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.
Winner: Ariadne Getty
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Editor’s Choice: The Collective, Realty
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Listen to the show here:
Schock treatment: an interview with Gina Schock of the Go-Go’s
Drummer on her new book and upcoming Hall of Fame induction
Too much of the Go-Go’s is never enough. In the 40 years since the all-female punk band burst on the scene with its unforgettable debut album “Beauty and the Beat” to some of the band members’ solo careers that followed its break-up to its ongoing reunion and the eye-opening 2020 documentary about the band, we just can’t get our fill.
But wait, there’s more! Gina Schock, the Go-Go’s legendary drummer (she’s got the beat!), has just published a sensational coffee-table book, “Made In Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s” (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2021) that features photos from Schock’s own stock, as well as her own personal recollections of her life in music. She made time for an interview before the publication of the book as well as the Go-Go’s long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month.
GREGG SHAPIRO/WASHINGTON BLADE: I’d like to begin by congratulating you, as well as the rest of the Go-Go’s, on your upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How do you feel about it?
GINA SCHOCK: It took so long for this to happen, and at first we were sort of like, “Hell’s bells! We don’t even care anymore.” Every year, we’d think “Maybe it’s gonna happen next year,” and it just wasn’t happening. Then it happens! We were all dumbfounded. We couldn’t really believe that we were nominated and then we got inducted! Everybody was pleasantly surprised. This is kind of great, kind of neat. I’m really happy about this now [laugh].
BLADE: At the same time, your memoir “Made in Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s,” is being released. What did the experience of writing such a book mean to you?
SCHOCK: Actually, Gregg, it’s not a memoir. Kathy (Valentine) wrote a memoir. Mine is actually a book of photography.
BLADE: Right, but you also tell your story in the book.
SCHOCK: There’s a lot of writing in it, too. But I basically put this together because I had tons and tons of photographs. I’ve been moving them all over. Putting them in the closet here, under the bed there. I was like, “I have to do something with this. All these years of taking photos of the band.” Of course, everybody in the band was like. “Gina, you really need to put a photo book together!” I finally found the right guy to do it with and he helped me get it together, organize it, and help me work on the book. I couldn’t believe that along with the list of my credits will be photographer and author. It’s kind of mind-blowing. Things that you don’t think you’re capable of, and then when you have an opportunity to do something and maybe make a difference…certainly for The Go-Go’s. This needed to be out there. This is way long overdue; a book of photos with all of us. Photos that I’ve had that people have never seen. Also, you’re getting these photos from a band member’s perspective. With writing from one of the band members about what was going on during that period of time.
BLADE: I’m sure that looking at the pictures brought back lots of memories, but were you also a journal or diary keeper?
SCHOCK: Check this out! I don’t have a journal, but since 1978, Gregg, I have been keeping daily planners every single year. I’ve written down things that were going on during that time period. Not big, long stories, but this happened today, that happened yesterday, next week we’re going to be doing this. I used that as my reference. It was invaluable in the process. I now need to make room for them in the closet. I’ve got them all in drawers in cabinets in my office. It’s like, “OK, there’s no more room here [laughs]!” They were invaluable, like I said, in putting this together. What exact date did this happen? What was going on in November of ’83? It was important to have.
BLADE: Do you see the book as an extension of Alison Ellwood’s 2020 Go-Go’s documentary?
SCHOCK: No, but I’ll tell you that 99% of the photos in Alison’s documentary are mine.
It’s not an extension of that. This book has been in the works for decades. I just needed to find the right person to help me get it together. But when Alison was interviewing, I’d show her a photo and she would say, “Gina, can we come back and get some of these photos for the documentary?” I was like, “Of course, you can!” The majority of what you saw are my photos.
BLADE: The book is full of marvelous personal history details, such as performing with the late Edith Massey, known to many from her performances in some of John Waters’ movies. What do you think Edie would think of the book?
SCHOCK: She would be, [imitating Massey] “Oh, Gina, I’m so happy about your book! Finally, it’s about time!” Bless her heart and soul. I was doing an interview yesterday and I said, “If it wasn’t for Edie, I don’t know if The Go-Go’s would exist. Certainly not in the way that they have for the last more than 40 years. Things happen in a magical way, how it all comes together. No one really knows why somebody meets someone on that particular day at that particular time, and then something comes out of that that you can’t believe. Edie gave me the opportunity to come out to LA and San Francisco and New York and actually play in clubs. We got to play at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s; what a thrill that was. Then to come to LA and do three nights of the Nuart Theater and then play The Warfield up in San Francisco. That was the first time I’d ever been on a plane! After doing that with Edie, the minute I got back to Baltimore I realized it was time to make a move. It gave me the courage to believe that I could go back to any one of these places and I’m going to do something! By the way, Edie was such a lovely person. A sweetheart.
BLADE: Another scoop for the readers that I loved was the part about the Go-Go’s performing with ska in the early 1980s, leading to the collaboration with Terry Hall on the song “Our Lips are Sealed,” which was a much bigger hit for the Go-Go’s than for Terry’s band Fun Boy Three. Do you know how he felt about that?
SCHOCK: I have no idea how he felt, but I’m sure he was happy because all Terry Hall was hearing was “ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching [laughs].” I think Terry was quite happy about that. I would be. When Jane brought in the song, she was scared to death to play it for us because it was basically like a love letter that she readjusted a little bit lyrically and put some chords and a melody to. She played it for us, and we were like, “Jane, this song’s great!”
BLADE: We are all saddened by the recent passing of Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones. In your book, you wrote about the Go-Go’s opening for The Rolling Stones. Can you please say a few words about what Charlie meant to you as a fellow drummer?
SCHOCK: There were two drummers that were my heroes growing up. That was Charlie Watts and John Bonham (of Led Zeppelin). Those two guys are part of the reason I started and kept playing drums. To think that many years later I actually got to meet my hero and talk to him. I got to sit on his drum kit! I talked to his drum tech!
That was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Then to be able to just open for the Stones, I mean, God! Wow, what a thrill! He was, of course, a gentleman. Very quiet kind of guy; soft-spoken. A lovely guy; very personable, very sweet. I didn’t have a lot of time to talk to him, but when I did my heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe it. Meeting David Bowie was the same sort of thing. You have such adoration for these people. The impact they have on your life in many ways, not just musically.
BLADE: You put some personal thoughts and experiences in the book, including your open-heart surgery to correct an atrial septal defect, yours and the band’s encounters with drugs and recovery, the break-up of the band and issues with songwriting revenue. Was it painful or freeing to revisit these subjects?
SCHOCK: It was a little bit of both. It brought up some really heavy things that went down. But all those things have been ironed out and taken care of. Everything is good now and it has been for many years. The songwriting splits were a big part of why the band broke up. It seemed very unfair to me. I have to tell the truth [laughs]. I have to be honest with the people that I’m working with. They are my family, and nobody can hurt you worse than somebody in your family. I think I explained it all in the book the best that I can.
BLADE: Following the original break-up of the Go-Go’s, you formed the band House of Schock with Vance DeGeneres, brother of Ellen DeGeneres. What are the chances that, aside from the Smothers Brothers, two funny people would come from the same womb?
SCHOCK: Yeah, right [laughs]? It’s crazy, right? Vance was fresh out of New Orleans and I don’t know how I met him; (through) a friend of a friend or something. We hit it off right away. I don’t like to do anything by myself, Gregg. I always want a partner in crime. I like a team! That’s why I always want to be in a band. I never want to be a solo anything. I like being in a band. I like having other people to bounce ideas off of. I’m not the greatest at anything, but I’m pretty good when you put me with somebody else who’s talented as well. Vance and I worked great together. Ellen had just come to town and she was just starting out in the comedy clubs. We’d meet and have dinner. She’d ask me lots of questions about who I thought was a good agent to see. It was very sweet to watch everything happen for her. One of the funniest things, I told this to somebody the other day, I’ll never forget this. Ellen said to me, “Gina, do you think if I make a lot of money one day, would you sell me your house [laughs]?” I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll never forget her asking me that. Because Ellen could buy a city block!
BLADE: In 2018, the Go-Go’s went to Broadway with the musical Head Over Heels, featuring the band’s music. What was that experience like for you?
SCHOCK: That was another unbelievable moment being in the Go-Go’s. To think that this punk band, so many years later, has a musical on Broadway is absurd. But it happened! It’s another crazy thing that just happened! There’s a lot of work involved, don’t get me wrong, and years and years of being in this band and working our butts off to achieve the status that we have in the industry. But it was still an incredible thrill. To meet all the Broadway actors and all, my God, those people can really sing and act! I was never a big fan of Broadway, but I am now. I was knocked out! They’re so fucking talented. It’s such a thrill to watch them interpreting our songs woven into this 17th-century short story.
BLADE: Recently, Belinda’s son (James) Duke (Mason), posted a happy birthday message to you on social media in which he referred to you as his “Auntie.”
SCHOCK: Yes! I love Dukie! I watched that little boy grow up. I just adore him. I will always be in his life. He’s very precious to me.
BLADE: When Duke came out, Belinda became a very outspoken advocate for the community. Would you mind saying a few words about your connection to the LGBTQ+ community?
SCHOCK: I don’t know what my relationship really is. All I know is that I’m who I am. I’m a musician and I will fight for anything or anybody that has had a difficult time in society. Just live your life. Society creates its own do’s and don’ts and rights and wrongs for people, which is just a load of crap to me. Everyone should be allowed to be who they are, and love who they want to love, and marry who they want to marry. Love is love; it has no gender. It’s the most important thing we can give to one another. It’s what this world needs now more than ever. Never think for a second you haven’t got the right to love whomever you fall for because love is always right. It is a human right!
Everything you need to know about WorldPride 2021
Party in Scandinavia with the happiest people on Earth
By Mikey Rox| NEW YORK – It’s been two years since Stonewall 50 – WorldPride NYC 2019 became the largest international Pride celebration in history, but the “bye” year of 2020 wasn’t due to the pandemic.
The global celebration has been held every odd-numbered year since 2017 given its massive logistical undertaking (with sporadic celebrations in 2006, 2012 and 2014 before then), and WorldPride Copenhagen – Malmö 2021 couldn’t have come at a better time.
Hundreds of thousands of cooped-up queer revelers and allies will flock to the twin host cities in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, from Aug. 12-22, to party with the happiest people on the planet, a delightful distinction provided to the Scandinavian countries by the United Nations’ famous World Happiness Report. (The United States ranked No. 19 in the most recent report, FYI.)
So what’s in store for this year’s all-out progressive-flag-flying festival? Read on for more.
Two LGBTQ anniversaries in Denmark
If you can believe it, it’s been 70 years since Danish doctors in 1951 performed the world’s first successful genital reconstruction surgery, a medical marvel that provided hope to transgender people the world over. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front’s Danish chapter, which has been instrumental in blazing trails toward equality for the country. Look how far it’s come.
Opening ceremonies kick off in Copenhagen
In conjunction with Copenhagen Pride, WorldPride will officially start late afternoon on Aug. 13, but in adherence with COVID-19 protocols the opening ceremony won’t be held in WorldPride Square (at least not as of press time; things could – and probably will – change). That potential snafu notwithstanding, Denmark welcomes vaccinated U.S. travelers, and if any testing is needed, both PCR and antigen tests will be available free to everyone, including tourists, 24/7. Copenhagen is OPENhagen again.
WorldPride Square will be open for the rest of the fest
WorldPride Square, a makeshift village of sorts (similar to the Olympics) located within Copenhagen’s main square, will provide a gathering place for all attendees that have traveled far and wide. LGBTQ+ and non-governmental organizations spanning the globe will set up shop in the square to greet pedestrians, provide information, and invite folks to get involved. Art exhibits also will be a centerpiece of the village, alongside a street-food market and bars with plenty of space to relax.
EuroGames will be held simultaneously
If you enjoy watching athletes compete in variety of sports that range from boxing and badminton to dancing and dodgeball, add the spectator-friendly EuroGames to your list of to-dos while you’re in Copenhagen. If you want to get hands-on, consider signing up to become a volunteer at the games, to be held Aug. 18-20; EuroGames’ website is currently accepting those applications.
Spread out and explore other WorldPride villages
While WorldPride Square will serve as the jump-off for the 10 days of festivities, other available villages will allow crowds to spread out and explore their individual interests. In addition to Sports Village for EuroGames athletes and fans, other villages will focus on kids and families, youth, women, and the queer community, among others. Programs and content of these villages will be target-audience specific but open to everyone.
You might have a brush with royalty
Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is patron of Copenhagen 2021, making her the first-ever royal to serve in the role for a major LGBTQ+ event. Say hi if you spot her; she knows a queen when she sees one.
Despite pandemic protocol, the show will go on
Organizers have said in an official statement that despite some COVID-19 restrictions, they’re “continuing to plan for full delivery of all Copenhagen 2021 events taking into account the guidance and recommendations” of government agencies. Doubling down, organizers have promised they will not cancel or postpone events.
Now there’s only one thing left to do: Let’s go!
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels)
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