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Best of LGBTQ+ LA 2022

Our fifth annual special issue celebrates your favorites in nightlife, dining, activism, and more

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Welcome to the fifth annual special issue of the Best of LGBTQ LA.

The Los Angeles Blade is thrilled to celebrate the best of our community and all of the accomplishments that have been made throughout this past year. It was the year things were supposed to get back to “normal,” but really didn’t. During a year that started with an insurrection and ended with a new pandemic surge, here are some highlights of Los Angeles living, from drag to streaming services, that demonstrate the best of LA’s LGBTQ community.  

Los Angeles Blade readers nominated finalists; the top five vote getters in each category were then added to the final ballot. Thousands of Blade readers then voted and the winners are presented here. The Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists.

Best Drag Queen: Rhea Litré

Courtest of Rhea Litré

Rhea Litré describes herself as drag’s “Baddest Bitch.” It is not because she is “a bitch” but because she is bad at being one. LA Blade readers agree and have named her “Best Drag Queen” for a second year in a row. Last year, Litré decided to set up a live virtual drag show. According to Litré, “On March 16, 8 p.m. Pacific Time, we gave birth to the first digital drag show of its kind.” Litre went on to say, “There has been drag online for a long time, but as far as a conceptualized, produced show, that had never been done before.” You can find more information on Litré’s Instagram – quarantinequeendragshow

Editor’s choice: Jasmine Masters


Best LA-Based Drag Race Contestant (so far): Gottmik

Courtesy of Gottmik’s Facebook

Gottmik (Kade Gottlieb) was the first-ever transgender man to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race and was a finalist in the show’s 13th season. Challenging the definition of modern drag and shaking up the “cis-tem” is intrinsic to Gottmik’s image and power. Gottmik’s work is a testament to the fluidity of the individual. Their career has taken them to the height of celebritydom as a makeup artist for some of Hollywood and New York’s biggest marquis names. Vogue called their look and style a kind of “show-stopping” glam. Los Angeles is lucky to be home to this revolutionary whirling dervish of talent.

Editor’s choice: Shangela

Best Drag King: Prinze Valentino

Prinze Valentino via Facebook

Prinze Valentino is a genderqueer performing artist who came to Los Angeles from Detroit. Each time Prinze steps foot on the stage he puts his passion into each movement with purpose and enthusiasm. He strives to be an empowering queer role model for the LGBTQ+ community. LA Blade readers think he hit that goal and voted him the best.

Editor’s choice: Landon Cider

Best Drag Show: ELOTERIA at Redline

Courtesy of Redline DTLA

Located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, Redline is one of the newer gay bars to hit the scene, and LA Blade readers love ELOTERIA, the Redline Saturday night drag show.

Editor’s choice: Makeout Mondayz at Rocco’s

Best Happy Hour: Rocco’s Tavern WeHo

Rocco’s Happy Hour is set in a sexy cocktail lounge. Rocco’s provides West Hollywood with a mix of weekly events featuring an open floor plan with lots of outdoor space. Friendliness is a brand trademark, and LA Blade readers seem to agree (especially those who like to start dinking early.)

Editor’s choice: Beaches

Best Neighborhood Bar: Abbey and Chapel

Los Angeles Blade photo 

“The bartenders are amazing, very friendly and conversational!” The Chapel is the gay dance club in the heart of WeHo, the sister venue of The Abbey. LA Blade readers have declared it the best of Los Angeles’ most popular gay nightclubs. Go and enjoy the amazing DJs. Owner David Cooley has been an enormous supporter of the community with numerous fundraisers, the founding of the Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing project and supporting numerous LGBTQ organizations.

Editor’s choice: Hamburger Mary’s

Best Outdoor Dining/Drinking: Rocco’s

Launched in May 2019, Rocco’s is known as a popular LGBTQ bar, winning the LA Blade Best Happy Hour for 2022. Two years ago, Rocco’s won the Best Neighborhood Bar award and this year and last, Rocco’s has won for Best Outdoor Dining. Rocco’s is an inclusive space with LGBTQ décor that celebrates LGBTQ pride and history. The LA Blade’s readers chose Rocco’s as having the best outdoor dining due to its continued agility throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor’s choice: La Boheme

Best Brunch: Santolina

Courtesy of Santolina

At Santolina, each dish on the menu tells a different story. The cuisine is a unique fusion of Tel Aviv meets California. Chefs Michael Teich and Burt Bakman infuse vibrant herbs into a health conscious offering that LA Blade readers definitely have eaten up and named as Best Brunch 2022.

Editor’s choice: Hamburger Mary’s

Best Bartender: Cesar Morales at Beaches

Cesar Morales at Beaches via Instagram 

Beaches has become a gathering place for the social media creator and influencer community that has endorsed Cesar as a “super sweet and friendly” bartender who provides the very best in the hospitality Beaches has become known for. Cesar exemplifies The Beaches motto:  ‘Be wild and free and look good doing it.’

Located in the heart of West Hollywood, Beaches is a strong, conceptually driven and fashionable LGBTQ+ focused hybrid restaurant and lounge.

The two-story space offers two full bars and VIP seating areas where guests can take a breather, have a cocktail or enjoy our one-of-a-kind California Cuban Cuisine. Enthusiastic patrons won’t be able to resist the pull of the energy on the main room equipped with a first-class lighting and sound system; the venue houses a DJ booth with the latest DJ equipment. 

Editor’s choice: Eric Lutz at Rocco’s

Best DJ: Kimber Chronic

Kimber Chronic via Facebook

Kimber Chronic is an American DJ pop singer, songwriter, and music producer. She is known for working closely with the LGBTQIA+ community through her transgender activism. Named a “Hero of Diversity” by Stoli Vodka for her inspiring journey that began in the gritty heart of Detroit, Kimber is hands on in bringing her vision to life “of creating an arsenal of music that is married with visual themes of addiction, lust, and ferocity.”

Editor’s choice: DJ Morningstar

Best Restaurant: Bottega Louie

Courtesy of Bottega Louie

Bottega Louie adds this year’s LA Blade Best Restaurant 2022 to their long list of awards. The restaurant, which seemed to tease us mid-construction for centuries, boasts sweet and savory gourmet dishes, and valet parking. “They make ordinary items not so ordinary,” effuses one happy patron. LA Blade readers agree. It’s very likely the best place in Los Angeles to see and be seen. Hit the patio after you faint over the desserts.

Editor’s choice: Night+Market

Best Coffee Shop: Alfred Coffee Melrose Place

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Stylish yet whimsical coffee shop serving coffee and juice, plus salads, sandwiches, and pastries.

Editor’s choice: Starbucks

Best Radio or TV Station: KTLA

This year, KTLA partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and aired the “Love in Action” telethon hosted by Cher Calvin and Jai Rodriguez. The telethon supported the LGBTQ community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The telethon has raised several million dollars and featured a host of LGBTQ celebrities and allies. LA Blade readers sent back the appreciation to KTLA by naming them the best station in LA.

Editor’s choice: KCET PBS

Best Cannabis Business: Med Men

A recent review says, “Great experience there – my first time – and was greeted with a smile and good energy at the front door. Customer service was excellent – they asked what I liked, then swiftly showed me options and pricing and I was out the door in less than 4 minutes – literally. Plenty of easy parking too and five minutes from home – I think I found my new dispensary. Thanks MedMen.” LA Blade readers obviously agree.

Editor’s choice: Cannabis Café

Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: Out of the Closet Thrift Store

When you shop at Out of the Closet, 96 cents of every dollar goes back into HIV care and services. The chain is owned and operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based charity that provides medical, preventive, and educational resources for patients. “All of the proceeds go toward AIDS research. Love the cause and the workers were great,” observes one patron. LA Blade readers see it similarly.

Editor’s choice: The Abbey

Best LGBTQ Social Group: Impulse Group LA

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Winning this category for the second year in a row, Impulse Group LA was founded in 2009 by Jose Ramos. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a stronger and healthier community for gay men. Hosting more than 400 events annually in 25 cities across the globe, Impulse seeks to create a brave space to engage, support, and connect our community.

Editor’s choice: AIDS LifeCycle

Best House of Worship: Kol Ami

Los Angeles Blade file photo

In 2019 and 2021, Congregation Kol Ami won the award for Best House of Worship. In 2020 it won Editor’s Choice, and now wins the award again for the Best House of Worship this year. Kol Ami is an important leader in the Jewish, LGBTQ, and West Hollywood communities since its founding in 1992. Rabbi Denise L. Egers broke barriers to create a more inclusive Reform movement that has resulted in more LGBTQ inclusion at synagogues worldwide. (1200 N La Brea Ave, West Hollywood)

Editor’s choice: Metropolitan Community Church, InVision Church (tie)

Most Committed Activist: Jose Ramos

Jose Ramos via Facebook

Jose has been described as “a fierce LGBTQ/HIV activist, leader, founder and president of Impulse Group, AFH Director of Western Sales, triathlete and former General Manager at Target North Hollywood.” An activist since he was 14 years old, Jose launched Impulse from his kitchen table in 2009. Of the name for the group, Jose explained to WEHO Times, “The name came because we felt that there was this very short time when we are about to have sex, that we may have the impulse to use protection or not; to ask questions about sexual health or not. It’s a split second when you make a decision about your health. Knowing that there is that urge, that impulse to act on your desires, we thought that the name “Impulse” fit really well with how we could help with moment of instinct–that split second. We wanted to empower gay men to make the best decision.” LA Blade readers salute his commitment to our community.

Editor’s choice: Queen Victoria Ortega

Favorite Public Official: Robert Garcia

Los Angeles Blade file photo

Garcia celebrated his 44th birthday on Dec. 2 and is a gay Latino originally from Peru. First elected to the city council in April 2009 to much fanfare as the Council’s youngest, first Latino male, and first gay person of color. He became Long Beach’s first gay mayor in 2014 with 52.1% of the vote

Garcia has deep ties to the Democratic Party’s leadership. In the 2020 campaign he was a prominent surrogate for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign, later becoming a strong supporter of President Joe Biden. During the course of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic the mayor has acted in concert with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures including masking mandates and the push to get Californians vaccinated.

The pandemic tragically impacted Garcia directly when in summer of 2020, he lost his mother, Gaby O’Donnell, and stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, to COVID. His mother was a medical assistant who immigrated from Peru when the mayor was five years old.

Editor’s choice: Lindsey Horvath

Most LGBTQ-Friendly City: West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood 

For the third year in a row, West Hollywood has won the award for the Most LGBTQ-Friendly City. As noted previously, West Hollywood has its “boutique hotels, celebrity-owned restaurants, unparalleled nightlife and shopping, and world-renowned events.” The inclusive city, one of America’s best run cities according to some, has multiple LGBTQ bars, restaurants, and nightlife and it’s no surprise that the LA Blade readers continue to choose West Hollywood as the Most LGBT-Friendly City. 

Editor’s choice: Palm Springs

Best Local Pro Sports Team: The Dodgers

Courtesy of the LA Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise wins for a second year in a row. With six World Series championships and 23 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890, The Dodgers are committed to a tradition of pride and excellence. The Dodgers are dedicated to supporting a culture of winning baseball, providing a first-class, fan-friendly experience at Dodger Stadium, and building a strong partnership with the community. With the highest cumulative fan attendance in Major League Baseball history and a record of breaking barriers, the Dodgers are one of the most cherished sports franchises in the world.

Editor’s choice: The Lakers

Best Real Estate Firm: Oppenheim Group

Courtesy of the Oppenheim Group

Made famous by the reality show, Selling Sunset, the award-winning Oppenheim Group is a professional real estate brokerage serving buyers and sellers of luxury property in Los Angeles and Orange County. The brokerage is comprised of a close group of talented Realtors, led by the firm’s president and founder, Jason Oppenheim. A recent client exclaimed, “I would not have known about Oppenheim Group if it was not for the show. Oppenheim Group is all about professional upmarket real estate, which you effectively deliver. You showed us such lovely and beautiful homes. I liked the fact that the agents research the history of the properties, have knowledge on the area of the property/rooms and work hard to sell a property. Now looking forward to the next season where we can see more beautiful homes. Well done Brett, Jason and team!”

Editor’s choice: Compass

Best Ally: Debbie Allen

Debbie Allen received one of the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors and is receiving the 2021 Governor’s Award at the Emmys. She can now add LA Blade’s Best Ally 2022 to her award shelf. Allen was the producer of a landmark “A Different World” episode addressing AIDS and the Black community, and told AFROPUNK, “I’m happy to be here for World AIDS Day and to be working with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, it’s really just to highlight this war, this global war that we’re still in.”

Editor’s choice: Congressman Adam Schiff

Best Salon Spa: Shorty’s Barbershop

It is no contest. Shorty’s Barber Shop has won the Best Salon/Spa Award for the fourth year in a row. With amazing products and great haircuts, Shorty’s is a local favorite. In terms of its high quality products, all of them are ethically created and never tested on animals.

LA Blade readers continue to sing Shorty’s praises, “When you walk out with some merch (the styling putty and soy paste are customer favorites), you can feel good about that, too. Besides the perfect cut, Shorty’s also puts a premium on giving back, by working with the likes of Concrete Hero, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

Editor’s choice: Ole Henriksen Face/Body Spa:

Best Car Dealership: Honda of Hollywood

Honda of Hollywood exudes excitement to help its Los Angeles clients. “We take the time to explore the features that are important to you and our knowledgeable staff is here to answer all of your questions. But what would buying a new car be without a test drive first? Visit Honda Of Hollywood where we’ll get you out on the road to find a Honda vehicle perfectly suited to your needs,” they state. “Super easy, great service,” confirms one happy reviewer. LA Blade readers have test driven them into being the Best Car Dealership of 2022.

Editor’s choice: Mercedes Beverly Hills

Best Doctor/Medical Provider: AIDS Healthcare Foundation Clinics

An Editor’s Choice winner two years ago for Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Clinics has won Best Doctor/Medical Provider for the second year in a row. They represent the consistently excellent work of doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, med techs, benefits counselors, and support staff at 14 AHF Healthcare Centers and satellite clinics throughout Southern California. In its quest to rid the world of AIDS, this nonprofit organization provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy in 43 countries. Locally, says AHF Senior Director of Communications Ged Kenslea, “Our ‘circle of care’ concept starts with free and accessible HIV testing. When called for, AHF then provides swift linkage to care and follow-up treatment. We try as best we can to keep the focus on the patient by serving as their partner in care, in order to make it easier for them to adhere to their medication and care regimens to help them achieve their best selves, health and wellness-wise.”

Editor’s Choice: Los Angeles LGBT Center

Best Fitness or Workout Spot: LA Fitness

One happy reviewer reports,So happy to be back. Great gym. Can’t wait to use a locker again but I’m grateful they are being careful of covid. Clean, well-organized, and courteous staff for a much better price than the social club gym.” LA Blade voters agree.

Editor’s choice: Equinox

Best Home Furnishings: Living Spaces

Since December 2016, Living Spaces has brought a pressure-free furniture shopping experience to Los Angeles. Its two-story showroom boasts a variety of styles for every room in the house. Living spaces also carries hundreds of customizable styles in a special-order program. Living Spaces is so committed to offering their clients superior products at the best price, they will match a competitor’s price and take off an extra 10%. For that, and many other reasons, LA readers consider them the year’s best.

Editor’s choice: Restoration Hardware

Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: City of West Hollywood

Courtesy the City Of West Hollywood (Facebook)

The City of West Hollywood regularly makes history. It was the first city in the nation to have a majority-LGBTQ governing body with its inaugural City Council when the city was incorporated in 1984. Today, the City Council is majority-LGBTQ and majority female. Starting in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, West Hollywood became a beacon of hope in proving social services and support to LGBTQ community members and it has led the way in advocating for full LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ history-making extends to the city’s deep commitment to building an affirming work environment for LGBTQ employees. It’s no wonder the City of West Hollywood receives high marks from the community as the most friendly workplace for LGBTQ people.

Editor’s choice: Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: Los Angeles LGBT Center

Best Non-Profit: Ariadne Getty Foundation

Courtesy of the Ariadne Getty Foundation

Founded in 2004, The Ariadne Getty Foundation works with partners worldwide to improve the lives of individuals and communities through financial investments and social activism. AGF is proud of its achievements and continues to ensure positive social and political change to further improve lives worldwide. Its namesake, Ariadne Getty, was voted 2020’s Best Ally by readers and presented the 2021 Hero of the Year Award by Los Angeles Blade publisher, Troy Masters.

In addition to her key support of LGBTQ journalism, major donations to GLAAD and others, this year saw the opening of The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing, a cutting-edge 70,000-square-foot building in Hollywood with 98 affordable housing units for seniors ages 62 and above, LA Blade readers certainly noticed.

In the last decade Ariadne has become an increasingly visible LGBTQ philanthropist, encouraging other people of means to back Queer causes. As the mother of two, Nats and August, she has embraced gender fluidity and also championed trans rights. Getty has also been the recipient of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Vanguard award (2018) as well as receiving award-winning magazine, Variety’s Philanthropist of the Year award in 2019. 

Editor’s choice: Project Angel Food, Equality California (tie)

Best Pet Business or Vet: Laurel Pet Hospital

Laurel Pet Hospital via Facebook

Located in the heart of West Hollywood, Laurel Pet Hospital has “general practice veterinarians and specialists in internal medicine, surgery, and dentistry, we provide high-quality medical care at a reasonable price. Our facility includes a well-stocked pharmacy, in-hospital surgery suite, digital X-ray equipment, dental radiography, endoscopy, ultrasound, CO2 laser capabilities, and a closely supervised hospitalization area.” Compassionate advice and optimal care are key values.

Editor’s choice: Wag

Best Grocery/Supermarket: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s returns to the top of the heap having been named LA Blade’s Best Grocery for 2019 and 2018. In June 2021, Trader Joe’s gave all its stores nicely cut and potted rainbow roses in celebration of Pride month. Heidi Leindecker, an assistant manager for Trader Joe’s told mycustomer.com, “Trader Joe’s is a role model for hiring diversity and practicing inclusion. The company cultivates a positive image when it comes to inclusion and its brand amongst employees and consumers. Trader Joe’s puts the employee first and makes sure that everyone is treated with integrity and respect. Employees are treated equally in the same manner as customers are treated equally. As employees are treated well, the feeling naturally overflows to the customers’ positive shopping experience.” LA Blade readers feel the love.

Editor’s choice: Pavillions

Best Museum or Art Gallery: Getty Center

Courtesy of the Getty Center

Editor’s choice: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Best A&E Venue: Hollywood Bowl

County of Los Angeles 

Last year the Hollywood Bowl won for Best Virtual A&E Events. This year it is the Best A&E Venue, which demonstrates that live or virtual, in the eyes of LA Blade readers, it is the best. Since its opening in 1922, the Hollywood Bowl has been the premier destination for live music, hosting everyone from Billie Holiday to The Beatles to Yo-Yo Ma under the iconic silhouette of its concentric-arched band shell.

Editor’s choice: Greek Theater

Best Outside LA Getaway: Palm Springs

 Los Angeles Blade file photo

Palm Springs is so interested in attracting the LGBTQ community that its Visiting Greater Palm Springs website calls out the community specifically. “Ready to take a hiatus from virtual events and Zoom meetings? We don’t blame you. The desert has long been a soothing oasis for the LGBTQ community with its poolside siestas, innovative cuisine, trendy shops and outdoor activities, but now, more than ever, those things have become more than luxuries. They are necessities for self-care and rejuvenation. Consider the following list of hot spots and activities and make a splash—literally—with your best LGBTQ getaway yet,” states author Greg Archer. LA Blade readers apparently are ready to pack their bags and happily head to the desert.

Editor’s choice: Las Vegas

Best Hotel: Le Parc

The Le Parc Suite Hotel is a groundbreaking boutique hotel in West Hollywood featuring sophisticated suites and a sky deck overlooking Los Angeles.

Le Parc Suite Hotel’s extraordinary renovation embraces the local arts community and memorializes the city of West Hollywood’s diversity. Already a well-known retreat for rising stars and trendsetting celebrities, Le Parc combines the city’s design-forward aesthetic with residential-style suites. Its new LOVE mural, designed by large-format fine artist Scott Hile, of Free Spirit Fine Art, embodies the spirit of Le Parc Suites. 

Editor’s choice: Sofitel Beverly Hills

Best LGBTQ Event: OutFest

Los Angeles Blade file graphic

Each year since 1979, OutFest has been a staple film festival in Los Angeles, held during LA’s Pride season and growing in importance to become the world’s largest such festival. 

Today, it is one of Los Angeles’ most anticipated such events, even hosting events across the country. It has garnered the attention of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and even helped open the new Academy Awards Museum, hosting the billion dollar facility’s first live and in person event, Outfest Legacy Awards Gala in November. Outfest also hosts year-round programming that gives artists, filmmakers and entertainment professionals the opportunity to discover their voice, provide the pathways to the visibility of their work by all members of the public, and assure that their legacy will live on for generations to come.

Outfest strives to increase LGBTQIA+ visibility, strengthen understanding and create meaningful change by building empathy for our cause among the general public and the LGBTQ community by honoring excellence in telling the stories of our community.

Editor’s choice: DTLA ProudOutFest

Best Streaming Program Performance: Ben Aldridge

Courtesy of BritBox

Out British actor Ben Aldridge had two prominent roles streamed by LA Blade readers this year. He is well regarded for his role in “Pennyworth” as Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, the action-packed prequel story that was picked up by HBO Max this year. It was likely Aldridge’s other critically acclaimed role seen on Brit Box that thrilled Blade audiences. In “The Long Call,” he plays a gay man returning to an evangelical community that had rejected him years earlier. He is now a detective being asked to solve the mystery of a body found on the beach. Aldridge has had a great year, also being nominated for a GLAAD Award.

Editor’s choice: Ewan McGregor- Halston (Netflix)

Best Streaming Service: Amazon

Amazon Prime has so many LGBTQ-themed movies that it has constructed a top 20 list. The movie “Rocket Man” from 2019 tops the list. The list includes 2019’s “Halston,” 2020’s “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” and “Lez Bomb” and “Believer,” from 2018. 

Best Indie Streaming Service: Brit Box

Turn on your TV and head to the UK! No travel, no stress – just the best and biggest collection of British television in the U.S. and Canada on the digital video subscription service, BritBox. The streamer was created by two British content powerhouses—BBC Studios and ITV, the UK’s biggest broadcaster. BritBox features exclusive premieres, celebrated lifestyle and current series and iconic favorites, along with daytime dramas — most available within 24 hours after their UK premiere. BritBox also offers excellent curation, live programming and a user-friendly experience.

Editor’s Choice: Revry

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Notables

Graham Norton Show: George Takei reveals the origin of ‘Oh My’

George Takei explained to an amused Norton and fellow guests the origins of Takei’s now signature catch-phrase

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George Takei (Screenshot/YouTube The Graham Norton Show)

LONDON – Beloved film, Broadway, television actor, activist, author and social media icon George Takei stopped by to visit the famous red sofa on the Graham Norton Show this week to chat with host Graham Norton.

Recalling his first encounter with New York shock jock Howard Stern as a guest on Stern’s SiriusXM radio show, Takei explained to an amused Norton and fellow guests the origins of Takei’s now signature catch-phrase; “Oh My.”

Takei, 85, is in London rehearsing for the British premiere of the Broadway musical ‘Allegiance,’ which is based on the actor’s childhood experiences during World War II, when he and his family were imprisoned along with tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans behind the barbed-wire enclosures of the United States’ internment Camp Rohwer in the swampland of Arkansas and at Camp Tule Lake in northern California.

‘Allegiance’ will premiere at London’s Charing Cross Theatre for 13 weeks from Saturday 7 January to Saturday 8 April, 2023.

George Takei Reveals The Origin Of ‘Oh My’ | The Graham Norton Show:

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Books

K. M. Soehnlein’s Army of Lovers, a review

Army of Lovers is not just an account of political intervention, it is itself an intervention, a novel that preserves for future activism

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Courtesy of Bywater Books

By John Weir | NEW YORK – K.M. Soehnlein’s Army of Lovers is a novel of the lost generation. Not the early 20th century generation of survivors of the Great War, called “lost” by Gertrude Stein, their stories told in novels by Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

Soehnlein’s lost women and men, those who survived and those who did not, are from the last two decades of the 20th century, the so-called American century, when nearly 750,000 Americans died of AIDS. Young Americans: by 1994, and through 1995, AIDS was the leading cause of death for all Americans age 25 to 44.

At the center of Army of Lovers is a German Irish guy from suburban New Jersey, a kid named Paul, just out of college, whose journey to adulthood happens to coincide with a global epidemic – “a fucking plague,” Larry Kramer famously shouted – that maybe looks to us, from the distance of forty years and a new century, like a grim dress rehearsal for Covid.

That’s if your memory goes back that far. Soehnlein’s does, and his novel is a stunning act of remembering. It’s a visceral re-creation of the sights, sounds, smells, the feel of Manhattan from Wall Street to Times Square in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The bars, parks, restaurants, apartments. Parties and sex parties. The meeting halls where ACT UP New York met. The touch of friends and lovers and comrades, in street actions and crowded jail cells. The taste of ash in your mouth, literal ash, ashes of the dead. 

If you were in New York at the time, and involved even peripherally in ACT UP New York, the novel will feel like a series of home movies. (Full disclosure: I think I once shared a jail cell with Soehnlein.) The story starts at a die-in. Soehnlein’s narrator Paul and his fellow ACT UP activists are lying on the floor of Albany’s state senate building, its brutalist architecture an apt symbol of “the brutal world we’re shouting at, brutal and square and indifferent. The brutal indifference of the government led us here, to block the glass doors of the legislation chamber, demanding to be heard.”

“This is an action,” Paul says, excited, his arm linked through the arm of his best girlfriend Amanda. When his boyfriend Derek, a member of ACT UP’s media committee, comes over with a reporter and a cameraperson, Paul and Amanda deliver their sound bites – “Women with AIDS die twice as fast as men” – and then they wait for the police to close in and arrest them. They wait a while. 

With documentary clarity, Soehnlein renders the stop-and-start energy of political protest. Not only does he preserve for historical record an account of a series of actions and political interventions that took place forty years ago, he shows how it felt to be there. His characters feel the adrenaline rush of getting into a building that is guarded like a fortress. They hold hands, sometimes with strangers they will never see again, sometimes with lovers or ex-lovers. Rushing, chanting, they head for the marble hallway, or the floor of the train terminal, or the cold, cold ground, worrying they won’t get past the police barriers or the phalanx of cops. 

And once they have “taken the hill,” as it were, like actors in a war film from the 1940s, they wait. Wait for the police to come, for the senators to respond, for the reporters to arrive with camera crews to record their demands. And then, if they are not arrested, they get home in time to see themselves on the evening news. Or not!

Buy the book here: (Bywater Books)

It’s exhilarating. Soehnlein shows the exhilaration. It’s also sometimes kind of boring. He shows that too. Most of all, it changed lives. The novel chronicles the ways activism and AIDS and death and loss change Paul’s life. How he goes from being a newly out gay kid learning his way around a city “full of offerings,” including art and work and men (his initial approach to sex and love being: “Anything that starts with a guy and ends with an orgasm is what I’m into”), to a queer activist in a shaved head and black leather jacket facilitating ACT UP meetings and talking back to Larry Kramer.

A notable aspect of the novel is Soehnlein’s lack of sentimentality about the anointed “heroes” of the AIDS activism movement. “I hold him in awe,” Paul says about Kramer, but also, “Larry is the apocalyptic prophet who sees only doom. . . often incapable of hearing anyone else.” Soehnlein is equally clear-eyed about problems of burn-out that afflicted AIDS activists: 

Issues of racism and sexism that compromised AIDS activism; the painful awareness of many ACT UP members, almost their inability to grasp, that despite their unceasing, ingenious, and fearless activism, their friends and lovers would continue to die. 

Most poignantly, the novel shows an aspect of AIDS activism that I haven’t seen fully dramatized elsewhere. It happens in a conversation between Paul and his bestie Amanda, an aspiring filmmaker and lesbian activist. Grappling with the question of how to have a life at the same time that you’re trying to save lives, Amanda says, “It’s confusing to be so deeply identified with a community when you want to say something or make something that’s uniquely yours.”

How to be a person in the midst of an all-consuming, life-threatening epidemic? How to be queer in America in the Reagan years? How to have a personal life when your life is devoted to the collective? Amanda chooses art as a form of activism. Paul has a life apart from AIDS, but it’s no refuge from painful questions of mortality and identity. His is mother dying of cancer. The poles of his life mirror each other, each with death at the center. Is he entirely himself in either community – the churchgoing suburban world where he grew up, and the activist world centering on ACT UP and his charismatic boyfriend Derek? 

When he breaks up with Derek and falls in love with Zack, who is dying of AIDS, Paul drifts away from ACT UP. “You’re a caretaker now,” Amanda tells him. Paul seems almost to arrive at the conclusion that caretaking is itself a form of activism. Or if it’s not, what is activism? Amanda decides to channel her activism into “making a movie that affects a lot of people.” Paul comes to a similar decision. After Zack dies, he moves to San Francisco and enrolls in a graduate writing program.

Soehnlein would appear to have made a similar choice. Army of Lovers is not just an account of political intervention, it is itself an intervention, a novel that preserves for future activism the history of a group of people struggling to survive an epidemic in the face of a government that was intent on denying its existence.  

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Movies

The ‘Spoiler’ is you’re going to cry

Love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly

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Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge star in ‘Spoiler Alert.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

It’s been a refreshing year for LGBTQ love stories on the screen. From “Fire Island” to “Bros,” from “Crush” to “Anything’s Possible,” we’ve seen narratives that offer up hopeful and positive alternatives to the gloomy outcomes presented by movies of the past. Instead of stories that reinforce the tired trope of doomed queer romance, we’re finally seeing ourselves get the same chance at a happily-ever-after ending as everybody else. 

It’s been a welcome change – but just when Hollywood finally seems to have finally figured out that all our relationships don’t have to end in tragedy, “Spoiler Alert” has come along to remind us that sometimes they still do.

Based on the best-selling memoir by Michael Ausiello (“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”) and directed by Michael Showalter from a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and gay blogger/author/pundit Dan Savage, it’s the true story of a couple (Ausiello and his eventual husband, photographer Kit Cowan) who find love and build a relationship over the course of more than a decade only to face the heartbreak of Kit’s diagnosis of – and his (SPOILER ALERT, hence the title) premature passing from – a rare form of terminal cancer. Though It’s not exactly a rom-com, it does try to keep things light-hearted, and it aims for the uplift despite its foregone tragic conclusion.

That’s a tough tightrope to walk. The book, penned by veteran television and entertainment journalist Ausiello, pulled it off successfully, becoming a bestseller – and not just among queer readers – with its warts-and-all celebration of what it truly means to commit to love. After all, we may adore our fairy tale fantasies, but we all know that even a couple’s best-case scenario is guaranteed a sad ending; Ausiello’s first-person written narrative managed to get the point across that it’s all worth it, anyway.

Sometimes, though, a literary device that works on the page doesn’t translate easily to the screen, and on film, Ausiello’s “we-already-know-the-outcome” approach faces a more resistant challenge.

In the first act of the film, which details the meeting and early romance of its two lead characters (Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge as Michael and Kit, respectively), our knowledge of the ending becomes an obstacle. This may be particularly true for more jaded viewers, who are apt to be keenly aware of the emotional payoffs being set up in advance. Heartwarming moments can easily come off as deliberate, even manufactured, and one might sense an obvious bid to force our identification with the characters in the movie’s deployment of all the standard “new gay relationship” tropes. In reading, it’s easy to personalize such universal moments through our own imaginations, which can fill in the spaces (and the faces) in a way that rings true for us. On film (this film, at least), such communally identifiable experiences run the risk of feeling manipulative: a little too perfect, a little too pat, a little too “meet-cute,“ and a little too… well, precious.

The dissonance between formulaic fantasy and genuine lived experience is sometimes made even more obtrusive by occasional flashbacks to Michael’s childhood, framed as excerpts from an imagined ‘90s sitcom, which distance us further from the story – a stylistic ploy that seems intended to keep the tone of the narrative as far from tragic as possible.

When it’s time to get real, however, Showalter’s film lands on more solid ground. Once the blissful “happy-ever-after” couple-hood of the two men is established, the movie takes us into deeper, more mature – and therefore, less predictable – territory. Things don’t end up being perfect in Michael and Kit’s ostensible lover’s paradise: jealousies, self-esteem issues, and the inevitable individual growth that sometimes drives wedges between us in our relationships take their toll. As any successful long-term couple – queer or otherwise – is bound to discover, relationships take a lot of work, and seeing the two protagonists confront that seldom-told part of the story goes a long way toward making their experience more relatable for those who are looking for more than mere aspirational fantasy.

So, too, does the acting from the two leads. Parsons, who struggles against the obvious artificiality of playing against being two-decades-too-old in the film’s earlier scenes, blossoms once the story moves ahead in time to deliver an emotionally brave and affectingly authentic portrait of a man overcoming the baggage of his awkward and socially isolated youth (there’s a Smurf addiction involved, need we say more?) and finding the resilience to weather a battle for his lover’s life. Aldridge, a Brit flawlessly playing American, is perhaps even better – not that it needs to be a competition – as Kit, whose easy-going self-esteem masks a world of unresolved insecurities and makes an almost-too-good-to-be-true character endearingly real; perhaps more importantly, the emotional journey he’s tasked with portraying requires an absolute dedication to unornamented truth, and he delivers it impeccably.

It helps that the two actors, who carry most of the movie’s running time, have a convincingly natural chemistry together that gradually persuades us to invest in these characters even if we had resisted becoming invested in them before. Bolstering the emotional solidity even further is the presence of seasoned pros Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Kit’s parents, who deepen this not-as-clueless-as-they-seem pair beyond the familiar stereotype they represent and raise them above the easy sentimentality they might otherwise have carried into the story’s already-poignant mix. 

These considerable advantages are enough to help us forgive the movie’s contrived expository beginnings, though its ongoing sitcom conceit for childhood flashbacks – as well as its occasional fourth-wall-breaking interruptions from Michael’s TV obsessed imagination – continue to feel a little gimmicky, especially after the plot has passed the point where such amusements are welcome or even necessary.

Still, the movie’s fortunate choice to play against its tearjerker underpinnings – such as when it undercuts a particularly histrionic scene of hospital drama by calling itself out on its own shameless nod (which any gay movie buff will surely already recognize) to an iconic moment from a cinema classic – keeps the tears which finally come from feeling as though they’ve been shamelessly manipulated out of us. It’s this quality that marks the best entries in the tearjerker genre; the thing that movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolia” have in common (besides Shirley MacLaine) is their ability to lean fully into the artifice of their own weepy, sentimental style without sacrificing the sincerity of their emotional payoffs. Films like these don’t play their big moments for drama, or even for laughs, to keep us involved – they play those moments for truth. “Spoiler Alert” clearly aspires to the same standard.

It mostly succeeds, after an awkward start; though some viewers might find its quirkier narrative conceits to be an overcompensation for its weepy ending, its characters are real enough to get past all that and win us over. And though it’s hard to deny that it’s ultimately another tragic gay love story, it manages to remind us that love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly.

After all, just because a romance is doomed doesn’t mean it has to be a downer.

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Books

New book reveals that some secrets last a lifetime

‘All the Broken Places’ should be on your must-read list

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(Book cover image courtesy Pamela Dorman Books)

‘All the Broken Places’
By John Boyne
c. 2022, Pamela Dorman Books
$28/400 pages

It shall not pass your lips.

No, That Thing You Do Not Talk About is off-limits in all conversation, a non-topic when the subject surfaces. Truly, there are just certain things that are nobody’s business and in the new novel, “All the Broken Places” by John Boyne, some secrets must last a lifetime.

She hated the idea that she would have to adjust to new neighbors.

Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby wasn’t so much bothered by new people, as she was by new noise. She hated the thought of inuring herself to new sounds, and what if the new tenants had children? That was the worst of all. Gretel never was much for children, not her own and certainly not any living below her.

Once, there was a time when Gretel could imagine herself with many children. That was nearly 80 years ago, when she was in love with her father’s driver, Kurt. She thought about Kurt through the years – he had fallen out of favor with her father, and was sent elsewhere – and she wondered if he survived the war.

Her father didn’t, nor did her younger brother but Gretel didn’t think about those things. What happened at the “other place” was not her fault.

She hadn’t known. She was innocent.

That was what she told herself as she and her mother fled to Paris. Gretel was 15 then, and she worked hard to get rid of her German accent but not everyone was fooled by her bad French or her story. She was accosted, hated. As soon as her mother died, she sailed to Australia, where she lived with a woman who loved other women, until it became dangerous there, too. She practiced her English and moved to London where she was married, widowed, and now she had to get used to new neighbors and new sounds and new ways for old secrets to sneak into a conversation.

OK, clear your calendar. Get “All the Broken Places” and just don’t make any plans, other than to read and read and read.

The very first impression you get of author John Boyne’s main character, Gretel, is that she’s grumpy, awful, and nasty. With the many bon mots she drops, however, the feeling passes and it’s sometimes easy to almost like her – although it’s clear that she’s done some vile things in her lifetime, things that emerge slowly as the horror of her story dawns. Then again, she professes to dislike children, but (no spoilers here!) she doesn’t, not really, and that makes her seem like someone’s sweet old grandmother. ‘Tis a conundrum.

Don’t let that fool you, though. Boyne has a number of Gretel-sized roadside bombs planted along the journey that is this book. Each ka-boom will hit your heart a little harder.

This is a somewhat-sequel to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” but you can read it alone. Do, and when you finish, you’ll want to immediately read it again, to savor anew.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Arts & Entertainment

The ultimate guide to queer holiday gift giving

Something for everyone, from charcuterie to an e-moped

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Drawing a blank on what to gift the queer loved ones on your holiday shopping list? Consider these thoughtful presents picked exclusively for your LGBTQ friends and family.


Mr. & Mr. Claus Mugs

Two glazed-ceramic Santas are better than one when you cop Sunny & Ted’s hand-painted Mr. and/or Mrs. cocoa mugs available in three blush-faced skin tones and two genders to accurately rep your festive-queer holiday cheer. SunnyAndTed.com, $27.50 each


Whiskey a Go Go 

Lift holiday spirits (in handsome drinkware, like Baccarat’s Harmonie Double Old-Fashioned Tumblers) by offering party guests a sampling of your home bar’s top-shelf reserves, like Blade & Bow’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask – a holy trinity all its own. ReserveBar.com, $48, $57, $91


Happy Hanukkah Tea Gift Set + Subarzsweets

VAHDAM India’s Hannukah-special assortment of luscious herbal, chai and black teas – paired with Subarzsweets’ handmade, small-batch biscotti-cookie hybrids (the lemon-thyme flavor is what the chef’s kiss emoji was meant for) – is the treat-yourself pick-me-up you’ll crave after eight crazy nights. Vahdam.com, $24; Subarzsweets.com, $45


America the Beautiful Annual Pass

One of your nice-listers resolving to travel more in the new year? Set them up for success with the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands’ America the Beautiful annual pass, providing access for the holder (plus guests) to more than 2,000 federal sites in the United States, including parks, monuments, battlefields, protected wildlife refuges, stunning seashores, and more. Recreation.gov, $80


Yves Durif Grooming Set

Yves Durif didn’t reinvent the Italian-made, natural rubber resin petite brush and comb that bears his synonymous-with-style name, but he did make these luxury tools sexy AF so you can feel like a million bucks. YvesDurif.com, $105


Boarderie Charcuterie

A far cry from the shelf-stable meat-and-cheese gifts mom loaded up on at your local mall’s pop-up shop, Oprah-approved Boarderie charcuterie boards are chef-made daily and feature hand-selected artisan cheeses, meats, dried fruits, nuts and chocolates on keepsake Acacia platters. Hickory Farms could neverBoarderie.com$129-$239


Wagged Tails Custom ‘A-paw-rel’

Memorialize your loved ones’ recently passed pets with Wagged Tails’ custom-printed apparel and accessories, including T-shirts, tumblers, totes and mugs, emblazoned with their favorite heaven-sent smush-faces. Keep the Kleenex close. WaggedTails.com, $18-$67


Dough Bowl Candles

Drop a needle on Aunt Dolly’s holiday vinyl before lighting the wicks on Stroud’s Simply Southern dough bowl candles and you’ve got yourself an instant country Christmas. StroudSimplySouthernCo.com, $24-$79


Cantilever Toolbox

Utilitarianism is a hallmark of Japanese design, and Toyo’s handcrafted cantilever steel storage and tool boxes are no exception with two handy adjustable upper trays and eight removable dividers housed in a handsome, spacious shell deserving of double-takes. Placewares.com, $129


Habibi Santal Journey

Can’t go wrong with a fresh scent tucked under the tree or inside a stocking, and it doesn’t get any fresher (or spicier) than Habibi’s Santal Journey with notes of dry cedar wood, oud and sandalwood overtop wisps of crisp pear and precious orris. ForHabibi.com, $119


NQi GTS E-Moped

In sport mode, the NQi GTS e-moped’s top speed is a hair-straightening 50 mph thanks to a 60V26Ah Bosch motor, 4th-gen lithium battery tech, and a few body-shop elves who’ve watched “2 Fast 2 Furious” 2 many times. Niu.com, $TBD


Rotate Watchmaking Kit

Challenge your better-half gadget geek over holiday break with customizable Rotate watchmaking kits – available in easy, medium, and hard configurations – that come complete with parts, tools, and a user-friendly guide to keep the cursing at a Christian minimum. RotateWatches.com, $195-$225


Coravin x Keith Haring Wine Opener

Art and wine go to together like Saint Nick and snickerdoodles, which is why the Coravin x Keith Haring Timeless Six+ Artist Edition bottle opener – featuring the late artist’s iconic dancing figures in black and white – will look just as good on your dinner party tablescape as it will on display. Coravin.com, $350


Limited Edition Don Q Rum X Coquito NYC Drink Kit

Add a little Latin flavor to your living room Christmas film fest with a screening of Alfredo De Villa’s “Nothing Like the Holidays” and a traditional coquito with a Don Q kick in hand. The limited-edition collaboration kit between the rum maker and Latina-owned Coquito NYC comes with everything you need to mix it up, including coconut milk, spices, and a bottle of Reserva 7. DonQ.com, $75


Nuzzie Weighted Blanket

Dasher and Dancer will have to pull double duty delivering hefty, chunky Nuzzies, one-of-a-kind breathable, thermo regulating and sustainable weighted blankets (in holiday hues like rich rose and emerald green) for all your snowy-season snuggles. ShopNuzzie.com, $169-$329


(Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.)

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Music & Concerts

Streisand’s ‘Live at the Bon Soir’: Birth of a diva

Album finally released 50 years after being recorded

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Album cover for 'Barbara Sreisand: Live at the Bon Soir.'

Happy days are here again!

Sixty years ago, for three nights in November 1962, Columbia Records recorded a young (20-year-old) singer as she performed at the Bon Soir, a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. The singer’s name was Barbra Streisand, and the recording was slated to be her debut album. Streisand wasn’t that widely known then. But as (the character) Miss Marmelstein, Streisand was stopping the show nightly in the Broadway production “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.” After the show’s curtain call, she took a cab to perform at the Bon Soir club, according to the website barbra-archives.info.

But though the recording of Streisand live at the Village club was talked about the way you’d chat about an awesome legend, the album was shelved for more than half a century. Instead of releasing the “Live at the Bon Soir,” Columbia in 1963 released “The Barbra Streisand Album” (which was recorded in a studio) as Streisand’s debut album.

If you’re queer, you know Streisand rules! To the delight of critics, fans and mid-century history aficionados, on Nov. 4, six decades after it was recorded, “Live at the Bon Soir,” wonderfully remastered, was released on vinyl and SACD. It is also available on streaming services.

If you’ve fantasized about spending an intimate evening with Streisand (Barbra singing and engaging in witty repartee for just you and your intimates), “Live at the Bon Soir” is a dream come true. When Streisand says, “I wish there were another word for thank you…I mean, like, anything, you know” and introduces the club audience to her “boyfriend’s suit,” you feel that she’s talking directly to you.

Streisand’s voice is at its youthful, gorgeous best and her one-of-a-spectacular-kind personality comes through in her banter between songs. Listening to the album is an immersive experience. You’re witnessing the birth of a diva.

The album’s 24 tracks range from an indelible version of the torch song “Cry Me a River” to a playful rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

One of the best things about “Live at the Bon Soir” is its comprehensive, illuminating liner notes. Produced by Streisand, Martin Erlichman and Jay Landers, the CD of the album is packaged in a hardcover book with 32 pages of historical notes, photos and a message from Streisand. The vinyl version comes with a 12-page booklet. The notes provide insight into not only the making of the album, but of most interest to Streisand devotees, what it was like to perform live at the beginning of her career.

“I had never even been in a nightclub until I sang in one,” Streisand writes in the album’s liner notes about performing at and recording “Live at the Bon Soir.”

“I sang two songs in a talent contest at a little club called the Lion and won,” Streisand adds, “which led to being hired at a more sophisticated supper club around the corner called the Bon Soir, with an actual stage and a spotlight.”

The sound on the restored version of “Live at the Bon Soir” is much better than it was on the original recording.

“The science of recording has made quantum leaps since 1962,” writes Landers on the album’s liner notes, “Grammy Award winning engineer, Jochem van der Saag, has subtly solved audio issues in ways his predecessors could hardly have fathomed.”

Streisand has recorded albums with political and contemporary songs. These recordings are often superb. (Is anything by Streisand ever remotely bad?)

But “Live at the Bon Soir” is a gift to anyone who loves standards from the American song-book – from “I Hate Music” (Leonard Bernstein) to “Right as the Rain” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg) to “Come To The Supermarket (in Old Peking)” (Cole Porter) to “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellen/Milton Ager).

Even if you’re allergic to show tunes, you’ll be entranced by “Live at the Bon Soir.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

‘Young Royals’ stars chat with Josh Smith on his Reign podcast

Smith uses his innate empathy to create a safe space for the most influential people on the planet to open up like never before

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Screenshot/YouTube Reign

LONDON – British journalist, podcaster and presenter Josh Smith has gained international recognition for his signature empowering interviews, innate warmth, and humour. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, knowing what it is like to be marginalized Smith uses his innate empathy to create a safe space for the most influential people on the planet to open up like never before.

Recently, Smith interviewed the two main stars of the Netflix runaway hit streaming series ‘Young Royals,’ Omar Rudberg and Edvin Ryding:

After launching in January 2021, Reign is already in its fifth season and has come to life through live and virtual live stream events. Each week Smith is joined by a celebrity guest for a down-to- earth chat about their journey to success.

Smith’s charisma encourages a truly unfiltered dialogue between him and his guests, allowing them to comfortably share their personal stories to inspire listeners.

Reign is available on Apple Podcast and his YouTube channel.

You can also follow Smith on Instagram: (Link)

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Notables

First openly gay GOP former member of U.S. House dies at 80

“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant”

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Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) speaks at a press conference on Feb. 28, 2013 for the filing of an amicus brief supporting the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

TUCSON – Former Republican Congressman James (Jim) Thomas Kolbe, who represented Southern Arizona in Congress for 22 years, died Saturday, Dec. 3 of a stroke at the age of 80 his husband Hector Alfonso confirmed to Arizona media outlets.

“He belongs to so many people,” his husband said through tears on Saturday. “He gave his life for this city. He loved Tucson, he loved Arizona.”

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff until sunset Sunday in honor of the former congressman. In a series of tweets the Arizona Governor lauded Kolbe’s record of public service:

Kolbe was the first openly serving gay Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives having served from 1985 to 2007.  During his 22-year tenure he served as chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee.

Former congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In 1996, Kolbe held a press conference and outed himself after his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, this according to political journalist Jake Tapper was owed to the fact that Kolbe was under the impression he was about to be outed by a gay publication.

Addressing a gathering of Log Cabin Republicans and other gay Republicans in 1997, he said he didn’t want to be a poster child for the gay movement.

“Being gay was not — and is not today — my defining persona,” Kolbe said during his first speech as an openly gay GOP lawmaker. He also sat on the national advisory board of the Log Cabin Republicans.

In 2013 however, Kolbe was a signatory to an amicus brief in support of overturning California’s Proposition 8.

In a private ceremony in 2013 after being together for eight years, Kolbe and Alfonso were married.

Alfonso, a Panamanian native who came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue studies in special education had been a teacher for two decades. The couple’s nuptials were held at a private event at the Cosmos Club on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington D.C.

“Two decades ago, I could not have imagined such an event as this would be possible,” Kolbe told the Blade in an interview in May of 2013. “A decade ago I could not imagine that I would find someone I could be so compatible with that I would want to spend the rest of my life with that person. So, this is a very joyous day for both of us.”

The couple had to endure a year-long separation when Alfonso returned to Panama while immigration issues were being sorted out, although he was granted U.S, Residency also knoen as a green card.

Kolbe also battled his friend and fellow Republican, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain who opposed the repeal of the Clinton-era Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy, which barred military service by gay and lesbian Americans. He repeatedly co-sponsored a bill to scrap the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at odds with others in his party over the issue.

After he left Congress he continued to be active in Republican politics in 2012 endorsing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in his race for the presidency against then incumbent Barack Obama.

In an interview with the Washington Blade at the time, Kolbe responded to the anti-gay language in the draft version of the Republican Party platform. In addition to endorsing a Federal Marriage Amendment, the platform criticized the Obama administration for dropping defense of DOMA in court and judges for “re-defining marriage” in favor of gay couples.

Kolbe predicted the 2012 Republican platform will be the last one to include such language.

“That’ll be the last time that will be in the Republican Party platform,” Kolbe said. “It won’t be there four years from now. It’s got its last gasp. I don’t believe it’ll be there four years from now; I wish it weren’t there now, but I don’t believe it will be four years from now.”

The issue over the rights of same-sex couples to marry ended with Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644, the landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Just this week prior to his death, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate by a vote of 61-36.

That legislation requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. It is expected to pass the House again this week after which it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Early in his career Kolbe, in 1976 ran for a seat in the Arizona Senate in the Tucson-Pima County district and defeated a one-term Democrat.  In mid-1982, he resigned from the state Senate to run in the newly created Arizona 5th U.S. congressional district, but lost to Democrat Jim McNulty.

He ran again in 1984 winning the seat that he went to hold for over two decades.

According to his biography Kolbe was born in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but when he was five, his family moved to a ranch in rural Santa Cruz County, Arizona. It was there he attended Patagonia Elementary School and Patagonia Union High School, but graduated from the United States Capitol Page School in 1960 after serving for three years as a United States Senate Page for Arizona Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.

He matriculated first at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and then at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California earning a master’s degree in economics. During the Vietnam era from 1965 to 1969, he served in the United States Navy, including a tour in Vietnam as a member of the Navy’s “Swift Boat” force. 

After military service Kolbe served as a special assistant to Illinois Republican Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. He then moved back to Arizona settling in Tucson where he worked in business.

Accolades for the former Congressman included many from Arizona political and business fields of endeavor.

“Pima County and southern Arizona could always count on Jim Kolbe,” Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson said in a statement.

Matt Gress, who was recently elected to the Arizona Legislature, called Kolbe a political pioneer.

“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant,” he said in a statement.

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Sports

World’s largest LGBTQ sporting event returning to Las Vegas 

Registration open for the largest annual LGBTQ sporting event globally- Nominations are open for the 2nd annual Ken Scearce Leadership Award

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Pickleball competitors (Photo courtesy of Sin City Classic)

By John McDonald | LAS VEGAS – More than 10,000 athletes are expected in Las Vegas January 12-15, 2023 for the Sin City Classic. The event features 24 sports and draws participants from around the globe, said co-executive director Jason Peplinski.

“For a lot of people, LGBT sports are their safe space and they like to travel to be a part of an athletic family,” Peplinski said.

Peplinski is commissioner of the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA). His organization created the Sin City Classic back in 2008 as a way to provide a safe space for LGBT athletes to compete and connect.

“Sin City Classic continues to grow and evolve,” Peplinksi said. “This year we see the addition of pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and sand volleyball, adding to the diverse lineup of competitions and events that the festival offers. We’re excited that the festival continues to expand and offers ways for all members of our diverse community to participate.”

This is the Sin City Classic’s first year of full operations since the COVID-19 pandemic and the Flamingo Hotel, the oldest hotel on the Las Vegas strip, is the host hotel. Lexus is the presenting sponsor and nightclubs Piranha and The Garden are hosting events during the MLK holiday weekend.

Additionally, nominations are open for the second annual Ken Scearce Leadership Award which honors the memory and legacy of the former executive director who passed away in 2021.

To sign-up or for more information, visit www.sincityclassic.org 

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Sports

Carrying a Pride flag- protester interrupts World Cup game

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East

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Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

LUSAIL, Qatar – During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a LGBTQ+ Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazed with the Superman symbol and the phrase “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then frog marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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