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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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Movies

After 25 years, a forgotten queer classic reemerges in 4K glory

Screwball rom-com ‘I Think I Do’ finds new appreciation

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Alexis Arquette and Christian Maelen in ‘I Think I Do.’ (Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing)

In 2024, with queer-themed entertainment available on demand via any number of streaming services, it’s sometimes easy to forget that such content was once very hard to find.

It wasn’t all that long ago, really. Even in the post-Stonewall ‘70s and ‘80s, movies or shows – especially those in the mainstream – that dared to feature queer characters, much less tell their stories, were branded from the outset as “controversial.” It has been a difficult, winding road to bring on-screen queer storytelling into the light of day – despite the outrage and protest from bigots that, depressingly, still continues to rear its ugly head against any effort to normalize queer existence in the wider culture.

There’s still a long way to go, of course, but it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come – and to recognize the efforts of those who have fought against the tide to pave the way. After all, progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and if not for the queer artists who have hustled to bring their projects to fruition over the years, we would still be getting queer-coded characters as comedy relief or tragic victims from an industry bent on protecting its bottom line by playing to the middle, instead of the (mostly) authentic queer-friendly narratives that grace our screens today.

The list of such queer storytellers includes names that have become familiar over the years, pioneers of the “Queer New Wave” of the ‘90s like Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Gregg Araki, or Bruce LaBruce, whose work at various levels of the indie and “underground” queer cinema movement attracted enough attention  – and, inevitably, notoriety – to make them known, at least by reputation, to most audiences within the community today.

But for every “Poison” or “The Living End” or “Hustler White,” there are dozens of other not-so-well-remembered queer films from the era; mostly screened at LGBTQ film festivals like LA’s Outfest or San Francisco’s Frameline, they might have experienced a flurry of interest and the occasional accolade, or even a brief commercial release on a handful of screens, before slipping away into fading memory. In the days before streaming, the options were limited for such titles; home video distribution was a costly proposition, especially when there was no guarantee of a built-in audience, so most of them disappeared into a kind of cinematic limbo – from which, thankfully, they are beginning to be rediscovered.

Consider, for instance, “I Think I Do,” the 1998 screwball romantic comedy by writer/director Brian Sloan that was screened last week – in a newly restored 4K print undertaken by Strand Releasing – in Brooklyn as the Closing Night Selection of NewFest’s “Queering the Canon” series. It’s a film that features the late trans actor and activist Alexis Arquette in a starring, pre-transition role, as well as now-mature gay heartthrob Tuc Watkins and out queer actor Guillermo Diaz in supporting turns, but for over two decades has been considered as little more than a footnote in the filmographies of these and the other performers in its ensemble cast. It deserves to be seen as much more than that, and thanks to a resurgence of interest in the queer cinema renaissance from younger film buffs in the community, it’s finally getting that chance.

Set among a circle of friends and classmates at Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University, it’s a comedic – yet heartfelt and nuanced – story of love left unrequited and unresolved between two roommates, openly gay Bob (Arquette) and seemingly straight Brendan (Christian Maelen), whose relationship in college comes to an ugly and humiliating end at a Valentine’s Day party before graduation. A few years later, the gang is reunited for the wedding of Carol (Luna Lauren Vélez) and Matt (Jamie Harrold), who have been a couple since the old days. Bob, now a TV writer engaged to a handsome soap opera star (Watkins), is the “maid” of honor, while old gal pals Beth (Maddie Corman) and Sarah (Marianne Hagan), show up to fill out the bridal party and pursue their own romantic interests. When another old friend, Eric (Diaz), shows up with Brendan unexpectedly in tow, it sparks a behind-the-scenes scenario for the events of the wedding, in which Bob is once again thrust into his old crush’s orbit and confronted with lingering feelings that might put his current romance into question – especially since the years between appear to have led Brendan to a new understanding about his own sexuality.

In many ways, it’s a film with the unmistakable stamp of its time and provenance, a low-budget affair shot at least partly under borderline “guerilla filmmaking” conditions and marked by a certain “collegiate” sensibility that results in more than a few instances of aggressively clever dialogue and a storytelling agenda that is perhaps a bit too heavily packed. Yet at the same time, these rough edges give it a raw, DIY quality that not only makes any perceived sloppiness forgivable, but provides a kind of “outsider” vibe that it wears like a badge of honor. Add to this a collection of likable performances – including Arquette, in a winning turn that gets us easily invested in the story, and Maelen, whose DeNiro-ish looks and barely concealed sensitivity make him swoon-worthy while cementing the palpable chemistry between them  – and Sloan’s 25-year-old blend of classic Hollywood rom-com and raunchy ‘90s sex farce reveals itself to be a charming, wiser-than-expected piece of entertainment, with an admirable amount of compassion and empathy for even its most stereotypical characters – like Watkins’ soap star, a walking trope of vainglorious celebrity made more fully human than appearances would suggest by the actor’s honest, emotionally intelligent performance – that leaves no doubt its heart is in the right place.

Sloan, remarking about it today, confirms that his intention was always to make a movie that was more than just frothy fluff. “While the film seems like a glossy rom-com, I always intended an underlying message about the gay couple being seen as equals to the straight couple getting married,” he says. “ And the movie is also set in Washington to underline the point.”

He also feels a sense of gratitude for what he calls an “increased interest from millennials and Gen Z in these [classic queer indie] films, many of which they are surprised to hear about from that time, especially the comedies.” Indeed, it was a pair of screenings with Queer Cinema Archive that “garnered a lot of interest from their followers,” and “helped to convince my distributor to bring the film back” after being unavailable for almost 10 years.

Mostly, however, he says “I feel very lucky that I got to make this film at that time and be a part of that movement, which signaled a sea change in the way LGBTQ characters were portrayed on screen.”

Now, thanks to Strand’s new 4K restoration, which will be available for VOD streaming on Amazon and Apple starting April 19, his film is about to be accessible to perhaps a larger audience than ever before.

Hopefully, it will open the door for the reappearance of other iconic-but-obscure classics of its era and help make it possible for a whole new generation to discover them.

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Celebrity News

Jodie Foster honored at TCL’s Chinese Theatre handprint event

Foster holds the distinction of being the 2nd person to win multiple Oscars before age 30 & the only openly LGBTQ woman to win 2 Oscars

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Jodie Foster at her Hand & Footprint Ceremony outside Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre Friday, April 19, 2024. (Screenshot/YouTube ET)

HOLLYWOOD – Celebrated Oscar winning actor Jodie Foster marked her 10th wedding anniversary to her wife director Alexandra Hedison with her addition to a legendary list of Hollywood stars, by leaving her hand and footprints in cement outside Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday.

The ceremony was emceed by her longtime pal and friend actor Jamie Lee Curtis and Turner Classic Movies host, television personality Benjamin Mankiewicz. As she added her handprints, footprints, and autograph to the cement casting she took her shoes off and went barefoot.

“The person that I have to thank the most, really, is my wife Alex, who I cannot believe was so generous to give up our 10-year anniversary day to come and do this with me,” said Foster, adding, “This is my life,” she told the standing room only crowd. “I love my life, and I’m so grateful that all of you guys think I’m OK.”

Foster’s over fifty year career in Hollywood has seen her win Oscars for her performances in the category of Best Actress for 1988’s film The Accused and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. She was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress for the 1977 film Taxi Driver, 1995’s Nell. This past year Foster was nominated for her role as Best Supporting Actress in 2023’s Nyad.

Nyad, is a biographical sports drama film about sixty-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad’s multiple attempts in the early 2010s to swim the Straits of Florida, starred Annette Bening in the leading role as Foster portrayed Bonnie Stoll as Nyad’s athletic trainer. 

Also attending Friday’s ceremony was Diana Nyad who stood alongside Foster’s wife.

Foster holds the distinction of being the second person to win multiple Oscars before the age of 30. She is also the only openly LGBTQ woman to win two Academy Awards for acting, although she was not publicly out until after both wins.

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Books

Rob Anderson knows you think he’s annoying

The Blade sat down with the Instagram comedian and “Gay Science” author about viral fame, cringe comedy, and why gay men can’t sit in chairs

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In an out-of-character moment, Rob Anderson is seated properly on the grand stairs in West Hollywood Park. (Photo by of Rob Salerno)

By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Rob Anderson understands why you might’ve blocked him. Over the last four years, Anderson has attracted more than four million followers across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.

But as he launches his latest book, Gay Science, collecting and expanding on his viral comedy video series that examines gay stereotypes through the “totally scientific method,” he’s become pretty blasé about the pitfalls of being promoted by the social media algorithms.

Anderson says he understands that despite his enormous success, the various social media platforms often push content at people who aren’t interested.

“I guess it is so annoying,” he says with a laugh. “So when people block me, I’m never like, ‘Ew.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s annoying. I get it,” 

“When I first started making videos and then my followers were growing, I was blocking people left and right and for the same reason. I don’t hate them. It’s annoying to see this thing on my feed,” he says. “Those Instagay couples that were always taking pictures. I blocked all of them.”

Anderson spoke to The Blade in West Hollywood, where he’s in town to promote Gay Science at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with a panel discussion on “The Gay Agenda” on April 21 – two days before the book becomes available at bookstores everywhere. 

He says he created the “Gay Science” video series to poke fun at and reclaim stereotypes about gay men.

“I made my first video about why gay men like iced coffee because I wanted to have fun with those sorts of stereotypes I find online. Like why do gay guys run like that? Why do they write like girls, you know, and then all the other fun stereotypes that we’ve kind of like made up about ourselves like why we can’t sit in a chair the right way, because apparently we love having stereotypes,” he says.

For the book, Anderson applies the same skewed scientific take to explain more than 50 different stereotypes across the entire LGBT spectrum. So the book has chapters that ask “Are Pansexual People Living Better Lives?” “Does College Make People Bi?” and “Do Lesbians Hate Electricity?”

“I challenged myself to write about everyone. I think everyone deserves to have something to laugh at because things are so awful politically. So asexual people, intersex, non-binary chapters. There’s a chapter ‘Did trans people invent pronouns?’ And, like everything else, the chapter proves that’s right.” 

Gay Science doesn’t take on the question of why so many gay men find Anderson annoying, but he has some theories.

“I attracted the attention of gay people, and some people choose to take that and give you back love, and then some people choose to take that and hate on you,” he says. “It’s really not even about me. It’s always about them, like something they’re going through.”

“And honestly, I get it. Being gay is hard and we had a lot of tough times growing up, and then once you come out, you struggle to feel accepted in a gay space.”

Maybe he can study this in Gay Science Volume 2.

And sometimes that backlash has just made Anderson even more powerful. 

Two years ago, when he was about to go on his first comedy tour, a Twitter user from Washington, D.C. shared a now-infamous opinion about Anderson’s $100 VIP meet-and-greet tickets.

“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS TO MEET R*B AND*RSON? When I can see him sucking dick on the dance floor at the after party for free? I’ll pass,” wrote @livefreeordavid.

The tweet generated thousands of likes, retweets and comments – many of them even more hateful. But the upshot is that Anderson sold out his D.C. shows within days and the rest of his tour shortly after. Anderson says he only learned about the tweet months later, when someone tagged him in the thread.

“I just kind of kept it. I screenshot it. I’m like, I just need to remember this. When people hate on you, it’s gonna be good. And I had to bring that back up again recently because I was on [Watch What Happens Live] for Gay Science and someone on Twitter was like, ‘Oh, how embarrassing. He’s the bartender.’ They’re trying to hate on me for like being on TV.” 

Some of Anderson’s zen attitude to toward the haters can also be attributed to a recent successful shift in his content. While he was working on the book Gay Science, he paused making new videos in the series – all that new content is in the book. 

Instead, he started posting video recaps of movies and TV shows from his youth, which has attracted a broader audience. 

“I’d been rewatching Seventh Heaven and I was like, actually this show is ridiculous. I’m just gonna post about these shows. And those took off because it’s more universal. My audience has grown since then, and now it’s mostly not gay people.”

“I really feeling like the content that I’m making is still gay. Like I’m a gay guy and you can tell that I’m not straight, but I get a lot less hate. Isn’t that crazy?” 

“Not just supportive, but fun DMs that were like, ‘you need to do this movie because this is so fucking crazy.’ And it was because women are involved now and they’re just better than men,” he says. 

Maybe that’s another topic for future volumes of Gay Science.

Gay Science will be released in stores April 23.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Books

Out CBS reporter Jon Vigliotti recounts covering a warming planet

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York & now lives in Southern California

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CBS News national correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti has written a new book about climate change. (Photo Credit: Iván Carrillo)

By Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor | HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – In 2018, Jonathan Vigliotti was working as a foreign correspondent based out of CBS News’ London bureau. To say it was a coveted journalism job would be an understatement.

Yet, as he recounts in his debut book, “Before It’s Gone: Stories From the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America,” Vigliotti’s life would be upended professionally and personally by a warming planet. During a Cape Cod vacation that August with his family and husband, Iván Carrillo, Vigliotti fielded a call that had him making a hasty exit — leaving his lobster dinner untouched — to catch a flight for Southern California.

He was sent to cover a wildfire encroaching on the city of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. The impromptu assignment led to him relocating to the national broadcaster’s Los Angeles Bureau the next year and taking on the natural disaster beat.

“In the time between then and now I have covered historic hurricanes, thermometer-shattering heat waves, record-breaking droughts, mega wildfires, back-to-back ‘hundred-year floods,’ unprecedented blizzards, and never-before-seen mudslides,” he writes in the prologue of his book.

Released in April by One Signal Publishers/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., the book not only recounts his experiences covering a warming planet these past six years. It also serves as a memoir of his rising through the journalism ranks, from working for the NPR station based on the Bronx campus of his alma mater, Fordham University, to now being a national correspondent for CBS News.

“I always loved storytelling,” said Vigliotti, 41, who grew up in the village of Mount Kisco in New York.

Speaking with the Bay Area Reporter by phone, Vigliotti said he’s been a nature lover his entire life. He spent hours exploring the woods by his childhood home. When his parents joined the fight to stop a housing development that would have bulldozed his forested retreat, Vigliotti learned about the fragility of ecosystems and how collective actions can protect such places.

“It had a lasting impact on me,” he said. “My work as a professional journalist always has gravitated toward environmental stories.”

His book is broken into four parts centered on the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. The tragic events he’s covered are paired with solutions to mitigate the effect rising temperatures are having on communities across the U.S. (Vigliotti writes about reintroducing beavers to ward against wildfires in an excerpt of his book for this week’s Guest Opinion.)

“One of the reasons why I wrote the book is I feel climate change is abstract to people. Even people who may be climate deniers, I think that comes from a lack of understanding,” said Vigliotti. “One of the best ways to understand climate change is radicalizing our weather is to be there on the front lines. Through our reporting, I try to visually connect those dots for people.”

‘No warning’

A theme throughout the book is the oft repeated — and disingenuous — phrase, “There was no warning.” Time and time again local officials have known beforehand the threats their communities face from climate change, said Vigliotti.

“Why this happens is hard to say, but I do believe a lot of people find climate science to be overwhelming,” he said. “The solutions oftentimes seem daunting.”

Rather than dismiss climate change as “some politicized issue,” he hopes his audience sees it as the threat it is to their livelihoods and hometowns. He utilizes the term “habitat changes” in the book when writing about what is occurring due to changing climates.

“If saying climate change is a barrier for some people, maybe you don’t need to say it,” said Vigliotti. “As long as people understand weather is changing and an increased threat to communities on the front lines, the more people are willing to take action. That is my finding at least,” he said.

He believes the planet still has time before it’s gone.

“We are a very intelligent species, us humans. We have proven time and time again we have a unique ability to adapt, unlike some other species,” said Vigliotti. “I think we have an opportunity if we listen to the warning signs and take action to rebuild or upbuild our communities so they are resilient.”

Even more so than in his on air segments, Vigliotti is front and center throughout the book, talking to readers in the first person.

“I wasn’t sure how much of my own experience would be a part of this book. It documents my education and my understanding of the role climate change is having,” he said. “I felt like if I was going to invite readers into my world, I needed to be as honest as possible in those moments where I am sharing my personal experiences.”

Professionally, Vigliotti said he “never actively” hid being gay. But as he explains in the book, he routinely was “straightening out my gay” when sent to report in places like the Middle East.

An assistant news director at the Milwaukee TV station where he once worked advised him to “rein in the fagginess,” he writes. He also disclosed losing a network job “because the main anchor at the time didn’t like the way I ‘tracked.'”

Vigliotti told the B.A.R. he publicly came out in either 2011 or 2012. He credited gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who is also a correspondent for CBS News’ “60 Minutes” newsmagazine, for giving him the courage to do so.

“The role I think he had in giving a voice to other journalists who were also quote-unquote closeted … I don’t know him personally but I am forever grateful for that,” said Vigliotti. “It gave me a way forward and a way to be more authentic as myself and more transparent without having to hide parts of myself.”

Doing so in his book marked a departure from his usual reporting focus.

“I have always believed as a journalist my role is to disappear into the background and to give a platform to the people I am interviewing. I always naturally shied away from sharing too much of myself to begin with,” said Vigliotti.

To not reveal his own story in his book would have been a disservice to his interview subjects, he reasoned.

“I have come to expect so much from people who are often sharing the worst moments of their life with me. I felt it would be a hindrance to not return that favor,” said Vigliotti, who is at work on expanding his nightly news broadcast’s coverage of small-town America.

The book doesn’t mark an end to his coverage of natural disasters. He plans to continue heeding the call when such assignments break.

“I do love California and do find a sense of purpose covering these kinds of stories,” said Vigliotti, who lives in Hollywood. “I will continue covering extreme weather events.”

The book can be purchased online here: (Link)

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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MEDIA

Time’s 100 most influential people of 2024: LGBTQ+ honorees

The list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2024 includes several LGBTQ celebrities & activists who champion queer rights

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Actor Elliot Page said that "[It's] a tremendous honor to be featured in TIME’s 2024 #TIME100 list." Page was among several LGBTQ+ honorees. (Photo Credit: Time magazine)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Time magazine on Wednesday unveiled its highly anticipated list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2024, and it includes several LGBTQ celebrities and activists who continue to champion queer rights.

Among the notable figures that Time recognized is actor Coleman Domingo, who portrayed civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in the biopic “Rustin.” Domingo, among other things, is the second openly gay man nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay character.

Other people on the list are:

  • Actor Elliot Page, known for his roles in “Juno” and “The Umbrella Academy.” His recent memoir, “Pageboy,” sheds light on his journey as a transgender man, inspiring audiences amid ongoing challenges to trans rights.
  • Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.
  • Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group.
  • Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, an LGBTQ activist in Sri Lanka who led the effort to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in her country.

Time’s list also includes other LGBTQ influencers, such as fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, reproductive biologist Katsuhiko Hayashi, chef Dominique Crenn, and healthcare advocate Ophelia Dahl.

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Events

What to expect at the 2024 National Cannabis Festival

With performances by Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, and Thundercat, the 2024 National Cannabis Festival will be bigger than ever this year

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Juicy J performs at the 2023 National Cannabis Festival (Photo credit: Alive Coverage)

WASHINGTON — With two full days of events and programs along with performances by Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, and Thundercat, the 2024 National Cannabis Festival will be bigger than ever this year.

Leading up to the festivities on Friday and Saturday at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium are plenty of can’t-miss experiences planned for 420 Week, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit and an LGBTQ happy hour hosted by the District’s Black-owned queer bar, Thurst Lounge (both happening on Wednesday).

On Tuesday, the Blade caught up with NCF Founder and Executive Producer Caroline Phillips, principal at The High Street PR & Events, for a discussion about the event’s history and the pivotal political moment for cannabis legalization and drug policy reform both locally and nationally. Phillips also shared her thoughts about the role of LGBTQ activists in these movements and the through-line connecting issues of freedom and bodily autonomy.

After D.C. residents voted to approve Initiative 71 in the fall of 2014, she said, adults were permitted to share cannabis and grow the plant at home, while possession was decriminalized with the hope and expectation that fewer people would be incarcerated.

“When that happened, there was also an influx of really high-priced conferences that promised to connect people to big business opportunities so they could make millions in what they were calling the ‘green rush,'” Phillips said.

“At the time, I was working for Human Rights First,” a nonprofit that was, and is, engaged in “a lot of issues to do with world refugees and immigration in the United States” — so, “it was really interesting to me to see the overlap between drug policy reform and some of these other issues that I was working on,” Phillips said.

“And then it rubbed me a little bit the wrong way to hear about the ‘green rush’ before we’d heard about criminal justice reform around cannabis and before we’d heard about people being let out of jail for cannabis offenses.”

“As my interests grew, I realized that there was really a need for this conversation to happen in a larger way that allowed the larger community, the broader community, to learn about not just cannabis legalization, but to understand how it connects to our criminal justice system, to understand how it can really stimulate and benefit our economy, and to understand how it can become a wellness tool for so many people,” Phillips said.

“On top of all of that, as a minority in the cannabis space, it was important to me that this event and my work in the cannabis industry really amplified how we could create space for Black and Brown people to be stakeholders in this economy in a meaningful way.”

Caroline Phillips (Photo by Greg Powers)

“Since I was already working in event production, I decided to use those skills and apply them to creating a cannabis event,” she said. “And in order to create an event that I thought could really give back to our community with ticket prices low enough for people to actually be able to attend, I thought a large-scale event would be good — and thus was born the cannabis festival.”

D.C. to see more regulated cannabis businesses ‘very soon’


Phillips said she believes decriminalization in D.C. has decreased the number of cannabis-related arrests in the city, but she noted arrests have, nevertheless, continued to disproportionately impact Black and Brown people.

“We’re at a really interesting crossroads for our city and for our cannabis community,” she said. In the eight years since Initiative 71 was passed, “We’ve had our licensed regulated cannabis dispensaries and cultivators who’ve been existing in a very red tape-heavy environment, a very tax heavy environment, and then we have the unregulated cannabis cultivators and cannabis dispensaries in the city” who operate via a “loophole” in the law “that allows the sharing of cannabis between adults who are over the age of 21.”

Many of the purveyors in the latter group, Phillips said, “are looking at trying to get into the legal space; so they’re trying to become regulated businesses in Washington, D.C.”

She noted the city will be “releasing 30 or so licenses in the next couple of weeks, and those stores should be coming online very soon” which will mean “you’ll be seeing a lot more of the regulated stores popping up in neighborhoods and hopefully a lot more opportunity for folks that are interested in leaving the unregulated space to be able to join the regulated marketplace.”

The national push for de-scheduling cannabis


Signaling the political momentum for reforming cannabis and criminal justice laws, Wednesday’s Policy Summit will feature U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate majority leader.

Also representing Capitol Hill at the Summit will be U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — who will be receiving the Supernova Women Cannabis Champion Lifetime Achievement Award — along with an aide to U.S. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio).

Nationally, Phillips said much of the conversation around cannabis concerns de-scheduling. Even though 40 states and D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational and/or medical use, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I substance since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1971, which means it carries the heftiest restrictions on, and penalties for, its possession, sale, distribution, and cultivation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formally requested the drug be reclassified as a Schedule III substance in August, which inaugurated an ongoing review, and in January a group of 12 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration’s Drug Enforcement Administration urging the agency to de-schedule cannabis altogether.

Along with the Summit, Phillips noted that “a large contingent of advocates will be coming to Washington, D.C. this week to host a vigil at the White House and to be at the festival educating people” about these issues. She said NCF is working with the 420 Unity Coalition to push Congress and the Biden-Harris administration to “move straight to de-scheduling cannabis.”

“This would allow folks who have been locked up for cannabis offenses the chance to be released,” she said. “It would also allow medical patients greater access. It would also allow business owners the chance to exist without the specter of the federal government coming in and telling them what they’re doing is wrong and that they’re criminals.”

Phillips added, however, that de-scheduling cannabis will not “suddenly erase” the “generations and generations of systemic racism” in America’s financial institutions, business marketplace, and criminal justice system, nor the consequences that has wrought on Black and Brown communities.

An example of the work that remains, she said, is making sure “that all people are treated fairly by financial institutions so that they can get the funding for their businesses” to, hopefully, create not just another industry, but “really a better industry” that from the outset is focused on “equity” and “access.”

Policy wonks should be sure to visit the festival, too. “We have a really terrific lineup in our policy pavilion,” Phillips said. “A lot of our heavy hitters from our advocacy committee will be presenting programming.”

“On Saturday there is a really strong federal marijuana reform panel that is being led by Maritza Perez Medina from the Drug Policy Alliance,” she said. “So that’s going to be a terrific discussion” that will also feature “representation from the Veterans Cannabis Coalition.”

“We also have a really interesting talk being led by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership about conservatives, cops, and cannabis,” Phillips added.

Cannabis and the LGBTQ community


“I think what’s so interesting about LGBTQIA+ culture and the cannabis community are the parallels that we’ve seen in the movements towards legalization,” Phillips said.

The fight for LGBTQ rights over the years has often involved centering personal stories and personal experiences, she said. “And that really, I think, began to resonate, the more that we talked about it openly in society; the more it was something that we started to see on television; the more it became a topic in youth development and making sure that we’re raising healthy children.”

Likewise, Phillips said, “we’ve seen cannabis become more of a conversation in mainstream culture. We’ve heard the stories of people who’ve had veterans in their families that have used cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals, the friends or family members who’ve had cancer that have turned to CBD or THC so they could sleep, so they could eat so they could get some level of relief.”

Stories about cannabis have also included accounts of folks who were “arrested when they were young” or “the family member who’s still locked up,” she said, just as stories about LGBTQ people have often involved unjust and unnecessary suffering.

Not only are there similarities in the socio-political struggles, Phillips said, but LGBTQ people have played a central role pushing for cannabis legalization and, in fact, in ushering in the movement by “advocating for HIV patients in California to be able to access cannabis’s medicine.”

As a result of the queer community’s involvement, she said, “the foundation of cannabis legalization is truly patient access and criminal justice reform.”

“LGBTQIA+ advocates and cannabis advocates have managed to rein in support of the majority of Americans for the issues that they find important,” Phillips said, even if, unfortunately, other movements for bodily autonomy like those concerning issues of reproductive justice “don’t see that same support.”

(Editor’s note: Tickets are still available for the National Cannabis Festival, with prices starting at $55 for one-day general admission on Friday through $190 for a two-day pass with early-entry access. The Washington Blade, one of the event’s sponsors, will host a LGBTQIA+ Lounge and moderate a panel discussion on Saturday with the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.)

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Sports

NBA referees required to wear logo of anti-queer airline Emirates

Emirates airline logo patches adorn uniforms worn by gay ref Bill Kennedy and trans nonbinary ref Che Flores

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Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

NEW YORK — Although the national airline of Dubai announced a new global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association back on February 8, it’s only now that some have noticed that for the first time, commercial patches promoting Emirates are now prominently displayed on every NBA referee’s uniform. 

That includes out gay NBA ref, Bill Kennedy, who publicly came out in 2015 a week after he ejected a player for hurling homophobic slurs during a game. And the Emirates logo is also part of the uniform worn by the first trans nonbinary NBA referee, Che Flores. 

Out NBA referee Bill Kennedy. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Sports)

As of press time, neither Kennedy nor Flores have commented on the sponsorship. Kennedy is in his 26th season with the NBA; for Flores, this is their third season. As Sportico reported in February, “financial terms of the tie-up have not been disclosed.” 

But as Outsports noted last weekend, that presumably lucrative contract the NBA signed with Emirates puts the league in cahoots with the Emirate of Dubai, which is one of seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., where homosexuality is illegal, and punished by death, according to Equaldex. Gender transitions are illegal there, too, and nonbinary identity is not legally recognized. There are no LGBTQ+ protections from discrimination whatsoever, adoption by gay couples is illegal, LGBTQ+ citizens cannot serve in the military or donate blood, and conversion therapy is perfectly legal. 

It’s been this way in the U.A.E. for generations, but despite that, the NBA appeared all too happy to jump in bed with bigots. 

“Emirates is a world-class airline that shares our commitment to engaging fans around the world in new and creative ways,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum in a statement released by Emirates on Feb. 8.  “As basketball continues to be recognized as the fastest growing sport globally, this collaboration will showcase the excitement of the NBA to the millions of people who fly Emirates every year.”

When asked about the U.A.E’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws last year by the StarTribune, Tatum said: “The values of the NBA go with us wherever we go. It doesn’t mean that we agree with all the laws and policies in the more than 200 countries and territories where we do business. We don’t. But what we make sure is whenever we do an event in a particular market, that the values of the NBA, that those travel with us: the values of diversity, inclusion and of equity.”

Emirates does tout its support of women and “gender equality in the workplace” on its website.

The head of Emirates used the word “pride” to describe his feelings about the deal, without a trace of irony.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum inspecting a Emirates A380 Economy Class. (Photo Credit: Emirates)

“We are proud to establish a global marketing partnership with the National Basketball Association to become its Official Global Airline Partner,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Group Chairman and Chief Executive. “This collaboration will also see Emirates become the league’s first referee jersey patch partner and the inaugural title partner of the NBA Cup.  With basketball’s popularity around the world, we are excited to work with one of the most globally recognized and prestigious professional leagues.  The NBA is a valuable addition to our sponsorship portfolio as it allows us to connect with a vast global fanbase, including in the U.S., where the game is an integral part of the country’s sport culture.”

The airline itself is controlled by the Dubai government’s principal investment arm. Emirates is already partnered with eight soccer teams, and owns Arsenal FC’s stadium naming and front-of-shirt rights. The airline also sponsors three of tennis’ four Grand Slam events, as well as one of cycling’s top teams — UAE Team. Added together, Emirates is a sponsor across 24 international sports properties, according to Sportico

While both the WNBA and NBA have long been advocates of the LGBTQ+ community, this new partnership appears to put Emirates above any other allyship, according to the airline’s own statement. For example, the NBA changed the name of its 2025 NBA In-Season Tournament to the Emirates NBA Cup. Emirates signage appeared throughout Gainbridge Fieldhouse at the All-Star Game in Indianapolis, and was seen by fans in 214 countries and territories in 60 languages on television, digital media and social media. And there’s more, according to the Emirates press release: 

“The sponsorship will also allow Emirates to enjoy a presence at other marquee league events, including as a partner of NBA Crossover – an immersive fan event at NBA All-Star – and as the presenting partner of the NBA Finals Legacy Project, which features the dedication of new NBA Cares Live, Learn, or Play Centers in each NBA Finals team market.  Emirates branding will also be visible through virtual in-arena signage and on top of the backboard during nationally televised NBA games, beginning with the 2024 NBA All-Star Game.

“Fans will have the opportunity to watch NBA content on all Emirates flights via the airline’s inflight entertainment system, including long-form documentaries, player profiles, interviews and more.

“The marketing partnership will also allow basketball fans to purchase a wide range of official NBA merchandise, including basketballs, sportswear and vintage collectibles, with co-branded collaborations to follow later this year.  The merchandise will be sold at the official Emirates Store at Emirates’ Headquarters in Dubai and online at www.emirates.store, which delivers worldwide.  Emirates Skywards members can also redeem Miles to purchase items from the exciting range.”

Kennedy, Flores and every other NBA ref have been wearing the Emirates patch since the NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis on Feb. 18, broadcast live around the world. The patches promote an airline operated by a country where being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary is punishable by death. 

Yet they’re only now being noticed. 

Closeted referees have to wear them, too. And starting in 2025, so will refs working in the WNBA, a league that openly welcomes out LGBTQ+ coaches and players. Even the NBA’s minor league refs will be required to wear those Emirates patches later this year.

The Blade has reached out to the NBA, WNBA and Emirates for comment.

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Sports

WNBA star Brittney Griner & wife Cherelle expecting first child

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the WNBA star shared with Instagram followers

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Cherelle & Brittney Griner are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news on Instagram. (Photo Credit: Brittney Griner/Instagram)

PHOENIX — One year after returning to the WNBA after her release from a Russian gulag and declaring, “I’m never playing overseas again,” Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and her wife announced they have something even bigger coming up this summer. 

Cherelle, 31, and Brittney, 33, are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news with their 715K followers on Instagram

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the caption read, with the hashtag, #BabyGrinerComingSoon and #July2024.

Griner returned to the U.S. in December 2022 in a prisoner swap, more than nine months after being arrested in Moscow for possession of vape cartridges containing prescription cannabis.

In April 2023, at her first news conference following her release, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made only one exception to her vow to never play overseas again: To return to the Summer Olympic Games, which will be played in Paris starting in July, the same month “Baby Griner” is due. “The only time I would want to would be to represent the USA,” she said last year. 

Given that the unrestricted free agent is on the roster of both Team USA and her WNBA team, it’s not immediately clear where Griner will be when their first child arrives. 

The Griners purchased their “forever home” in Phoenix just last year. “Phoenix is home,” Griner said at the Mercury’s end-of-season media day, according to ESPN. “Me and my wife literally just got a place. This is it.”

As the Los Angeles Blade reported last December, Griner is working with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts — like Griner, an out, married lesbian — on an ESPN television documentary as well as a television series for ABC about her life story. Cherelle is executive producer of these projects. 

Next month, Griner’s tell-all memoir of her Russian incarceration will be published by Penguin Random House. It’s titled Coming Home, and the hardcover hits bookstores on May 7.

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Books

New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery

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(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

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

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Movies

Trans filmmaker queers comic book genre with ‘People’s Joker’

Alternative ‘Batman’ universe a medium for mythologized autobiography

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Vera Drew and a friend in ‘The People’s Joker.’ (Image courtesy of Altered Innocence)

It might come as a shock to some comic book fans, but the idea of super heroes and super villains has always been very queer. Think about it: the dramatic skin-tight costumes, the dual identities and secret lives, the inability to fit in or connect because you are distanced from the “normal” world by your powers  – all the standard tropes that define this genre of pop culture myth-making are so rich with obviously queer-coded subtext that it seems ludicrous to think anyone could miss it.

This is not to claim that all superhero stories are really parables about being queer, but, if we’re being honest some of them feel more like it than others; an obvious example is “Batman,” whose domestic life with a teenage boy as his “ward” and close companion has been raising eyebrows since 1940. The campy 1960s TV series did nothing to distance the character from such associations – probably the opposite, in fact – and Warner Brothers’ popular ‘80s-’90s series of film adaptations with gay filmmaker Joel Schumacher’s much-maligned “Batman and Robin,” starring George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell in costumes that highlighted their nipples, which is arguably still the queerest superhero movie ever made.

Or at least it was. That title might now have to be transferred to “The People’s Joker,” which – as it emphatically and repeatedly reminds us – is a parody in no way affiliated with DC’s iconic “Batman” franchise or any of its characters, even though writer, director and star Vera Drew begins it with a dedication to “Mom and Joel Schumacher.” Parody it may be, but that doesn’t keep it from also serving up lots of food for serious thought to chew on between the laughs.

Set in a sort of comics-inspired dystopian meta-America where unsanctioned comedy is illegal, it’s the story of a young, closeted transgender comic (Drew) who leaves her small town home to travel to Gotham City and audition for “GCB” – the official government-produced sketch comedy show. Unfortunately, she’s not a very good comic, and after a rocky start she decides to leave to form a new comedy troupe (labeled “anti-comedy” to skirt legality issues) along with penguin-ish new friend Oswald Cobblepot (Nathan Faustyn). They collect an assortment of misfit would-be comedians to join them, and after branding herself as “Joker the Harlequin,” our protagonist starts to find her groove – but it will take negotiating a relationship with trans “bad boy” Mr. J (Kane Distler), a confrontation with her self-absorbed and transphobic mother (Lynn Downey), and making a choice between playing by the rules or breaking them before she can fully transition into the militant comic activist she was always meant to be.

Told as a wildly whimsical, mixed media narrative that combines live action with a quirky CGI production design and  multiple styles of animation (with different animators for each sequence), “People’s Joker” is by no means the kind of big-budget blockbuster we expect from a superhero — or in this case, supervillain — film, but it should be obvious from the synopsis above that’s not what Drew was going for, anyway. Instead, the Emmy-nominated former editor uses her loopy vision of an alternative “Batman” universe as the medium for a kind of mythologized autobiography, expressing her own real-life journey, both toward embracing her trans identity and forging a maverick career path in an industry discourages nonconformity, while also spoofing the absurdities of modern culture. Subverting familiar tropes, yet skillfully weaving together multiple threads from the “real” DC Universe she’s appropriated with the detailed savvy of a die-hard fangirl, it’s an accomplishment likely to impress her fellow comic book fans — even if they can’t quite get behind the gender politics or her presentation ot Batman himself (or rather, an animated version voiced by Phil Braun) as a closeted gay right-wing demagogue and serial sexual abuser.

These elements, of course, are meant to be deliberately provocative. Drew, like her screen alter ego, is a confrontation comedian at heart, bent on shaking up the dominant paradigm at every opportunity. Yet although she takes aim at the expected targets – the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, corporate hypocrisy, etc. – she is equally adept at scoring hits against things like draconian ideals of political correctness and weaponized “cancel culture”, which are deployed with no quarter from idealogues on both sides of the political divide. This means she might be risking the alienation of an audience which might otherwise be fully in her corner – but it also provides the ring of unbiased personal truth that keeps the movie from sliding into propaganda and elevates it, like “Barbie”, to the level of absurdist allegory.

Because ultimately, of course, the point of “People’s Joker” has little to do with the politics and social constructs it skewers along the way; at its core, it’s all about the real human things that resonate with all of us, regardless of gender, sexuality, ideology, or even political parties: the need to feel loved, to feel supported, and most of all, to be fully actualized. That means the real heart of the film beats in the central thread of her troubled connection between mother and daughter, superbly rendered in both Drew and Downey’s performances, and it’s there that Joker is finally able to break free of her own self-imposed restrictions and simply “be” who she is.

Other performances deserve mention, too, such as Faustyn’s weirdly lovable “Penguin” stand-in and Outsider multi-hyphenate David Leibe Hart as Ra’s al Ghul – a seminal “Batman” villain here reimagined as a veteran comic that serves as a kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure in Joker’s quest. In the end, though, it’s Drew’s show from top to bottom, a showcase for not only her acting skills, which are enhanced by the obvious intelligence (including the emotional kind) she brings to the table, but her considerable talents as a writer, director, and editor.

For some viewers, admittedly, the low-budget vibe of this crowd-funded film might create an obstacle to appreciating the cleverness and artistic vision behind it, though Drew leans into the limitations to find remarkably creative ways to convey what she wants with the means she has at her disposal. Others, obviously will have bigger problems with it than that. Indeed, the film, which debuted at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, was withdrawn from competition there and pulled from additional festival screenings after alleged corporate bullying (presumably from Warner Brothers, which owns the film rights to the Batman franchise) pressured Drew into pulling it back. Clearly, concern over blowback from conservative fans – who would likely never see the film anyway – was enough to warrant strong arm techniques from nervous execs. Nevertheless, “The People’s Joker” made its first American appearance at LA’s Outfest in 2023, and is now receiving a rollout theatrical release that started on April 5 in New York, and continues this week in Los Angeles, with Washington DC and other cities to follow on April 12 and beyond.

If you’re in one of the places where it plays, we say it’s more than worth making the effort. If you’re not, never fear. A VOD/streaming release is sure to come soon. 

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