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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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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

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

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

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

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

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

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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

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

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

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

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom.

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

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

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