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“Why are you bringing Sodom & Gomorrah here?”

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Rosa Diaz, CEO The Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center

An LGBTQ resource center founder’s tale

 

EL CENTRO – The first thing a visitor to Imperial County will notice is that it is significantly culturally different than the rest of southern California, in part due to its immediate proximity to the U.S. border with Mexico. Valle de Imperial blends the cultures and the languages of both nations, and with the exception of the city of El Centro urban metroplex, is still very much a rural agricultural region.

Unemployment in this border region is often the highest in the nation, and 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line with 73 percent of all residents who are Hispanic.

It is within that cultural distinction that a small, but dedicated group of volunteers led by a determined former California Department of Juvenile Justice Correctional Counselor and a social worker, provides a safe haven- practically an island, for the Imperial Valley’s LGBTQI+ community.

Rosa Diaz, the CEO of the Imperial Valley’s LGBT Resource Center, still marvels that a small group of virtual strangers was able to come together to establish the County’s only LGBTQ Resource and Outreach Center just a short five years ago in 2015. For Diaz, it has been a labor of love and a way to make a difference for others like herself she told the Los Angeles Blade this week in a wide-ranging interview.

The culture of the Valley, she explained, is one with deep roots in Mexican society and cultures of other countries in Latin America. A culture that is built on strong family units with strong ties to church, faith, and centuries of traditions. It is within those parameters she said that any person who is LGBTQ will eventually find themselves estranged or outright shunned and often alone. Many residents know only too well the pain of discrimination- but their traditional ideas about family and religion don’t include same-sex marriage or even being LGBTQ, Diaz noted.

She remembers how difficult it was for her growing up, she says that she always played the roles in playtime normally a boy would fulfill even battling them to take those roles- and at the same time, she did embrace the church and her faith partly because she knew she couldn’t reveal her true self let alone her desires and having that anchor was critical to her. The concept of being a Lesbian was foreign to her culture- her family, LGBT people didn’t exist so the church and her faith became her refuge. Yet the fact that she was different still gnawed at her conscious.

Then came that one moment, as an older closeted adult in her 50’s being in her church listening to the sermon and getting angered by its hateful and exclusionary message, she decided to speak out. She marched up to the front of the church and asked for the microphone then turned and faced the pews.

I had kept you know cringing during the sermon, it wasn’t right. So when I got the microphone I just told them about me. I said this has to stop. Stop blaming LGBT people for your problems I told them. divorce, sex before marriage- babies out of wedlock, these are all sins too they are wrong but you cannot blame LGBT people for these problems.”

Diaz said that within a week or two she was persona non grata and after weeks of trying she eventually gave up going to church altogether. She said that she was determined to find a place to belong and a sense of community. There were no LGBTQ resources in the Valley so she started visiting LGBT centers north up in the Coachella Valley to Palm Springs and west into San Diego County.

In 2008, California’s Proposition 8 and the fight over marriage equality spurred on a renewed passion to establish a center in the Valley for people just like her.

When the case went to trial, then California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the measure. Diaz said that she was disheartened when local officials headed by a former Chair of the Board of Supervisors joined the fight to keep same-sex marriage illegal with the anti-LGBT right-wing Christian right group, The Alliance Defense Fund.

The fight over LGBT marriage equality left deep wounds. The San Francisco Chronicle noted in a piece published Sunday, August 22, 2010; “The Imperial Valley has always been very anti-LGBT,” said Fernando Lopez, 28, who grew up in El Centro and is gay. “If you are gay there, there is nothing to turn to for support. It’s just really backward.”

In the Spring of 2015, Diaz said that the lack of visibility coupled with a lack of a resource center for the valley drove her to borrow a building and start to build a center. She put the word out that she was establishing a non-profit and to her shock she says, people who were complete strangers to her and even to each other came together to work on establishing the by-laws, the articles and structure for the new nonprofit, working with legal firms offering their services pro bono, and critically setting its mission for serving the Valley’s LGBT community.

When she told a local community leader about her goals for establishing the center, the person remarked, “Why are you bringing Sodom and Gomorrah here?” The center launched with its grand opening in October of 2015. “It was a long uphill fight,” she said adding, “We are here to stay.”

The center has partnered with outside organizations like San Diego Pride which has given the IVLGBT Center a free booth for the past four years. Diaz proudly said that the Center has also participated in LGBTQ awareness and sensitivity training for the IV Sheriff’s Office as well as the local California State Probation & parole office.

She said that groups for youth, the Trans community, drug and alcohol, mental health issues are all a part of the center’s portfolio. The principal mission is the center’s ability to connect the Valley’s LGBTQ community with resources.

As the center works to provide services and resources to the Valley’s LGBTQI+ community that is largely still invisible and culturally at odds, Diaz says that she and her staff embrace her mantra, “Don’t expect people to always understand you. Instead, learn to understand them. Then accept, forgive, and love unconditionally. This is a sure way to be happy.”

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Obituary

Out American composer & lyricist Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Sondheim did not come Out until age 40 & didn’t live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones

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Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (Screenshot via CBS)

ROXBURY, Ct. – The man who was heralded as Broadway and theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century with nine Tony awards alone, Stephen Joshua Sondheim, known for landmark musicals such as “Company,” “West Side Story” and “Sweeney Todd, has died at 91.

Sondheim’s death was announced by his attorney, Rick Pappas. who said that the composer died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. The day before, Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury, Pappas added.

An online listing of Sondheim’s accolades include nine Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2008), an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed on him by former President Barack Obama.

He has a theatre named for him on both Broadway and the West End in London.

Sondheim has written film music, contributing “Goodbye for Now” for Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds. He wrote five songs for 1990’s Dick Tracy, including “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”, sung in the film by Madonna, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Film adaptations of Sondheim’s work include West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), A Little Night Music (1977), Gypsy (1993), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Into the Woods (2014), West Side Story (2021), and Merrily We Roll Along (TBA).

Sondheim did not come Out until he was 40 and did not live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones. His current partner, actor-producer Jeff Romley and he had been living together for over 6 years at the time of the composer’s death.

David LaFontaine, a professor at Massasoit Community College, wrote about Sondheim’s early years and the critical friendship that would end up impacting his life, career, and American Theatre;

“Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in New York City on March 22, 1930, the only child of affluent parents who divorced when he was ten. He believes he might have succumbed to depression had it not been for a friendship that began in the summer of 1941 with the Hammerstein family, who lived near Sondheim on the bucolic Highland Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“Dorothy and Oscar Hammerstein became my surrogate parents during my teen years,” says Sondheim, “and that’s essentially how I became a songwriter, because I wanted to do what Oscar did.” During his four years as a student at the George School, Stevie, as he was then called, often spent entire summers at the Hammerstein farm.”

Oscar Hammerstein II was an American lyricist, theatrical producer, and director in the musical theater for almost 40 years. He won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Hammerstein along with his partner composer Richard Rodgers created some of the notable musicals in Broadway history including Oklahoma! (1943),  South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).

This past September Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for a conversation that covers a lot of ground, from “Company” to “West Side Story,” to a new show titled, “Square One.”

Stephen Sondheim Is Still Writing New Works, As “Company” Returns To Broadway

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Virginia

Virginia Tech Co. burns LGBTQ poster at company party- then apologizes

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC

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Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC

ASHBURN, Va. – The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

A customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds, made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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The White House

New virus variant stokes global alarms, flights banned from South Africa

The variant is classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the Delta variant

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:President Joe Biden (Blade file photo)

NANTUCKETT, Ma. – The World Health Organization declared a new variant of the mutated coronavirus it named Omicron as a variant of concern Friday. The variant is classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the Delta variant, the world’s most prevalent.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, [has shown] this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” the WHO noted.

The Omicron variant has already caused countries across Europe and Asia to implement travel restrictions.

President Joe Biden, spending the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with his family on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts off Cape Cod, on Friday issued a directive ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29.

Bloomberg reported that one of Biden’s top medical advisers said earlier Friday that officials would act after reviewing scientific data with counterparts in South Africa.

American health officials spoke with their South African counterparts midday New York time on Friday to gather medical and scientific data about the newly discovered variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Biden’s top health advisers, said they’d use that data in deciding whether to join the European Union, the U.K. and others in restricting travel.

The White House issued the President’s statement Friday afternoon:

“This morning I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. 

For now, I have two important messages for the American people, and one for the world community.

First, for those Americans who are fully vaccinated against severe COVID illness – fortunately, for the vast majority of our adults — the best way to strengthen your protection is to get a booster shot, as soon as you are eligible.  Boosters are approved for all adults over 18, six months past their vaccination and are available at 80,000 locations coast-to-coast.  They are safe, free, and convenient.  Get your booster shot now, so you can have this additional protection during the holiday season.

Second, for those not yet fully vaccinated: get vaccinated today.  This includes both children and adults.  America is leading the world in vaccinating children ages 5-11, and has been vaccinating teens for many months now – but we need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection. If you have not gotten vaccinated, or have not taken your children to get vaccinated, now is the time.

Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.   

In addition, I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally.  I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.”

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