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Portrait of a Festival on Fire, AFI Fest returns with live screenings

AFI Fest returns this year with live screenings—and a roster that’s typically chock full of queer breakout films

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Courtesy of the American Film Institute's AFI Fest

By Dan Allen | LOS ANGELES – Like most things last year, L.A.’s most prestigious mainstream film festival AFI Fest was forced to go virtual—but it still managed to include what proved to be some of the year’s most critically lauded gay films, including I Carry You With Me and Uncle Frank. The fest’s prior incarnation in 2019 served up one of the most acclaimed and popular lesbian movies in recent memory, Portrait of a Lady on Fire

So it’s no surprise that as AFI Fest pivots back this year to a pando-transitional screening hybrid of virtual and in-person at the Chinese Theatres in Hollywood, the five-day lineup is once again crowded with LGBTQ+-themed excellence from the U.S. and across the globe. Safety protocols will of course be in effect—but for the squeamish, the anti-social, or the just plain lazy, a virtual (albeit more limited) AFI Fest schedule will again be available for 2021. 

Whether you choose live or virtual, here are our picks for this year’s queer (and -ish) flicks not to miss at AFI Fest, which runs November 10 to 14.

tick, tick… BOOM! 

Opening AFI Fest this year is the world premiere of the hotly-awaited adaptation of John Larson’s autobiographical musical, starring Andrew Garfield and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature debut. Larson was of course the creator of the theatrical phenomenon Rent, and tick, tick… BOOM! is its origin story, as struggling New York City composer Larson responds to the pressures of life and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic. (Screening live with Red Carpet Premiere at TCL Chinese, November 10, 7:30pm)

The Power of the Dog

One of the buzziest films to come out of this year’s Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals is the latest from Jane Campion, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as a deeply closeted gay cowboy in 1925 Montana whose repression manifests itself in the sadistic intimidation of his brother’s new wife and her teenage son. (Screening live with Red Carpet Premiere at TCL Chinese, November 10, 7:30pm)

Great Freedom (Grosse Freiheit)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLQZoNZEOVU
Austria’s official submission for next year’s Best International Feature Film Oscar and a jury prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Great Freedom tells the story of irrepressible German homosexual Hans Hoffmann (Franz Rogowski) through several decades, from his wartime imprisonment for repeatedly breaking Nazi Germany’s antigay Paragraph 175 law, and post-war following his life, loves and an unexpected friendship. (Screening live at Chinese 3, November 14, 4pm)

Petite Maman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdORAHCydyY
While not technically LGBTQ+-themed, Petite Maman is director Céline Sciamma’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to her wildly popular period lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire. In this film, Sciamma (who also directed 2011’s Tomboy) returns to the themes of childhood and family: Eight-year-old Nelly has just lost her grandmother, and while exploring the woods near the matriarch’s home, she meets another little girl with striking parallels to her mother. (Screening virtually beginning November 11; screening live at Chinese 1, November 13, 1:15 pm)

Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e)

Another film with a strong Portrait of a Lady on Fire connection is this French graphic novel adaptation starring Noémie Merlant (Portrait painter Marianne) as Nora, whose new life in Paris is complicated when she’s mistaken for a cam girl. Céline Sciamma also collaborated on the script here, which features a tapestry of love stories including that of free-spirited Émilie and her new roommate Camille. (Screening virtually beginning November 11; screening live at Chinese 1, November 11, 8:15pm) 

Bernstein’s Wall

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSodXElSVTQ
Composer and social justice warrior Leonard Bernstein tells his life story in his own words, artfully pieced together here from many interviews conducted throughout his career, and augmented by segments from his letters, as published in the award-winning 2013 book The Leonard Bernstein Letters. (Screening live with director Douglas Tirola in attendance at Chinese 4, November 12, 3:15pm)

The Girl and the Spider

An award winner at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s film focuses on the interpersonal relationships and behavioral cues surrounding a young Swiss woman, Lisa, as she moves out of the apartment she’s shared with Mara, who’s clearly been more than just her friend. (Screening live along with a conversation with directors Ramon and Silvan Zürcher at Chinese 3, November 14, 1pm)

Wildhood 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSodXElSVTQ
Seen here in its American debut, Wildhood follows Two-Spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Link as he sets off with his younger half-brother Travis in a search for Link’s long-lost mother. Along the way they meet Pasmay, another young Mi’kmaw Two-Spirit, and what had at first seemed bleak for Link evolves into a beautiful journey of discovery about family, origins, identity and young love. (Screening live with producers Gharrett Paon and Damon D’Oliveira in attendance at Chinese 3, November 13, 4pm)

AFI Fest 2021’s numerous shorts programs will also be peppered with LGBTQ+-themed goodness. Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker looks at the coded advertisements created by the legendary but closeted gay illustrator. In Israel’s Her Dance, estranged transwoman Aya surprises her Orthodox Jewish family by showing up for Shabbat. From Puerto Rico comes Mano Santa, in which a grandfather briefly harbors his runaway grandson after he’s fled home. In Boys of a Certain Age, a teenager faces danger and excitement during a weekend of self-discovery with his best friend. Set in Cyprus, A Summer Place follows Tina on her birthday, as a chance encounter stops her from giving up everything.
And a couple of LGBTQ+ film icons will be representing at AFI Fest this year, albeit in non-queer titles, in the form of Pedro Almodóvar’s latest Parallel Mothers (starring Penelope Cruz and longtime Almodóvar muse Rossy de Palma), and the arty and meditative Memoria, in which Tilda Swinton plays a Scottish orchid farmer visiting Colombia who struggles to make sense of the sudden-onset sound that only she can hear.

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Cynthia Erivo to be honored at LA LGBT Center Gala

This year’s gala features a special musical performance by pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts

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Cynthia Erivo performs "Alfie" for Dionne Warwick at the 46th Kennedy Center Honors (Screenshot/YouTube CBS)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest queer-serving nonprofit organization, announced Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress, singer, songwriter and producer Cynthia Erivo will be honored with the Schrader Award at this year’s Center Gala on May 18, 2024.

A global sensation and proud queer woman, Erivo will be recognized for her stellar achievements in entertainment and activism championing the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I’m thrilled to continue my support for the Los Angeles LGBT Center—an organization that does so much for our community,” Erivo said. “I can’t wait to celebrate with my fellow presenters and honorees, and of course, our queer family in LA.”

Mickalene Thomas, considered one of the most influential visual artists of our time, will be honored with this year’s Vanguard Award. ​​Thomas is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist whose work has yielded widely celebrated aesthetic languages within contemporary visual culture. An out lesbian, she’s recognized for her advocacy and commitment to intersecting complexities of Black and female identity within the Western canon.

“It’s an honor to be recognized alongside Cynthia and so many other talented members of our community,” said Thomas. “I’m excited to kick off an incredible Pride season in LA with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

This year’s gala will also feature a special musical performance by power pop trio MUNA, who will receive the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts. 

“We are facing unprecedented attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, which means the Center’s work is more urgent than ever,” said the organization’s CEO, Joe Hollendoner. “Now is the time to strengthen our support for the movement and celebrate with fierce, radical joy.”

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Guide to Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite

On April 11, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT), Pride Nite tickets will go on sale to the general public, subject to availability

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Photo Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort)

BURBANK, Calif. – Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite returns to the Disneyland Resort for its second year with colorful celebrations, joyful photo opportunities, event merchandise, fabulous food and divine drinks.

As  previously shared, this separately ticketed, after-hours event will be held at Disneyland park on June 18 and 20, 2024. Today, we’re excited to share more details about the fun you can expect at this event, plus information on when tickets will go on sale! 

Themed Entertainment, Food and More Coming to Pride Nite

Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community, bringing allies and community members together as Disneyland park is illuminated with rainbow projections. In addition to the colorful décor, here’s just some of the entertainment, photo opportunities and themed menu items in store for you: 

  • As the evening begins, direct your attention to the skies above The Happiest Place on Earth as you view an inspirational display of colors, pyrotechnics and music during the Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite Fireworks – WELCOME!   
  • The Welcome Pride Cavalcade invites you to celebrate with favorite characters Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Clarabelle in their multicolor outfits for an upbeat procession through Disneyland park. 
  • Whirl, twirl, sparkle and sway under the stars at the Pride Nite Dance Club along the Rivers of America. 
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite – Ohana Dance Party 
Everyone’s favorite extraterrestrial, Stitch, leads the Ohana Dance Party in Tomorrowland, where a DJ will be spinning tunes to celebrate “ohana” – family.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite – Country Line Dancing 
If your feet favor a twist to a western beat, be sure to join the Country Line Dancing at The Golden Horseshoe.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite Food and Beverage – Funnel Cake with Cereal Milk and Multi-Colored Marshmallow Cereal Topping 
Enjoy savory snacks and sweets curated specially for the party, including these new items: Key Lime Pudding and Red Berry Sangria at River Belle Terrace, 5 Spice Popcorn Chicken at The Tropical Hideaway, Funnel Cake with Cereal Milk and Multi-Colored Marshmallow Cereal Topping at Stage Door Café and Firecracker Loaded Fries at Hungry Bear Restaurant, to name a few! Specialty menu items will also be available at Cafe Orleans and additionally, Plaza Inn will offer a dining package which includes reserved viewing for both the fireworks and cavalcade. Reservations are recommended and can be booked online soon on Disneyland.com.  (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)
Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite at Disneyland Park
(Photo Credit: Disney Parks)

Each Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite event begins with a three-hour pre-party mix-in at Disneyland park from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT before the party officially begins. In addition to all the themed fun brought to life just for the party, you’ll have the opportunity to ride some popular attractions after regular park hours, often with less wait times! Your admission also includes commemorative keepsakes such as a Pride Nite credential and an event guide map, plus unlimited digital downloads of Disney PhotoPass photos taken throughout the event.* 

Immersive photo opportunities throughout Disneyland park allow you to step into the story with photo backdrops inspired by Disney characters and films. (Photo Credit: Disney Parks)

Tickets On Sale Soon, with Magic Key Pre-Sale Opportunities

On April 9, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT) all Magic Key holders will have the opportunity to purchase Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite tickets from a select amount of pre-sale tickets on Disneyland.com. Then, on April 11, 2024, (no earlier than 9 a.m. PT), Pride Nite tickets will go on sale to the general public, subject to availability. ** 

 If you’re waiting in the online queue to purchase tickets, don’t forget the new option to be digitally notified when it’s your time to enter the ticket store. Once in the queue, choose the “notify me” option and enter your email address. You’ll receive an email letting you know it’s your turn.*** 

We hope to see you at Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite! 

* Disney PhotoPass® digital photo downloads exclude separately priced Disney PhotoPass® packages and products offered at select locations. Disney PhotoPass® service is subject to the Disney PhotoPass® Terms and Conditions and expiration policy found at https://disneyland.disney.go.com/photopass-terms-conditions/. Online registration required. 

**The number of tickets available for each event date are limited, and event tickets are valid only for the specific event date and hours. Only select attractions, experiences, offerings, and services will be available during the event. Offer, event, and event elements are subject to restrictions, change or cancellation without notice or liability.  

***Guests will have 10 minutes to use the link to return to the site from when their turn begins, or they will lose their place in line and will need to re-join the queue at the back of the line.  The link will no longer be valid once their turn has ended or after they have used the link to return to the side, whether they purchase tickets or not.  If this happens, guests will need to re-join the queue at the back of the line.  Guests should check spam and/or junk folders to ensure the initial email confirmation is sent. 

Visit Disneyland.com/updates for important information to know before visiting the Disneyland Resort. 

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LA Sisters v. WeHo Cheerleaders: 7th drag queen world series

The Life Group LA’s 7th Annual Drag Queen World Series is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, 2024, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Fairfax High School

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Drag Queen World Series - (Photo by Mike Pingel/WeHo Times)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The Annual Drag Queen World Series is BACK with the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence battling it out with the West Hollywood Cheerleaders for a giant trophy, bragging rights, and a chance to raise money for a good cause. 

The Life Group LA is bringing a fun, wacky, playful, rule-bending softball game to Fairfax High School in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 27, 2024. Come join in a fun-filled, comedic game full of crazy antics and some eye candy.

West Hollywood Mayor John M. Erickson will umpire; actor and singer Jay Rodriguez (best known as the culture guide in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) will sing the National Anthem; music will be spun by Celebrity DJ Eur-O-Steve. The announcer this year will be TV/podcast personality Alexander Rodriguez. Cheer LA will perform during the 3rd inning stretch. More special guest announcements to come.

The race to home plate is a collaboration between The Life Group, Fairfax High Alumni Association’s Centennial Celebration, and the High School’s GSA Youth Club. The Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the West Hollywood Cheerleaders are two amazing organizations of drag queens who donate their time and use their power and passions for the greater good.

Drag Queen World Series – Photo by Mike Pingel
Drag Queen World Series – Photo by Mike Pingel

This event will benefits 3 nonprofit programs that serve the local community.

Admission funds and sponsorships will benefit the Life Group LA (www.TheLifeGroupLA.org), a coalition of people dedicated to the education, empowerment, and emotional support of persons both infected and affected by HIV/AIDS so that they may make informed choices and decisions regarding their healthcare and personal well-being. This year’s food truck time is being made available by Pink’s Hot Dogs to benefit Fairfax High School’s Alumni Centennial Celebrations. Sweet treats will be offered to benefit the school’s Student Club, the “Gender Sexuality Association” (GSA).

he Drag Queen World Series raises awareness of the fact that AIDS is not over and aims to erase stigma. It is also an opportunity to raise financial support for The Life Group LA. The group’s main goal is to continue providing education and emotional support to persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

The Life Group LA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in 2005 and provides free-of-charge, much-needed information and emotional support through medical forums, emotional support groups, and the POZ Life Weekend Seminar. All services are offered in a non-judgmental and safe environment with compassion and understanding. Safety, respect, and confidentiality are the cornerstones of Life Group LA’s philosophy. This is accomplished by providing trained support group facilitators for emotional support groups and POZ Life Weekend Seminars. These facilitators have been trained in the art of active listening and conduct themselves with empathy and compassion.

In a time when the HIV epidemic has surpassed its 43rd year and new HIV infections continue to occur on a daily basis, now more than ever we must continue to provide education and emotional support for people living with HIV and spread information about PrEP to keep others safe from exposure.

The Life Group LA’s 7th Annual Drag Queen World Series is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, 2024, from 1 to 4 p.m. (rain or shine) at Fairfax High School, 7850 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles (Enter the softball field on Genesee Blvd by the tennis courts).

Entry is $15 pre-sale; $20 at the door.

To purchase tickets, visit: http://www.dragqueenworldseries.com

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Unveiling “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects” at the Hammer Museum

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at 7:30 PM, as the Hammer Museum hosts a groundbreaking event

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Museum of Trans Hirstory & Art/Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – Mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at 7:30 PM, as the Hammer Museum hosts a groundbreaking event centered around the launch of “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects.”

This project, curated by artist Chris E. Vargas as part of the Museum of Trans Hirstory & Art (MOTHA), redefines conventional narratives by exploring trans art, activism, and resistance across more than four centuries.

Joining Vargas are a dynamic group of contributors and artists who have played integral roles in shaping the narrative of trans history.

Zackary Drucker is an American multimedia artist, director, and producer who has dedicated her work to telling stories that expand our cultural understanding of difference. Her credits include directing the Hulu Original documentary Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl; and co-directing the Sundance award-winning HBO original documentary film The Stroll and the HBO documentary series The Lady and the Dale. She has performed and exhibited her work internationally in museums, galleries, and film festivals including the Whitney Biennial 2014, MoMA PS1, Hammer Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, MCA San Diego, and SF MoMA, among others.

Edgar Fabián Frías works in installation, photography, video art, sound, sculpture, printed textiles, GIFs, performance, social practice, and community organizing, among other forms. Their art addresses historical legacies and acts of resistance, resiliency, and radical imagination within the context of Indigenous Futurism, spirituality, play, pedagogy, animism, and queer aesthetics.

Raquel Gutiérrez is an award-winning critic, essayist, poet, and educator based in Southern Arizona. Gutiérrez’s first book Brown Neon (Coffee House Press) was named one of the best books of 2022 by The New Yorker and listed in the Best Art Books of 2022 by Hyperallergic.

Amos Mac is an out trans artist, writer, and co-founder of Original Plumbingmagazine. Amos has written and produced for television on shows including Gossip GirlClean Slate, and Gaycation and co-wrote No Ordinary Man, a documentary about the complicated jazz man and trans icon Billy Tipton.

Uri McMillan is a writer based in Los Angeles. He has published essays in Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theoryGLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay StudiesASAP/Journal, and museum/gallery-based publications for the Studio Museum in Harlem, Aperture Foundation, MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Museum.

Chris E. Vargas is a video maker & interdisciplinary artist, an artist, the founder of the Museum of Trans Hirstory and Art, and co-editor of Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects. His work deploys humor and performance to explore the complex ways that queer and trans people negotiate spaces for themselves within historical and institutional memory and popular culture. He is a recipient of a 2016 Creative Capital award and a 2020 John S. Guggenheim fellowship.

Together, these visionary artists and thinkers will celebrate, discuss, and perform trans and non-binary magic, exploring themes of celebrity, activism, and trans-masculine histories. Through their collective efforts, they aim to challenge existing narratives, inspire dialogue, and foster a greater appreciation for the diverse experiences within the trans community.

Admission to the event is free, with seats assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Hammer Museum members enjoy priority ticketing and preferred seating. Valet parking is available on Lindbrook Drive, while self-parking is available under the museum.

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The Dru Project announces its 5th annual “Gun Violence is a Drag”

The event, held in honor of Pulse victim Drew Leinonen, raises funds for supporting queer youth scholars in college, grad school, and beyond

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The Dru Project/Los Angeles Blade graphic

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Dru Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion and acceptance, proudly presents the 5th Annual “Gun Violence is a Drag” show. This heartfelt and empowering evening is set to take place at Heart WeHo on February 10, 2024, promising a memorable and impactful experience for attendees. 

The event, held in honor of Pulse victim Drew Leinonen, aims to raise funds for supporting queer youth scholars in college, grad school, and beyond. The Dru Project continues its mission to create positive change and foster a sense of community through this unique and powerful event. 

This year’s “Gun Violence is a Drag” event will embrace a Valentine’s theme, adding a touch of love and solidarity to the drag brunch. Attendees can expect an unforgettable afternoon filled with entertainment, compassion, and a shared commitment to making a difference. 

Key highlights of the event include:

Celebrity Guests: The evening will be graced by the presence of prominent celebrity supporters who share The Dru Project’s vision for a more inclusive and accepting world. Past guests include: Melissa Rivers, Jai Rodriguez, Katie Thurston, Jonathan Bennett and Jaymes Vaughan, Lana Parrilla, and more. 

Raffles from Entertainment Sponsors: Generous support from entertainment sponsors will provide attendees with the chance to win exciting prizes through raffle drawings, adding an element of excitement to the fundraising efforts. 

Incredible Lineup of Drag Performers: The stage will come alive with an extraordinary lineup of drag performers from Ru Paul’s Drag Race, ensuring a brunch filled with captivating performances that celebrate self-expression and individuality. 

“We are thrilled to announce the 5th Annual ‘Gun Violence is a Drag’ event,” said Sara Grossman, Board President at The Dru Project. “This year’s Valentine’s theme adds a beautiful layer of love to our commitment to creating a safer and more inclusive world for queer youth. We invite everyone to join us for a night of entertainment, empowerment, and fundraising for a cause that truly makes a difference.”

Event Details: 

Date: February 10, 2024 

Location: Heart WeHo 

Theme: Valentine’s 

Time: Doors open at 12pm; Show begins at 1pm 

Individual tickets for the event can be purchased day-of, with all proceeds going directly to The Dru Project’s initiatives supporting queer youth.

The Dru Project is a non-profit organization founded in memory of Drew Leinonen, a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The organization is dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion and acceptance, with a focus on supporting queer youth through scholarships and GSA materials.

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2024 Best of LGBTQ LA Finalist Voting

Finalist voting is now open until January 7, 2024- Winners will be announced at the Best of LGBTQ LA Party January 26th at Heart WeHo

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – The 2024 Los Angeles Blade Best of LGBTQ LA Awards are here! Finalist voting is now open until January 7, 2024.

Winners will be announced at the Best of LGBTQ LA Party on Friday, January 26th at Heart WeHo. More details about the party will be coming soon.

VOTING IS NOW CLOSED!

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Los Angeles Zoo is proud to announce its upcoming Pride Night

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including family, friends, and allies, are invited to a night of celebration and unity on Jan. 4, 2024

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Photo courtesy of LAZoo Press

LOS ANGELES –  The Los Angeles Zoo is proud to announce its upcoming Pride Night on Jan. 4, 2024, from 6 – 10 p.m., at L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow, in collaboration with L.A. Pride.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including family, friends, and allies, are invited to a night of celebration and unity on Jan. 4, 2024

“The L.A. Zoo is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for all of our communities, including those who visit and work at the Zoo,” said Jess Kohring, Curator of Community Inclusion, L.A. Zoo. “Pride Night is put together as an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ staff, community members, friends, families, and allies to come together in a supportive environment to experience L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow.”

What to Expect at Pride Night at L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow:

  • Dance party for all ages at Treetops Terrace, featuring the musical stylings of DJ Brynn Taylor;
  • Full cocktail bar for adults ages 21+, including two signature Pride Night cocktails — “Pride Punch” and “Taste the Rainbow,” served with a side of Skittles;
  • Fun Pride photo opportunities throughout the L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow event.

L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow is a festive celebration of nature, wildlife, and the winter holiday season and will run through Jan. 7, 2024. This enchanting festival of lights showcases stunning lantern sculptures, vibrant interactive displays, roaming live entertainment, and festive holiday photo opportunities, creating a magical wonderland of lights beneath the stars. All ages are welcome to join in the festivities and experience the magic of L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow in a supportive and inclusive environment. Ticket prices for L.A. Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow start at $18 for children and $29 for adults (13+), with free parking included. GLAZA members can enjoy up to a 27 percent discount on nightly tickets.

For more information and ticket details, please visit www.lazoolights.org.  

The Los Angeles Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is dedicated to providing exemplary animal care and wellbeing.  As a trusted leader in local and global conservation efforts, the Los Angeles Zoo is saving wildlife and connecting Angelenos to the natural world by delivering diverse learning opportunities and creating unforgettable experiences. The lush 133-acre campus and its passionate and dedicated team welcomes all to be inspired by the Zoo’s vision to create a just and sustainable world where people and wildlife thrive, together.

The Zoo is located on Zoo Drive in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $22 for adults and $17 for children ages 2 to 12.

For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo website at www.lazoo.org.



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Jingle & Mingle: Holiday event focused on queer immigrant stories

The Los Angeles Blade partnered with AIDS Healthcare Foundation affinity group The Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD)

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Drag star Melissa BeFierce (Photo by Jorge Barragán)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The Los Angeles Blade, partnered with AIDS Healthcare Foundation affinity group The Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD), on held December 22, a joyful evening of food, hobnobbing, music, and entertainment at HEART WeHo.

The event attracted a diverse crowd of 150 people from the worlds of politics, entertainment, nightlife, media and community members from around the SoCal area.

The event kicked off with a vibrant performance by Drag star Melissa BeFierce and Veronica, opening the show with a review of Jennifer Lopez’s Spanish language hits, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Como Lo Flor,” “Amor Prohibido” and “I Could Fall in Love.”

Blade publisher Troy Masters welcomed the crowd:

“I have learned from someone very special to me that people who are in this country as an asylum seeker, a DACA recipient or as an Undocumented person, you do not have access to the same legal protections that I do, that most of you do,” he said. “I believe that is one of the many inequalities facing immigrants that needs to be addressed and that’s one of the topics I hope we will discuss tonight,” Masters added.

Masters then introduced Edwin Millán, International President of LOUD, who greeted the many VIPs in attendance and thanking everyone for “giving up their Friday night before Christmas to support this event and the LGBTQ immigration community.”

Edwin Millán, International President of LOUD (Photo by Jorge Barragán)

Millán then presented 4 panelists representing a  diverse immigration experience; Gretta Soto Moreno, a Mexican trans who said that it took her 13 years to obtain asylum, but that during that time she experienced difficult situations, including spending three years in prison; Jesús Paizano, a 22-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker who explained that after two and a half years, he still has not received a resolution; Hans Vompakerth, a 23-year-old undocumented Colombian gay, said that he has not yet decided to apply for asylum for fear of facing deportation; and Laura Morales García, who arrived in the United States when she was two years old, explained what it was like to get DACA and what this means for her.

Editor’s note: For the original reporting in English regarding the panelists please go to this link: (here)

Aquí están sus historias

Gretta Soto Moreno, Guerrera por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes Trans (Foto de Jorge Barragán)

El viaje de Gretta Soto Moreno es un testimonio de las dificultades que enfrentan los solicitantes de asilo y las luchas dentro del sistema de detención de EE. UU. Gretta, una mujer transgénero que huye de años de tormento, soportando agresiones y amenazas en México, su país de origen, lamentablemente se encontró sufriendo abusos similares al llegar a EE. UU.

Antes de irse, la familia de Gretta desconocía sus luchas, centrándose en lugar en sus propios asuntos. México no solo era violento, sino también aislante y traumatizante. Es un lugar difícil para ser uno mismo auténtico.

Pero hubo momentos felices, como la fiesta navideña de la oficina donde se presentó valientemente como Gretta, sorprendiendo a una colega católica que, según Gretta, no tenía idea. “Se sorprendió porque notó a esta ‘mujer bonita’ organizando la fiesta; yo también me sorprendí porque cuando se dio cuenta de que era yo, estaba extasiada”, dijo Gretta. “Su reacción fue tan inesperada y me hizo sentir especial”.

Las personas transgénero, especialmente en un lugar como México, rara vez encuentran tal aceptación.

Gretta sufrió la pérdida de su mayor defensora cuando su abuela falleció. Ella había sido la fuerza más protectora y solidaria en su vida. “Cuando murió, me sentí tan sola y perdida… Ella siempre supo que era diferente de los demás niños, pero para ella eso me hacía muy especial”. Al darse cuenta de que estaba sola y de que su vida no mejoraría en México, eligió buscar asilo en Estados Unidos. Pero su viaje migratorio estuvo lleno de desafíos.

El arresto y la condena relacionada con el alcohol de Gretta complicaron su solicitud de asilo. Y como persona transgénero que tuvo que abordar su encarcelamiento pasado, las cosas se volvieron muy complicadas, una historia que refleja la situación de muchas personas trans en circunstancias similares. “Mis condenas por alcohol me hicieron muy difícil convencer al juez de inmigración de que mi reclamo de asilo era legítimo; y eso es realmente difícil porque como persona trans, que te crean o que cuestionen tu verdad es realmente traumático”, dijo.

En el Centro de Detención de Eloy, Gretta soportó abusos y la negación de medicamentos esenciales para personas transgénero, repitiendo los mismos horrores de los que huía. Trasladada a una unidad LGBTQ en Santa Ana, las esperanzas de alivio se desvanecieron a medida que los registros invasivos persistieron, ignorando su identidad e infligiendo un trauma mental y físico severo.

La historia de Gretta arroja luz sobre la cruel realidad que enfrentan los inmigrantes, exponiendo el desprecio insensible por la identidad y el abuso sistémico prevalente dentro de los centros de detención. Su narrativa revela el sufrimiento profundo soportado por personas como ella, independientemente de sus antecedentes o luchas.

Gretta es una especie de guerrera por los derechos de los solicitantes de asilo trans y se ve a sí misma como alguien que lucha contra un oponente mucho más grande. “Me encanta la historia de David y Goliat. Lo pienso como una historia de amor gay, en la que el rey Saúl se enamoró de David”, dice. David, al igual que Gretta, luchó contra un oponente mucho más grande, esperando llevar paz y seguridad a una tribu de personas a las que amaba.

“Amo a mis hermanas y hermanos trans y haré lo que sea necesario para hacer del mundo un lugar mejor y para hacer del asilo un lugar seguro y afirmativo”, dice. “Nadie que busque cambiar su situación debería ser castigado y obligado a regresar a ella. Pero los inmigrantes son personas vulnerables que a menudo descubren que defender nuestros derechos resulta en complicaciones que empeoran la situación”, explica. “Juro cambiar eso”.

Jesús Paizano, hablando con micrófono, un solicitante de asilo venezolano de 22 años, defiende la igualdad en inmigración (Foto de Jorge Barragán)

Jesús Paizano es un estudiante que rara vez pasa por alto un detalle y puede enfrentarse a las personas más inteligentes de la habitación, incluso a personas tres veces mayores que él. Entonces, cuando se propone algo, va a por ello con confianza y no hay nada ni nadie en su camino que pueda detenerlo.

Quizás esa sea una cualidad que adquirió después de ver a su padre, un jugador bien conectado en el gobierno de Hugo Chávez, perdiera todo. “Mi papá trabajó con el gobierno de Hugo Chávez y luego con el presidente Nicolás Maduro. Pero tuvo un desacuerdo con Diosdado Cabello, quien también es uno de los más altos diplomáticos de Venezuela. Mi padre se negó a seguir órdenes arbitrarias y, en respuesta a eso, fue políticamente arruinado y destituido”.

Jesús fue testigo de primera mano del impacto que tuvo en su padre y toda su familia, ya que las normas de privilegio, paz, posición, posesiones y su sentido de seguridad les fueron arrebatados. Venezuela desde 2013, cuando Jesús tenía solo 12 años, descendió lentamente a una situación de extrema violencia política y desastre económico que ha resultado en una crisis humanitaria y un éxodo sin precedentes: más de 7 millones de personas han huido.

Desde niño, veía el mundo a través de ese prisma arrugado y, en su adolescencia, se dio cuenta de que sus posibilidades de éxito eran muy limitadas. Añade a eso su realización de que ser gay en una cultura muy cerrada y machista era otro golpe en su contra; de hecho, conoce a muchos jóvenes homosexuales que fueron víctimas de violencia homofóbica, algunos de los cuales se quitaron la vida o simplemente desaparecieron.

Determinado a salvarse a sí mismo, decidió huir. Jesús puso su mirada en Estados Unidos, convirtiéndose en uno de los más de 1 millón de solicitantes de asilo venezolanos del mundo. Por supuesto, eso significó despedirse de la familia y, aunque estuvo lleno de ansiedades no expresadas, la promesa de un futuro más brillante superó el dolor de la separación. Y, además, era joven y “nunca pensé en ello como una despedida”.

El viaje a la frontera de Estados Unidos cerca de San Diego no fue tan aterrador como cruzar realmente a Estados Unidos. Siendo pragmático, cuando vio a la policía, decidió entregarse de inmediato y comenzar a presentar su solicitud de asilo. Durante los siguientes seis meses, fue enviado de centro de detención a centro de detención. “La detención a veces daba miedo y me enfermé mucho y también tuve Covid, pero había algo en ello que era gratificante”, dijo. “Había otras personas gay y algunas personas trans y nos cuidábamos mutuamente”.

Finalmente, se conectó con un patrocinador en Los Ángeles que le envió un boleto a LAX. “Me recogieron y lo primero que hicimos fue ir a The Abbey y luego a la casa. Nunca había sentido un alivio tan grande en mi vida”.

Al establecerse en Estados Unidos, Jesús encontró un panorama muy diferente al de su tierra natal. La apertura de su identidad LGBTQ se destaca en marcado contraste con las limitaciones que enfrentó en casa. “En el camino, sin embargo, ha habido lecciones de civismo que fueron una sorpresa”. Jesús dice que hay una brecha peligrosa en la capacidad de un inmigrante para obtener justicia a través del sistema judicial ordinario. Él dice: “la diferencia entre los derechos que tiene un inmigrante y los de un ciudadano estadounidense crea una brecha que se puede usar para controlar o manipular e incluso explotar a las personas”, dice. “Los inmigrantes dudan en luchar por sus derechos legales cuando han sido agraviados o heridos e incluso cuando han sufrido agresiones o violencia en su contra”, dice. “La gente teme que de alguna manera pueda afectar su caso de inmigración”. Él aboga apasionadamente por una defensa más fuerte y acceso a un sistema que proteja y empodere a todos, independientemente de su estatus de ciudadanía.

“Yo soy un inmigrante, no un extraterrestre”, declara. “Bueno, tal vez soy un extraterrestre, pero no del tipo terrestre”, bromea. “Pero creo en la IGUALDAD”, dice refiriéndose a las diferencias en los derechos de recurso legal que tiene un inmigrante en comparación con un ciudadano estadounidense.

“Amo a este país y cuando me convierta en ciudadano estadounidense, lo honraré como un privilegio otorgado por uno de los pocos países donde la democracia aún sobrevive. Pero tiene que hacerlo mejor para proteger los derechos de los inmigrantes que ya están aquí”, dice. Jesús se niega a ser encasillado por suposiciones sociales. 

Se ve a sí mismo no como un forastero, sino como un contribuyente, listo para enriquecer la vida estadounidense. “Un día espero tener hijos y quiero que tengan una vida libre de las cosas que experimenté en Venezuela”, dijo. Jesús cree en segundas oportunidades y no está limitado por dogmas religiosos ni moralizaciones; en cambio, desafía todo eso. “No creo en el cielo ni en el infierno. Nadie sabe la respuesta sobre si hay una vida después de la muerte”, dice. “Todo lo que sé es que todo tiene un comienzo y un final. Y me gustaría creer que después de que algo termina, hay un nuevo comienzo”.

Hans Vompakerth, hablando con un micrófono, un viaje indocumentado desde Colombia
(Foto de Jorge Barragán)

Hans Vompakerth es un joven gay de 23 años de Medellín, Colombia, y a pesar de ser indocumentado, dice que no tiene miedo de contar su historia.

“Hay miles de personas como yo y no les suceden cosas malas, así que ¿por qué debería guardarlo en secreto?”

Después de todo, no ha hecho nada malo, dado el poco acogedor ojo oficial de las autoridades de inmigración al llegar a los Estados Unidos.

“Hubo dos ocasiones en las que ingresé a los Estados Unidos cerca de Tijuana… La primera vez me devolvieron al lado mexicano de la frontera”, dice. Pasó un año y lo intentó de nuevo.

“Me capturaron y me procesaron como antes, pero esta vez, en lugar de devolverme al lado mexicano, me llevaron, a mí y a un grupo de personas, en un automóvil blanco del gobierno y nos dejaron en medio de la nada en el lado estadounidense. Nos dejaron buscando civilización”.

La determinación de Hans de venir a los Estados Unidos parece provenir de su respeto y admiración duraderos por su trabajadora madre. Son tan cercanos que la única persona que sabía que iba a salir de Colombia era ella. El resto de su familia estaba en la oscuridad hasta que él se instaló de manera segura en los Estados Unidos y su madre los informó.

“Lo hice por ella. Trabajó tan duro para mantener unida a la familia y supongo que, como el hijo mayor, quería hacerle la vida más fácil y proveer para ella, mis 3 hermanas y mi hermano menor”, dice.

Sin embargo, en marzo pasado, la familia sufrió una tragedia. Su hermano menor, de 20 años, dejó el hogar sin avisar. Después de unos días de búsqueda constante y preocupación, la familia fue informada de que su cuerpo había aparecido en una isla cercana.

“Me sentí impotente. No pude regresar ni hacer nada excepto ayudar con todos los gastos”, dijo con dolor. “Tuve que consolarme sabiendo que mis hermanas estaban allí para cuidar de ella mientras ella lloraba”. A pesar de las presiones familiares, en Estados Unidos, Hans dice que tiene un nuevo sentido de la vida que contrasta fuertemente con los oscuros desafíos que enfrentó en su tierra natal.

“Siento que soy mucho más respetado y aceptado por todos. Me siento mucho más resiliente y feliz, y eso me ha permitido superarlo todo. Cuando murió mi hermano, lloré trabajando más duro y usando el dinero para cubrir los gastos del funeral. Todos los días, pasaba horas en WhatsApp con mi mamá y todavía lo hago”.

Entonces, no fue la violencia y la homofobia lo que motivó a Hans a dejar Colombia. “Nunca fui víctima de discriminación o violencia en Colombia”, dice. “Huí de una situación donde había escasez de todo, sin recursos en general, ni siquiera suficiente comida. Vivía en constante tumulto económico, incluso mi propia salud se vio afectada. No había trabajos.

“Y si mi mamá y mi familia iban a sobrevivir”, dijo, “tenía que huir”. “No experimenté violencia ni homofobia hasta que puse un pie en México y tuve contacto con las autoridades de inmigración de Estados Unidos”, dijo. “Fueron horribles conmigo”.

Pero desde que llegó a Los Ángeles, Hans dice que no ha experimentado discriminación ni violencia. Aunque ha requerido persistencia y no ha sido fácil, Hans dice que su viaje de inmigración ha sido lo más importante que ha hecho en su vida. “Fue una decisión que lo cambió todo para mí y mi familia”.

Pero aún no ha logrado lo que llama su sueño americano, obtener estatus legal y vivir en este país sin temor a ser devuelto. Hans tiene una perspectiva muy positiva y una creencia en la bondad innata de las personas, aunque es muy consciente del lado oscuro. “Mudarme a este país”, declara, “ha cambiado mi vida. Vivir en Estados Unidos me ha ayudado a levantarme, a ser disciplinado, a ser sensible, a aprender más, a cuidarme más a mí mismo y a ayudar a todos los que me importan”.

Laura Morales García, hablando con micrófono, nació en Durango, México y llegó a Los Ángeles a la temprana edad de 2 años, donde llegó con su familia indocumentada.
(Foto de Jorge Barragán)

Laura Morales García nació en Durango, México y llegó a Los Ángeles a la temprana edad de 2 años, donde llegó con su familia indocumentada.

Ha pasado toda su vida defendiendo a los beneficiarios de DACA y es una de las principales expertas en el tema y una destacada defensora. Se graduó de Los Angeles High School y fue la primera en su familia en asistir a la universidad, obteniendo su título en Psicología Clínica.

García se dedica al servicio público y trabaja para educar a los estudiantes de secundaria sobre la comunidad LGBTQ+.

Es embajadora de AHF, representante de farmacias y enlace comunitario de AHF para la prevención y atención del VIH.

The event was sponsored by Los Angeles Blade, LOUD, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the office of LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the office of LA County Supervisor Chair Lindsey Horvath and Equality California.

Denounce hate by calling (833) 866-4283 or 833-8-NO-HATE, callers can report anonymously Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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LGBTQ asylum seekers: Journey complicated by restrictive policies

The event, to be held at HEART WeHo on December 22 at 8 PM, will feature an outstanding panel of affected people from the Latino community 

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LOS ANGELES – The mere fact that LGBTQ people can claim refugee status and seek safe haven in this country based on dangers they face in their home country by anti-LGBTQ forces and laws was a hard fought, massive victory for LGBTQ refugees and one that has only been recently enacted.

In about 70 countries same-sex relations are criminalized and, in six countries, punishable by death. Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers have endured years of exclusion, discrimination, and even violence by family, community, and authorities before being forced to flee home.

Many LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers experience trauma inflicted by circumstances which led to them fleeing their nations of origin. That can have long-lasting mental health effects, including a range of mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Obtaining asylum status or permanent residency in the United States can also be a traumatizing experience as the process can take years of uncertainty. 

Pew Research recently noted that since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, his administration has acted on a number of fronts to reverse Trump Administration-era restrictions on immigration to the United States.

The steps included plans to boost refugee admissions, preserving deportation relief for unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and not enforcing the “public charge” rule that denies green cards to immigrants who might use public benefits like Medicaid.

Scripps News journalist John Mone reported that the United Nations World Refugee Agency that by the end of 2022, close to 110 million people were forcibly displaced around the globe due to violence, persecution or human rights violations.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, in its June 2022 report noted:

Only 37 countries formally grant asylum to individuals due to a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI).

Studies show that a main obstacle to seeking asylum appears to be lack of awareness that sexual orientation and gender identity constitute viable grounds for an asylum claim.

  • Research shows that the process of applying for asylum can itself have deleterious effects on LGBTQI+ persons. One recent study found that asylum applicants experience negative mental
    and physical health outcomes and economic insecurity as they wait in a precarious state of uncertainty.
  • A number of studies show how the requirements for a successful asylum claim require that LGBTQI+ migrants “come out” to present themselves as a sexual or gender minority, but do so in a way that is “credible” and “legible” to asylum adjudicators. One study attributed the cause of most denied SOGI claims to “disbelief of sexual orientation” or “lack of credibility,” which are typically predicated on heteronormative and Western conceptions of sexuality and expectations of queer lifestyles often rooted in stereotypes or prejudice.
  • A number of studies point to the challenge posed by adjudicators who may conflate sex with sexuality to the extent that sexual behavior forms a key part of the claimant’s narrative about
    their sexual orientation. Applicants without sexual or romantic histories are therefore routinely discredited.
  • “Proving” one’s identity is particularly challenging for transgender asylum seekers. Adjudicators often rely on outdated medicalized notions of what it means to be transgender in which, to be deemed “valid” and “real,” transgender people must desire and seek out medical intervention.
  • Bisexual claimants are often denied asylum due to understandings of bisexuality based on stereotypes, that is, the notion that bisexual migrants can simply choose partners of the opposite sex.
  • Documentation of country conditions is critical evidence to demonstrate a fear of persecution.
  • The experience of “coming out under the gun” in the course of applying for asylum can be actively retraumatizing for vulnerable migrants.

The changes reportedly under discussion by the Biden administration include placing a cap on asylum seekers, expanding detention and deportation of asylum seekers, creating a Title 42-like policy that would expel those entering the U.S. without the chance to ask for asylum, raising the bar for asylum seekers to prove the danger they are facing, codifying aspects of the asylum ban such as a third-country transit ban for those seeking protection at the border, and restricting asylum based on how asylum seekers enter the country.

These policies will result in many people who could otherwise be eligible for asylum being returned to the very danger they are trying to escape — in direct contradiction of federal and international law.

Then there is also the fiscal reality for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. To work legally in the country based on a Pending Asylum Application, asylum seekers are allowed apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) known as a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

However, this can only be done in the time frame of 150 days after the asylum application has been filed. Many asylum seekers arrive with extremely limited funds and in many cases outside of charitable assistance by organizations, churches or private individuals, find themselves supporting themselves illegally, and in the cases of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers, this can include sex work which has the potential to lead to human trafficking.

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The Los Angeles Blade teamed up with The Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD) to host a Holiday Party celebrating the journey’s of LGBTQ Asylum Seekers, DACA recipients and undocumented folks. 

The event, to be held at HEART WeHo on December 22 at 8 PM, will feature an outstanding panel of affected people from the Latino community who will share their stories

Gretta Soto Moreno, a Mexican trans woman who is an asylum seeker, seeking safety from the persecution she experienced there. Jesus Paizano is a 22-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker who is deeply passionate about immigration equality and justice. Hans Vompakerth an undocumented 23-year-old gay man determined to find his American dream. Laura Morales Garcia, a DACA recipient who arrived in this country at 2-years-old and who is fighting to strengthen the rights of people in her category.

Edwin Milan

The panel will be moderated by Edwin Millan, a native of Lima-Peru. Edwin is the International President of The Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD), an affinity group of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which addresses the social and health disparities that threaten the Latino Community.

By organizing events like the holiday party, LOUD, an affinity group of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, establishes a worldwide reach and earns recognition as one of the most influential Latino advocacy organizations.

Gretta Soto Moreno’s journey is a testament to the hardships faced by asylum seekers and the struggles within the U.S. detention system. A transgender woman fleeing years of torment—enduring assaults and threats in Mexico, her home country —sadly found herself suffering similar abuses upon reaching the U.S.

Mexico was not only violent, it was isolating and traumatizing. It’s a hard place to be your authentic self.

Gretta Soto Moreno, warrior for transgender immigrant rights

But there were happy moments, like the office Christmas party where she bravely presented herself as Gretta, stunning a Catholic colleague who Moreno says had no idea. “She was shocked because she noticed this ‘pretty woman’ managing the party; I was shocked too because  when she realized it was me, she was ecstatic,” Moreno said. “Her reaction was so unexpected and it made me feel special.” 

She suffered the passing of her biggest champion when her grandmother passed away. She had been the most protective and supportive force in her life.. “When  she died, I felt so alone and lost.. She always knew I was different that the rest of the kids but to her that made me very special.”

Realizing she was alone and that her life would never improve in Mexico, she chose to seek asylum in the U.S.. But, navigating immigration was full of challenges. 

Moreno’s alcohol-related arrest and conviction compounded her plea for asylum. And as a trans person having to address past incarceration, things became very complicated, a story echoing the plight of many trans individuals in similar circumstances. “My alcohol convictions made it very hard to convince the immigration judge that my asylum claim was legitimate; and that is really hard because as a trans person, being believed or having your truth questioned is really traumatizing,” she said.

Jesus Paizano, a 22 year old Venezuelan asylum seeker, takes a stand for immigration equality.

Jesus Paizano is a quick study who rarely misses a detail so, when he sets his sights on something, he confidently goes for it and there’s nothing or no one in his path who can stop him. 

“My dad worked with the government of Hugo Chavez, and later president Nicolas Maduro. But he had a dispute with Diosdado Cabello, who is also one of Venezuela’s highest diplomats. My father refused to follow arbitrary orders and in response to that he was politically ruined and removed from office.”

Paizano witnessed first hand the impact that had on his father and his entire family, as the norms of privilege, peace, position, possessions and their sense of safety were taken from them. 

Venezuela since 2013, when Jesus was only 12-years-old, has slowly descended into extreme political violence and economic disaster that resulted in a humanitarian crisis and unprecedented exodus: more than 7 million people have fled.

In his teenage years, Paizano realized that his chances of success were very limited and the realization that being gay in a very closeted, macho culture was another strike against him. In fact he knows many young gay men who were victims of antigay violence, some of whom took their lives or who simply disappeared. 

Determined to save himself, he became one of the more than 1 million Venezuelan asylum seekers. But the promise of a brighter future outweighed the pain of separation. And, besides, he was young and “never thought of it as goodbye.”

The journey to the U.S. border near San Diego was not as scary as actually crossing into the U.S.. Ever pragmatic, when he saw the police he decided to immediately surrender and begin to make his asylum plea. For the next six months he was routed from detention facility to detention facility. 

“Detention was scary at times and I got very sick and also had Covid, but there was something about it that was rewarding,” he said. “There were other gay people there and some trans people and we watched out for one another.” 

Eventually, he was connected to a sponsor in Los Angeles who sent him a ticket to LAX. “They picked me up and the first thing we did was go to The Abbey and then to the house. I had never felt such relief in my life.”

Paizano encountered a landscape starkly different from his homeland. The open embrace of his LGBTQ identity stands in stark contrast to the limitations he faced back home.  

He says there is a dangerous gap in an immigrant’s ability to get justice through the ordinary court system. He noted “the difference between the rights an immigrant has and those of an American citizen has sets up a gap that can be used to control or manipulate and even exploit people.”

“I love this country and when I become a U.S. citizen, I will honor that as a privilege bestowed by one of the few countries where democracy still survives. But it has to do better to protect the rights of immigrants who are already here,” Paizano said. 

Hans Vompakerth, an undocumented journey out of Colombia.

Hans Vompakerth is a 23-year-old gay man from Medellin, Colombia and despite being undocumented, he says he has no fear telling his story.

“There are thousands of people like me and they do not have bad things happen to them, so why would I have to keep it a secret?”

“There were two occasions in which I entered the US near Tijuana. The first time they returned me to the Mexican side of the border,” he says.  A year passed and he tried again.

”They captured me and processed me like before, but this time, instead of returning me to the Mexican side, they took me and a group of people in a white government car and left us in the middle of nowhere on the American side! We were left to set about looking for civilization.”

Vompakerth’s determination to come to the U.S. seems to come from his abiding respect and admiration he has for his hard working mother. They are so close that the only person who knew he was going to leave Colombia was her.

“I did it for her. She worked so hard to hold the family together and I guess, as the oldest son, I wanted to make life easier for her and provide for her, my 3 sisters and my younger brother,” he says.

Last March, however, the family suffered  tragedy. His younger brother, 20, left home unannounced. After a few days of constant search and worry, the family was informed that his body had washed ashore on a nearby island.

 “I felt powerless. I wasn’t able to return or do anything except help with all the expenses,” he said with heartache. “I had to take some comfort knowing that my sisters were there to take care of her while she grieved.”

Despite family pressures, in the U.S., Vompakerth says he has a newfound sense of life that contrasts starkly with the dark challenges he faced back home. 

“I feel I am much more respected and accepted by everyone. I feel much more resilient and happy and that has made it possible for me to get through everything. When my brother died, I grieved by working harder and using the money to cover funeral expenses. Everyday, I spent hours on WhatsApp with my mom and I still do.”

So, it wasn’t violence and homophobia that motivated Hans to leave Colombia. “I was never a victim of discrimination or violence in Colombia,” he says. “I fled a situation where there was a scarcity of everything, no resources in general- not even enough food. I lived in constant economic turmoil, even my own health was affected. There were no jobs. 

“I didn’t experience violence or homophobia until I set foot in Mexico and had contact with immigration authorities from the U.S.,” he said. “They were awful to me.” 

But since arriving in Los Angeles, Hans says he hasn’t experienced discrimination or violence.

“Moving to this country,” he declares, “has changed my life. “Living in the US has helped me pull myself up, to be disciplined, to be sensitive, to learn more, to care more about myself and to help everyone I care about.”

Laura Morales Garcia, a dreamer and devoted DACA recipient.

Laura Morales Garcia was born in Durango, Mexico and found her way to Los Angeles, CA at the young age of 2 years old, arriving with her undocumented family.

She has spent a lifetime advocating for DACA recipients and is one of the leading experts on the issue and a noted advocate. She graduated from Los Angeles High School and was the first in her family to attend college, obtaining her degree in Clinical-Psychology.

Garcia is devoted to public service and works to educate high school students on the LGBTQ+ community. 

She is an AHF Ambassador and AHF Pharmacy Representative & Community Liaison for prevention and care of HIV.

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Jingle & Mingle holidays event in West Hollywood at Heart

The Los Angeles Blade & Latino Outreach Understanding Division announce a special holiday party at Heart WeHo on December 22, 2023

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LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Blade and Latino Outreach and Understanding Division are proud to announce a special holiday party at Heart WeHo on December 22, 2023 from 8PM.

We are celebrating the LGBTQ immigration community of Los Angeles: Asylum Seekers, DACA beneficiaries, Undocumented folks and their loved ones and supporters.

We’re hoping you’ll come and bring lots of cheer and a sense of family at this especially important time.

We are grateful for the support we have received from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Latino Outreach and Understanding Division, the office of LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis and Equality California for this special, first of its kind event.

And hope you will help us get the word out! Please share!

Everyone is welcome and we look forward to celebrating their stories and the holidays with you at Heart WeHo on Friday, December 22, 2023 from 8PM.

Celebración navideña para la comunidad LGBTQ de inmigrantes en Los Ángeles

¡Únase a nosotros para una celebración navideña festiva e inclusiva! Estamos emocionados de reunir a la comunidad de inmigrantes LGBTQ de Los Ángeles para un evento alegre en Heart Weho. Ubicado en Santa Monica Boulevard en West Hollywood, CA, EE. UU., este vibrante lugar crea el escenario perfecto para nuestra reunión.

Para muchos miembros de la comunidad LGBTQ que enfrentan problemas de inmigración, Diciembre y la temporada navideña pueden llegar a ser difíciles y solitarios.

Así que, si te encuentras en esa situación, queremos invitarte a ti y a tus seres queridos a unirse a nosotros para una velada especial en la que celebraremos tu valiente viaje a este país.

Esta es una oportunidad única para conocer a otras personas con historias similares a la tuya.

A veces, simplemente poder hablar con otros con situaciones similares sirve de estimulo. Aqui encontraras solicitantes de asilo, beneficiarios de DACA y personas indocumentadas, quienes compartiran sus experiencias y quienes podran brindarte esperanza, aliento y alegría.

Contaremos con una invitada sorpresa que estamos seguros nos llenara de alegria y esplendor.

Esperamos que te unas a nosotros para una noche divertida e informativa con comida, música, entretenimiento, un panel informativo y oportunidades de networking. ¡Nunca sabes a quién podras conocer!

Ofreceremos algo de comida ligera y bebidas, así que solo tienes que presentarte y disfrutar.

Esta es una oportunidad increíble para conectarte con personas como tú y celebrar las festividades con amor.

¡Tu perteneces aquí!

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