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Arts & Entertainment

Eric McCormack, Laurie Metcalf and more headline Concert for America

Melissa Benoist, Chris Wood, Grant Gustin join the lineup

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Eric McCormack (Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)

“Will and Grace” star Eric McCormack and Tony winner Laurie Metcalf are among the headliners for Concert for America, a benefit concert for the National Immigration Law Center, at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Sept. 21.

Other recently announced performers include “Supergirl” co-stars and newlywed couple Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood, Grant Gustin (“The Flash”),Tony nominee Liz Callaway (“Anastasia”), Grammy Award-winning singer Melissa Manchester, Caroline Rhea (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Gina Torres (“Suits”).

Billy Porter, Rachel Bay Jones, Jane Lynch, Kate Flannery, Cheyenne Jackson, Wayne Brady and Marcia Cross were previously announced as co-headliners.

The concert, organized by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, aims to raise funds for the National Immigration Law Center to aid low-income immigrants and their families. Tickets range from $25-$50 and can be purchased here. 

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Music & Concerts

Here is the Earth Day anthem we forgot we needed

Singer/songwriter Anne Stotts releases Water to Blood as our collective call to action as we mark Earth Day

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Anne Stott/Los Angeles Blade

HOLLYWOOD – The evolution of Earth Day, from its inception in 1970 to the global movement it is today, has been accelerated by dire and extreme climate change events that do not seem to have garnered the political attention they deserve. Cataclysmic events have underscored the reality of global warming in the face of industries and populists who want to deny it. 

Earth Day 2024 is a day that united millions in the past and continues to inspire action towards environmental sustainability and conservation today.

As glaciers melt and weather systems buckle, we need a call-to-action anthem. Just as We Are the World unified hearts and minds against famine and starvation, we need to blast the climate change cause to reach souls where other agendas may be keeping their minds in the dark. Music transcends barriers, connecting with people on an emotional level and inspiring change in ways that statistics and reports cannot. 

Anne Stott’s Water to Blood is the anthem we need this Earth Day. It strives to inspire us all, and the powers that be, to address the climate crisis NOW.

You can squeeze the earth til it’s dry and the people til they’re weak, build a wall so high you can’t hear the screams, but so far we’ve had fires, floods and now the plague. This empire’s dying cause it can’t face change. The time’s here now, it’s not coming… it’s come.           Water to Blood

Incisive. Vibrant. Dramatic. Anne Stott is a singer/songwriter of cinematic alt-rock, an actor, and an apolitical rabble-rouser. Her “bad girl to the good girls and good girl to the bad girls” energy infuses her music and live performances with edgy compassion while her elastic style embraces eighties pop and nineties grunge infused with a modern moody atmosphere.

Produced by Blondie/Rufus Wainwright producer Barb Morrison, the Water to Blood anthem smashes the psyche to its core, leaving the listener energized, motivated, and with a sense of urgency that too much time has passed to ignore our collective environmental crisis any longer.

“The Right Wing is so GOOD at spinning,” Anne Stott tells me when we sat down for the Rated LGBT Radio podcast. “My hope for this song is that it will motivate people who haven’t been engaged in climate change to get more active and it will be a comfort and it will help rejuvenate and energize those who have been devoting their lives to make change. I think the production of the song combined with the lyrics creates a nice synergy of political takedown and an optimistic, motivational vibe. And I definitely have both of those sides. I am always deeply moved by people standing up for what is right and if this song can contribute to people’s struggle to protect our future on this planet that would make me really happy”

As a quirky queer singer-songwriter and film actress that splits her time between Cape Cod and New York City,  Anne wields a unique worldview as someone who was formed by growing up internationally.

Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Luxembourg and moved to the UK, then Minnesota and New York City.  She moved to Provincetown in 2007 for a writing retreat for a few months and ended up staying. She busked in the street outside of the town hall and got discovered by director David Drake, who cast her in a play at the local art house. 

She was involved in political activism (she was a member of the Lesbian Avengers) but “hit a wall” because she wanted to do something more creative. She has released two albums of original music, Love Never Dies and Pennsylvania.

Who does she see as the biggest villains against a climate change solution? Big Plastics, and Big Oil. “The plastics industry and the oil industry are going to hold on to their propaganda until they can milk every penny they can from the planet,” she says.

Being in New York City when wildfires in the east clouded the sky, Anne was impacted. “It was like something out of a horror movie,” she recalls. “We HAVE to stop calling these things anomalies. The anomalies are no longer ‘anomalies’. I have to stop myself from calling these ‘distinct events’, no, this is the normal now and it is really scary, and it is really hard to own that.”

Is there hope? “I am very inspired by the youth movements around climate change. They are not as big in the news right now, but there is a lot of engagement with people in their 20s and their teens, and that is very inspiring.”

“I think of the government coming together for the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. We need that level of commitment, drive, and expertise to come together to look at this from all angles. People want to do more, but we have shaped this culture around convenience, and it is hard to walk that back individually,” she adds.

 When she is not saving the world, Anne and her music is a bewitching synergy between Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde, performing sincere and engaging personal songs as well as those about social change and political takedown.

The Water to Blood climate change track launches today to coincide with Earth Day. It will be also on her upcoming album Watershed Synapse Experience which comes out in September. (Also produced by Barb Morrison).

In the meantime, she will be releasing more singles from thought-provokers on racism, to a hot dance track. While you wait, download Water to Blood, turn up the volume and wake up everyone in listening distance.

Literally and figuratively – because the crisis isn’t coming, it’s come.

Watch:

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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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Online Culture

LGBTQ+ casual encounters app Grindr switches up

With Roam, you will be able to temporarily place your profile in a new location ahead of travel and form local connections before you arrive.

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Grindr/Los Angeles Blade graphic

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The world’s largest LGBTQ+ casual encounters app announced last week that it was introducing a new feature that expands its connective capacities. The West Hollywood based company noted that users have identified new uses for the app, ranging from long-term relationships and networking to local discovery and travel advice.

Grindr says that its app is the connective tissue for the gay community all over the world, including in many countries where it is illegal to be gay. 

In a company blog article written by George Arison, Grindr’s Chief Executive Officer published on April 16, he stated:

For decades, the global LGBTQ+ community has physically connected in cities around the world, creating hubs, or Gayborhoods, for local gay, bi, trans, and queer people to freely express themselves, enjoy a sense of safety and intimacy, and foster community through spaces created specifically for us

However, not all of us are able to access a physical Gayborhood

[…] We’re announcing Roam, a new feature that allows you to temporarily place your profile in a new location ahead of a trip. Roam is the first of many future Gayborhood features we are launching, and it unlocks new travel functionality to bring you one step closer to other Grindr users around the globe

Roam allows you to ‘visit’ a new geography to explore other profiles, be seen by members of the local community, and chat with people in that location. Roam is currently in testing in several markets and will be launching broadly later this year.

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Movies

After 25 years, a forgotten queer classic reemerges in 4K glory

Screwball rom-com ‘I Think I Do’ finds new appreciation

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Alexis Arquette and Christian Maelen in ‘I Think I Do.’ (Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing)

In 2024, with queer-themed entertainment available on demand via any number of streaming services, it’s sometimes easy to forget that such content was once very hard to find.

It wasn’t all that long ago, really. Even in the post-Stonewall ‘70s and ‘80s, movies or shows – especially those in the mainstream – that dared to feature queer characters, much less tell their stories, were branded from the outset as “controversial.” It has been a difficult, winding road to bring on-screen queer storytelling into the light of day – despite the outrage and protest from bigots that, depressingly, still continues to rear its ugly head against any effort to normalize queer existence in the wider culture.

There’s still a long way to go, of course, but it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come – and to recognize the efforts of those who have fought against the tide to pave the way. After all, progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and if not for the queer artists who have hustled to bring their projects to fruition over the years, we would still be getting queer-coded characters as comedy relief or tragic victims from an industry bent on protecting its bottom line by playing to the middle, instead of the (mostly) authentic queer-friendly narratives that grace our screens today.

The list of such queer storytellers includes names that have become familiar over the years, pioneers of the “Queer New Wave” of the ‘90s like Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Gregg Araki, or Bruce LaBruce, whose work at various levels of the indie and “underground” queer cinema movement attracted enough attention  – and, inevitably, notoriety – to make them known, at least by reputation, to most audiences within the community today.

But for every “Poison” or “The Living End” or “Hustler White,” there are dozens of other not-so-well-remembered queer films from the era; mostly screened at LGBTQ film festivals like LA’s Outfest or San Francisco’s Frameline, they might have experienced a flurry of interest and the occasional accolade, or even a brief commercial release on a handful of screens, before slipping away into fading memory. In the days before streaming, the options were limited for such titles; home video distribution was a costly proposition, especially when there was no guarantee of a built-in audience, so most of them disappeared into a kind of cinematic limbo – from which, thankfully, they are beginning to be rediscovered.

Consider, for instance, “I Think I Do,” the 1998 screwball romantic comedy by writer/director Brian Sloan that was screened last week – in a newly restored 4K print undertaken by Strand Releasing – in Brooklyn as the Closing Night Selection of NewFest’s “Queering the Canon” series. It’s a film that features the late trans actor and activist Alexis Arquette in a starring, pre-transition role, as well as now-mature gay heartthrob Tuc Watkins and out queer actor Guillermo Diaz in supporting turns, but for over two decades has been considered as little more than a footnote in the filmographies of these and the other performers in its ensemble cast. It deserves to be seen as much more than that, and thanks to a resurgence of interest in the queer cinema renaissance from younger film buffs in the community, it’s finally getting that chance.

Set among a circle of friends and classmates at Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University, it’s a comedic – yet heartfelt and nuanced – story of love left unrequited and unresolved between two roommates, openly gay Bob (Arquette) and seemingly straight Brendan (Christian Maelen), whose relationship in college comes to an ugly and humiliating end at a Valentine’s Day party before graduation. A few years later, the gang is reunited for the wedding of Carol (Luna Lauren Vélez) and Matt (Jamie Harrold), who have been a couple since the old days. Bob, now a TV writer engaged to a handsome soap opera star (Watkins), is the “maid” of honor, while old gal pals Beth (Maddie Corman) and Sarah (Marianne Hagan), show up to fill out the bridal party and pursue their own romantic interests. When another old friend, Eric (Diaz), shows up with Brendan unexpectedly in tow, it sparks a behind-the-scenes scenario for the events of the wedding, in which Bob is once again thrust into his old crush’s orbit and confronted with lingering feelings that might put his current romance into question – especially since the years between appear to have led Brendan to a new understanding about his own sexuality.

In many ways, it’s a film with the unmistakable stamp of its time and provenance, a low-budget affair shot at least partly under borderline “guerilla filmmaking” conditions and marked by a certain “collegiate” sensibility that results in more than a few instances of aggressively clever dialogue and a storytelling agenda that is perhaps a bit too heavily packed. Yet at the same time, these rough edges give it a raw, DIY quality that not only makes any perceived sloppiness forgivable, but provides a kind of “outsider” vibe that it wears like a badge of honor. Add to this a collection of likable performances – including Arquette, in a winning turn that gets us easily invested in the story, and Maelen, whose DeNiro-ish looks and barely concealed sensitivity make him swoon-worthy while cementing the palpable chemistry between them  – and Sloan’s 25-year-old blend of classic Hollywood rom-com and raunchy ‘90s sex farce reveals itself to be a charming, wiser-than-expected piece of entertainment, with an admirable amount of compassion and empathy for even its most stereotypical characters – like Watkins’ soap star, a walking trope of vainglorious celebrity made more fully human than appearances would suggest by the actor’s honest, emotionally intelligent performance – that leaves no doubt its heart is in the right place.

Sloan, remarking about it today, confirms that his intention was always to make a movie that was more than just frothy fluff. “While the film seems like a glossy rom-com, I always intended an underlying message about the gay couple being seen as equals to the straight couple getting married,” he says. “ And the movie is also set in Washington to underline the point.”

He also feels a sense of gratitude for what he calls an “increased interest from millennials and Gen Z in these [classic queer indie] films, many of which they are surprised to hear about from that time, especially the comedies.” Indeed, it was a pair of screenings with Queer Cinema Archive that “garnered a lot of interest from their followers,” and “helped to convince my distributor to bring the film back” after being unavailable for almost 10 years.

Mostly, however, he says “I feel very lucky that I got to make this film at that time and be a part of that movement, which signaled a sea change in the way LGBTQ characters were portrayed on screen.”

Now, thanks to Strand’s new 4K restoration, which will be available for VOD streaming on Amazon and Apple starting April 19, his film is about to be accessible to perhaps a larger audience than ever before.

Hopefully, it will open the door for the reappearance of other iconic-but-obscure classics of its era and help make it possible for a whole new generation to discover them.

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Celebrity News

Jodie Foster honored at TCL’s Chinese Theatre handprint event

Foster holds the distinction of being the 2nd person to win multiple Oscars before age 30 & the only openly LGBTQ woman to win 2 Oscars

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Jodie Foster at her Hand & Footprint Ceremony outside Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre Friday, April 19, 2024. (Screenshot/YouTube ET)

HOLLYWOOD – Celebrated Oscar winning actor Jodie Foster marked her 10th wedding anniversary to her wife director Alexandra Hedison with her addition to a legendary list of Hollywood stars, by leaving her hand and footprints in cement outside Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday.

The ceremony was emceed by her longtime pal and friend actor Jamie Lee Curtis and Turner Classic Movies host, television personality Benjamin Mankiewicz. As she added her handprints, footprints, and autograph to the cement casting she took her shoes off and went barefoot.

“The person that I have to thank the most, really, is my wife Alex, who I cannot believe was so generous to give up our 10-year anniversary day to come and do this with me,” said Foster, adding, “This is my life,” she told the standing room only crowd. “I love my life, and I’m so grateful that all of you guys think I’m OK.”

Foster’s over fifty year career in Hollywood has seen her win Oscars for her performances in the category of Best Actress for 1988’s film The Accused and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. She was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress for the 1977 film Taxi Driver, 1995’s Nell. This past year Foster was nominated for her role as Best Supporting Actress in 2023’s Nyad.

Nyad, is a biographical sports drama film about sixty-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad’s multiple attempts in the early 2010s to swim the Straits of Florida, starred Annette Bening in the leading role as Foster portrayed Bonnie Stoll as Nyad’s athletic trainer. 

Also attending Friday’s ceremony was Diana Nyad who stood alongside Foster’s wife.

Foster holds the distinction of being the second person to win multiple Oscars before the age of 30. She is also the only openly LGBTQ woman to win two Academy Awards for acting, although she was not publicly out until after both wins.

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Books

Rob Anderson knows you think he’s annoying

The Blade sat down with the Instagram comedian and “Gay Science” author about viral fame, cringe comedy, and why gay men can’t sit in chairs

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In an out-of-character moment, Rob Anderson is seated properly on the grand stairs in West Hollywood Park. (Photo by of Rob Salerno)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Rob Anderson understands why you might’ve blocked him. Over the last four years, Anderson has attracted more than four million followers across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.

But as he launches his latest book, Gay Science, collecting and expanding on his viral comedy video series that examines gay stereotypes through the “totally scientific method,” he’s become pretty blasé about the pitfalls of being promoted by the social media algorithms.

Anderson says he understands that despite his enormous success, the various social media platforms often push content at people who aren’t interested.

“I guess it is so annoying,” he says with a laugh. “So when people block me, I’m never like, ‘Ew.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s annoying. I get it,” 

“When I first started making videos and then my followers were growing, I was blocking people left and right and for the same reason. I don’t hate them. It’s annoying to see this thing on my feed,” he says. “Those Instagay couples that were always taking pictures. I blocked all of them.”

Anderson spoke to The Blade in West Hollywood, where he’s in town to promote Gay Science at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with a panel discussion on “The Gay Agenda” on April 21 – two days before the book becomes available at bookstores everywhere. 

He says he created the “Gay Science” video series to poke fun at and reclaim stereotypes about gay men.

“I made my first video about why gay men like iced coffee because I wanted to have fun with those sorts of stereotypes I find online. Like why do gay guys run like that? Why do they write like girls, you know, and then all the other fun stereotypes that we’ve kind of like made up about ourselves like why we can’t sit in a chair the right way, because apparently we love having stereotypes,” he says.

For the book, Anderson applies the same skewed scientific take to explain more than 50 different stereotypes across the entire LGBT spectrum. So the book has chapters that ask “Are Pansexual People Living Better Lives?” “Does College Make People Bi?” and “Do Lesbians Hate Electricity?”

“I challenged myself to write about everyone. I think everyone deserves to have something to laugh at because things are so awful politically. So asexual people, intersex, non-binary chapters. There’s a chapter ‘Did trans people invent pronouns?’ And, like everything else, the chapter proves that’s right.” 

Gay Science doesn’t take on the question of why so many gay men find Anderson annoying, but he has some theories.

“I attracted the attention of gay people, and some people choose to take that and give you back love, and then some people choose to take that and hate on you,” he says. “It’s really not even about me. It’s always about them, like something they’re going through.”

“And honestly, I get it. Being gay is hard and we had a lot of tough times growing up, and then once you come out, you struggle to feel accepted in a gay space.”

Maybe he can study this in Gay Science Volume 2.

And sometimes that backlash has just made Anderson even more powerful. 

Two years ago, when he was about to go on his first comedy tour, a Twitter user from Washington, D.C. shared a now-infamous opinion about Anderson’s $100 VIP meet-and-greet tickets.

“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS TO MEET R*B AND*RSON? When I can see him sucking dick on the dance floor at the after party for free? I’ll pass,” wrote @livefreeordavid.

The tweet generated thousands of likes, retweets and comments – many of them even more hateful. But the upshot is that Anderson sold out his D.C. shows within days and the rest of his tour shortly after. Anderson says he only learned about the tweet months later, when someone tagged him in the thread.

“I just kind of kept it. I screenshot it. I’m like, I just need to remember this. When people hate on you, it’s gonna be good. And I had to bring that back up again recently because I was on [Watch What Happens Live] for Gay Science and someone on Twitter was like, ‘Oh, how embarrassing. He’s the bartender.’ They’re trying to hate on me for like being on TV.” 

Some of Anderson’s zen attitude to toward the haters can also be attributed to a recent successful shift in his content. While he was working on the book Gay Science, he paused making new videos in the series – all that new content is in the book. 

Instead, he started posting video recaps of movies and TV shows from his youth, which has attracted a broader audience. 

“I’d been rewatching Seventh Heaven and I was like, actually this show is ridiculous. I’m just gonna post about these shows. And those took off because it’s more universal. My audience has grown since then, and now it’s mostly not gay people.”

“I really feeling like the content that I’m making is still gay. Like I’m a gay guy and you can tell that I’m not straight, but I get a lot less hate. Isn’t that crazy?” 

“Not just supportive, but fun DMs that were like, ‘you need to do this movie because this is so fucking crazy.’ And it was because women are involved now and they’re just better than men,” he says. 

Maybe that’s another topic for future volumes of Gay Science.

Gay Science will be released in stores April 23.

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

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Books

Out CBS reporter Jon Vigliotti recounts covering a warming planet

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York & now lives in Southern California

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CBS News national correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti has written a new book about climate change. (Photo Credit: Iván Carrillo)

By Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor | HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – In 2018, Jonathan Vigliotti was working as a foreign correspondent based out of CBS News’ London bureau. To say it was a coveted journalism job would be an understatement.

Yet, as he recounts in his debut book, “Before It’s Gone: Stories From the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America,” Vigliotti’s life would be upended professionally and personally by a warming planet. During a Cape Cod vacation that August with his family and husband, Iván Carrillo, Vigliotti fielded a call that had him making a hasty exit — leaving his lobster dinner untouched — to catch a flight for Southern California.

He was sent to cover a wildfire encroaching on the city of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. The impromptu assignment led to him relocating to the national broadcaster’s Los Angeles Bureau the next year and taking on the natural disaster beat.

“In the time between then and now I have covered historic hurricanes, thermometer-shattering heat waves, record-breaking droughts, mega wildfires, back-to-back ‘hundred-year floods,’ unprecedented blizzards, and never-before-seen mudslides,” he writes in the prologue of his book.

Released in April by One Signal Publishers/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., the book not only recounts his experiences covering a warming planet these past six years. It also serves as a memoir of his rising through the journalism ranks, from working for the NPR station based on the Bronx campus of his alma mater, Fordham University, to now being a national correspondent for CBS News.

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti, 41, who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York.

Speaking with the Bay Area Reporter by phone, Vigliotti said he’s been a nature lover his entire life. He spent hours exploring the woods by his childhood home. When his parents joined the fight to stop a housing development that would have bulldozed his forested retreat, Vigliotti learned about the fragility of ecosystems and how collective actions can protect such places.

“It had a lasting impact on me,” he said. “My work as a professional journalist always has gravitated toward environmental stories.”

His book is broken into four parts centered on the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. The tragic events he’s covered are paired with solutions to mitigate the effect rising temperatures are having on communities across the U.S. (Vigliotti writes about reintroducing beavers to ward against wildfires in an excerpt of his book for this week’s Guest Opinion.)

“One of the reasons why I wrote the book is I feel climate change is abstract to people. Even people who may be climate deniers, I think that comes from a lack of understanding,” said Vigliotti. “One of the best ways to understand climate change is radicalizing our weather is to be there on the front lines. Through our reporting, I try to visually connect those dots for people.”

‘No warning’

A theme throughout the book is the oft repeated — and disingenuous — phrase, “There was no warning.” Time and time again local officials have known beforehand the threats their communities face from climate change, said Vigliotti.

“Why this happens is hard to say, but I do believe a lot of people find climate science to be overwhelming,” he said. “The solutions oftentimes seem daunting.”

Rather than dismiss climate change as “some politicized issue,” he hopes his audience sees it as the threat it is to their livelihoods and hometowns. He utilizes the term “habitat changes” in the book when writing about what is occurring due to changing climates.

“If saying climate change is a barrier for some people, maybe you don’t need to say it,” said Vigliotti. “As long as people understand weather is changing and an increased threat to communities on the front lines, the more people are willing to take action. That is my finding at least,” he said.

He believes the planet still has time before it’s gone.

“We are a very intelligent species, us humans. We have proven time and time again we have a unique ability to adapt, unlike some other species,” said Vigliotti. “I think we have an opportunity if we listen to the warning signs and take action to rebuild or upbuild our communities so they are resilient.”

Even more so than in his on air segments, Vigliotti is front and center throughout the book, talking to readers in the first person.

“I wasn’t sure how much of my own experience would be a part of this book. It documents my education and my understanding of the role climate change is having,” he said. “I felt like if I was going to invite readers into my world, I needed to be as honest as possible in those moments where I am sharing my personal experiences.”

Professionally, Vigliotti said he “never actively” hid being gay. But as he explains in the book, he routinely was “straightening out my gay” when sent to report in places like the Middle East.

An assistant news director at the Milwaukee TV station where he once worked advised him to “rein in the fagginess,” he writes. He also disclosed losing a network job “because the main anchor at the time didn’t like the way I ‘tracked.'”

Vigliotti told the B.A.R. he publicly came out in either 2011 or 2012. He credited gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who is also a correspondent for CBS News’ “60 Minutes” newsmagazine, for giving him the courage to do so.

“The role I think he had in giving a voice to other journalists who were also quote-unquote closeted … I don’t know him personally but I am forever grateful for that,” said Vigliotti. “It gave me a way forward and a way to be more authentic as myself and more transparent without having to hide parts of myself.”

Doing so in his book marked a departure from his usual reporting focus.

“I have always believed as a journalist my role is to disappear into the background and to give a platform to the people I am interviewing. I always naturally shied away from sharing too much of myself to begin with,” said Vigliotti.

To not reveal his own story in his book would have been a disservice to his interview subjects, he reasoned.

“I have come to expect so much from people who are often sharing the worst moments of their life with me. I felt it would be a hindrance to not return that favor,” said Vigliotti, who is at work on expanding his nightly news broadcast’s coverage of small-town America.

The book doesn’t mark an end to his coverage of natural disasters. He plans to continue heeding the call when such assignments break.

“I do love California and do find a sense of purpose covering these kinds of stories,” said Vigliotti, who lives in Hollywood. “I will continue covering extreme weather events.”

The book can be purchased online here: (Link)

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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MEDIA

Time’s 100 most influential people of 2024: LGBTQ+ honorees

The list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2024 includes several LGBTQ celebrities & activists who champion queer rights

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Actor Elliot Page said that "[It's] a tremendous honor to be featured in TIME’s 2024 #TIME100 list." Page was among several LGBTQ+ honorees. (Photo Credit: Time magazine)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Time magazine on Wednesday unveiled its highly anticipated list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2024, and it includes several LGBTQ celebrities and activists who continue to champion queer rights.

Among the notable figures that Time recognized is actor Coleman Domingo, who portrayed civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in the biopic “Rustin.” Domingo, among other things, is the second openly gay man nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay character.

Other people on the list are:

  • Actor Elliot Page, known for his roles in “Juno” and “The Umbrella Academy.” His recent memoir, “Pageboy,” sheds light on his journey as a transgender man, inspiring audiences amid ongoing challenges to trans rights.
  • Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.
  • Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group.
  • Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, an LGBTQ activist in Sri Lanka who led the effort to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in her country.

Time’s list also includes other LGBTQ influencers, such as fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, reproductive biologist Katsuhiko Hayashi, chef Dominique Crenn, and healthcare advocate Ophelia Dahl.

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Events

What to expect at the 2024 National Cannabis Festival

With performances by Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, and Thundercat, the 2024 National Cannabis Festival will be bigger than ever this year

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Juicy J performs at the 2023 National Cannabis Festival (Photo credit: Alive Coverage)

WASHINGTON — With two full days of events and programs along with performances by Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, and Thundercat, the 2024 National Cannabis Festival will be bigger than ever this year.

Leading up to the festivities on Friday and Saturday at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium are plenty of can’t-miss experiences planned for 420 Week, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit and an LGBTQ happy hour hosted by the District’s Black-owned queer bar, Thurst Lounge (both happening on Wednesday).

On Tuesday, the Blade caught up with NCF Founder and Executive Producer Caroline Phillips, principal at The High Street PR & Events, for a discussion about the event’s history and the pivotal political moment for cannabis legalization and drug policy reform both locally and nationally. Phillips also shared her thoughts about the role of LGBTQ activists in these movements and the through-line connecting issues of freedom and bodily autonomy.

After D.C. residents voted to approve Initiative 71 in the fall of 2014, she said, adults were permitted to share cannabis and grow the plant at home, while possession was decriminalized with the hope and expectation that fewer people would be incarcerated.

“When that happened, there was also an influx of really high-priced conferences that promised to connect people to big business opportunities so they could make millions in what they were calling the ‘green rush,'” Phillips said.

“At the time, I was working for Human Rights First,” a nonprofit that was, and is, engaged in “a lot of issues to do with world refugees and immigration in the United States” — so, “it was really interesting to me to see the overlap between drug policy reform and some of these other issues that I was working on,” Phillips said.

“And then it rubbed me a little bit the wrong way to hear about the ‘green rush’ before we’d heard about criminal justice reform around cannabis and before we’d heard about people being let out of jail for cannabis offenses.”

“As my interests grew, I realized that there was really a need for this conversation to happen in a larger way that allowed the larger community, the broader community, to learn about not just cannabis legalization, but to understand how it connects to our criminal justice system, to understand how it can really stimulate and benefit our economy, and to understand how it can become a wellness tool for so many people,” Phillips said.

“On top of all of that, as a minority in the cannabis space, it was important to me that this event and my work in the cannabis industry really amplified how we could create space for Black and Brown people to be stakeholders in this economy in a meaningful way.”

Caroline Phillips (Photo by Greg Powers)

“Since I was already working in event production, I decided to use those skills and apply them to creating a cannabis event,” she said. “And in order to create an event that I thought could really give back to our community with ticket prices low enough for people to actually be able to attend, I thought a large-scale event would be good — and thus was born the cannabis festival.”

D.C. to see more regulated cannabis businesses ‘very soon’


Phillips said she believes decriminalization in D.C. has decreased the number of cannabis-related arrests in the city, but she noted arrests have, nevertheless, continued to disproportionately impact Black and Brown people.

“We’re at a really interesting crossroads for our city and for our cannabis community,” she said. In the eight years since Initiative 71 was passed, “We’ve had our licensed regulated cannabis dispensaries and cultivators who’ve been existing in a very red tape-heavy environment, a very tax heavy environment, and then we have the unregulated cannabis cultivators and cannabis dispensaries in the city” who operate via a “loophole” in the law “that allows the sharing of cannabis between adults who are over the age of 21.”

Many of the purveyors in the latter group, Phillips said, “are looking at trying to get into the legal space; so they’re trying to become regulated businesses in Washington, D.C.”

She noted the city will be “releasing 30 or so licenses in the next couple of weeks, and those stores should be coming online very soon” which will mean “you’ll be seeing a lot more of the regulated stores popping up in neighborhoods and hopefully a lot more opportunity for folks that are interested in leaving the unregulated space to be able to join the regulated marketplace.”

The national push for de-scheduling cannabis


Signaling the political momentum for reforming cannabis and criminal justice laws, Wednesday’s Policy Summit will feature U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate majority leader.

Also representing Capitol Hill at the Summit will be U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — who will be receiving the Supernova Women Cannabis Champion Lifetime Achievement Award — along with an aide to U.S. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio).

Nationally, Phillips said much of the conversation around cannabis concerns de-scheduling. Even though 40 states and D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational and/or medical use, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I substance since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1971, which means it carries the heftiest restrictions on, and penalties for, its possession, sale, distribution, and cultivation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formally requested the drug be reclassified as a Schedule III substance in August, which inaugurated an ongoing review, and in January a group of 12 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration’s Drug Enforcement Administration urging the agency to de-schedule cannabis altogether.

Along with the Summit, Phillips noted that “a large contingent of advocates will be coming to Washington, D.C. this week to host a vigil at the White House and to be at the festival educating people” about these issues. She said NCF is working with the 420 Unity Coalition to push Congress and the Biden-Harris administration to “move straight to de-scheduling cannabis.”

“This would allow folks who have been locked up for cannabis offenses the chance to be released,” she said. “It would also allow medical patients greater access. It would also allow business owners the chance to exist without the specter of the federal government coming in and telling them what they’re doing is wrong and that they’re criminals.”

Phillips added, however, that de-scheduling cannabis will not “suddenly erase” the “generations and generations of systemic racism” in America’s financial institutions, business marketplace, and criminal justice system, nor the consequences that has wrought on Black and Brown communities.

An example of the work that remains, she said, is making sure “that all people are treated fairly by financial institutions so that they can get the funding for their businesses” to, hopefully, create not just another industry, but “really a better industry” that from the outset is focused on “equity” and “access.”

Policy wonks should be sure to visit the festival, too. “We have a really terrific lineup in our policy pavilion,” Phillips said. “A lot of our heavy hitters from our advocacy committee will be presenting programming.”

“On Saturday there is a really strong federal marijuana reform panel that is being led by Maritza Perez Medina from the Drug Policy Alliance,” she said. “So that’s going to be a terrific discussion” that will also feature “representation from the Veterans Cannabis Coalition.”

“We also have a really interesting talk being led by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership about conservatives, cops, and cannabis,” Phillips added.

Cannabis and the LGBTQ community


“I think what’s so interesting about LGBTQIA+ culture and the cannabis community are the parallels that we’ve seen in the movements towards legalization,” Phillips said.

The fight for LGBTQ rights over the years has often involved centering personal stories and personal experiences, she said. “And that really, I think, began to resonate, the more that we talked about it openly in society; the more it was something that we started to see on television; the more it became a topic in youth development and making sure that we’re raising healthy children.”

Likewise, Phillips said, “we’ve seen cannabis become more of a conversation in mainstream culture. We’ve heard the stories of people who’ve had veterans in their families that have used cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals, the friends or family members who’ve had cancer that have turned to CBD or THC so they could sleep, so they could eat so they could get some level of relief.”

Stories about cannabis have also included accounts of folks who were “arrested when they were young” or “the family member who’s still locked up,” she said, just as stories about LGBTQ people have often involved unjust and unnecessary suffering.

Not only are there similarities in the socio-political struggles, Phillips said, but LGBTQ people have played a central role pushing for cannabis legalization and, in fact, in ushering in the movement by “advocating for HIV patients in California to be able to access cannabis’s medicine.”

As a result of the queer community’s involvement, she said, “the foundation of cannabis legalization is truly patient access and criminal justice reform.”

“LGBTQIA+ advocates and cannabis advocates have managed to rein in support of the majority of Americans for the issues that they find important,” Phillips said, even if, unfortunately, other movements for bodily autonomy like those concerning issues of reproductive justice “don’t see that same support.”

(Editor’s note: Tickets are still available for the National Cannabis Festival, with prices starting at $55 for one-day general admission on Friday through $190 for a two-day pass with early-entry access. The Washington Blade, one of the event’s sponsors, will host a LGBTQIA+ Lounge and moderate a panel discussion on Saturday with the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.)

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NBA referees required to wear logo of anti-queer airline Emirates

Emirates airline logo patches adorn uniforms worn by gay ref Bill Kennedy and trans nonbinary ref Che Flores

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Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

NEW YORK — Although the national airline of Dubai announced a new global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association back on February 8, it’s only now that some have noticed that for the first time, commercial patches promoting Emirates are now prominently displayed on every NBA referee’s uniform. 

That includes out gay NBA ref, Bill Kennedy, who publicly came out in 2015 a week after he ejected a player for hurling homophobic slurs during a game. And the Emirates logo is also part of the uniform worn by the first trans nonbinary NBA referee, Che Flores. 

Out NBA referee Bill Kennedy. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Sports)

As of press time, neither Kennedy nor Flores have commented on the sponsorship. Kennedy is in his 26th season with the NBA; for Flores, this is their third season. As Sportico reported in February, “financial terms of the tie-up have not been disclosed.” 

But as Outsports noted last weekend, that presumably lucrative contract the NBA signed with Emirates puts the league in cahoots with the Emirate of Dubai, which is one of seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., where homosexuality is illegal, and punished by death, according to Equaldex. Gender transitions are illegal there, too, and nonbinary identity is not legally recognized. There are no LGBTQ+ protections from discrimination whatsoever, adoption by gay couples is illegal, LGBTQ+ citizens cannot serve in the military or donate blood, and conversion therapy is perfectly legal. 

It’s been this way in the U.A.E. for generations, but despite that, the NBA appeared all too happy to jump in bed with bigots. 

“Emirates is a world-class airline that shares our commitment to engaging fans around the world in new and creative ways,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum in a statement released by Emirates on Feb. 8.  “As basketball continues to be recognized as the fastest growing sport globally, this collaboration will showcase the excitement of the NBA to the millions of people who fly Emirates every year.”

When asked about the U.A.E’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws last year by the StarTribune, Tatum said: “The values of the NBA go with us wherever we go. It doesn’t mean that we agree with all the laws and policies in the more than 200 countries and territories where we do business. We don’t. But what we make sure is whenever we do an event in a particular market, that the values of the NBA, that those travel with us: the values of diversity, inclusion and of equity.”

Emirates does tout its support of women and “gender equality in the workplace” on its website.

The head of Emirates used the word “pride” to describe his feelings about the deal, without a trace of irony.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum inspecting a Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

“We are proud to establish a global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association to become its Official Global Airline Partner,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Group Chairman and Chief Executive. “This collaboration will also see Emirates become the league’s first referee jersey patch partner and the inaugural title partner of the NBA Cup.  With basketball’s popularity around the world, we are excited to work with one of the most globally recognized and prestigious professional leagues.  The NBA is a valuable addition to our sponsorship portfolio as it allows us to connect with a vast global fanbase, including in the U.S., where the game is an integral part of the country’s sport culture.”

The airline itself is controlled by the Dubai government’s principal investment arm. Emirates is already partnered with eight soccer teams, and owns Arsenal FC’s stadium naming and front-of-shirt rights. The airline also sponsors three of tennis’ four Grand Slam events, as well as one of cycling’s top teams — UAE Team. Added together, Emirates is a sponsor across 24 international sports properties, according to Sportico

While both the WNBA and NBA have long been advocates of the LGBTQ+ community, this new partnership appears to put Emirates above any other allyship, according to the airline’s own statement. For example, the NBA changed the name of its 2025 NBA In-Season Tournament to the Emirates NBA Cup. Emirates signage appeared throughout Gainbridge Fieldhouse at the All-Star Game in Indianapolis, and was seen by fans in 214 countries and territories in 60 languages on television, digital media and social media. And there’s more, according to the Emirates press release: 

“The sponsorship will also allow Emirates to enjoy a presence at other marquee league events, including as a partner of NBA Crossover – an immersive fan event at NBA All-Star – and as the presenting partner of the NBA Finals Legacy Project, which features the dedication of new NBA Cares Live, Learn, or Play Centers in each NBA Finals team market.  Emirates branding will also be visible through virtual in-arena signage and on top of the backboard during nationally televised NBA games, beginning with the 2024 NBA All-Star Game.

“Fans will have the opportunity to watch NBA content on all Emirates flights via the airline’s inflight entertainment system, including long-form documentaries, player profiles, interviews and more.

“The marketing partnership will also allow basketball fans to purchase a wide range of official NBA merchandise, including basketballs, sportswear and vintage collectibles, with co-branded collaborations to follow later this year.  The merchandise will be sold at the official Emirates Store at Emirates’ Headquarters in Dubai and online at www.emirates.store, which delivers worldwide.  Emirates Skywards members can also redeem Miles to purchase items from the exciting range.”

Kennedy, Flores and every other NBA ref have been wearing the Emirates patch since the NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis on Feb. 18, broadcast live around the world. The patches promote an airline operated by a country where being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary is punishable by death. 

Yet they’re only now being noticed. 

Closeted referees have to wear them, too. And starting in 2025, so will refs working in the WNBA, a league that openly welcomes out LGBTQ+ coaches and players. Even the NBA’s minor league refs will be required to wear those Emirates patches later this year.

The Blade has reached out to the NBA, WNBA and Emirates for comment.

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WNBA star Brittney Griner & wife Cherelle expecting first child

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the WNBA star shared with Instagram followers

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Cherelle & Brittney Griner are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news on Instagram. (Photo Credit: Brittney Griner/Instagram)

PHOENIX — One year after returning to the WNBA after her release from a Russian gulag and declaring, “I’m never playing overseas again,” Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and her wife announced they have something even bigger coming up this summer. 

Cherelle, 31, and Brittney, 33, are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news with their 715K followers on Instagram

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the caption read, with the hashtag, #BabyGrinerComingSoon and #July2024.

Griner returned to the U.S. in December 2022 in a prisoner swap, more than nine months after being arrested in Moscow for possession of vape cartridges containing prescription cannabis.

In April 2023, at her first news conference following her release, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made only one exception to her vow to never play overseas again: To return to the Summer Olympic Games, which will be played in Paris starting in July, the same month “Baby Griner” is due. “The only time I would want to would be to represent the USA,” she said last year. 

Given that the unrestricted free agent is on the roster of both Team USA and her WNBA team, it’s not immediately clear where Griner will be when their first child arrives. 

The Griners purchased their “forever home” in Phoenix just last year. “Phoenix is home,” Griner said at the Mercury’s end-of-season media day, according to ESPN. “Me and my wife literally just got a place. This is it.”

As the Los Angeles Blade reported last December, Griner is working with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts — like Griner, an out, married lesbian — on an ESPN television documentary as well as a television series for ABC about her life story. Cherelle is executive producer of these projects. 

Next month, Griner’s tell-all memoir of her Russian incarceration will be published by Penguin Random House. It’s titled Coming Home, and the hardcover hits bookstores on May 7.

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