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Former WeHo bartender giving back amid crisis

WeHo’s Nights In benefits area nightlife workers

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Kevin Spencer, gay news, Washington Blade

Former bartender Kevin Spencer is helping to organize fundraisers for WeHo nightlife workers. (Photo courtesy Spencer)

Kevin Spencer is a marketing guy these days, working in audience development for Ranker.com, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was making his living as one of West Hollywood’s most popular bartenders.

Given the legendary status of WeHo’s nightlife scene, perhaps, it’s not surprising that he looks back upon his former career, which culminated in a three-year stint at Flaming Saddles, with enthusiastic fondness.

“I loved my time there,” he tells the Blade. “It was a really unique look at West Hollywood from the other side of the bar. You get a view of the community and the nightlife experience as a whole, whereas as a patron you only get a view of it from your own participation in it – you meet who you’re there to meet, or you’re there for whatever reason.”

Those fond memories made it inevitable that when the COVID-19 crisis necessitated the closure of WeHo’s bars and clubs along with all the other such establishments across Los Angeles, Spencer’s thoughts would naturally turn to his former co-workers, and the crushing financial impact such a grave decision would have on their lives. He didn’t just lament their fate, however. Instead, he took action.

“Like a lot of people, probably, I have wanted to volunteer, I’ve wanted to give back,” he explains. “We always have our excuses as to why we don’t – we’re too busy or whatever it may be – but then I found myself in this crisis, fortunate enough to have a job, and thinking, ‘I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, and be out a job and not know where your money is going to come from.’ If this had happened, even three years ago, I knew I would have been in that position with everybody else, not just in West Hollywood but across the country. So I decided this was an opportunity to step up and give back what I can.”

His experiences behind the bar also allowed him to see a wider effect of the pandemic, even beyond the economic aspect precipitated by the shutdown.

“We’ve lost our community, we’ve lost our gathering space,” he says. “For a lot of people, these places are their connection to the gay world… and yeah, there are the partiers, and the people we see that are making the most noise at the bars – but there are also those people who come and get their drink, and they’re alone. They don’t really talk to anyone, but just being in the room with their tribe is enough for them – that’s how they escape, that’s how they connect to their world, and it’s gone.”

He hit upon an idea that could provide some relief on both fronts.

“I thought we could do a fundraiser through a virtual community get-together – get people doing DJ sets in their living room, doing Zoom chats with their friends, what a lot of people were doing already, anyway – and then combine that with the added aspect of tipping your service workers while you’re at home making your drink, talking to your friends, and dancing to music in your living room. If you’re fortunate enough to have the resources, you might as well leave the same five-dollar tip that you would leave on a regular Friday night.”

He reached out to WeHo Council member John Duran, who promptly put him into contact with Travis Garcia – another fixture in the community that had floated “almost the exact same idea” to him, according to James. The two men connected, and a week later they launched WeHo’s Nights In, with an initial goal to raise $10,000 within a two-week period in order to offer “immediate assistance for food, medicine, and other essentials” to the city’s now-unemployed nightlife workers while they wait for government programs and unemployment to kick in.

“People have been able to defer rent and other bills,” acknowledges Spencer, “but once you do that, you know, you still need some cash on hand to eat something.”

The project met with surprising success, meeting $9,000 of its target over the first weekend after its April 8 launch. With several days still to go, it’s a certainty that the fundraiser will far exceed its goal – especially considering the lineup of virtual events, such as an April 16 Digital Drag Fest performance by Jai Rodriguez (with all proceeds donated directly to WeHo’s Nights In), which will bring contributions yet to be added to the final tally.

“So far, it’s been a great response,” says Spencer. “It’s really important to me that it’s not just a fundraiser asking for a handout, it’s more of a fundraiser that gets people together and gets them talking about what that nightlife really means, as opposed to just giving a certain group of people some money.

“At the end of the day, it’s not a lot, but I hope it’s a way to inspire other people to give back, in any way.”

This prompts him to share that there have been “some questions” about why the campaign benefits only West Hollywood’s nightlife workers, when the whole city is affected by the shutdown.

“My response has been that we just picked a community that means something to us,” he says. “For us, it was a very clear and distinct place to start, with a well-defined community that we knew we had the connections and resources to raise money for – but it’s something that anyone can do, to start a fundraiser for your own community.

“I’ve told everyone, ‘Donate to our campaign, donate to any campaign, if you can’t donate then use your time to find people who can.’ I think it’s definitely a time for us to act, and to show that our lives are not transactional – that there’s actually a spirit of giving and helping each other out that exists, as well.”

In keeping with that selfless spirit, Spencer is adamant in his insistence to give credit where its due; he wants to make sure that Garcia’s efforts at his side are acknowledged (“Travis is my complete co-partner in all this, I think we make a great team!”), and that thanks are given to everyone who has “tipped” so far – making a point to highlight three mega-donors who each contributed $1k to the fundraiser: Mike

Manning, Enrique Martin, and Kevin Huvane.

And what happens after the campaign reaches its deadline next week?

“We’re going to get through this weekend, and take stock of where we are, see how much we’ve raised,” says Spencer. “I’ve envisioned it as this virtual community where we continue to tip as the weekends go along, so it’s a lot of small donations over a period of time and nobody feels like they’re dropping down huge sums of money.”

As to the details about what might be part of a continuing effort, he’s hesitant to say much, preferring to wait for official confirmations before doing more than hint at future virtual events and potential community partnerships designed to cover other communities across LA, such as downtown and the San Fernando Valley.

“This shutdown does not look like it’s going to end any time soon, and I’m sure the bars and clubs are going to be the last things to re-open,” he tells us. “As long as we can keep helping people, whoever they might be, I’d love to keep doing it.”

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Out track star heads to Tokyo as video of her hugging her Gran goes viral

Her moment of victory and celebration with her Gran was caught on video and later shared thousands of times on Twitter

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Sha'Carri Richardson (Screenshot via NBC Sports on YouTube)

EUGENE, Or. – A 21 year old out female sprinter is headed to the summer Olympic games in Tokyo after winning the 100-meter heat and securing a coveted spot as part of the U.S. women’s team in the Olympic trials that were held at the newly renovated Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene this past weekend.

Sha’Carri Richardson, a former Louisiana State University (LSU) sprinter put on an amazing run, afterwards telling NBC News Sports that her biological mother died just a week before the qualifying Olympic trials. Richardson, who celebrated her win by running up the Hayward Field stairs to hug her grandmother, says that family means everything.

“My family has kept me grounded,” Richardson said. “This year has been crazy for me. Going from just last week losing my biological mother passed away and still choosing to pursue my dream, still coming out here and still trying to make the family that I still have on this earth proud.”

Her moment of victory and celebration with her Gran was caught on video and later shared thousands of times on Twitter including by Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The sprinter also took time to thank her girlfriend who she had said inspires her, and also picked out her hair color. “My girlfriend actually picked my [hair] color,” Richardson said. “She said it like spoke to her, the fact that it was just so loud and vibrant, and that’s who I am.”

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Hollywood’s Peter Kallinteris Agency launching LGBTQ dreams

“It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader”

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Hollywood sign courtesy of the City of Los Angeles

HOLLYWOOD – Whether they’d admit to it or not the aspiration for most actors is to be sitting in the Dolby Theatre at some point in their careers, dressed in their finest fashion ensemble at the most prestigious event of the year and hear, “and the Oscar goes to [insert their name].” Conversely also true for the Emmy awards or the Tony awards, yet for many LGBTQ artists the path to that goal is fraught with obstacles and difficulties.

In 2018, a young Black actor from Atlanta, Georgia, was given a supporting role as Ethan in the surprise hit film Love Simon. That actor, Clark Moore, in interviews with host Rob Watson, journalists Dawn Ennis and Brody Levesque on RATED LGBTQ RADIO and separately with Teen Vogue’s Shammara Lawerence spoke of the difficulty landing roles like that of Ethan, but also the conflict inherent with how the film and television industry has seen LGBTQ actors.

Answering a question by Teen Vogue’s Lawerence centered on that conflict, Moore bluntly assessed the landscape telling her; “Historically, I think the reason why there haven’t been more gay roles or more gay actors playing roles that have lots of layers to them and lots of depths to them is because for whatever reason, people think that the story is done. We’ve seen the gay character. We know what he says. We know what he thinks. We don’t need to tell that story anymore, but if you think about it, we’ve had a full canon of stories about straight white men that stretch back millennia, and so we’re only scratching the surface,” Moore pointed out.

“If we can have stories about people all the way back thousands of years ago and we can still be telling the same story now about straight white men and their journey to self-discovery or redemption, there’s plenty of stories to tell of people of color and LGBTQ people and anybody who falls in the intersection of those two identities,” he added.

Yet in the age of digital moving beyond the traditional film and television as more and more content is streamed online- and there’s insatiable need by casting agencies for a wider diverse spectrum of actors, there are still obstacles in the path for LGBTQ actors, especially trans and disabled LGBTQ actors.

Enter Peter Kallinteris, who with his broad based knowledge and understanding of the critical needs of the LGBTQ actor community decided that the time has arrived to have specialized representation for that community.

“Looking to the past, Hollywood hasn’t been very kind to the Queer community. Throughout the history of cinema gay men were either played as effeminate, weak, airheads, and lesbians as tough softball or gym coaches, who are often played by straight people,” Kallinteris said. “Within the the broader culture, there are subcultures, just as within any community. They are nuances within each that will never find its way between the pages of a table read.”

“To create an authentic moment the space has to be made for those who’ve lived that life every day. Gay, Black, White or Straight ect, our experiences of the world are different depending on how we show up. In many cases that will determine our outcomes,” he noted. “Specialized representation is so important because without the lingering trauma, and continued hatred & fear toward our community the Queer division of PKA wouldn’t exist, we’d just be accepted. We have important stories to tell and will continue to be telling them. PKA is just the begging for all to feel safe and thrive.”

In a statement issued from his offices at the Sunset-Gower Studios, the former historic home of pioneering Columbia Pictures founded in 1918, Kallinteris reflected, “When I was a young Actor being gay was career ending.”

“Today it’s celebrated. It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader because I can.”

To accomplish this he launched the Queer Division of his PKA agency. “The Queer Division of  PKA was inevitable, a natural outgrowth of my own personal evolution first by coming out as gay man, from Artist to Agent. The timing was right to make an impact with talent,” he said.

“As my Agency grew I was able to gleam that there was a space beginning to open up by which I could represent the full spectrum of Queer humanity & sexuality within the arts. Not as one dimensional static caricatures, but as beings who’s emotions run the full gamut of the human experience. This was very exciting to me, I have a opportunity to effect change. I wanted to be apart of history Pioneering a movement,” he added. 

He said that his message to LGBTQ artists is simple. “I want talent to know they will be given the opportunity to be who they are, live their truth and work for who they are without rejection, humiliation, fear, or hopelessness. People perform at their best, live at their best. And do their best when they are happiest.  PKA is not just a brand, we are the LGBTQIA community. If life imitates art, then let’s represent it boldly!”

His expectations of the film and television industry’s reaction? “My inspiration to launch the Q.D. is truthfully representing talent that reflects the current needs for the industry, and to remain a permanent fixture within the industry that continues to grow stronger. I want the industry to understand I’ve created this environment specifically for the Queer community. I’m happy & honored to be the first Agency that represents this community in this way,” Kallinteris said.

Last week, PKA, whose clients include, Justin Jedlica (TV personality), Steven James Tingus (President George W. Bush’s lead for disability research and policy for eight years), Kate Linder (The Young and the Restless), Albert Lawrence (IMDB Host), Deric Battiste aka DJ D-Wrek (MTV’s Wild ‘N Out), and Leslie Stratton (The Swing of Things, Truth or Dare), announced the launch of the Queer Division in a video.

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Sports

Carl Nassib comes out as gay, first active player in NFL history

Nassib also announced that he is donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project

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Carl Nassib. Courtesy of Instagram @carlnassib.

LAS VEGAS – Carl Nassib, who is a fifth-year defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, became the first active NFL player to announce he is gay. The Raiders defensive end is now the NFL’s only openly gay player.

“I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video he posted on his Instagram account. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life. I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for. I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know I’m not doing this for attention, but I think representation matters.”

Nassib also announced that he is donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project.

“The Trevor Project is grateful to Carl Nassib for living his truth and supporting LGBTQ youth. This generous donation will help us scale our life-saving crisis services to reach the more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth who seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S.,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project in an emailed statement to the Blade.

“Coming out is an intensely personal decision, and it can be an incredibly scary and difficult one to make. We hope that Carl’s historic representation in the NFL will inspire young LGBTQ athletes across the country to live their truth and pursue their dreams. 

“At a time when state lawmakers are actively trying to restrict transgender and nonbinary youth’s participation in school sports, this news should serve as a clarion call for greater LGBTQ inclusion in the locker room and on the field,” Paley added.

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