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Best of LGBTQ LA 2021

Forth annual special issue celebrates the community

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LGBTQ LA, gay news, Washington Blade

For this fourth annual special issue of the Best of LGBTQ LA, the Los Angeles Blade is celebrating the best of our community and all of the accomplishments that have been made throughout this unprecedented past year. During a year of civil unrest and the relentless pandemic, here are some highlights of places and people from all walks of life, from bartenders to drag queens, who have proven to be the best of LA’s LGBTQ community. In some cases you might say, it’s a list of the life we miss when things were normal.

Los Angeles Blade readers nominated finalists; the top five vote getters in each category were then added to the final ballot. Thousands of Blade readers then voted and the winners are presented here. The Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists.

Local Hero

Winner: Ariadne Getty

Best Bartender

Eric Lutz (Photo via Instagram)

Winner: Eric Lutz, Rocco’s
Rocco’s in West Hollywood is known for its vibrant atmosphere and queer culture, but you can’t have a good bar without a good bartender. Eric Lutz has many talents such as being an actor, a voice actor, and a model. Lutz says, “I have also been known to make some amazing cocktails at some of the busiest bars in Hollywood and West Hollywood.” Lutz attributes his success to his charisma and is working to become a household name.

Runner-Up: Andy Santiago, formerly Flaming Saddles

Best Drag Queen

Rhea Litré (Photo by Bird Lambro)

Winner: Rhea Litré
Although this year put an end to in-person events, Rhea Litré didn’t let it get her down. Litré decided to set up a live virtual drag show. This drag show gave fans the ability to make donations. According to Litré, “On March 16, 8 p.m. Pacific Time, we gave birth to the first digital drag show of its kind.” Litre went on to say, “There has been drag online for a long time, but as far as a conceptualized, produced show, that had never been done before.” This event was so popular that Litré ended up doing multiple shows a week over the past summer. You can find more information on Litré’s Instagram – quarantinequeendragshow

Runner-Up: Sherry Vine

Best Virtual Drag Show

Jewels Long Beach

Winner: Jewels Long Beach

Jewels Long Beach is incredible at putting on a stellar drag show – especially virtually, this year. Jewels is a comedian, host, drag queen, and philanthropist making her a jack of all trades. Jewels’s website says: “Every Sunday 12 p.m. Brunch With The Quarantine Queens.” There’s also a spot on the website to donate money via Venmo to help maintain the virtual drag shows.

Editor’s Choice: Legendary Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s WeHo

Best LGBTQ Influencer

Gigi Gorgeous

Winner: Gigi Gorgeous
Gigi Gorgeous has won the award for Best LGBTQ Influencer for the second year in a row. Our winner has a massive fan base where she tells her followers to be their best selves. She has described herself as being a “creator, personality, model/actor, lover of beauty, fashion, and a good party.” In 2013, Gigi Gorgeous came out as a transgender woman. Gigi Gorgeous has yet again won the award for being the best LGBTQ influencer due to her platform, which she uses to communicate about real-world issues. Gorgeous’s Instagram is: @gigigorgeous

Runner-up: Todrick, @todrick

Best Neighborhood Bar

Winner: Hamburger Mary’s
Hamburger Mary’s is known for its inclusivity and always hosts events for LGBTQ+ people.

Hamburger Mary’s has many events from its “Brunch with the Divas” to its “Pizza with Divas” night. There is also a Legendary Bingo Night that Hamburger Mary’s hosts, which serves as a fundraising event for LGBTQ+ issues. Legendary Bingo has become a tradition for Hamburger Mary’s and beyond extending to the broader Los Angeles community.

According to the Legendary Bingo website, “Legendary Bingo is Los Angeles’ most popular and longest running weekly charity event. In 2008 and 2013 in honor of Legendary Bingo’s 10th and 15th anniversaries, the City of West Hollywood proclaimed a “Legendary Bingo Day” for the entire city.”

Editor’s Choice: Akbar

Best Outdoor Drinks

The Abbey (Photo by AVABLU)

Winner: The Abbey 
For the second year in a row, The Abbey has won the award for Best Outdoor Drinks. The Abbey made history two years ago by launching “Heavenly Bodies,” the first known transgender club event in Los Angeles. 

Owner David Cooley’s commitment to the community includes his annual Academy Awards viewing party, which has raised nearly $2 million for AIDS Project Los Angeles. He helped found Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing, hosts an annual “Christmas in September” event and toy drive for Children¹s Hospital Los Angeles, and is known for his politically oriented actions. (He banned bachelorette parties from The Abbey until marriage was legal in California, and created the Chick-for-Gay sandwich, which raised thousands of dollars for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.) Cooley supports dozens of LGBTQ and community groups annually, including OUTfest, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, The Trevor Project, and GLAAD.

Editor’s Choice: Beaches

Best Outdoor Dining

Winner: Rocco’s Tavern WeHo 
Rocco’s is known as a popular LGBTQ bar, but it didn’t come into existence until May of 2019. Last year, Rocco’s won the Best Neighborhood Bar award and this year, Rocco’s wins the award for Best Outdoor Dining. Rocco’s is an inclusive space with LGBTQ décor that celebrates both LGBTQ pride and history. The LA Blade’s readers chose Rocco’s as having the best outdoor dining due to its quick adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor’s Choice: La Boheme

Best Carryout

Winner: Shake Shack 
With COVID-19 impacting the ways in which people consume food, multiple companies have had to revise their strategies when it comes to selling their goods. For Shake Shack, its delicious food and drink options have allowed it to thrive during the pandemic. Shake Shack has been incredibly supportive of the LGBTQ community through its donations. On Shake Shack’s website, it says, “We’re all about our hood! We’re committed to extending hospitality beyond the four walls of this Shack and into the West Hollywood community. We donate 5% of sales from our Pie Oh My concrete to LA PRIDE, advancing human rights, education, outreach and equality for the LGBT community.”

Editor’s Choice: Urth Caffe

Best Restaurant

Casita del Campo (Photo via Facebook)

Winner: Casita del Campo 
At Casita del Campo you can find all your Mexican favorites. The most requested dishes are the fajitas, chicken or beef, and pollo Mexican, which is a one half grilled marinated chicken with fresh fruit juice and assorted spices. If you enjoy seafood, try the camarones a la Veracruzana, tiger shrimp sauteed in olive oil, onions, tomatoes and olives.

Casita del Campo is so much fun and has a real party atmosphere. It offers two outdoor patios and a beautiful dining room with a giant rubber tree. In addition, there is a sports lounge that offers live entertainment with a full bar, along with a variety of intimate booths if privacy is your thing. This place is huge.

Casita del Campo hosts a litany of LGBTQ events. 

Editor’s Choice: Bottega Louie

Best Coffee Shop

Alfred Coffee & Kitchen (Photo via Facebook)

Winner: Alfred Coffee Melrose Place 
Alfred Coffee on Melrose Place is a small coffee shop known for its unique interior design and fantastic coffee.

Best House of Worship

Winner: Congregation Kol Ami
Congregation Kol Ami won the award for Best House of Worship in 2019, won Editor’s Choice in 2020, and now wins the award for the Best House of Worship this year. Kol Ami is an important leader in the Jewish, LGBTQ, and West Hollywood communities since its founding in 1992. Rabbi Denise L. Egers broke barriers to create a more inclusive Reform movement that has resulted in more LGBTQ inclusion at synagogues worldwide. (1200 N La Brea Ave, West Hollywood)

Editor’s Choice: Metropolitan Community Church

Most Committed Activist LGBTQ Activist

Jeffrey King (Photo courtesy King)

Winner: Jeffrey King
Jeffrey King has been an advocate for LGBTQ rights for many years. King believes that the LGBTQ community has the answers to solve its own problems. Specifically, in the context of the healthcare system, King has advocated for a more inclusive health care system by saying it currently “omits the voice of the people.” As a Black man, King believes that organizations like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation are important to help mobilize the Black LGBTQ+ population to be more open to testing and outreach messages.

“I have always believed that the community has the answer to our problems,” King says. “The arrogance and dismissiveness” of some in the public healthcare system “omits the voice of the people.”

King is grateful for critical funding from sources such as AIDS Healthcare Foundation that helped the organization purchase a mobile HIV testing unit that goes where the gay/bi black men are and creates unique outreach messages.

“AHF’s support allowed us to do a lot of programs and interventions and testing in a way that could reach men who are resistant to testing,” King says. “Funding from AHF, Macy’s Passport and the Weingart Foundation allowed us to develop programs and grassroots community mobilization efforts that the government would not fund us for. Having that support is of great importance in our community.”

Runner-up: Sharon-Franklin Brown

Best Public Official

Vice President Kamala Harris

Winner: Kamala Harris, vice president of the United States
As we continue to celebrate the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made in this country, Kamala Harris has always been a fierce advocate of the LGBTQ+ community. She was there every step of the way as we fought for our constitutional right to marry.

As attorney general, she refused to defend the ban on gay marriage and worked tirelessly to support marriage equality. She led the way to fight the status quo, long before it was politically convenient or popular, and officiated some of the first same-sex marriages in the country. She advocated for inclusion and justice for the transgender community and led the way in ensuring safety for our LGBTQ+ neighbors. As a senator and then as a presidential candidate, Harris made certain to place priorities on LGBTQ needs up front. Now as vice president of the United States we are certain she will continue to advocate and fight hard for our community and to get the Equality Act passed through this Democratic Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

Runner-Up: Dr. Barbara Ferrer Director of LAC Public Health 

Best Local Media Personality

Jessica Holmes (Photo by KTLA)

Winner: Jessica Holmes
Jessica Holmes is an American television personality. She was the co-host of the popular Nickelodeon TV series “Slime Time Live.” She is currently an anchor of the KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles.

Runner-Up: Robert Kovacik

Best Cannabis Business

Winner: Cannabis Cafe
A victim of the coronavirus pandemic, the cafe is temporarily closed. Now that smoking marijuana for fun and profit is legal in California, the only thing that’s criminal about Los Angeles’s first weed cafe is that it charges $14 for a bowl of chips and guac.

Technically, the Original Cannabis Cafe is in West Hollywood, near the city’s northeastern border on La Brea Avenue and it’s not simply the first legal weed cafe in the county — it’s the first one in the country. Let’s hope it returns!

Editor’s Choice: Cookies

Best Radio Station

Winner: PBS SoCal / KCET  
KCET is a content channel of the Public Media Group of Southern California, formed by the 2018 merger of KCETLink Media Group and PBS SoCal. KCET is your guiding light when it comes to illuminating arts, culture and local news, and LGBTQ issues in the Southern California region.

Best LGBTQ-Owned Business

Winner: The Abbey (2nd year)

Editor’s Choice: Block Party

Best LGBTQ Executive

Winner: Richard Ayoub 
Richard Ayoub is executive director of Project Angel Food, a non-profit that delivers healthful meals to homebound clients. One of Project Angel Food’s most recent endeavors is its work with the University of Southern California tackling diabetes within the Native American community in Los Angeles. 

Editor’s Choice: David Cooley

Most LGBTQ-Friendly City

Winner: West Hollywood (2nd year in a row)
For the second year in a row, West Hollywood has won the award for the Most LGBTQ-Friendly City. As noted a few years ago, West Hollywood has its “boutique hotels, celebrity-owned restaurants, unparalleled nightlife and shopping, and world-renowned events.”

The inclusive city has multiple LGBTQ bars, restaurants, and nightlife and it’s no surprise that the LA Blade readers chose West Hollywood as the Most LGBT-Friendly City.

As we noted last year, when singing the praises of WeHo’s win for Best Place to Live, “There’s just no place like it. The little town remains Los Angeles’ hottest destination for the entertainment industry with its boutique hotels, celebrity-owned restaurants, unparalleled nightlife and shopping, and world-renowned events. like the HBO Emmy Party, Sir Elton John’s Annual Oscar Party, and the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival.” What’s more, WeHo City Council member and Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey P. Horvath took top honors this year, in our Best Public Official category. 

Editor’s Choice: Long Beach

Best Local Pro Sports Team

Winner: LA Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, with six World Series championships and 23 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890, is committed to a tradition of pride and excellence. The Dodgers are dedicated to supporting a culture of winning baseball, providing a first-class, fan-friendly experience at Dodger Stadium, and building a strong partnership with the community. With the highest cumulative fan attendance in Major League Baseball history and a record of breaking barriers, the Dodgers are one of the most cherished sports franchises in the world.

Editor’s Choice: The LA  Lakers

Best Real Estate Firm

Winner: Compass

Editor’s Choice: The Collective, Realty

Best Ally

Winner: Congressman Adam Schiff
Apart from being a hero to many as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and leader of the first House impeachment hearings against former President Trump, Schiff is also well known as an elected official who cares about and truly represents his constituents, especially those in the LGBTQ community.

Runner-up: Eric Garcetti LA Mayor

Best Salon/Spa

Winner: Shorty’s Barber Shop
Shorty’s Barber Shop has won the Best Salon/Spa Award for the third year in a row. With amazing products and great haircuts, Shorty’s is a local favorite. In terms of its high quality products, all of them are ethically created and never tested on animals.

No close shaves here: Shorty’s won this category last year, and did it again by considerably more than a whisker. As we wrote in praise of its 2019 win, “When you walk out with some merch (the styling putty and soy paste are customer favorites), you can feel good about that, too. Besides the perfect cut, Shorty’s also puts a premium on giving back, by working with the likes of Concrete Hero, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

Editor’s Choice: Sunset Plaza Salon

Best Car Dealership

Winner: Cadillac of Beverly Hills (2nd year)
Rightly hailed by a recent Los Angeles Blade article as “the Cadillac of Cadillac dealerships,” Cadillac of Beverly Hills is, we noted, a “sleek, sprawling, super-modern facility, located on the marquee corner of Robertson and Wilshire.” This is not, General Sales Manager Ronald Elkhoury told us, “your traditional auto dealership that you go into, and are attacked by salespeople with tacky techniques. And you feel that right away. There’s no pressure at all. It’s a place where you’re able to relax, and encouraged to just hang out.” Five distinct lounges, Netflix viewing, and Starbucks coffee back up that assertion—but it’s the high standards of the iconic American-made luxury brand that has the competition spinning its wheels.

Editor’s Choice: Mercedes of Beverly Hills

Best Doctors/Medical Provider

Winner: AIDS Healthcare Foundation Clinics (2nd year)
Last year’s Editor’s Choice for Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace won the admiration of this year’s voters, for the consistently excellent work of doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, med techs, benefits counselors, and support staff at 14 AHF Healthcare Centers and satellite clinics throughout Southern California. In its quest to rid the world of AIDS, this nonprofit organization provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy in 43 countries. Locally, says AHF Senior Director of Communications Ged Kenslea, “Our ‘circle of care’ concept starts with free and accessible HIV testing. When called for, AHF then provides swift linkage to care and follow-up treatment. We try as best we can to keep the focus on the patient by serving as their partner in care, in order to make it easier for them to adhere to their medication and care regimens to help them achieve their best selves, health and wellness-wise.”

Editor’s Choice: Los Angeles LGBT Center

Best Virtual/Socially Distanced Fitness Classes

Winner: Barry’s Bootcamp 

Editor’s Choice: Working Out Is a Drag with Jason Wimberly

Best Home Furnishings

Winner: Living Spaces

Editor’s Choice: Ashley Furniture

PHOTO: HERE:

Best Queer-Friendly COVID Programming

Winner: Together In Pride: The LGBTQ Response to COVID-19
GLAAD hosted a live stream event, “Together in Pride: You are Not Alone” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on its YouTube channel and Facebook Live last April. The event raised funds for LGBTQ community centers across the country suffering due to the financial impact of the coronavirus. The star-studded event featured performances by Kesha and Melissa Etheridge and special guests Billy Eichner, Matt Bomer, Adam Lambert, Dan Levy, Mj Rodriguez, Gigi Gorgeous, Nats Getty, Sharon Stone, and more.

Editor’s Choice: Trans-Lounge

Best LGBTQ Social Group

Winner: Impulse Group LA 
Founded in 2009 by Jose Ramos, Impulse Group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a stronger and healthier community for gay men. Hosting more than 400 events annually in 25 cities across the globe, Impulse seeks to create a brave space to engage, support and connect our community.

Editor’s Choice: AIDS LifeCycle

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace

Winner: City of West Hollywood

Editor’s Choice: AIDS Healthcare Foundation

CAPTION:Dr. Ward Carpenter, co-director of health services at the LA LGBT Center, administers the first Moderna COVID19 vaccination to Keith Leach.

Best Non-Profit

Winner: Los Angeles LGBT Center
“For more than 50 years, the Los Angeles LGBT Center has been providing invaluable services to our community. Many of our employees choose to work at the Center precisely because they are empowered to grow professionally in an environment that respects and honors who they are,” said Center Director of Human Resources, Sharon Brown. “We believe this ability to be one’s authentic self—regardless of background or identity—creates a workplace that is full of compassion and respect for the LGBT community and all who enter our doors. We are enormously proud of our staff and grateful to be acknowledged in this way.”

Editor’s Choice: Project Angel Food

Best Virtual A&E Events

Winner: Hollywood Bowl

The iconic Hollywood Bowl offers a plethora of virtual programming during the pandemic, from concerts to fundraisers. Visit  HYPERLINK “http://hollywoodbowl.com”hollywoodbowl.com for the upcoming lineup of events, which includes a Feb. 6 fundraiser, “Icons on Inspiration.”

Editor’s Choice: City of West Hollywood DJ event

Best Live Queer-Friendly COVID Programming

Winner: Quarantine Queen

Editor’s Choice: AHF Flux

Best Pet Business or Vet

Winner: PAWS LA

This award has gone to PAWS LA for the second year in a row. Its founder, Nadia Sutton, served on the West Hollywood Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board, and has been an activist for years.

PAWS/LA was founded more than 31 years ago by West Hollywood resident and community activist Nadia Sutton who also served on the West Hollywood Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board and was a founding board member of The Lavender Effect.

PAWS/LA’s stated mission then was to take care of the pets of people suffering from HIV/AIDS. It has since expanded to include seniors, veterans, and disabled Angelenos affected by life-threatening illnesses.

Editor’s Choice: Healthy Spot  https://healthyspot.com/pages/west-hollywood

Best COVID Quarantine Messaging

Winner: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health 

Editor’s Choice: City of West Hollywood

Best Clothing Store

Winner: Out Of The Closet 

8224 Santa Monica Blvd. – (323) 848-976

Editors choice: Bloomingdales at Beverly Center 

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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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Julia Scotti, the movie, is just Funny That Way

Life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would. And that is ultimately the point

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Graphic courtesy of Susan Sandler

WHITING, NJ. – “You are a piece of work, Julia!” Simon Cowell blurted during her landmark America’s Got Talent debut.  Julia Scotti had just completed her audition for the show that ended not only with a standing ovation, but with the revelation that she had once upon a time been a stand-up comedian named Rick. As that news crossed the faces of the four judges, their collective jaws dropped. “I mean like you come out as the nice little granny school teacher all sweet and then you go into your routine and like WHOA. Talk about surprises – they are never ending with you, are they?” Cowell finished.

With Julia Scotti, the surprises never end.

Her latest surprise for the public is a gem of a film, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.  It is a documentary of her journey from the days of Rick, the up and coming comic who performed on bills with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to Julia, who is wowing millions.

Of her transition, Julia has remarked. “It is NEVER an easy process whether you’re a public figure or not. You are essentially killing your old self and ending your old life. And with that comes the history you’ve built with friends and family. Some are very accepting, but most are not. That is why the suicide attempt rate for Trans  folk is still at 41%.”

Funny That Way does not spare us the heart-breaking fallout from the virtual “death’ of Rick Scotti.  Filmmaker Susan Sandler weaves Julia’s story, the losses and damage, to her rebirth, healing and the reuniting with her kids after a 15-year estrangement.

Julia and Susan sat down with us on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio to talk about the film.  “This is a story and like all stories, there is a beginning and a middle and an end. In the end, I want the audience to know there is HOPE. It is bumpy at times, joyous at times.  It is not just isolated to my life. You can have that in your life when you walk through that door of your own truth and come out the other side and when you look back on all you went through, you go ‘what the hell was I so afraid of?’ Look how happy I am.” Julia explains.

Susan had never directed a documentary before, but as one of Hollywood’s master story tellers, and a Golden Globe nominee, she was unfazed.  “The impetus behind this film was falling in love with Julia, her, then and now.  If you are working from a really rich, complex, compelling character –which is Julia—that is the GIFT. All of my nerve endings, my story telling, told me this was dynamic documentary, and that’s the form in which I wanted to tell it.”

Susan took five years to research, document and interact with Julia’s past.  She went through old footage of Rick Scotti’s stage acts and restored many of them so they could be used in the film. She brought on composer Matt Hutchinson for a beautiful score, and animator Sam Roth for whimsical cartoons that tie the story together.

Before the filming started, Julia had just re-connected with her son Dan, and daughter Emma.  A decade and a half ago, when Julia announced to her then spouse that she was in fact a woman transitioning, her then-wife retaliated by taking their kids away.  Dan and Emma spent their whole adolescence not knowing Julia at all. The story of that pain is told in Funny That Way.  Susan wanted to show the relationships real-time in the film as they came to reconnect with Julia. “We were just at the beginning stages of reconciling,” recounts Julia. “I did not want them feeling like I was just reconnecting with them because I wanted them in this film. I did not want to distance them even more.”

Dan and Emma were onboard, however.  Also on board, albeit only by phone, was Kate. Kate was  Julia’s last wife, described as Julia’s “love of her life”. Kate supported Julia emotionally and spiritually through out the entire transition process.  One of the most poignant moments in the film was Julia hearing Kate describe the end of their relationship.  Kate’s support was significant, but once Julia became fully Julia, it was evident to both that their relationship had changed and they had to let it go.

Susan captured many live moments of Julia’s evolving life.  She caught the very first time that son Dan ever called Julia “his mother” and the effect was pronounced.  Also caught in the film was a moment when Julia and Dan are watching Rick’s old stand up routines.  One such performance  takes Julia by surprise—it was a routine that she had not remembered ever doing.  It was a set where then Rick expressed his revulsion to transgender women in no uncertain terms.  Julia sat shocked.

“My sensibilities have been ‘woked’, I think that is the term for it.” She told me about that experience. ”Thinking back, I was going through issues and aware that something was not right internally. It frightened me to no end.  Looking at that clip, I am totally ashamed of what I did. It embarrassed me.”

“I knew it was me. I knew I was there. But I don’t feel a connection with that person.  That is the truth.”

The film does not dwell long on the past shames and regrets.  It arcs to the present where an adult daughter gets to see her parent’s comedy routine for the very first time.

Some of the greatest joy in the film is witnessing the growing relationship between Julia and son Dan. Dan is sweet and compassionate, and they both have a deep love of comedy.  Through their discussions and collaboration on things funny, we witness something decidedly not funny, the deep re-kindling love they have for each other.

The film will make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again.  New clips of Julia’s now famous turn on America’s Got Talent shows her more personal reflective moments over a life changing triumph.

The only regret director Sandler has about the film is how it will be brought to the public. “I am happy to be brining the film now for the people who have an appetite for it. For the truth, the humor, the complete emotional honesty.  But I mourn. I mourn the moments not being able to sit with you in a theater. And experiencing the film with you. It was supposed to be seen by audiences, and then give them the opportunity to go down the street and see Julia live at a club.”  But, life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would.   And that is ultimately the point.

Editor’s Note: The film was originally slated for theatrical release which was delayed then put off by the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available now on digital platforms! That means you can rent or buy it online, at places like iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and more.

Here’s the full list of where you can find it. 

DIGITAL

iTunes
Amazon
Google Play
Xbox
VUDU
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Greyson Chance: A Butterfly’s Journey from Holy to Hell and Back

A decade ago there was a boy made famous by a pop song and a viral video. Today, there is an artistic, powerful singer song writer

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Greyson Chance (Photo Credit: Broderick Bauman)

HOLLYWOOD – Many want to saddle singer Greyson Chance with the label “comeback” or having a “return from retirement.”  It is an understandable mistake as the “fame to disaster” narrative IS there. The real story is about one of the most exciting new artists of today.  One that speaks to not only the LGBTQ youth of today, but of their entire generation.

Over a decade ago, there was a boy.  The boy was very gifted at the piano, and at singing. He entered a talent contest and belted out a well known pop song by one of the trendiest artists of the day.  Of course, there was a video.  Social media was itself an infant, and as such, started launching like videos into the stratosphere.  His video was one of the first to be seen gazillion of millions of times.  Then there was the Ellen show, then the record contracts and a music video where he was Ariana Grande’s love interest.

Life would never be the same again.  It would not be the same as Greyson Chance would be forever entwined with Lady Gaga and Paparazzi.  It would not be the same as when his voice changed and it all came crashing down. “The second that the momentum stopped, you know, I truly was just sort of thrown to the curb when I was 15. I, all in the same day,  got dropped by my record label, my management, my publicist, and my agent.  It was the ultimate for me, as a child musician.” Greyson told me.

The real story however, is of a fantastic singer/songwriter who hit the industry in a big way with a debut album of his own work in 2019. He emerged then as a honed artist who had already been educated on the workings of the industry, and as a professional who knew how to walk in with his own vision and make it happen.

“It is a machine and, when I when I came on the scene originally, I had this huge viral video and with that, a lot of money coming around, and big players kind of involved in the industry,” he says.  He made music their way.  He did the songs they wrote, and played the part of the person they wanted him to be.

(Photo Credit: Broderick Bauman)

He learned how to be the kind of artist he did not want to be.  The young artist went back to Oklahoma and enveloped himself in the cocoon of normalcy.  He incubated there, fell in love, and had his heart broken by someone he thought he was going to hold onto forever.  At that point, he emerged from the cocoon, with a full self-written album in hand, a musical butterfly spreading his wings.

“I’m 23 years old right now. And I started off with my first record deal when I was 12 years old. There was so much of my adolescence, in my childhood in music, where I wasn’t given the chance to not only make music that I really wanted to do, but also to be writing. I was being forced to do records,  I didn’t have a huge artistic involvement in anything I was doing. So when I came back into music, I really wanted to finally show the world that I was a songwriter, that I had a unique voice. That I had some unique things to say.   I really emphasize authenticity. These are stories that are coming from the heart. These are things that are coming from my own life. It’s not even really a choice that I have anymore.  It is honest, from a place that’s true and genuine,” Greyson states.

Greyson represented not only with a new thematic “voice”, but an actual new physical voice as well.  “It was interesting, what I went through, they always tell you that when your voice changes, it’s going to be sort of a tough go and that is such an understatement. It was so hard for me for a few years to really kind of find comfortability in my physical voice again. I mean, I really struggled through my voice change. But ultimately, I learned as a kid when I was on the road that in a way, when you’re a touring musician, you’re sort of like an athlete. My muscle is, is my voice.”  Greyson’s new voice is far superior to his belting-out-broadway boy voice.  He has a harmonic high register, and a sultry deep one. It copies no one else’s, this voice is uniquely his own.

In 2019, Greyson came out with his launch album “Portraits”.  The stories of the album gave vision to the various personas he saw of himself as he navigated an ill fated romance.  One week,  he was looking at engagement rings, the next week, out of the blue, “the man of his dreams” left him without explanation.  Greyson works each personal portrait into the prism of a beautiful, musically shiny diamond. “Portraits for me was truly my reinvention piece. And what I mean by that is, at the time before I put out that album, you know, I couldn’t even get a meeting in LA with anybody. You know, no one wanted to touch me, no one wanted to be involved in in my project and involved in my music. So I told myself, You know what, I’m going to write a record, and I’m going to write a full album. I’m going to give this one last shot, and see, see what happens. And, fortunately, it went over very, very well.”

In 2019 he filled 109 venues performing the songs from Portraits.  He publicly came out as gay in response to a fan during a conversation about living authentically.  He has also been transparent about his personal challenges, including his on-going battle with anorexia.  “It was truly very, very difficult to diagnose it. I had come off of this really bad breakup that I wrote my album Portraits about, and I was developing habits of not eating and not taking care of myself. I blamed it on the sadness I was feeling at the time. Then, as things became a little more normal, and I became a bit more stable, I noticed that I still had had this issue and things that were going on. For me, I had to work through a lot of therapy,   to get a grasp on it. I brought it public because it was so stigmatized, and still is.   I like to think that I have my life together. But here’s  the deep issue that I struggle with, and I go through. I’m  on a road to recovery, it’s never ending when you are battling with an eating disorder, but I’m doing very, very well right now. I’m staying on top of it. Through my disclosure, there was such an amazing and beautiful dialogue that keeps happening, people reaching out to me and sort of sharing their own struggles and battles with it as well.   I’m working on trying to be the best version of myself that I can be.”

(Photo Credit: Broderick Bauman)

After a forced lockdown during the pandemic of 2020, Greyson is ready to move into the next phase of his butterfly trajectory.  He has released two singles off his next EP, Trophies, and he is in love again.  The songs on the EP will be in a thematic composition.  The two first released create a spiritual arc from the heavenly rich ballad-like Holy Feeling to the high-pop danceable hedonistic Hell Boy. 

He says of the new material, “My boyfriend and I just celebrated our one year anniversary yesterday.   Trophies, is really expressing the fear of now losing love, and sort of that fear that was created in the old relationships that I’ve had. It is the desire for my fans and queer people around the world to know what  truly being in love is. We’re constantly told as, as queer people that, our relationships are always going to be rocky, they’re never going to be sort of American Dream type relationships. Because we’re different, these relationships are going to be different, because we’re inherently different. That is just absolutely BS.   Regardless of how you identify who you love, you can totally have all of this stereotypical white picket fence, you know, dog in the backyard green grass type of thing. It is so within your wheelhouse. It’s not out of reach. This record is emotionally going through all those those things, and talking about them in the music.”

A decade ago there was a boy made famous by a pop song and a viral video.  Today, there is an artistic, powerful singer song writer who sings the authenticity of his generation.  The rush you feel is the wind from rainbow colored butterfly wings taking flight, and the knowledge that the most famous Greyson Chance is the one yet to come.

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