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“WeHo’s Nights In” benefits area nightlife workers

Former WeHo bartender giving back amid crisis

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Kevin Spencer wants you to know that Santa Monica Boulevard’s nightlife may be on pause, but you can still tip WeHo’s nightlife workers. (Photo courtesy Kevin 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 Spencer. 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.

Brian Pendleton, entrepreneur and founder of ResistMarch and Cause Force, has also played a vital role. “Brian helped get the story and was one of the first people that I talked about my idea, an early mentor and guide in the process.”

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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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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