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Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope

Encouraging reflection on all of the contributions Hispanic people have made in the past & will continue to make in the future

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East Los Angeles Library presents Mariachi Arcoiris during Hispanic Heritage Month. On National Coming Out Day, the first LGBT mariachi in the world performs and discusses the sensitive topic that can be very taboo in the Hispanic community. (Photo Credit: Mayra B. Vasquez / Los Angeles County )

EL PUEBLO DE LOS ANGELES – The theme for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” It encourages reflection on all of the contributions Hispanic people and their community have made in the past and will continue to make in the future. It is also a reminder that all communities are stronger together.

For the LGBTQ+ Latinx community this year it is incredibly poignant that the theme is so brilliantly illustrated in the form of progress and elevated presence of dynamic young and incredible older people who are making their mark in the truth of the spirit of that theme.

Earlier this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom selected Alex Padilla as the first Latino United States Senator to represent California, the nation’s most populous state, which also has the largest Latino population in the nation to fill the seat that was held by the departing Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Padilla has a strong track record as an elected official championing LGBTQ equality. He publicly campaigned against Proposition 8 which called for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. As a former state senator, he strongly supported the School Success and Opportunities Act, which protects transgender students and allows them to fully participate in school, and he earned a 100% Equality rating from Equality California in regard to his voting record when he served as a state senator.

For the past three years,  Ricardo Lara, the son of Mexican immigrants has served as the 8th Insurance Commissioner and the first LGBT person elected statewide in the state of California.

An important and critical voice for the Latinx Trans community is the head of Trans Latin@ Coalition (TLC) Bamby Salcedo. “My life has been very complicated and it didn’t really get started until I was 30 years old,” Salcedo said, with a mixture of pride and wonder in her voice in an interview with the Blade. And for the transgender latin community in the United States, that has resulted in something of a miracle. Or as Bamby puts it, “Yo soy un milagro.”

The City of Long Beach’s Mayor Robert Garcia, the first openly gay person elected mayor of Long Beach, advocates for more affordable housing, right the wrongs of income inequality, and protect his most vulnerable citizens – the homeless, immigrants, those who are undocumented, and the LGBTQ community.

Tony Thurmond, who was sworn in as the 28th California State Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 7, 2019, found inspiration from his mother, an immigrant from Panama who came to San Jose, California, to be a teacher. A former member of the California State Assembly, representing District 15, the Superintendent is also a former educator.

The environment and LGBTQ rights have been at the forefront of Rick Zbur’s career. Many in the LGBTQ community may be unaware that the outgoing Equality California Executive Director has another not-so-secret passion: he’s a longtime environmentalist. In fact, he is the immediate past board chair for the California League of Conservation Voters and as an attorney has championed both LGBTQ equality and the environment.

The 37th Mayor of the City of San Diego, former Democratic State Assemblyman Todd Gloria, made history across a spectrum of significant firsts as in addition to being the first openly gay person to lead the city. Gloria, “the son of a hotel maid and a gardener” is also the first person of color in the Mayor’s chair. Gloria is a third-generation San Diegan of Filipino, Native American, Puerto Rican, and Dutch descent. 

Rounding up the list of community leaders is longtime LGBTQ ally Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León who announced that he was joining the mayor’s race this past month. Born in Los Angeles of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, raised by a loving, hard-working single mother, de León, 51, got an education and spent 12 years in Sacramento, rising to become the President Pro Tem of the California Senate before being elected to the LA City Council. 

“Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” goes beyond the older generations as the young people take their places as dynamic members of the community. As a part of that comes the influence of social media and the young people working in those cultural spaces.

One of those groups of young people are part of the Los Angeles based “The Q Agenda,” a talk show that covers topics such as entertainment, lifestyle, politics, fashion and music from the LGBTQ perspective and is the first show of it’s kind catering to the LatinX community.

The cast of the Q Agenda (Photo Credit: Carlos Marin)

The show which airs weekly on LATV, is hosted by a passionate community of Latinx LGBTQ+ personalities and influencers including, actress and trans activist Juliana Joel, comedian Lianna Carrera, celebrity makeup artist and entrepreneur Victor Ramos and actor, host and reality TV personality Enrique Sapene.

The cast of the show starts off with Spaene, an award winning actor, host, journalist and producer. He has worked as a reporter on Univision News, Livin Large NBC, Jimmy Kimmel Live ABC, The Insider CBS and Telemundo News. Plus, as an actor he was a series regular on Hacienda Heights for ION and recurred on the Amazon Prime series “Borderline” to name a few. His telenovelas “Pecadora”, “El Alma Herida”, “Eva la Trailera” and  “Tomame o Dejame” have been viewed globally.

Next up is Juliana Joel, a Latinx actress, activist and current co-host on LATV’s The Q Agenda of the trans experience. Juliana has worked with various organizations as well as spoken at events and on panels such as; Models of Pride (the world’s largest conference for LGBT youth and allies), the Los Angeles LGBT Center, TransLatina Coalition,  GLAAD, LA Pride, JQ, TransCanWork, the annual Trans Equality Brunch at the West Hollywood Council and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An androgynous Afro-Latin male, Victor Ramos hopes to bring awareness and represent the Afro-LatinX community and serve as a point of reference in media to which the community can relate. He is a Lifestyle Influencer and TV host. He has amassed a cult following on social media through his style, creative makeup looks and candid openness to share everything on his mind.

Finally, hailing from Chicago originally, Lianna Carrera, is a Latinx and queer stand-up comedian, television host, and actor who hails from a deaf family background. She has been a frequent contributor media outlets and has been seen on Buzzfeed, The Advocate, Huffington Post Comedy and Glamour Magazine.

Politics and entertainment have always played a central role in the landscape of Los Angeles, but in celebration of “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” the Blade is proud to highlight just a few of the incredible people who literally make a difference daily for their own community and the world at large.

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Notables

Preston Tisdale’s optimistic vision for Public Justice

“Racism or homophobia or anti-trans thinking — people don’t think deeply about these issues. They just go with what they know”

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Public Justice President Preston Tisdale at Gala in July 2023 (Photo courtesy of Public Justice)

By Karen Ocamb | BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – For more than four decades, Preston Tisdale, a longtime attorney with Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, has practiced law, fought for civil rights and engaged in civic activism. But for the new Board President of Public Justice, one case stands out like a strobe light of injustice. 

While head of the Fairfield Judicial District Public Defender’s Office in Connecticut, Tisdale defended a man charged with murder. The man was acquitted —but at the last minute, the prosecutor added two lesser included offenses for manslaughter. The trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial — as did two subsequent trials for manslaughter. 

“The prosecutor told me that if it was hung a third time, he wasn’t going to try it again,” However, he changed his mind, Tisdale recalls, a strain of anger in his voice. “I was head of the Public Defender’s Office. He was the head of the State Attorneys. He handed it off to one of his underlings. But when I got up to Hartford [for his promotion to Connecticut’s first Director of Special Public Defenders], my successor called,” having just received “totally exculpatory” evidence. 

Tisdale testified at the fourth trial that he had never seen the new evidence. The prosecutor claimed he just didn’t realize it was exculpatory. The judge agreed with Tisdale and granted the motion to dismiss the case.

“We saved this person from life imprisonment,” Tisdale says. “But his life was smashed up. He lost jobs. He lost his fiancée. He was an emotional wreck after going through this terrible circumstance.

“I was involved with thousands of cases and I had well over 50 trials,” Tisdale continues. Every time a person with no record is accused of a serious crime and faces major jail time and a not guilty verdict comes back – “you realize the difference you make in an individual’s life.”

Now, Tisdale says, “I’m looking to make a broader difference. I’m looking for systemic change.”

Tisdale is bringing that core commitment to his new position as Board President. His vision for his year of service, however, is tempered by the departure next May of longtime executive director Paul Bland.  

“Those are huge shoes to fill so that will occupy a great portion of my energies,” Tisdale says. Public Justice does “such fabulous work, so, my vision is to strengthen its ability to deliver achievements.”

“It’s an honor to serve as President of the Public Justice Foundation,” Tisdale says. “It’s just an honor to work with so many fantastic attorneys, tremendously talented staff, and all of the supporters to achieve the mission of Public Justice.”

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Maria Lourdes Tisdale, Preston Tisdale, Debtors’ Prison Project Director Leslie Bailey, Public Justice Board member Gerson Smoger at Public Justice reception in Palm Desert, CA Feb. 14, 2022 (Photo by Karen Ocamb/Public Justice)

For example, Tisdale notes, “our Debtors’ Prison Project is doing fabulous work. When you look at it historically, it’s not a new phenomenon. You can go all the way back during the post-slavery days when the former Confederate states initially developed convict leasing.”

“Alabama was ground zero” for developing ways to “arrest as many formerly enslaved Blacks as they could find to work the mines, or in the fields. That idea has taken on a life of its own,” Tisdale says. “Our Debtors’ Prison Project is attacking one of the newest iterations of that same initiative.”

Public Justice’s collaboration with prominent trial attorneys throughout the country, Tisdale says, is also critical to “protect our ability to continue to undertake” projects such as the Class Action Preservation Project. 

Tisdale also wants to heighten the organization’s visibility in different states. “Public Justice can strengthen the work these attorneys do in a way that many of them don’t realize.”

Tisdale will continue the work of past presidents in increasing the organization’s internal diversity. “I want to take that to another level where attorneys from different walks of life in the legal field can come to Public Justice,” he says.

“These are deeply troubling times” for democracy, exasperated by an “astounding” level of ignorance that “becomes a fertile playground for those who have ill will or bad intentions,” Tisdale says.

“I think a lot of Americans thought we were immune to [autocracy] — that all of our democratic mechanisms operate autonomously, that you don’t have to do any work. They will self-correct. And that’s wrong,” he says. “When you can just press buttons and unleash bigotry or racism or homophobia or anti-trans thinking — people don’t think deeply about these issues. They just go with what they know.”

But Tisdale is encouraged by the angry awakening after George Floyd’s murder. When average Americans saw it, “they were outraged….So, pressing that button is not so easy now. That is one aspect that gives you hope and optimism.”

Born in New York in 1952 when his mother was visiting family, Tisdale was raised around Bridgeport, Connecticut. In school, he reveled in science while also training to be a concert pianist. In the fifth grade, he went to a young doctors program at Stamford Hospital. 

But “the civil rights movement just captivated me. It represented such hope at those times. People don’t remember, but even in a state like Connecticut, the degradation that was heaped upon African-Americans was constant, incessant and quite profound.”

Tisdale’s father and uncle headed the local NAACP Education Committee, his grandfather went to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his activist hero parents — Loyse and James — shared the civil rights movement with him, including meeting Freedom Riders and bringing him to hear Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Bridgeport, and other civil rights luminaries, such as NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall. 

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1966 Tisdale family photo: Loyse Tisdale, Joel Kent (Bpt. NAACP), William Chandler (Bpt. Youth Council President), Roy Wilkins (Executive Director, National NAACP), Preston Tisdale, James Tisdale and Maisa Tisdale.

Loyse Tisdale was a Korean War veteran who graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a degree in psychology. She became the first Black legal secretary in Bridgeport and was later hired by the law firm of attorney Sam Friedman who, along with (future Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall, became famous in the film “Marshall,” written by Tisdale’s friend and law colleague, the late Mike Koskoff and his son Jake. Friedman and Marshall successfully defended Black chauffeur Joseph Spell, accused in 1941 of raping his white female employer in Greenwich, Connecticut.  

“My parents were leading demonstrations and marches and people would get arrested so the lawyers at the ground level were critical to helping them to not be totally ground under by the criminal justice system,” Tisdale says. He realized: “that’s what I want to do. I want to make a difference.”

When Tisdale went to Brown University in 1969, his father James, also an educator, also went to Brown as their first Black development/admission officer. “They never had a Black person in that role before. And then he went on to become the assistant to the president years later,” Tisdale says.

Tisdale graduated from Brown in 1973, then went to NYU School of Law. Upon graduation he joined the Koskoff firm. He left to spend 28 years in the Public Defenders Office, returning to Koskoff in 2010.

Tisdale is also currently part of the team in a four year old lawsuit brought by Tamara K. Lanier against Harvard University “alleging that the University was in wrongful possession of daguerreotype images…depicting two enslaved individuals, Renty and Delia, who she claims are her ancestors,” according to the Harvard Crimson.

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The case is explained in the documentary “Free Renty.

It is just one example of Tisdale’s desire to impact the root causes of repetitive injustice and — as he hopes to also do while at the helm of Public Justice — create the “greatest level of transformative change.”

Public Justice Board President Preston Tisdale commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington:

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Karen Ocamb, is the Senior Storytelling Strategist for the Washington D.C. based Public Justice.

Public Justice is a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization. They protect consumers, employees, civil rights & the environment.

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CBS reports: Robert Carter’s journey from foster child to father of 5

Gayle King stood up from her chair on LIVE TV this morning to give this man, the focus of our story, an ovation

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CBS News' David Begnaud introduces us to Carter, who as a child aged out of the foster care system without ever being adopted. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

By David Begnaud | CINCINNATI, Ohio – (CBS News)  Robert Carter, 33, adopted three boys, Robert, Giovanni and Kiontae in 2020. After learning the boys had two sisters, Marionna and Makayla, he adopted them as well. All five siblings are now together.

Robert Carter is a phenomenal, self-made man with a hell of a human story.

CBS News’ David Begnaud introduces us to Carter, who as a child aged out of the foster care system without ever being adopted.

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LGBTQ activist & philanthropist Jonathan D. Lewis dies at 64

A natural agitator, he challenged the status quo and relished going against the grain, never hesitating to make waves

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Jonathan D Lewis 1958 - 2023 (Screenshot CBS Sunday Morning)

COCONUT GROVE, FL. – An unabashed progressive activist, long time donor to the Democratic party as well as LGBTQ+ causes, Jonathan D. Lewis died at his home earlier this month having battled CNS Lymphoma, a rare form of brain cancer.

In one memorable battle over progressive rights and LGBTQ+ equality a decade ago with the administration of then President Barack Obama, Lewis who provided money to fund LGBT groups such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL, and provided the maximum amount of $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, threatened to pull the plug on any more donations. The Miami-based philanthropist was angered by President Obama’s reluctance to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

Lewis writing in an op-ed in The Huffington Post, titled “No More Excuses: Mr. President,” called on Obama to issue the executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination as a way to make amends for the absence of UAFA in immigration reform.

Lewis, whose fortune came from his family, the founders of Progressive Insurance, was described by his family in their tribute in his online obituary as; “A natural agitator, he challenged the status quo and relished going against the grain, never hesitating to make waves. He will be deeply missed by all who were fortunate enough to have entered his orbit.”

Jonathan D Lewis Obituary: (Edited & excerpted)

Born on November 1, 1958, in Cleveland Ohio, Jonathan, graduated from Shaker Heights High School. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Boston University College of Communication.

After college, he moved to Miami to work at the Sheraton River House and help open the renowned five-star Grand Bay Hotel, which redefined fine dining in Miami. In 1983, he founded his own independent design and development firm, Jonathan Lewis & Associates, managing projects in Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, New York, Aspen and Atlanta.

Jonathan’s first solo restaurant project in Miami, Toby’s, named in honor of his mother, Toby Devan Lewis, garnered recognition as one of Esquire magazine’s “10 Best New Restaurants” in 1985. Food & Wine magazine honored it with their Best New Chef award, while the Miami Herald gave it five-stars out of four, the extra star for “pure class”.

Next, Jonathan opened Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Coconut Grove, Miami, earning another four-stars from the Miami Herald for its innovative approach to small plate sharing. As Cafe Tu Tu Tango flourished, Jonathan played an integral role in its operations as it grew to multiple locations.

Inspired by his father, Peter B. Lewis, Jonathan began his transition to political activism in the early 2000’s, supporting progressive political efforts focused on the fight for LGBTQ equality and youth empowerment. To truly challenge the status quo and build a sustainable progressive movement, Jonathan believed that young people and their creative energy and idealism were essential.

One of his first major undertakings was funding and incubating the Young Voter Alliance, under the Young Democrats of America. The Young Voter Alliance used an innovative, collaborative model to capture and cultivate a powerful, measurable progressive youth voting bloc. The result, in 2004, was the highest youth voter turnout since 1972.

Following his initial political investments, Jonathan became disillusioned as he observed what he considered to be “access advocacy.” Progressive national organization leaders and activists seemed deterred from demanding radical accountability of those in power, settling instead for empty promises, excuses and privileged access with nothing to show for it.

He transformed into an agitator, more inclined to challenge those in power to bring about real change. He fearlessly voiced his dissent and, more importantly, utilized his personal resources to exemplify his unwavering commitment to meaningful change.

Out of his deep frustration and perception of limited progress, Jonathan funded a new, radical, direct action group, GetEQUAL. Its mission was to relentlessly push President Obama and the Democratic Party to make significant progress toward full LGBTQ equality and, specifically, legalize same-sex marriage and end the discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that forbade openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the military.

GetEQUAL’s nontraditional and aggressive tactics to bring the issues to the forefront included activists chaining themselves to the White House fence, disrupting President Obama at public events and blockading Las Vegas Boulevard. They definitely got the attention of the national press and the president. Despite pushback, Jonathan felt immense pride in 2010 as he stood alongside GetEQUAL activists during President Obama’s official signing of the bill repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Additionally, Jonathan served on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which brought together attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, representing different ends of the political spectrum, to champion the fundamental right to marry.

This historic effort culminated in a landmark victory at the United States Supreme Court in 2013, establishing a binding precedent affirming the right to marry. Through his involvement with AFER and GetEQUAL, and many other groups, Jonathan played an instrumental role in advancing equality and justice for all.

One of the most ambitious theoretical to real world working models his foundation has undertaken is Farms Work Wonders, an experimental pilot project launched in 2016, that provides employment, teaches essential skills and supports the educational endeavors of local Appalachian youth. Since its inception, the project has created several successful non-profit social enterprise businesses that serve as dynamic living classrooms for youth including an organic farm, market, bakery, glass blowing studio and a restaurant opening in August, that will honor Jonathan’s hospitality roots. These ventures have touched the lives of many people and will continue to do so.

Jonathan is survived by his husband Mark Christopher Lewis and his siblings Ivy Beth Lewis and Adam Joseph Lewis (Melony). Jonathan is predeceased by his parents Peter Benjamin Lewis and Toby Devan Lewis and his nephew Dakota William Powell.

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Rev. Steve Pieters, activist, inspiration & longtime HIV survivor dies

Brad Bessey, Director of Communications for Project Angel Food, noted the death of Pieters from complications of Gastrointestinal Cancer

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Rev. Steve Pieters appeared at a West Hollywood screening last February of director Jeffrey Schwartz's documentary on APLA Health, "Commitment to Life." Pieters is highlighted as a person with AIDS, including his 1985 TV interview with Christian evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. Pictured with Pieters are longtime AIDS ally Alison Arngrim (Nellie Olson in "Little House on the Prairie"); Jewel Thais-Williams, former owner of Jewel's Catch One Disco and former APLA Board member; and attorney David Wexler, former APLA Board co-chair. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

LOS ANGELES – In a poignant remembrance Sunday on Facebook, Brad Bessey, the Director of Communications & Talent Relations at non-profit charity Project Angel Food, noted the passage of Rev. Steve Pieters, 71, who died from complications of Gastrointestinal Cancer that had metastasized.

Bessey wrote: “Oh man. Rev. Steve Pieters, activist, inspiration and sober brother has passed away after a journey with GI cancer that metastasized. I spent time with him as his story was featured in our Lead with Love special on @ktla5news in June. He told me, as we sat in his house, “The quality of life is not measured by the length of life but by the fullness with which we enter into each present moment, and as long as we are alive we are called upon to love.” And, he personified love. What a gift it was to get to know Steve in his final days on earth before this amazing man took flight in the heavenly plane.”

Pieters, a long time activist in the HIV/AIDS and recovery communities was an active pastor and later a field director for the as Field Director of AIDS Ministry for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) denomination. He received his Master of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1979.

Prior to his diagnosis with AIDS, Rev. Pieters served as the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Hartford, Connecticut (1979-82), where he was a leading gay activist.

His biography published by the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, listed highlights of his over four decade career:

In 1982, he resigned his position in Hartford and moved to Los Angeles, where he began to experience a series of illnesses that were diagnosed as AIDS-Related Complex. In April, 1984, he was diagnosed with AIDS/Kaposi’s Sarcoma and stage four lymphoma, and he was told by one health professional that he would not live to see 1985.

Not only did he live to see 1985, but during that year he became “patient number 1” on the first anti-viral drug trial, taking Suramin for a total of 39 weeks. While on Suramin, both cancers went into complete remission. Due to toxic side effects, the drug was discontinued for use against AIDS.

Rev. Pieters served for the next 11 years as Field Director of AIDS Ministry for the MCC denomination. He traveled the world, teaching and preaching about hope, grief, and surviving AIDS. He also volunteered as a chaplain at an AIDS hospice in Los Angeles. As an AIDS activist, he served on the Los Angeles AIDS Task Force, as well as the Boards of Directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles and the AIDS National Interfaith Network. He was featured in LIFE, TIME, and OMNI magazines, as well as the Los Angeles Times. He regularly appeared on CNN, was interviewed by people as diverse as Tom Snyder and Tammy Faye Bakker, and was profiled by Jane Pauley to mark the 10th anniversary of the first diagnosis of AIDS.

In 2007, and over the next six years Rev. Pieters battled a number of illnesses, including pancreatitis, which nearly killed him in 2012.

In June of this year,  Rev. Dr. Steve Pieters was a guest on Rated LGBT Radio with host and Los Angeles Blade contributor Rob Watson where the two discussed his life.

Pieters had served on the Boards of Directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles, the AIDS Interfaith Council of Southern California, the AIDS National Interfaith Network (USA), and the first Los Angeles City/County AIDS Task Force, and was Field Director for the AIDS Ministry of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches from 1987 to 1997. Pieters was one of twelve invited guests at a Prayer Breakfast at the White House with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and National AIDS Policy Coordinator Kristine Gebbie prior to World AIDS Day 1993. The President talked about Rev. Pieters in his World AIDS Day speech on December 1, 1993.

He was famously interviewed by Tammy Faye Bakker on her TV show, and that interview was recreated in the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

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Dr. Susan Love: LGBTQ+ pioneer & trailblazing scientist dies at 75

Dr. Love came out early in her career at a time when revealing one’s sexual orientation carried “grave professional and personal risks”

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Susan Margaret Love (February 9, 1948 – July 2, 2023) (Photo Credit: Dr. Susan Love Foundation)

LOS ANGELES – Dr. Susan Margaret Love, a widely respected breast cancer researcher and surgeon died at her home in Los Angeles on July 2 at age 75. Dr. Love, who had previously been diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and after extensive chemotherapy treatment experienced remission of the disease, saw a recent recurrence of the disease which ultimately led to her death.

Dr. Love was also an early LGBTQ+ rights pioneer having come out early in her career at a time when revealing one’s sexual orientation carried “grave professional and personal risks”

In 1993, she and her life-partner Dr. Helen Cooksey made history by obtaining approval from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for the first joint adoption by a gay couple. At that time, Massachusetts didn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Dr. Helen Sperry Cooksey with her wife Dr. Susan Love, and their daughter Katie Patton-Love Cooksey.
(Photo Credit: Dr. Susan Love Foundation)

This case was crucial in helping to pave the way for the state to become the first to legalize same-sex marriage a decade later. 

The couple were married in San Francisco in early 2004 after then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

On August 12, 2004, the California Supreme Court voided all of the licenses that had been issued in February and March.

The couple were later married in Los Angeles County.

Love was also a champion of animal rights. She founded the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, embraced human-relevant research methods and refused to experiment on animals. “What we learn from animals doesn’t always translate into how cancer develops in women,” Love said according to a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a statement.

A biographer also noted in Love’s Wikipedia page: Love is best known for pioneering work fueled by her criticism of the medical establishment’s paternalistic treatment of women. She was an early advocate of cancer surgery that conserves as much breast tissue as possible. She also was among the first to sound the alarm on the risks of routine hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal women.

In 1996, she retired from the active practice of surgery to dedicate her time to finding the cause for breast cancer. According to The New York Times, Love sought “not so much to cure the disease as to vanquish it altogether by isolating its causes and pre-empting them at a cellular level.”

She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Cancer Advisory Board, a position she held from 1998 to 2004. She maintained a board position at the National Cancer Institute, and served as an Adjunct Professor of Surgery at UCLA. Love was a clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Love also served as the Founder and Medical Director of the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, formerly titled The Santa Barbara Breast Cancer Institute. In 2020, Love became the Chief Visionary Officer.

Additional research materials and notes from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

 

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Trans military advocacy organization nominates new president

Navy Cmdr. Emily Shilling ready for new role at SPARTA

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Navy Cmdr. Emily Shilling (Photo courtesy of Emily Shilling)

WASHINGTON – SPARTA, a nonprofit advocacy organization representing transgender military service members in the United States, has nominated its new president and board chair — Cmdr. Emily Shilling of the U.S. Navy.

Shilling, who has served in the military since 2005, has had a full and eventful 18 years in the Navy. She’s completed more than 60 combat missions and now serves as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer where she oversees acquisitions. She previously worked as the director of membership at SPARTA.

Shilling grew up moving from place to place around the United States and abroad with her father, who was a pilot during the Vietnam War era and then a doctor for the U.S. Navy for two decades. She traveled around the United States and abroad growing up, including in Pensacola, Fla., Virginia Beach, Va. and Iceland. She was infatuated with all things science fiction and, of course, planes.

“Things like Star Trek, Star Wars, anything that was showing futuristic, fast flying — huge inspirations to me,” Shilling said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something with airplanes or spaceships.”

Shilling joined the Navy to give back and give freedom back to women and fight for educational rights for people, she said. But she stayed for the people and the lifelong connections with fellow service members.

“I have to say, ‘Thank the service for letting me serve.’ They have given me so much. They gave me a lifetime of experience,” Shilling said.

When Shilling came out as trans in April 2019 to friends and family, the Trump-era executive order that barred trans people from serving openly in the military and prevented trans people from enlisting had just taken effect.

“Everybody looks at me like, ‘Oh my god, you got horrible timing. Why didn’t you just come out before?’ I wasn’t ready,” she said.

Shilling would put on her uniform and go to work as her “old self” for several months. It was disenfranchising, awkward, and depressing, she said. In the fall of 2020, she had enough. Shilling came out to the Navy, even though the executive order was still in place. She was willing to “throw out,” everything, including her pension.

“I needed to go live my own life,” she said.

Shilling took out her phone and crafted a coming out message, which she copied and pasted to every contact. To her surprise, almost everyone she worked with was incredibly supportive.

And the 2020 election went her way — President Joe Biden was elected, and he repealed the executive order shortly after he was sworn in.

But she’s still uneasy. If the next presidential election doesn’t go blue, she could be forced to leave.

“I’m still beholden to an executive order,” Shilling said. “The 2024 timeframe makes me very nervous.”

Shilling founded SPARTA in 2019 online and immediately reached out to the communications director and now previous president, Bree Fram. The nonprofit has provided connections, friends, and support for Shilling and the more than 2,000 other members of the organization. Outside of Reddit threads and Discord servers, there was not a safe space for trans military members to come together and find peer support. SPARTA changed that, Shilling said.

This type of community is incredibly important, especially if trans military service is outlawed once again.

In stepping into this new role, Shilling wants to foster relationships with non-trans aspects of the military and bring in more allies to the movement. She also wants to increase involvement in the diversity action teams and the LGBTQ initiative teams at the Pentagon to ensure representation when crafting policy.

“The worst thing that happens is when people write policy for trans troops, and there’s not a single trans troop in the meeting,” Shilling said. “So continuing to grow those relationships and make sure that we have a seat in the room when people are making policy.”

But most of all, she’s going to keep pushing laws ensuring trans-inclusive service be on the books — and to demonstrate how equipped trans people are to serve.

“Ultimately, our biggest power as an organization is to continue to thrive as trans individuals in service, proving that we are both mentally and physically fully qualified to do some of the most extreme jobs in the military,” Shilling said.

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LA’s Fountain Theatre co-founder Deborah Lawlor dies at 83

“More than anyone I’ve ever known, she is the foremost example of utilizing one’s privilege for the benefit of others”

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Fountain Theatre co-founder Deborah Lawlor passed away last night, Tuesday, May 2, at the age of 83 (Photo Credit: Fountain Theatre)

LOS ANGELES — Fountain Theatre co-founder Deborah Lawlor passed away last night, Tuesday, May 2, at the age of 83.

Lawlor’s extraordinary career began in the ’60s as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York, where she was a member of the storied Judson Church/Caffe Cino scene in the Village. She moved to South India in 1968. There, she pioneered Auroville, a 12-square-mile utopian international community created for human unity that now holds 3,000 inhabitants from around the world.

While there, she also created two full-length outdoor dance/theater pieces celebrating the community. After India, she spent ten years in Australia and France studying ancient cultures of India and Egypt. As an author, she translated the French philosopher and mystic R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz’s work on sacred architecture in “The Temple in Man” (1977), Egyptology in “Symbol and the Symbolic” (1978), and esoteric philosophy in “Nature Word” (1982).

Returning to the U.S. in 1986, she independently produced plays in Los Angeles’ burgeoning  intimate theater scene and, in 1990, she and Stephen Sachs co-founded the Fountain Theatre.

Dubbed the “Fountain Theatre’s godmother of flamenco” by the Los Angeles Times, Lawlor was responsible for the Fountain’s extensive dance program, including the company’s renowned “Forever Flamenco” series. 

Deborah’s 25-year collaboration with Maria Bermudez and Sonidos Gitanos at the Ford Amphitheater and the Fountain began in 1995.

Other dance projects at the Fountain include The Women of Guernica, Lawlor’s flamenco-based adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which she also directed, and three full-evening dance-theater pieces which she created and directed: Declarations: Love Letters of the Great Romantics; The Path of Love, which she also directed in South India; and the dance opera, The Song of Songs, with music by Al Carmines.

In 2006, she directed the West Coast premiere of the delightful Taxi to Jannah.

In 2017, the Fountain, in partnership with the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, premiered Lawlor’s play Freddy, the tragic story of legendary dancer Freddy Herko who was a denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory and a personal friend of Lawlor’s during her Judson Church days.

In 2010, Actor’s Equity Association honored Lawlor with its Diversity Award for her dedication to presenting work at the Fountain that is culturally diverse.

In 2013, she received special commendations from the City of Los Angeles and the Spanish Consulate for her contributions to the art of flamenco.

Deborah grew up in Riverside, California. Her father, Arthur A. Culver, was president of the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper from 1969 to 1984. He remained on the board of directors until his death in 1994. Deborah’s brother, Tony Culver, passed away in 2002.

“The Fountain Theatre, as it now exists, would not be if not for Deborah Lawlor,” says Sachs. “More than anyone I’ve ever known, she is the foremost example of utilizing one’s privilege for the benefit of others. She will be deeply missed, but she lives on: in Auroville, at the Fountain, and in the hearts of those she touched and the countless lives she changed.”

A memorial celebration to take place on the outdoor stage at the Fountain will be announced at a later date.

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Former Mayor Riordan’s support of the LGBTQ+ community

It is incumbent upon LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS communities to recognize the historic advances Riordan made in helping us strive towards full equality

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Then LA Mayor Richard Riordan (center) after riding into West Hollywood for the first California AIDS Ride in 1994. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan died Wednesday night at the age of 92.  Other than a brief mention in LAist, readers of his Los Angeles Times obituary and other remembrances might have no clue about the profound impact this rich, white, old, moderate Republican had on LA’s LGBTQ community and how many lives he helped save during the height of the Second Wave of AIDS. 

I covered Riordan’s 1993 mayoral race against LA City Councilmember Mike Woo and was shocked to learn that not everyone in the lesbian and gay community supported the strong Democratic ally who represented Silver Lake and other gay strongholds in the city. 

The beginning of 1993 was full of promise. LA-based ANGLE (Access Now to Gay and Lesbian Equality), with the strong leadership of gay political consultant David Mixner, had just organized the first-ever gay voting bloc to elect Mixner’s friend Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton as President of the United States. 

Clinton had promised an AIDS Czar and funding for AIDS research, plus he’d lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the US military and would sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Two years earlier, in 1991, as a nod to the emerging radical Republican right led by Congressmember Newt Gingrich, California Gov. Pete Wilson had vetoed AB 101, a state gay civil rights bill he’d promised to sign. LGBTQs and allies protested en masse for two weeks. 

At the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation on April 25, we celebrated Clinton’s victory and the belief that the end of AIDS — the end of all the endless dying — was near. Earlier, Clinton posed with a handful of lesbian and gay leaders in the Oval Office holding “Conduct Unbecoming,” Randy Shilts’ signed book about gays in the military presented by Torie Osborn. 

We had reason for optimism. 

But while Richard Riordan seemed very nice with his broad smile and humorously awkward mangled syntax, he was still a Republican. Pete Wilson had proven that using “moderate” before the party affiliation was simply a Trojan Horse. Plus, Riordan’s law firm, Riordan & McKinzie, represented Cardinal Roger Mahoney’s Catholic archdiocese, a target of ACT UP/LA. It was almost inconceivable that LA — as torn up as it was by the riots sparked by the not guilty verdict for four LAPD cops videotaped beating the crap out of motorist Rodney King — would elect a Republican after 20 years of the beloved Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley.   

And then I was introduced to Mike Keeley, an out gay Democrat who was a highly regarded partner in Riordan’s law firm, personal friend, and advisor on gay issues. 

Richard Riordan and Ritch Colbert, director of the LA chapter of Log Cabin Republicans (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Keeley introduced me to others who backed Riordan – as did the then-mostly-moderate Log Cabin Republicans. Riordan, we were promised, judged people on their merits, and touted his version of conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater’s phrase about gays in the military: “It’s not whether you’re straight or gay — it’s whether you shoot straight.” The stance was greatly appreciated after so many of us felt betrayed when six months into his presidency, Clinton announced the horrid “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the witch hunts intensified.  

Riordan also had good answers when I peppered him with questions, including a promise to ride in the Christopher Street West Pride Parade. Former Mayor Bradley had only ridden once. 

He kept that promise, accompanied by LA City Councilmember Joel Wachs, who, despite being closeted, had pressed for anti-gay and anti-AIDS discrimination laws and supported recruitment, hiring and promotion of out lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the LAPD. 

During his two terms as mayor, Riordan went beyond expectations and helped renew our faith in America just a tad — appointing Keeley as LA’s first out gay deputy mayor; appointing Art Mattox as LA’s first out gay LAPD police commissioner; contributing to and riding the last leg of the first California AIDS Ride, a fundraiser for the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center run by Executive Director Lorri Jean; and he attended LGBT and AIDS events, including hanging out at a Project Angel Food benefit with people with AIDS such as Aileen Getty. 

Riordan’s grandest progressive move was literally lifesaving. After talking with advisors such as ANGLE’s Dr. Scott Hitt — chair of the President’s AIDS Advisory Council — and learning about the spread of HIV/AIDS through IV drug use, Riordan found a way around California state law prohibiting the sale and use of drug paraphernalia. On Sept. 6, 1994, Riordan declared a state of emergency that enabled LA City AIDS Coordinator Ferd Eggan and other city officials to work with and fund privately-run healthcare programs such as Clean Needles Now. 

By declaring an emergency to combat HIV/AIDS in the nation’s second largest city, Riordan circumvented conservative Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren and Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who had already vetoed two clean needle exchange bills, despite CDC and other studies showing the spread of HIV/AIDS through shared dirty needles. Riordan ordered LAPD Chief Willie Williams to tell officers who hung out near known CNN exchange areas and nabbed suspected drug users to prioritize other criminal activities.   

LA Mayor Richard Riordan hugs actress and LGBTQ ally icon Judith Light as both finish the first California AIDS Ride in 1994.
(Photo by Karen Ocamb)  

But Riordan’s emergency order went beyond the city of Los Angeles. I interviewed LA County Sheriff Sherman Block — who was elected, not appointed — and he said that he, too, issued a department-wide memorandum telling deputies they had “higher priorities” than making needle exchange citations and arrests. (Interestingly, the Jewish Republican Sheriff was willing to stand up to the Republican state leadership and smudge the law since the Board of Supervisors did not issue a similar emergency order – but, as he told out Adelphia cable host and close Riordan friend Bill Rosendahl, Block would not provide condoms and AIDS education in jails since that would be a tacit admission that sex happened in jails.)

To be clear — there was much with which many LGBT folks could disagree with Richard Riordan. But when it mattered at a peak in the AIDS pandemic before the miraculous triple drug cocktail, Riordan appointed out lesbian and gay people to powerful posts, lifted up and participated in LGBT visibility, and most importantly, saved lives by putting healthcare above politics. 

While mainstream media may ignore us with the usual benign neglect, it is incumbent upon our own LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities to recognize the historic advances the late mayor made in helping us strive towards full equality.  

This article was previously published on Facebook & is republished by permission.

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Remembering Charles “Chuck” Williams

Williams Institute, a public policy research institute based at UCLA School of Law focuses on sexual orientation & gender identities issues

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Chuck Williams, founder, the Williams Institute (Photo courtesy Brad Sears)

Editor’s note: Brad Sears, J.D., is the Founding Executive Director and David Sanders Distinguished Scholar of Law & Policy at the Williams Institute

LOS ANGELES – Hello everyone, I am writing with some very sad news. Chuck Williams, our dear friend, colleague, and founder of the Williams Institute, passed away last Wednesday night. He was at home and at peace with his partner Stu Walter by his side.

In the coming weeks and months, we will have opportunities to celebrate Chuck and remember his generosity and the incredible impact he had on our world. A memorial service is being planned for June and details will be announced in the coming weeks.

This is a difficult loss. It is also a reminder that life passes quickly, to cherish one another, and each one of us can make a real difference through generosity and service. For me, Chuck’s legacy lies in his incredible warmth towards other people, his relationships with Stu and his many friends, and his vision and philanthropy in support of the LGBTQ community and the Williams Institute. 
 
Chuck turned on his charm with the first handshake. He was genuinely curious about other people, no matter who they were. He was the consummate host, taking on the role of making sure other people felt welcome and at ease. That remained true until his final days. No matter how much illness impacted his mind or body, he kept his spirits up and had a smile for anyone who walked into his room. Even when words failed, he maintained his charm offensive with his twinkling, expressive eyes.
(Photo courtesy of Brad Sears & The Williams Institute)
Chuck and Stu met in 1967 when they skied into each other arms on Lake Nacimiento. Few today have had relationships that last 56 years. Even fewer relationships have been tested as theirs has been. 1967 was two years before Stonewall, every state except Illinois had sodomy laws, and gay men were regularly entrapped by the LAPD and sent for conversion therapy in state hospitals. Chuck and Stu risked being arrested, fired, and confined if they were out. But they maintained their relationship through those years, the AIDS epidemic, and through the challenges that eventually come with being survivors and living a long full life. I am particularly honored to have witnessed Stu’s incredible strength during the past several months. He remained Chuck’s principal caregiver until the end, rarely left his side, and kept him comfortable at home. 
Stu Walter & Chuck Williams (Photo courtesy of Brad Sears & The Williams Institute)
Chuck also nurtured so many close friendships. From croquet in the backyard to Christmas dinner for 20 with rowdy white elephant gift exchanges, from a busy schedule of worldwide travel to late-night dinners, trips to Palm Springs, and tailgating at Bruins games—Chuck and Stu created a large and close family of choice for themselves and for so many of us who knew them. Of course, Chuck will be primarily remembered for his public service and philanthropy. But the hallmark of all great people is that they don’t merely overcome their personal challenges, they take on those challenges in a universal way—for their community, their country, or the world. Chuck could have relaxed on a hill overlooking a dazzling view of the Pacific Ocean, but that is not how he lived his life. He and Stu wanted to make life better for all LGBTQ people.

In the 1970s, Chuck and Stu hosted one of the very first fundraisers for an LGBTQ political candidate. In those days, LGBTQ people were scared to go to an event like that—and they made donations in cash (not by check) so their support couldn’t be traced. Chuck and Stu devoted their time and resources to organizations like AIDS Research Alliance to fight the AIDS epidemic through long-term research investments for treatments and a cure.  And then in 2001, Chuck founded the Williams Institute, making the same type of long-term research investments in ending sodomy laws, passing non-discrimination protections, and fighting for marriage equality. Chuck got to see all of those advances in his lifetime because he spent his life working for those advances. 
Brad Sears (L) with Chuck Williams (Photo courtesy Brad Sears)
Chuck has given over $20 million to create and support the Williams Institute. Impressive on its own, but he also gave tirelessly of his time, experience, heart, and skills. He never stopped encouraging others to get involved and support our work. And animating everything he did were his bonds with Stu and his friends and their experiences. He wanted to create a world where others didn’t have to face the same obstacles. For the last 22 years, Chuck’s vision of a better world grew to include combatting poverty in the LGBTQ community, reducing overcriminalization, fighting on behalf of transgender people, and working to improve LGBTQ rights around the globe.  
 
Chuck never stopped working and never stopped expanding his vision of what full equality means. I hope that all of us are inspired to continue his work on behalf of others and to expand our visions for the future.

Thank you,
Brad

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, usually shortened to Williams Institute, is a public policy research institute based at the UCLA School of Law focused on sexual orientation and gender identities issues.

Chuck Williams and Stu Walter: Williams Institute Founders Award 2021:

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Norm Kent, co-founder of South Florida Gay News, dies at 73

Marijuana and LGBTQ rights champion, baseball fanatic, radio talk host passed away at home

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South Florida Gay News co-founder Norm Kent. (Photo courtesy of SFGN)

By Steve Rothaus for South Florida Gay News | FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Attorney Norm Kent — relentless fighter for marijuana and LGBT rights, baseball fanatic, popular radio talk host and co-founder of South Florida Gay News — died at 73 on April 13, 18 months after learning he had pancreatic cancer.

In his final interview on March 28, Kent told SFGN he was diagnosed in October 2021. “That day, I said, ‘Let’s fly to Atlanta and go to a Dodgers game. If they’re telling me I have cancer, we’re going to a baseball game.’”

“You definitely can’t accuse him of not being interesting,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Russell Cormican, Kent’s law partner for nearly 25 years.

“The most important thing looking at Norm’s legacy is that he reminds us how important it is to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how unpopular it might be or what types of repercussions or blowback you might get from people, if you know what you’re doing is the right thing,” said Cormican, 51. “When he sees an injustice, he’s not afraid to lead the call against it. That’s the common thread that’s gone through his life.”

Born Norman Elliott Kent in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 18, 1949, his family soon moved to North Woodmere in Nassau County on Long Island.

“Ever since I was a little kid growing up in North Woodmere and taking Bus 53 to junior varsity games, I was a good, competitive baseball player. The doctor once said I had steel springs in my legs,” Kent said. “I just loved the game. I love it now because you don’t know what’s going to happen on the next pitch. It’s not scripted like a movie. Like comedians, you never know what the next joke is going to be.”

To never miss a game, Kent equipped his longtime small, two-bedroom Victoria Park home with 16 televisions.

“It looks like mission control,” Cormican said. “Heaven forbid there are four baseball games on. He has to see each one.”

Thirty years ago, he even owned a baseball card shop at the Gateway Shopping Center in Fort Lauderdale, Norm Kent’s Baseball Heaven.

Kent, who is survived by older brother Richard and younger brother Alan, once flirted with becoming a professional ballplayer but their dad Jesse told him, “You’re going to be the lawyer in the family.”

After graduating in 1971 from Hofstra University on Long Island with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and sociology, Kent made his father happy and received a Hofstra law degree in 1975.

During college, Kent began establishing a national reputation as a leading proponent of legalizing marijuana use.

Kent joined NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1971. He served 1992-94 on NORML’s national board, rejoined the governing body in 1998 and from 2013-14 served as national board chairman.

In 1988, Kent made headlines representing singer Elvy Musikka, a Hollywood woman nearly blinded by cataracts who was busted for growing pot in her own backyard.

“After 23 different operations for cataracts,” Kent recalled March 28, “she found the only thing that let her see was by taking marijuana. It had a certain THC in it which let her see.”

He continued: “Who was her government, or the president, to stop her from seeing? And when the police came to her house in Hollywood and said we’re going to have to arrest you for smoking pot, she said, ‘I dare you to. I don’t care. It’s my life. It’s my right to see.’

“She went to a lawyer. She went to me. And I said let’s go to court. We argued a case in [Broward Circuit Court] before Judge Mark E. Polen and we won. He said your right to smoke marijuana is a lot more important than the right of the government to tell you what to do with what you can smoke. That case became the seminal case for hundreds of others.”

While dying of cancer, Kent himself couldn’t find pain relief smoking marijuana: “No,” he said, “I had a respiratory condition in 2018 when I got a defibrillator and pacemaker.”

Shortly after college, Kent worked briefly as an urban affairs analyst for the New York Legislature, and in 1978 relocated to South Florida where his parents had moved.

Kent never officially told them he was gay.

“My parents always suspected he was gay from the time he moved to Fort Lauderdale,” said his brother Alan, a retired psychologist. “They would always ask me, ‘Do you think Norman is gay?’”

Alan Kent, who also is gay, came out to their parents in 1982. Five years later, after their father died, Norm called Alan from Provincetown, Mass., with some news: I’m gay.

“I said really? Tell me something I don’t know,” Alan Kent recalled.

Before he died, Norm Kent said that for him “there was no such thing as being in [the closet].”

“There was always this fear that as a gay lawyer it might cost me economically,” Kent said. “But there I was, a gay lawyer who was representing gay bars and gay friends and gay owners.”

Kent said that decades ago he never cared if people knew his sexual orientation. Once, a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter interviewed Kent for a story and asked about rumors that he was gay — and then never published that he was.

“It’s not my job to do their thinking for them. It’s my job to be who I am. And I’m proud of every minute and moment of who I am and what I was,” Kent said. “And if that meant I was a faggot who could throw a baseball, that’s their problem.”

After he moved to South Florida, Norm Kent briefly wrote a column for Playbill magazine and taught sociology at Florida Atlantic University. Soon he became known locally as an advocate for runaway gay youths who hung out at Fort Lauderdale Beach.

On the strip, Kent interviewed 30 boys ages 12 to 20 working as prostitutes. By 1984, Kent had spoken with about 150 boys on the strip — a third of them said they had sold their bodies to survive. 

For years, Fort Lauderdale police and politicians worked to downplay the local homeless problem, according to a 1989 Miami Herald profile of Kent headlined “Upholder of the Unpopular.”

“It was like the mayor in Amity denying that there was a shark out there,” Kent told the Herald, referring to the blockbuster 1975 film of the era, “Jaws.”

Kent spent the rest of his life advocating for homeless gay youth. In 2000 — after having just survived treatment for lymphoma — Kent met John Fugate, then 18 and disowned since middle school by his Lakeland family. Kent, who at the time published the Express Gay News in Fort Lauderdale, offered Fugate a job delivering newspapers.

“I was living under the bridge on Federal Highway just south of 26th Street,” Fugate said March 28, weeping, a few feet from Kent’s hospice bedside. “And Norman found out that I was sleeping on the street and he invites me to the Floridian Restaurant for dinner.”

That night, Kent told him: “I just want you to know if you ever need a place to stay, you can always stay at my house. Here are the keys.”

At first, Fugate said he was “too proud and scared” to come to Kent’s home. But a few weeks later, about 3 a.m. on a cold, rainy morning, Fugate showed up. Eventually, he moved in.

Despite their age difference, Kent, 53, and Fugate, 21, became partners. Seven years later, they ended their romantic relationship. But they remained close friends and continued to work together on and off. After Kent’s health began to decline in 2018, Fugate and his new husband Brian Swinford stepped in as Kent’s caregivers.

Fugate said Thursday that Kent died of a recently diagnosed lung cancer. 

On April 10, Fugate posted on Facebook: “Sometimes you start to doubt your beliefs and wonder why it’s happening to good people and telling yourself why can’t the good people live in why does it have to be this way? I’m so lucky to have had Norm Kent in my life forever changed me to make me a better person, there’s no way on earth I could ever repay him or show him the love that I have for him other than being here for him now.”

Mark Possíen, Kent’s close friend since 1977, described his Victoria Park home as “a refuge for so many people.”

“If you were down and out, he would invite you to come and stay with him. He’d get you a job. If you were on drugs, he tried to get you off drugs,” Possíen said. “He was selfless. He did everything with no expectation of any kind or return or reward from the person.”

About 1991, Possíen moved into a spare room in the Victoria Park house where Kent helped him launch Catalog X, one of the first gay-owned mail-order adult toy businesses.

“I was Dildo Central!” Kent wrote in his final SFGN column published March 30.

By 1998, Possíen had opened two Catalog X retail stores, one in Fort Lauderdale, the other in South Beach. “It was a gay department store. We had everything we thought gay people would be interested in.”

Possíen, who closed Catalog X in 2003, now lives in Lake Worth. In late March, Kent told him that his “biggest disappointment” about having terminal cancer was not having enough time “to sue Ron DeSantis for the drag queen stuff.”

“He said, ‘I’ve taken on all these cases all my life, I didn’t make money on them and sometimes they cost me money,’” Possíen said. “When he saw something that was wrong or unjust, he wanted to fix it.”

During college on Long Island, Kent dabbled as a reporter writing for the local Jewish Journal and Nassau Herald.

Later in South Florida, Kent himself became a media celebrity.

“He’s lived his life in the public eye,” Kent’s brother Alan said. “Norman has done a lot of good stuff and he’s had a lot of recognition for what he accomplished.”

Norm Kent’s name frequently appeared in both the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald. Among his high-profile legal cases:

  • Helping adult video store owners charged with obscenity in the 1980s.
  • Representing the owners of nude dance clubs in the 1990s, when South Florida municipalities tried to shut them down.
  • Defending countless men charged with public sex in restrooms, in parks and on beaches throughout South Florida well into the 2000s.

A 1992 case that got particular attention: When gay radio superstar Neil Rogers, Kent’s close friend, was charged with indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in South Beach. 

“Millions” of other men were arrested under the same circumstances, Kent recalled March 28.

“Only straight men would go free. … And people like Neil would get into trouble. I said ‘What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right. This isn’t fair to gay people.’ Over the years, so many would be wrongfully and unjustly arrested and prosecuted.”

From 1989 to 1992, Kent had his own daily talk show on WFTL AM. Later, he hosted various radio programs including one broadcast live during the breakfast rush at the Floridian on Las Olas Boulevard.

He also represented Rogers in the radio business. “I wound up making him, as his agent, $1.5 million a year,” Kent said.

Kent said that for years, Rogers made fun of him on the radio and elsewhere, sometimes referring to him as “Norma.”

“Do you know that they gave me an award for donating money to the Broward General Cancer Society in 2000,” Kent recalled. “And they put my name up on a plaque. And one of the ladies who made the plaque, she really thought my name was Norma. She didn’t put ‘Norman Kent’ on the plaque. She put ‘Norma.’ I said, ‘Neil, you did that.’ We thought that was hilarious.”

In 1999, Kent took on a new title: Newspaper publisher. He launched the Express Gay News, which covered all aspects of queer life in South Florida.

Kent sold the paper four years later to Window Media, a national LGBT media group that renamed it the South Florida Blade. Window Media went bankrupt in November 2009 and quickly shut down the Blade. Most of the staff of the Blade reorganized and launched the Florida Agenda, which shut down in 2016. 

In January of 2010 Kent launched a new newspaper and website called South Florida Gay News, along with a new business partner Piero Guidugli, who stayed with the company until 2020.

Celebrating 400 issues of SFGN in 2018, Kent and Guidugli highlighted a few of their most compelling stories, including:

  • A five-year long program of entrapment by two West Palm Beach policemen who had entrapped more than 300 men.
  • Hollywood police fired officer Mikey Verdugo in 2010 after the department learned he had appeared in a 15-minute gay porn scene 14 years earlier. (Verdugo now owns Bodytek Fitness in Davie and Wilton Manors.)
  • The 2010 firing of licensed practical nurse Ray Fetcho AKA drag queen Tiny Tina, when it came out that 35 years earlier Fetcho had been charged with a lewd act for hosting a wet jockey shorts contest at the old Copa nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. (Fetcho died at 68 of cancer and diabetes in 2015.)

In 2016, Kent wrote in a publisher’s column about the last of the big gay bar raids in Broward County, when in 1991 then-Sheriff Nick Navarro created a media spectacle arresting men at the Copa and at Club 21 in Hallandale Beach.

“Sheriff Navarro orchestrated the raid as if he were hosting a Hollywood opening,” Kent wrote. “As the news report by Steve Rothaus indicates, the sheriff turned the raid into a media event, placing the entire LGBT community in a false light. Navarro arrived on the scene, believe it or not, in a helicopter, accompanied by his wife, dressed in an evening gown. Reporters were shocked by the crass celebration, amazingly accompanied by foreign Russian dignitaries to show off for.”

Kent said he never regretted publishing a story, even if it got him into hot water with local power figures, including activists and elected officials.

“It’s the newspaper. It’s what editorial cartoons are all about,” he said. “It’s not for the politician to be thin skinned. It’s for the politician to go naked before the canon and accept the fact that he, too, can be criticized no matter how good they think they are.”

The past five years, Kent suffered several life-threatening health setbacks. He had two brain surgeries to remove tumors, COVID in 2021 and then the pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Last September, he stepped down as publisher and handed the running of SFGN to Associate Publisher Jason Parsley. 

“Jason has established himself as a very powerful voice, not afraid to stand up to anybody,” Kent said March 28. 

Parsley, 45, a one-time hair stylist who in 2007 got a journalism degree from Florida Atlantic University, has worked at SFGN since 2011.

These days, a local LGBT newspaper and website are more important than ever, Parsley said.

“Our stories, need to be told, must be told,” he said. “Unlike big corporate media, an LGBT paper is invested in the community.”

“You have a hostile legislature that wants to silence and erase our voices and stories. And because this isn’t taught in school, places like the gay media are where you are going to be informed and educated and learn about the queer community.”

Parsley said Kent “had a passion for journalism and being a storyteller.”

“He leaves a long legacy of journalism and a dogged pursuit of the truth,” Parsley said. “He wasn’t just a news reporter. He also wrote scathing and biting — truthful — editorials that would sometimes call out members of our own community and push the ball forward.” 


Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.


Norm Kent’s eloquence and outlook on life expressed in final column

Thirteen days before his passing, on March 30, South Florida Gay News published an opinion column written by Norm Kent entitled, “What is Hospice and What it Means to Me,” in which he movingly and eloquently described his outlook on life and his passion for journalism as noted by those who knew him.

“Last week, the doctors told me about a new and invasive cancer and tumor that would require even more sudden and maybe midnight trips to the ER and hospitals, ending the day with newer needles in my arms and weakening veins,” Kent wrote.

“Nope, no more,” he continued. “I think I have done my share for here and now. An activist for gay rights and your rights; for NORML and human rights. Your body. Your life. Your call. I hope I have made you proud.”

He reminisced about his life experiences and those dear to him along with loved ones who have been at his side during his illness before stating, “So folks, that all brings me to home health care hospice, like President Jimmy Carter has just done. It’s not to say goodbye, but to thank you for the many hellos. From the many memories; from your local hospitality establishments and homes and businesses.”

And in keeping with his philosophy on life, Kent concluded by saying, “Keep on doing what is right, remembering what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right. You will always find a path belonging to you. Like Yogi Berra, New York Yankees Hall of Famer once said, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ It’s your own. Forever.”

                                               — Lou Chibbaro Jr.

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