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On pandemic pause, Cox & Piers pivot to a ‘Better’ place

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The mirror has four faces—in front of it, that is, as two maskless BFFs breeze through an ask-me-anything exchange with a worldwide audience, while gazing into a reflective surface as they apply the makeup that transforms them into NYC-based drag queens Jackie Cox and Chelsea Piers.

Jackie Cox (right) and Chelsea Piers. (Image courtesy of It Gets Better Project)

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, the frequently-tested-for-COVID-19 bubblemates participated in last month’s  It Gets Better 2020 Global Summit, by helming a session in which makeup’s ability to alter and empower provided the metaphorical foundation for a frank, shame-free discussion of mental health issues within context of LGBTQ+ identity and COVID-19-caused isolation.

More on that momentarily—but first, a little about the Summit’s sponsor, in the form an accessory no drag queen is never fully dressed without: A damn good backstory.

The It Gets Better Project was founded in 2010 by Terry Miller and sex-positive advice columnist/activist Dan Savage—a couple whose prior collaborations included the 1999 adoption of a child and a 2005 Canadian marriage. Conceived as a counterargument to suicide among teens struggling with their sexual identity, the “It Gets Better” slogan struck a chord with its target audience by projecting nothing for the future beyond a basic, measurable improvement over their present state of being. The Project reinforced that message by offering YouTube videos featuring well-adjusted LGBTQ+ adults. The testimonials grew in number and variety, fast-tracking “It Gets Better” into popular use as an under promising, over delivering perseverance tactic.

A decade later, the It Gets Better Project supports a Global Affiliate Network spanning 17 countries on four continents, each working to uplift, empower, and connect their local LGBTQ+ youth. Their annual Global Summit is a way for the nonprofit’s volunteers and friends to make personal connections and apply the successes of other Affiliates to their own work back home.

But at a unique point in time when one small sneeze can turn a group trust exercise into a superspreader event, the 2020 Summit took place entirely online. That was a first for the Summit, which further distinguished itself with a never-before offer that gave the general public free access to six events, including December 9’s “Drag Talk.”

Clocking in at just over an hour, the segment has “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (RPDR) Season 12 contestant Cox and her frequent on stage co-writer/co-star Piers putting their own spin on the It Gets Better brand of refreshing candor.

Broadcasting from a workroom complete with flattering backlighting crafted by Jackie (“If it were me, we’d be sitting on milk crates,” deadpanned Chelsea), the gals answered chat room questions from fans by referencing everything from their childhood to how they met to their decade-long “overnight success” career trajectory. As steeped in the past as the duo often found themselves, the conversation was never fully free of that long shadow cast by COVID-19.

“A lot of this experience,” said Chelsea, of the shelter-in-place protocol that dominated most of 2020, “has been relearning things through a different lens.” Working out at the gym with a trainer, she noted, has been replaced by solo sessions with a borrowed kettlebell—and in-person weekly appointments with a therapist turned into virtual sessions.

“What I find most empowering and therapeutic,” said Chelsea, “is talking candidly, to let young queer people know that vulnerability is actually a really powerful thing. I’ve found a lot of clarity and strength in being transparent with my own struggles with depression and anxiety.”

For Jackie, life in lockdown quickly became a matter of finding a workable answer to the question, “ ‘How do I keep going, knowing that drag is something we traditionally do in places where lots of people are packed together?’ You have to find ways to reconfigure the things that bring you joy.” After months of digital content creation challenges, noted Jackie, “We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do.”

Commenting on the advent of an unprecedented worldwide shutdown at the exact time she would have been touring the world as a TPDR alum, Jackie invoked wisdom by way of “What Not to Wear.”

“What they tell people who are struggling with fashion,” she noted, “is to dress for the body you have, not the body you want. Make the most of whatever your current circumstance is, because you actually have no other choice… There’s a certain amount of surrender that’s required in all of this.”

To see “Drag Talk” in its entirety, click here.

What follows are excerpts from an interview conducted by this publication just before the event. 

The Los Angeles Blade: What made you want to work with the organization and support its message?

Chelsea Piers: I think that it’s now more important than ever—especially considering the state of our world and the state of politics in this country—that we empower queer youth, marginalized youth who feel that they might not have a fighting chance at a better future. I love that IGB gives queer people a safe space to feel empowered, to do great things with their future

Jackie Cox: It Gets Better is such a simple idea, but it’s powerful because it really reminds kids of the future. You know, when you’re between the ages of 13 and 17, there’s a lot of really intense feelings—and as you come into adolescence and adulthood, for queer youth to feel alone in that experience?

Our entire our entire society is built around, still, this idea of a heteronormative kind of existence and certainly high school is no exception. So to give kids that safe space? It’s [the It Gets Better Project] more than just knowing gay people exist. I think most kids today know that, but to know that they’re not alone in some of their really unique struggles? That is so important.

Blade:  Can both of you imagine if you had grown up with “RuPaul’s Drag Race?”

Jackie: Well, I’ll start on a light note. Certainly my makeup would be better. Oh, my goodness. We have so much access to amazing queer artistry. You know, when Chelsea and I started doing drag 10 years ago, it wasn’t like that. And on a more serious note, I think it takes visibility for people to see themselves represented and then believe in themselves… Our generation is the first generation to survive into real adulthood, coming after the terror that was AIDS and HIV in the ’80s and ’90s. We were a little bit alone. You know, there just weren’t enough [gay male] adults kind of “there.” And now that we’re in our 30s, we can be there for young people. 

Chelsea: I think if I had seen positive, multifaceted representations of queer people in media, a lot of the shame that we internalize as queer people—we wouldn’t see that much of in our generation. I mean, I had the Spice Girls, and they were pretty much drag queens, but that’s another story… But for queer youth to see themselves in rich, layered roles, to see themselves in politics, like Marti Gould Cummings, or to see a queer Iranian person like Jackie on “Drag Race.” That‘s very encouraging, because it doesn’t demonize us. It doesn’t make us seem like caricatures. The more empathy we can lend to all subcultures within the queer community, the more empathy we can create in the general consciousness.

Jackie: And I think that’s going to keep evolving as we move foreword. Look how much the discourse has changed in the last, not 10 years, but five years, around gender identity, and how important that is to validate, as part of the ongoing conversation around mental health. So our job is to keep that going. And to see kids who are about to come out as trans or non-binary at a young age? The power of that is just incredible.

To learn more about It Gets Better, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/itgetsbetter…

https://www.instagram.com/itgetsbetter

http://itgetsbetterproject.tumblr.com/

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Online Culture

First Trans Amazon introduced by DC Comics In ‘Wonder Woman’

DC Comics-Warner Brothers became more LGBTQ+ inclusive with the introduction of the character of Bia, a Black trans woman

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Courtesy of DC Comics-Warner Brothers

BURBANK – The world of DC Comics-Warner Brothers became more LGBTQ+ inclusive this weekend as the venerable comic book franchise of Wonder Woman expanded with the introduction of the character of Bia, a Black trans woman, in the first issue of the series Nubia & The Amazons.

Earlier this month on National Coming Out Day, the canon of the Superman series changed for the life of Jon Kent, the Superman of Earth and son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, taking a bold new direction. After initially striking up a friendship with reporter Jay Nakamura, he and Jon become romantically involved, making Kent an Out bisexual character.

In this latest offering, Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala, writers and creators confirmed that Bia is a Black Trans woman. They stressed that she “isn’t a box to tick … [she] is important to her community. Just as Black trans women are important to us in real life.” 

Of special significance to the introduction of the character in the DC Comic worlds was the endorsement of actress Lynda Carter who played the title role of Wonder Woman on television based on the comic book superheroine, which aired on ABC and later on CBS from 1975 to 1979. Earlier in the week Carter tweeted her support of Trans women;

Writing for the DC Comics-Warner Brothers website blog, co-creator Stephanie Williams said;

It’s been a dream to work with the likes of Vita Ayala, a non-binary Afro-Latinx comic writer who has been making quite a name for themselves. And then there is the illustrious and widely talented and dedicated Afro-Latina artist Alitha Martinez who is already in the comic hall of fame for all-time greats. Her passion for Nubia is unmatched. It shows in every cover and panel from Nubia’s Future State story written by L.L. McKinney, her Infinite Frontier #0 story written by Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad, and now the Nubia and the Amazons miniseries written by myself and Vita Ayala.”

Courtesy of DC Comics-Warner Brothers

I’m so excited about the history we’re creating, adding to, and remixing. The foundation has always been there, but needed some TLC. As Nubia embarks on this new journey as Queen of Themyscira, I hope her rebirth will be met with open arms and the desire to keep her always at the forefront. Nubia, now being queen, is poetic in so many ways, but one that stays on my mind is the very personal connection I feel. As I help to add to her legacy, she’s opened the door wider to my own,” Williams said adding:

Long may Queen Nubia reign, forever and always.”

Nubia and the Amazons #1 by Stephanie Williams, Vita Ayala and Alitha Martinez is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

Along with co-writing Nubia and the Amazons, Stephanie Williams writes about comics, TV and movies for DCComics.com. Check out more of her work on Den of Geek, What To Watch, Nerdist and SYFY Wire and be sure to follow her on both Twitter and Instagram at @steph_I_will.

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Notables

Ebony Power 100: Deputy White House Press Sec. Karine Jean-Pierre

Her position is historic as the first Black Lesbian who is speaking for the nation’s chief executive as Deputy Press Secretary

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Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre courtesy of EBONY Magazine Power 100 awards

BEVERLY HILLS – Ebony Magazines’ iconic annual Power 100 awards ceremony, honoring those individuals who have had a positive impact on the African-American community is making its 2021 post coronavirus pandemic return airing Saturday, October 23 from Los Angeles and hosted by Wayne Brady.

Brady, a television personality, comedian, actor, and singer, will also give a special performance during the broadcast, and he is slated to receive Ebony’s Vanguard Award for his decades-plus career “as a consummate, all-around entertainer and performer.” 

Included in the distinguished list of honorees is principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who is listed in the magazine’s category of ‘Ceiling Breakers.’ As the principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre conducts the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Room in the West Wing standing in as needed for White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki and also she conducts what are referred to as ‘gaggles.’

“Gaggles” refers to informal briefings a White House press secretary conducts with the daily press pool rather than the entire White House press corps.

President Joe Biden’s selection of Jean-Pierre was a first in the history of presidential administrations. Her position is seen as historic from the perspective of being the first Black Lesbian to hold forth behind the podium of the James S. Brady Press room in the West Wing speaking for the nation’s chief executive.

Jean-Pierre has been with the Biden administration since she joined the Biden-Harris campaign in May of 2020 and then accepted the position of Chief of Staff to Senator Harris in August. In late November of 2020, then President-elect Joe Biden named seven women to his incoming White House Communications Team to include naming Jean-Pierre as the Deputy White House Press Secretary.

The daughter of immigrant parents from Haiti, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and later raised in Queens, a borough of New York City. A longtime activist and communications specialist, she has a Master’s in Public Affairs conferred on her by New York’s Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she has taught as an adjunct professor and lecturer in international and public affairs since 2014.

During the first Obama admkistartion term, Jean-Pierre, 43, served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs.

Speaking with the Advocate magazine in June of 2011 Jean-Pierre reflected on her tenure working for the Obama Administration as an openly LGBT staffer. “What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT,” she told the Advocate. “Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues.”

Speaking with NBC News journalist Tim Fitzsimons; “The sun was setting and the lights got much more prominent,” she said, referring to late June 2015, when she watched the White House lit in rainbow colors to mark the historic Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “People had signs and people were crying, and there was just so much joy.”

“I remember thinking how proud I was of this administration, that I had worked for that,” Jean-Pierre, said. “It really brought together, in that one moment, how important LGBTQ rights were and how much that administration fought for our rights.”

In 2016 after her White House stint, Jean-Pierre served as a Senior Advisor and National Spokesperson for Washington D.C. based MoveOn, a progressive non-profit public policy advocacy group and political action committee. Her primary portfolio at the non-profit was addressing President Trump’s rhetoric and platform of hate, violence, racism, immigrant-bashing, and women-bashing.

She also served as the deputy campaign manager for former Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2016 campaign run for the Oval Office.

Jean-Pierre received national recognition after a June 1, 2019 incident during the MoveOn Big Ideas Forum she was moderating in San Francisco, when 24 year-old Aidan Cook, a member of the animal right activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rushed the stage grabbing the microphone out of then California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’s hand. The Senator was a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the time of the incident.

Jean-Pierre, who had jumped in between Cook and the Senator after he took the microphone kept the activist away from Harris until security arrived and removed him. At the time of the incident, Harris, like most other candidates in early stages of the primary process, didn’t have a U.S. Secret Service detail for protection.

Jean-Pierre, her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter reside in Washington D.C.

The EBONY Power 100 ceremony also is marking the culmination of Ebonys 75th anniversary year. 

For the complete list of honorees please head over to here. (Link)

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Events

West Hollywood Halloween Events 2021

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Courtesy of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The West Hollywood Chamber of commerce has released its annual Halloween events guide available here.

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