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Pride march is needed more than ever

It’s supposed to be Pride season in Los Angeles, but you wouldn’t know it.



(Blade file photo)

It’s supposed to be Pride season in Los Angeles, but you wouldn’t know it.

It’s supposed to be a time you’d normally expect a thousand and one events at dozens of locations celebrating every color of the rainbow, glittering events replete with deep-pocketed corporate sponsors and breathless expectations for the celebratory Pride Parade. 

It’s supposed to be time for a Proud people to honor an heroic generation who, exhausted by institutionalized oppression and violence, donned their best drag and Birkenstocks, stood up and fought back, saying ‘fuck you’ to the closet of invisibility and second-class subjugation.

Tragically, Pride events seem almost nonexistent this year, but Pride is bursting out all over.  

It has been hobbled by the unexpectedly erratic nature of public health restrictions during a pandemic that has killed more than 3 million people worldwide, 62,000 in California and 25,000 in Los Angeles County.

For more than a year, we have sacrificed much of our local economy to make sure the disease could be contained and that lives were spared. 

And now, things have changed.  

Thanks to science, miracles in medicine, measures taken by thousands of heroic workers and our difficult sacrifices, we stand before the dawn of a brighter day. COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are, to quote a New York Times headline, “Dropping Like a Rock.”

But Pride Month should be kicking into high gear by now, adjusting to and dealing with the ‘known unknowns’ that have made any kind of a traditional organized event impractical and nearly impossible.  

Unfortunately sponsors require liquidity and lead time to support organized events and many have been devastated financially by the COVID economy. Additionally, they have a heightened concern for liability in 2021 without an ‘all clear’ from the LA County Department of Health.

But we are supposed to be a community that knows how to navigate these dark choppy waters.

“Before Stonewall” (Image courtesy First Run Features)

The 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York was a spontaneous event. It lasted for days and has resonated for more than 50 years. Our response to the AIDS crisis was a spontaneous coming together as a diverse community that humanized our plight and moved science, politics, the arts and pockets of society to take action. We fought ignorance and wave after wave of significant attacks and violence against our people by creating grassroots infrastructures to serve our needs. The LA LGBT Center, GLAAD, even more recently, the launching of the Los Angeles Blade were all responses to our need to take care of our own.

So, where are LA’s LGBT leaders now, when you need them? Are there any? 

Why isn’t anyone demanding a Pride celebration, even impromptu?

We don’t need permission. 

We don’t need a budget. 

We don’t need any City to say we can take the streets and march in peaceful assembly. 

It’s our first amendment right, afterall.

How is it possible that with less than a month to go, Christopher Street West — an organization that has hosted LA Pride in Los Angeles since 1970 — is silent on whether there will be any live events or even a march? 

After breaking up with the City of West Hollywood last year, the best CSW seems to be able to execute is a KABC broadcast.  While that was great during the worst of COVID and I loved last year’s show, a virtual-only approach to a life with Pride is not enough.

LGBTQ people are 12% of the population in Greater Los Angeles County – but are the haven cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood even doing anything? They don’t seem to know much.

During a mid-April West Hollywood City Council meeting, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proposed some ideas that would have utilized the services of Jeff Consoletti’s JJLA to create a series of interactive events and highlight WeHo businesses. But there were too many perceived unknowns — the status of LA County’s COVID restrictions being the biggest hurdle — to fully embrace it.  

It was decided at that meeting that West Hollywood will host WeHo Pride during the weekend of June 25, 26 and 27. In addition to the City’s yearly One City One Pride programming (so far virtual), the Chamber of Commerce was tasked to work with businesses to have them develop Pride themes in their establishments and Out on Robertson will feature LGBTQ Non-profit booths. 

Councilmember Sepi Shyne, noted the lack of a march component, saying that a large gathering event should be expected. Councilmember John D’Amico agreed and called for funding of a trans-focused aspect of whatever event comes together. 

The LA City Council has yet to discuss Pride specifics.

Yet, there are models for how to do Pride in uncertain times.

Last year, a group of Black LGBT activists called for a solidarity march that replaced Pride. It was held in solidarity with Black Lives Matters, highlighting the murders of Black transgender people nationwide. It was called the ‘All Black Lives Matter March.’

That march was a nearly spontaneous event. It was an entirely trouble-free celebration march of inclusion and diversity — and it was among the most spectacular and most joyous Pride days of my nearly 40 years attending Pride marches and events around the world.

It was cathartic for the hundreds of thousands of COVID-masked people who gathered that day, a day that gave hundreds of thousands of Angelenos who had felt bereft of a way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of one of the world’s largest and most important parades.

The rage that built up after the May 25, 2020 police killing of George Floyd and the earlier fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor finally awoke a nation to the thousands of similar murders exposing the cancer of systemic racism institutionalized in our society and culture. 

Our LGBTQ+ community woke up, spoke up and acted up, too.

Throngs assembled at the end of 2017 LA Pride March and #ResistMarch. (Photo by #ResistMarch)

We’ve been on edge since the election of Donald Trump, which promised a near total erasure of all political and social progress we had made over decades of fighting. Trans people, in particular, were targeted by Trump.

LA responded with the Resist March with thousands of people taking over Hollywood Boulevard and marching to a rally in West Hollywood. We wanted to put the Trump Administration on notice that ‘we weren’t going to take it,’ we are not going back and we will not be erased!

Remember their names: Stanley Almodovar III, 23, Amanda L. Alvear, 25, Oscar A. Aracena Montero, 26, Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, 33, Antonio Davon Brown, 29, Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, Angel Candelario-Padro, 28, Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, Luis Daniel Conde, 39, Cory James Connell, 21, Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25, Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, Simón Adrian Carrillo Fernández, 31, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, 22, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, Paul Terrell Henry, 41, Frank Hernandez, 27, Miguel Angel Honorato, 30, Javier Jorge Reyes, 40, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, Brenda Marquez McCool, 49, Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25, Kimberly Jean Morris, 37, Akyra Monet Murray, 18, Luis Omar Ocasio Capo, 20, Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, 25, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25, Jean Carlos Nieves Rodríguez, 27, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado, 35, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, 24, Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33, Martin Benitez Torres, 33, Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24, Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, 37, Luis Sergio Vielma, 22, Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velázquez, 50, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, Jerald Arthur Wright, 31.

And then there was that morning of LA Pride’s Parade in 2016 when we all woke up to the horrifying news that 49 members of our community had been murdered by a madman at the Pulse dance club in Orlando, Fla. We soon discovered that another lone-wolf anti-LGBTQ attack had been planned for the parade in WeHo. One man from Ohio was arrested with guns in his car; we feared others had escaped detection. But we resolved to courageously march anyway, turning the Pride celebration into a remembrance of the lives lost in Orlando.

ACT UP die in at LA Pride 1990. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

We were so resolved in large part to our many years of experience celebrating Pride during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis. Those were remarkable year when we fought for our lives against another pandemic. And we fought in impromptu ways with anger and pride and always with overflowing joy.

Now, after more than 14 months of COVID lockdown, we want to break free. 

Bouncing off the June 25, 26 and 27 WeHo Pride weekend announcement, I propose a covid-safe, socially distant and impromptu celebratory march from Fairfax to Robertson along Santa Monica Boulevard on the morning of Sunday June 27.

We have so much to celebrate. We have climbed out of a Covid-19 disaster. Our community has embraced vaccinations. We have a new President and there is renewed hope that many of us have never experience before. It’s a liberation.

(Photo by Austin Mendoza)

Pride is bigger than any one of us. We must refer to the past lessons of Pride and celebrate together in 2021.

But will we?

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Virginia is for Lovers, not political agendas

Did a politician leverage state’s brand for his personal agenda? Looking at ethics of politicians promoting state tourism during elections



Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Tourism Corporation

By Rachel Scott Everett | RICHMOND – As a Virginian, I’ve always been proud of my state’s motto: “Virginia is for Lovers.”

The iconic slogan first appeared in a 1969 ad campaign for what is now Virginia Tourism Corporation. It was created by Martin and Woltz Inc., which later evolved into The Martin Agency, and has been in use ever since. 

Initially positioning the state as a destination for romance, “Virginia is for Lovers” soon gave way to various interpretations. With so much to experience, Virginia has become a welcoming place for history lovers, food lovers, nature lovers—all kinds of lovers. That’s the premise behind a new national campaign, “Virginia is for…”, developed by The Martin Agency, that launched this spring.

“Virginia is for Lovers” resonates deeply with many—myself included. It’s an example of the power that emotionally driven branding can have on our psyche. In an interview earlier this year, Virginia Tourism brand director Lindsey Norment said the slogan’s popularity remains because “it allows Virginians to make it their own and feel prideful of that.” 

Indeed, love is a powerful driver when it comes to persuading people. Love is inherently welcoming, positive and inclusive.

Love is also apolitical, which is why I was disheartened to see a new Virginia Tourism video prominently featuring Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The stand-alone 60-second promotional piece, titled “Welcome to Virginia,” seems to take cues from The Martin Agency’s flagship campaign, but the format and overall tone are entirely different. More anthemic in feel, it highlights different people speaking directly to camera. The sole elected official, Gov. Youngkin, is a central figure in the video and its primary narrator.

Not long after it begins, Youngkin makes his appearance on camera. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up and navy slacks, he walks with a confident stride along the track of the Richmond Raceway. Looking directly at camera, he smiles as he introduces himself.

“In Virginia, there’s a million different ways to say welcome,” he declares. “I’m Governor Glenn Youngkin, and I want to be one of the first.” The words “Governor Glenn Youngkin” accompany him on screen.

Welcome to Virginia:

The video continues as Youngkin provides the voiceover for a series of lifestyle shots featuring an impressively diverse cast of characters. We’re welcomed by different types of Virginians: a long-haired surfer dude with his pals, an edgy millennial bartender serving up a cocktail, and a varied group of barbecue lovers, all ages and races, sitting at the same table. “Bievenido!” a Latino boy exclaims.

Youngkin appears on camera again—this time in the driver’s seat of a race car, looking cool and confident. He offers one last welcome before the video ends, signed off by “Welcome to Virginia” and the “Virginia is for Lovers” logo.

On initial glance, the video might not seem like anything out of the ordinary. To many, it will come across as a fun, upbeat tourism piece for Virginia. 

But is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?

Certainly it’s not a novel idea that a governor might be in a video to promote state tourism. Last year, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska was featured in his state’s tourism marketing campaign. He touted Alaska as a Covid-safe state that was “leading the nation in all the important health metrics,” as an incentive for people to travel there. Later, though, it was revealed that when the ad ran, Alaska actually ranked 30th in the country for vaccination rates.

In 2020, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota appeared in, and narrated, a state tourism ad airing on Fox News. The 30-second ad, which ran for two weeks, cost taxpayers over $800,000. Noem received national publicity upwards of 85 million views, but it’s debatable if state tourism increased. AP News reported that while Google searches for “Kristi Noem” peaked, terms like “South Dakota tourism” and “visit South Dakota” remained stagnant.

But it’s a tourism campaign involving Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey that’s particularly noteworthy. 

In 2013, coming out of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie got star billing in his state’s tourism ads. The “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign ran leading up to the gubernatorial election in New Jersey. The campaign itself, along with where it aired and the timing of its release, gave Christie an unexpected platform to hone his brand image and gain greater exposure across key Northeast states.

His opponent, Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, said the ads gave him an unfair advantage, calling it both “supremely arrogant and wildly inappropriate.” Buono lost the election. Two years later, Christie announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.

There are important parallels to draw here. 

Last year, Youngkin became the first Republican to win a statewide election in Virginia in over a decade. The former businessman, who had never held elective office, ran a successful campaign by cultivating his own distinct brand, positioning himself as an enthusiastic, moderate candidate who appealed to both forever Trumpers and never Trumpers.

With his can-do attitude and signature red fleece vest, Youngkin portrayed an affable, everyman image—positive, charismatic and relatable. He kept his messaging simple and concise, advocating for broad issues like safety, education and cost of living.

But many claimed that two faces of Glenn Youngkin emerged once elected. Just 10 days into office, he began receiving blowback over new policies in his conservative agenda which didn’t appear to align with his calls for unity or moving the state forward.

Youngkin immediately signed an executive order to root out critical race theory in Virginia, which isn’t mentioned in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum (Politifact). Asserting protection of “parental rights,” he also supported measures to regulate explicit content in schools, force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students, and most recently, restrict the rights of trans students.

Despite publicly distancing himself from Trump during his campaign, he has since hired many veterans of the Trump administration, including a former Trump EPA head who has repeatedly minimized the threat of climate change. Youngkin also plans to withdraw Virginia from a greenhouse gas initiative established to help fight climate change regionally. 

And when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Youngkin reinforced his stance as a “pro-life” governor by pursuing a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia and headlining a pro-life gala in Washington, D.C., for a prominent anti-abortion group.

None of these policies seem to suggest Virginia is moving forward. 

In fact, an opinion piece in The Washington Post states that Youngkin’s culture wars are good for him but bad for Virginia business, causing the state to be viewed as a less welcoming place—an insight that seems to be the antithesis to the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.

I reached out to Virginia Tourism to get more information, which left me with more questions than answers.

For starters, the video was not created or produced by The Martin Agency, Virginia Tourism’s current agency of record. According to a spokesperson at Virginia Tourism, the concept for the video was developed by Virginia Tourism and produced by POOLHOUSE, the agency behind Youngkin’s winning brand campaign when he ran for governor.

On its website, POOLHOUSE says it creates “bold campaigns that win elections and move people to action.” A Google search reveals the agency has been referred to as a “GOP-focused political ad firm” and a “scrappy Republican ad agency.” Its Instagram feed includes congratulatory posts for Republican politician wins, a recap of its favorite ads for Youngkin, and a quote that speaks to its desire to be “the best political agency in the business.” This year, POOLHOUSE plans to open a D.C. office to pick up advocacy clients and more congressional business.

Officials at Virginia Tourism did not directly respond when asked if they were aware POOLHOUSE was the political ad agency behind Youngkin’s campaign. Instead, they provided the following statement: “POOLHOUSE was selected because of their outstanding creative work and reputation, not only in Virginia but across the country, for producing beautiful videos.” Yet Virginia Tourism also said that when the project was put out to bid, they only received one offer, which resulted in the contract with POOLHOUSE.

POOLHOUSE did not respond to inquiry by phone or email by the time this article was published.

As for the purpose and timing of the video, Virginia Tourism said it is “an evergreen piece to showcase the beautiful state of Virginia and to welcome travelers to Virginia” and it launched on Labor Day weekend “to coincide with a high-impact travel weekend.”

However, its release also coincides with the lead-up to this year’s midterm elections on Nov. 8. Most of the country is holding state legislative elections and there are 36 gubernatorial seats on the ballot. A week after Youngkin shared the “Welcome to Virginia” video in a retweet, he posted a political ad in which he appears promoting Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega. According to her website, she is working with POOLHOUSE as well. 

While only in office a few months, Youngkin has been spending a lot of time outside of the state he’s supposed to be governing.

Many news outlets report that he’s actively endorsing Republican politicians running for office in key swing states. So far, he’s expressed support for GOP gubernatorial candidates Paul LePage of Maine, who has an extensive history of racist remarks; Kari Lake of Arizona, who has appeared with Nazi sympathizer and QAnon-linked activists; and Tudor Dixon of Michigan, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape because she believes there’s “healing through the baby.”

These candidates are all part of an alarming trend of election deniers running for governor this year as well.

In preparation to wade into national politics, Youngkin established two political organizations, America’s Spirit and Spirit of Virginia (the latter of which paid for Vega’s ad mentioned above). Both groups can accept contributions of any size to fund Youngkin’s political efforts, which include his campaigning for other GOP candidates, as well as his own self-promotion.

This summer, Youngkin met with Republican megadonors amid hints he’s mulling a White House bid. One of his midterm stops will include Nevada, a 2024 early state for presidential candidate nominations.

After the upset in Virginia, many believe Youngkin’s win gave the GOP a winning blueprint for 2022 and beyond. Part of his strategy included establishing an early media spend to introduce himself and begin building his brand in a campaign as soon as possible.

That campaign, into which Youngkin put $20 million of his own money, was fueled by a robust media buy including 40 TV videos and hundreds of radio, digital and design advertisements, including bumper stickers in multiple languages. Incidentally, Youngkin is considered one of the nation’s richest politicians, with a net worth of $470 million.

“One thing that Youngkin did very smartly was getting started earlier, particularly with media,” POOLHOUSE CEO Will Ritter said in an interview with Fox Business last year. “That means if you’re running in ’22, you need to be thinking how you’re going to get your message to people as soon as possible.”

Indeed, timing, placement and context are important components to launching a brand.

While the “Welcome to Virginia” video has no associated media buy, it will be seen extensively through state-owned platforms such as Virginia Welcome Centers and the state’s nine commercial airports, including major hubs like Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport, outside Washington, D.C. Combined, the foot traffic in these areas alone translates to millions of impressions, giving Youngkin unprecedented exposure to a broad, diverse audience made up of travelers from all over the country.

Because the video is intended to be an evergreen piece (meaning relevant for long-term purposes), it has the potential to run during the entire term of Youngkin’s office, as well as the time of his campaigning should he throw his hat (or fleece vest) into the ring in pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination. Like Christie’s “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign, the “Welcome to Virginia” video portrays Youngkin in a positive, heroic way that not only gets his name out, but bolsters his brand on the national stage.

Given all these factors, as well as continued press about Youngkin’s potential political aspirations (which are even making international headlines), it’s not implausible to think that the “Welcome to Virginia” video could be playing a role in a much larger agenda: a long game to establish Youngkin as a viable presidential candidate for 2024 or even 2028.

A recent article in Vanity Fair cautions us not to be fooled by the moderate “suburban dad vibe.” From traditional Republican to culture warrior, Youngkin has become a public advocate of Trump-backed election deniers, which not only normalizes extremists as credible representatives of this country but poses a serious threat to our democracy. 

As a creative professional, it’s been horrifying to come to terms with the role branding is playing in our politics. From misleading messaging to polished image-making, the strategies around crafting a politician’s brand are getting less transparent, more insidious, and farther from the truth.

I care deeply about my country, my home state of Virginia, and my local community in Richmond, which is why I felt compelled to dig deeper into the “Welcome to Virginia” video. 

I don’t like feeling that people in the video may not have been aware of Youngkin’s involvement (or his political agency), or worse, were used for ulterior motives. I don’t want my state to be represented by a polarizing political figure whose brand has been referred to as Trump LightTrump in a red vest, and Trumpism Without Trump.

And I don’t think it’s appropriate for what I perceive to be my tax dollars helping a politician to promote himself for his personal ambitions under the guise of a tourism video—particularly a governor actively working to roll back my rights as a woman and instill countless other antiquated policies that seem at odds with the values of many Virginians, as well as the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.

When Youngkin was elected, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement that vowed to fight against his regressive agenda: “Glenn Youngkin’s anti-equality, anti-choice, racist tactics sought to sow fear and confusion, turning Virginian against Virginian for political gain,” said interim president Joni Madison. “Anti-equality extremists will continue to use bigotry to score political points. But we know that history has proven hate-filled electoral strategies ultimately stir the conscience of the nation.”

President Joe Biden also had some choice remarks about Youngkin: “Extremism can come in many forms,” he said at a grassroots event. “It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.” 

Over the years, I’ve written numerous essays about the power of branding. One of the most successful tactics of brand building is to infiltrate platforms that don’t obviously translate as advertising. It’s why brands take advantage of product placement in popular movies and series television. The “soft sell” exposure not only increases awareness of a brand, it enables people to develop a deep connection to it in a much more organic, natural way. 

In my essay “Canceling the Confederacy,” I explain how the United Daughters of the Confederacy found a way to shape the Confederacy brand by promoting the Lost Cause, a biased perspective of U.S. history, through an unassuming medium: school textbooks. It was an attempt at rewriting history, reinforced by the construction of Confederate monuments, and to this day, many still subscribe to its false narrative. 

And therein lies the danger.

Branding, in all its nuance and subtlety, can distort our perception of what’s real. It can skew or stretch the truth and influence our thoughts on a subliminal level. After all, there’s a fine line between the power of persuasion and the art of deception. And when politicians are involved, be assured it’s even more unclear.

To clarify, the issue at hand is not about a governor appearing in a state tourism video. It’s about Governor Youngkin appearing in a state tourism video produced by his own political agency. It’s about the timing of the video’s release during the lead-up to midterm elections in which he’s actively campaigning for other candidates. And it’s about the exposure this video gives Youngkin to millions of people from all over the country amid talks of his own potential presidential run.

Again, is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?

Everyone will draw their own conclusions, but it’s my hope that by raising awareness on the role branding plays in our politics, we can better understand the impact it has on our elections and the candidates who are running. 

More than anything, I hope this knowledge empowers us all to make informed choices at the ballot box. The preservation of our democracy may very well depend on it.


Rachel Scott Everett is co-founder and creative director at EVERGIB, a nomadic creative studio specializing in strategically led advertising and branding. A champion of big ideas and the power of storytelling, Rachel believes creativity can be used as a force for good to improve the world we live in.


The preceding commentary was originally published at Muse by Clio and is republished by permission.

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‘Moms for Liberty’ succeed in banning ‘Girls Who Code’ in schools

The GOP has clearly decided that sexism, homophobia, and extremist Christianity will win for them at the polls



Reshma Saujani (Screenshot/YouTube Oxford Debate 2021)

By James Finn | DETROIT – My women friends in the tech industry tell me they’re under-represented and sometimes feel disrespected or overlooked at work. They say women make excellent programmers and data scientists, but girls often internalize the opposite message while they’re still very small.

My women friends say empowering girls is critical to countering pressure girls feel not to study math and science. 

That pressure continues this morning in a shocking way, led by a group of Republican/Christian activists infamous for trying to ban books by and about LGBTQ and Black people. 

Sometimes conservatives tell you loudly who they are and what they stand for. This is one of those times. Every person of good will in the United States, regardless of party affiliation, needs to listen carefully. Is their vision for the U.S. one you’re truly okay with? 

‘Moms for Liberty’ attack Reshma Saujani and her books for girls 

Reshma Saujani is a woman who saw a problem and met it head on. In 2012, she began publishing a series of light-hearted, playful books called Girls Who Code, featuring tween girls

who form a school coding club. The books are cute, positive, and empowering. They show girls that programming is cool and fun—for everyone, not just for boys. 

The books also teach little kids basic programming concepts in a fun way kids praise as simple to grasp. 

The books zoomed to instant popularity and today can be found in virtually every elementary and middle school library in the U.S. Many teachers keep copies in their classrooms. 

Reviewers have compared the books’ style to The Baby Sitters Club. Tween girls (and boys too!) say they love them. Parents, like this mom on Goodreads, say they do too: 

4.5 stars. I enjoyed this more than the first book. I liked how it put story and character development first but still managed to include tips about coding. Also, the message about responsibility, grit, and empowerment while not quite subtle, was cutely and cleverly handled. I can see middle-graders loving this series. 

The idea the books should be controversial never occurred to anyone until this summer, when the anti-LGBTQ, Republican-activists Moms For Liberty starting urging school boards to ban them. 

Reshma Saujani reacts to her books being banned in a Pennsylvania school district Yesterday, Reshma Saujani learned a Pennsylvania school district banned her books 

I’m having a hard time believing that news reports about this book ban aren’t satire, but they’re all too real. Click here for details in Business Insider, and click to read Saujani’s Linkedin announcement, which includes the following paragraph: 

I woke up this morning to a news alert that our Girls Who Code middle-grade book series was banned by some school districts as part of the Moms for Liberty effort to ban books. To be honest, I am so angry I cannot breathe. This series was our labor of love, our commitment to our community to make sure that girls—all girls—see themselves as coders. — 

Business Insider and the tech journal The Register reached out to Moms for Liberty yesterday for comment but have not yet published a response. I emailed the group this morning to ask them why they want Girls Who Code banned. I did not receive an immediate reply. 

Moms for Liberty fight against freedom, not for it. 

MFL cofounder Tina Descovich claims the group focuses on “pornography in school,” telling Fox News as recently as last weekend that they limit calls for banning to books that give children “access to pornography and sexually explicit material.” She added, “I haven’t seen any of our chapters that want to get rid of any books that help children find characters they identify with.”

Did somebody forget to tell Descovich about her group’s drive to ban Girls Who Code? 

Anyone closely following Moms for Liberty activism already knows Descovich is lying. Many of the LGBTQ-themed books they target are not pornographic by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, MFL has targeted books for high school students that include sexual themes, but the book-advocacy group Pen America reports that claims of obscenity are “spurious.” 

Pen notes that some banned books aimed at older teens discuss sexuality but not in a manner that approaches any reasonable definition of obscenity or pornography. Pen says book banners seem to focus exclusively on books by or about LGBTQ people, ignoring books about straight sexuality that are more detailed. 

As to books about racism and the U.S. history of slavery? MFL doesn’t even pretend they want to ban those books because of sexual content. They just want them out of your children’s hands. 

Because they know better than you about how to raise your children. 

Moms for Liberty want to snatch your liberty and your child’s liberty by limiting reading choices based on their hyper-conservative Christian values. They’re working as hard as they can to force their beliefs and practices on you. 

Sometimes GOP activists tell you EXACTLY who they are. Please hear them. 

Despite appearances, Moms for Liberty are not a grassroots group of parents. They’re a national organization funded and supported by deep-pocketed Republican donors. Pen America CEO Suzanne Nossel calls them a “sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organization.” 

Their ideology is clear, and it’s the opposite of liberty. 

They want to erase gay people, trans people, and the honest history of American chattel slavery and segregation. And now, they make clear they’re pushing Evangelical Christian notions about women being subordinate to men. 

Girl data scientists are apparently threats to the Evangelical aspiration of a world where women who don’t work, where they limit their lives to caring for husbands and children instead. 

Moms for Liberty have convinced one school board in Pennsylvania to endorse their vision by pulling empowering books for girls out of school libraries. They’re telling you loudly and clearly who they are. 

Will you listen? Will you hear? 

They ARE Republican activism today. The GOP has clearly decided that sexism, homophobia, and extremist Christianity will win for them at the polls.

Will you help me talk to them? 

No matter what party you normally support, please vote Democratic this November to send the GOP a message: 

We’re not buying the reactionary nightmare you’re selling. Girls can code!


James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]


The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Behind the Greyson Chance/Ellen DeGeneres failed relationship

He grew up, and then he started again with material that he wrote himself, and material that actually meant something



Los Angeles Blade graphic

HOLLYWOOD – Once upon a time author George Orwell created a fictional character named Svengali. Svengali is a mastermind who used hypnosis to turn a woman named Trilby into a great singer, and without him, she was nothing.

The Svengali character has been turned into the archetype of the controlling star-maker, and in such situations, derided as the stars who benefit from such grooming start loathing the oppression.

Orwell painted the character to be as ugly as possible through antisemitic and homophobic bigotries: Svengali was described as “bold, black, beady Jew’s eyes… with hoarse, rasping, nasal, throaty rook’s caw, his big yellow teeth baring themselves in a mongrel canine snarl” and was “evil, effeminate, and physically repugnant.” He is described as being either fawning or a bully, and grossly impertinent with a kind of cynical humor that was always derisive and full of malice.

With his recent soul-baring interview with Rolling Stone, singer Greyson Chance has given many the cause to cast Ellen DeGeneres as a Svengali caricature of our generation. After Greyson described her as “insanely manipulative”, Ellen’s detractors tossed this news on her tarnished reputation pyre. “Ellen is a mogul; she’s ruthless and was all about presenting herself as “kind,” but it is not an adjective people who know her tend to use,” states one Twitter user.

Another goes after Greyson, “You and your mom are so ungrateful people. Total grifters. Got a huge opportunity and didn’t and couldn’t capitalize on it. You got a team thanks to Ellen but you both wanted her to be your friend instead of doing your jobs. Selfish and ungrateful. How about a thank you to Ellen?”

The discussion is, as per most of our public discourse these days, divisive and polarizing. If you buy into it, it is “pick your victim” and blindly fight against the other side.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Greyson/Ellen relationship is better described by another modern concept: it’s complicated.

I have had the pleasure of sitting and talking to Greyson for hours on several Rated LGBT Radio podcasts.

He is a brilliant young talent, thoughtful and intelligent. He is very open about his personal demons including his fight to heal from an eating disorder. He extends his relationship joys and heartbreaks into his art, and his feelings become universal.

He has embraced his authentic self with confidence and shares that courage freely to young listeners who need to see his example.

In our conversations, there always was that “elephant in the room.” He did not mention Ellen by name, but spoke clearly about the experience of adults jumping ship as soon as his career started taking on metaphorical water.

He was inflicted with the trauma of abandonment in his young life when his childlike nature was dissolving, and his manhood was emerging. Artistically, it would have taken a genius to guide him musically through physical and emotional adolescence and on to greater success.

Ellen was not that genius.

Greyson, himself eventually was. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he returned to his home roots, to his family and friends who truly loved him. He grew up, and then he started again with material that he wrote himself, and material that actually meant something. Greyson had tapped his Ruby Slippers and realized “there is no place like home.”

As for Ellen, to align with Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, I am not here to either praise her or bury her. She seems to be a victim of her own reputation.

That reputation as the patron saint of kindness allows her no room for her own humanity and struggles. It also does not afford her the privilege that men in her position of entertainment power enjoy. Show business is a business, and business is coldly ruthless.

In ages past, American businesses embraced workers with pensions and attempts for lifelong loyalty and security. In modern capitalism, businesses instead look at people as expendable expenses, and treats them that way.

The golden age of Hollywood, the entire music industry, the Johnny Carsons, the Simon Cowells, all have played the Svengali hand, and virtually none of them have been called out on it as Ellen has. While Ellen’s brand of humor is not boldly cynical, derisive and “full of malice” as Svengali’s was described, there always has been an acceptable level of “fun” cruelty to it, so maybe that comparison might hold.

Ellen’s biggest “sin” in being a myopic business-oriented “Svengali” was that she tried to do it as a woman.

In evaluating Ellen, we should not lose sight of the fact she was publicly and badly burned for coming out. She embraced bravery, and a homophobic industry crashed on top of her in thanks. LGBTQ representation grew out of her ashes, and eventually so did she when she fought for, and got her daytime show gig. 

Just as Scarlet O’Hara raised her hand to God and vowed never to go hungry again, I believe that Ellen did the same. While not abandoning her altruistic intentions, she embraced the businesswoman inside, and likely decided to never be anyone’s patsy again. She grew strong Teflon shoulders. She did not buy homes, she bought houses, improved them and flipped them. The warm and fuzzy homemaker is not part of her soul. It is all just business. Her show looked for internet sensations, many around LGBT stories, and capitalized on them by promoting them as if they were their own discoveries.  

As a columnist for many prominent LGBTQ outlets, I observed this firsthand. Several of my stories of valiant families taking a stand against homophobia went viral, and as soon as they hit a certain level of popularity, the Ellen Show would make contact. It seemed like the ones that made it on the air were the ones that reached the millions-of-hits tipping point. Bottom line, the Ellen Show was not giving more audience, it was taking one.

Ellen made a futile attempt in the music industry. She did an embarrassing turn on American Idol and started her own label. She was not a successful music executive who dumped Greyson. She was a music industry failure. Greyson was the first artist signed (“Ellen DeGeneres starts own record label, signs YouTube kid” proclaimed Reuters in 2010). By 2013, the label, eleveneleven, was toast. Crashed and burned.

As Greyson’s initial music career was in decline, so was hers. It is likely that her behavior of control, manipulation and extreme agitation was due to her own personal desperation.

Greyson experienced the truth that many discover as they unpack their histories with a dysfunctional parent. The parent is flawed, and sometimes deeply so. The parent also is often doing “the best they can” within their own personal limitations. Did Ellen tell Greyson she would be there for him “no matter what”? Likely. Was she? No. Did she intend to be? Probably.

She probably should not have set herself up as his music-industry parent as much as her optimism gave her permission to do so. She is not the first to have failed to succeed in a Gypsy/Mama Rose role. Joe Jackson failed similarly in his efforts to control daughter Janet. He too disappointed.

The response from the Ellen Show to Greyson’s Rolling Stones interview was “Ellen and the team went above and beyond and sometimes careers just don’t take off.” 

That might be a respectable response from a business PR team. It is a pathetic response from someone who had promised the love and care that a mother might extend.

Ellen is not evil. We just had higher expectations for her. 

So did Greyson.


Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more. He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine. He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .


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