both the fireworks and cavalcade. Reservations are recommended and can be booked online soon on Disneyland.com.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite at Disneyland Park
(Photo Credit: Disney Parks)

Each Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite event begins with a three-hour pre-party mix-in at Disneyland park from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT before the party officially begins. In addition to all the themed fun brought to life just for the party, you’ll have the opportunity to ride some popular attractions after regular park hours, often with less wait times! Your admission also includes commemorative keepsakes such as a Pride Nite credential and an event guide map, plus unlimited digital downloads of Disney PhotoPass photos taken throughout the event.* 

Immersive photo opportunities throughout Disneyland park allow you to step into the story with photo backdrops inspired by Disney characters and films. (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)

Tickets On Sale Soon, with Magic Key Pre-Sale Opportunities

On April 9, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT) all Magic Key holders will have the opportunity to purchase Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite tickets from a select amount of pre-sale tickets on Disneyland.com. Then, on April 11, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT), Pride Nite tickets will go on sale to the general public, subject to availability. ** 

 If you’re waiting in the online queue to purchase tickets, don’t forget the new option to be digitally notified when it’s your time to enter the ticket store. Once in the queue, choose the “notify me” option and enter your email address. You’ll receive an email letting you know it’s your turn.*** 

We hope to see you at Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite! 

* Disney PhotoPass® digital photo downloads exclude separately priced Disney PhotoPass® packages and products offered at select locations. Disney PhotoPass® service is subject to the Disney PhotoPass® Terms and Conditions and expiration policy found at https://disneyland.disney.go.com/photopass-terms-conditions/. Online registration required. 

**The number of tickets available for each event date are limited, and event tickets are valid only for the specific event date and hours. Only select attractions, experiences, offerings, and services will be available during the event. Offer, event, and event elements are subject to restrictions, change or cancellation without notice or liability.  

***Guests will have 10 minutes to use the link to return to the site from when their turn begins, or they will lose their place in line and will need to re-join the queue at the back of the line.  The link will no longer be valid once their turn has ended or after they have used the link to return to the side, whether they purchase tickets or not.  If this happens, guests will need to re-join the queue at the back of the line.  Guests should check spam and/or junk folders to ensure the initial email confirmation is sent. 

Visit Disneyland.com/updates for important information to know before visiting the Disneyland Resort. 

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