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Out Paul Castle, who is legally blind, doesn’t let his disability define him

For the “eternally optimistic” Castle, life’s obstacles have never stopped him from creating & fulfilling his dreams

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Mr. Maple with his human Paul Castle (Photo courtesy of Castle)

SEATTLE – Paul Castle was only 16-years-old when he learned he would progressively lose his vision until it was gone. Doctors diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that causes the retina to break down slowly over time. The condition, which only affects one in 3,000 to 4,000 people globally, has no specific treatment options and no cure – leaving him with nothing he could do. 

Castle, who described himself as “eternally optimistic” at 16, took the diagnosis in stride – or at least he thought he did. 

“I spent a good four or five years pretending like this was great news,” he told the Blade. “And in some ways, it was a relief to know that I wasn’t just clumsy. There were all these unanswered questions, so to know that it was a disease with a name, that I wasn’t alone and science was indeed looking for a treatment for it was all encouraging.”

But that cheerfulness had a limit. Castle said he has always been a visual person with a passion for art, so the “irony of going blind” took time to set in. 

“Since then, I’ve had time to grieve, accept and process that, and come full circle to the point where now, in a strange way, I feel very fortunate,” he said. “To be part of a really cool community, the blind community, is really amazing.”

Now, Castle, 31, is legally blind, left with about 10% of his vision. He gets around Seattle, where he lives, with his guide dog, Mr. Maple, a substantial upgrade over the white cane he used for years prior. “Getting the dog was like a super cool boost of confidence because I love walking around with dogs,” Castle said. 

But just because Castle is legally blind, doesn’t mean he gave up his love for the visual arts. In fact, he is a full-time artist who is about to release his first children’s book, “The Pengrooms” – a story about same-sex marriage and his relationship with his husband.

(Photo courtesy of Castle)

“Blind is this term that I’m trying to educate people about,” Castle said. “Disabilities are nuanced, and I think most people outside of the blind community assume that blindness means that it’s total darkness – that there is no scale. But the blind community is filled with people that have some usable sight, whether it’s shapes and colors, whether it’s tunnel vision, like my own, or complete blindness.”

Technically, “The Pengrooms” won’t be Castle’s first book, though it will be his first to hit the shelves. His first books date back to his childhood – before he could even write the stories himself. 

As a kid, Castle, who spent most of his childhood in Canada, would sit his babysitter down to transcribe whatever story he conjured up in his head. Then, he poured over a piece of paper, drawing the pictures to accompany his stories.

“I would say my first love was storytelling,” Castle said, adding: “I would come up with all these really fantastical stories and the babysitter would essentially sit at the kitchen table and write the whole time.”

At 6-years-old, while most kids were playing outside, Castle was “always” inside drawing pictures. At the time, making his “very own” real book consumed his thoughts. So, he took matters into his own hands.

Castle remembers stealing a book – “G.I. Joe” – from his brother’s shelf, tearing every page from the spine and throwing the remnants in the trash. He then taped a story he wrote called “Sad Turtle” inside. The story is about exactly what it sounds like: A sad turtle. “But don’t worry, [the turtle] makes a lot of friends,” he said. 

“It’s one of my most prized possessions,” Castle said. “I swear if this place was on fire, and I could only take one object with me, I would grab that book.”

He grew up exponentially every year after that, quickly becoming consumed by animated Disney films. “When I went to see the movies, rather than come home and talk about the story and the characters, I was getting books on how the movies were made,” Castle, whose dream at the time was to be a Disney animator, said. 

Since then, he has come a long way, trading the tape and stolen cover for a proper hard-back, full-color book set to ship next week.

“Follow Pringle and Finn, two penguins with big hearts, as they deliver wedding cakes to their friends in the animal kingdom,” the official summary reads. “Each cake tells a story, and each wedding offers a challenge that Pringle and Finn must face together. The Pengrooms is an enduring tale about love, diversity, and the importance of working as a team.”

In the story, Pringle and Finn represent Castle and his husband, Matthew, and the “beauty” he has found in his marriage. 

(Photo courtesy of Castle)

“We work as a team; we’re collaborators who support each other’s dreams,” Castle said, adding: “To me, our relationship is about teamwork.”

In his book, he echoed that sentiment, dedicating it to Matthew, “… because we make a great team.”

The LGBTQ-themed children’s book comes as Republican politicians across the country attempt to limit teachings and books that deal with queer people. 

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill last week, making classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and allowing parents to sue schools or teachers. The legislation has already received a challenge in court, with LGBTQ+ rights groups Equality Florida and Family Equality filing a lawsuit against the law last Thursday.

GOP lawmakers have also targeted LGBTQ-themed literature at the fastest rate seen in recent history. Some Republicans have labeled these books as “pornography” — from Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” to Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House,” both of which are award-winning memoirs recommended for high school-aged teenagers – intending to remove them from library shelves. 

Journalists from the Texas Tribune, ProPublica and NBC News obtained and confirmed a recording of a Jan. 10 meeting, where Jeremy Glenn, the superintendent of the Granbury Independent School District in North Texas, met a group of librarians in a district meeting room — where he explicitly targeted LGBTQ+ books before beginning one of the largest book removals in the country.  

“Specifically, what we’re getting at, let’s call it what it is, and I’m cutting to the chase on a lot of this,” Glenn said, according to the report. “It’s the transgender, LGBTQ and the sex — sexuality — in books. That’s what the governor has said that he will prosecute people for, and that’s what we’re pulling out.”

This political climate has, in part, fueled Castle’s creative work. “My interest in storytelling usually comes from a place of advocacy, whether it’s LGBTQ or advocating for the disabled community,” he said. 

Castle has already begun working on his next book, which will focus more on disabilities, detailing the process of finding a guide dog, set in a whimsical world with guide unicorns and dragons. 

Castle isn’t someone who is defined by their disability – no one is. But that’s not to say he hasn’t had to adapt to keep pushing his creative visions forward. For example, Castle’s eyes no longer pick up a pencil on paper, but he finds the brightness of an iPad is enough to do the trick. 

“The beautiful thing is that iPads and tablets became such a popular tool for illustrators to use. In fact, there are very few illustrators who use traditional pen and paper now,” he said. 

For the “eternally optimistic” Castle, life’s obstacles have never stopped him from creating and fulfilling his dreams. And he plans to keep it that way.

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First-ever Out doctor elected as new AMA president

The anesthesiologist & LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month

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Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld has been named president-elect of the American Medical Association (Photo courtesy of AMA)

CHICAGO – Physicians and medical students have elected Wisconsin-based anesthesiologist Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld as the first openly gay president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). Ehrenfeld was elected June 14 at the AMA House of Delegates’ annual meeting.

“Well, it’s certainly just an amazing feeling to know that you’ve got the confidence of your colleagues from such a broad array of practice types of modalities and perspectives,” Ehrenfeld told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “The association is a very diverse and increasingly diverse organization, and that’s a good thing. It’s more representative of the country and to see such broad support for a vision to move forward was really sort of heartening for me.”

The anesthesiologist and LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month.

“When I joined the AMA 22 years ago, roughly, I didn’t think it was possible that a gay person could be the AMA president. And certainly 175 years ago, when the AMA was founded, that felt like something that wouldn’t have been possible,” Ehrenfeld said. “And so, to look at how the association, how medicine, health professional organizations have evolved, it’s pretty remarkable when you look at what that has looked like, and that’s a reflection of society in general. But certainly, you know, another pink ceiling has been shattered.”

Ehrenfeld previously served on the AMA’s Board of Trustee’s Executive Committee. He also worked on the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians; a long-term project that was unveiled at the annual meeting.

“A big component of that is helping physicians prepare the health system so that we can make sure that we can renew our commitment to achieving optimal health for all,” Ehrenfeld said. “To do that, we have to make sure that we prioritize the needs of physicians to improve patient care.”

Ehrenfeld is an associate dean and tenured professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and has advocated for issues affecting multiple marginalized communities, such as transgender representation in the military. He emphasized the importance of diversifying the medical field to ensure better service for patients.

“We need folks from every community but particularly marginalized communities to step forward and enter the profession. That’s how patients get better care,” Ehrenfeld said “There’s data that when we have a more diverse healthcare workforce, and when we’re a more diverse community, that those health disparities inequities, actually start to go away.”

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Clela Rorex, first U.S. county clerk to issue gay marriage licenses has died

“Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up”

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Clela Rorex at the Longmont Colorado Pride 2019 (Photo courtesy of Out Boulder County)

LONGMONT, CO. – Out Boulder County and the family of Clela Rorex are saddened to announce the death of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer pioneering ally, Clela Rorex. On March 27,1975 Clela issued the first marriage license to a same-sex couple in the United States. Her decision that day changed her life and was a pivotal moment in the decades long struggle for marriage equality.

“The LGBTQ+ movement lost a pioneering ally, and I lost a dear friend. Although Clela Rorex did not intend to be champion for LGBTQ+ equality, she became one on March 27, 1975 when she issued the first marriage license in the United States to a gay couple. That act of courage changed the course of her life and the course of the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people. Clela was 40 years ahead of the country’s politics on marriage equality. It would be difficult to overstate how important her decision to issue that marriage license was on the movement for marriage equality,” Mardi Moore, Executive Director of Out Boulder County said in a statement.

Just as important as her historical significance is the profound impact Clela had on local members of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself, who had the opportunity to be her friend. Clela was a blessing to everyone who knew and loved her. I once told Clela that she was the ally I needed before I knew I needed one and I meant it. Her life made a huge difference, and she will be missed,” Moore added.

Clela Rorex, in March 1975, became the first County Clerk in the United States to knowingly issue same-sex marriage licenses to gay couples – sparking a backlash she could never have predicted, and, for one couple, a decades-long struggle for legal recognition of their marriage. 

Clela’s first day as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder on January 1, 1975 was her father’s last as County Clerk in Routt County, a position he had held for 30 years. A political neophyte, Clela had run an upstart campaign against an entrenched Republican Party that had held the clerkship in Colorado for decades.

Her platform was two-pronged – 1) making it easier for people, especially students, to vote and 2) expanding access to the services offered through the clerk’s office – vehicle licensing, voter registration, and the recording of documents, including marriage licenses. 

 Historically, the role of County Clerk is, sometimes paradoxically, both uncontroversial and deeply involved in the performance of government tasks that converge with personal aspects of the lives of its citizens.

Clela, keenly aware of the frustration that government officials and institutions can provoke, quickly instituted new practices. She expanded County Clerk office hours – including remaining open over the lunch hour and late one night of each week – ensuring convenient access.

She randomized the issuance of license plate numbers, ending the practice of assigning lower-numbered plates to political elites and powerbrokers. And, she flipped the script on voter registration – making it the responsibility of the Clerk, and not the public, to register voters.  

Clela passed away on June 19, 2022 in Longmont, Colorado.

Clela Rorex was born in Denver on July 23, 1943. Within days, she was adopted by Cecil and Ruby Rorex in Steamboat Springs – where she spent her childhood. She credits her father with teaching her the principles of fairness and respect and her mother, who taught dance out of their house, with giving her confidence. “Without either of them,” she recently told this writer, “I would never have run for office.”

As a young naval wife, in 1967, Clela moved to Guantanamo Bay. It is here that she reported first experiencing government-sanctioned segregation. “Everything was segregated. Everything” she later said. “It was humiliating. It had a very strong impact on me.” 

Clela and her son returned to Colorado in 1970 and attended the University of Colorado-Boulder, earning a BA before running for County Clerk and Recorder.

Clela Rorex in 1970’s (Screenshot of archival historic news footage/YouTube)

When two men from nearby Colorado Springs entered the Boulder County Clerk office on March 26, 1975, requesting a marriage license, Clela reached out to Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise, seeking clarification about any existing Colorado state law or code that would specifically prohibit her from issuing a marriage license to two people of the same sex.

Mr. Wise quickly responded that “there is no statutory law prohibiting the issuance of a license, probably because the situation was simply not contemplated in the past by our legislature.” Clela issued the license to the couple the following day, March 27, 1975.

“After having been so deeply involved in the women’s rights movements” Clela told this writer in 2016, “who was I to then deny a right to anyone else? It wasn’t my job to legislate morality.” 

Within days of issuing the first same-sex marriage license, local, and then national, news picked up on the story. Over the course of the next month, Clela would issue five more licenses to same-sex couples. As a result, Clela reported receiving hundreds of letters and calls to her office and her home condemning and threatening her. “My son would sometimes pick up the phone,” she told this writer in 2015, ”and I could always tell when it was someone calling about the licenses, because he would get this terrified look in his eyes. It changed our lives.” 

Clela Rorex courtesy of Out Boulder County

In late April of that year, Clela complied when Colorado State Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane directed her to stop issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. But, by that point, she had issued a license to Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, who had traveled from California after watching Johnny Carson mock the “wacky town” in Boulder on national television.

This license, and their marriage, would set the stage for a federal battle that would resolve only 40 years later after the United State Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide. Mr. Adams, a U.S. citizen, and Mr. Sullivan, an Australian citizen, had been seeking to establish legal permanent residency for Mr. Sullivan through marriage, and the license they obtained from Clela would play a critical role.

In 1977, Clela resigned as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, never to hold elective office again. She raised two sons, obtained two Masters degrees, and finished her career working as a legal administrator for the Native American Rights Fund. 

In 2015, Clela celebrated the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the steps of the Boulder County Courthouse where she had first issued the six licenses 40 years earlier, a location that has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Upon hearing of the decision, former District Attorney Bill Wise told this writer that “Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up.”

Shortly thereafter, the United States government issued a green card to Anthony Sullivan, officially recognizing the marriage license that Clela had issued in 1975 as sufficient supporting documentation for the application submitted by Mr. Sullivan and his husband, Richard Adams (who had died in 2012).

Thomas Miller, the creator and producer of a documentary chronicling this story, Limited Partnership, said that, “it was Clela’s keen sense of social justice and strong moral fortitude that make her one of the true pioneers in LGBTQ equality in America. She will always be treasured in the hearts of all who knew her.”

To this day, none of the marriage licenses that Clela Rorex issued to same-sex marriage couples have been revoked or invalidated.

Clela dedicated the last years of her life to LGBTQ+ ally-ship and advocacy, volunteering with Out Boulder County, an organization dedicated to facilitating connection, education, and programming for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around Boulder County.

She will be greatly missed, including by her sons, Scott and Aron and countless LGBTQ+ individuals around the world who embrace her and her story as beacons of hope and inspiration.

Clela’s celebration of life will be held on what would have been her 79th birthday, July 23, 2022. Details are forthcoming. At Clela’s request, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Clela’s name to Out Boulder County at https://outboulder.app.neoncrm.com/forms/in-memory-of-clela-rorex

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen has died at age 76

She pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen (Screenshot/YouTube film trailer)

CHICAGO – Chicago transgender icon and activist Gloria Allen, who founded and ran a charm school for homeless trans youth and was the subject of the award-winning documentary “Mama Gloria” and the critically acclaimed play “Charm,” has died at the age of 76. 

Allen was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on October 6, 1945. She grew up in Chicago amid the legendary drag balls on the city’s South Side and transitioned before Stonewall with the love and support of her mother Alma, a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother Mildred, a seamstress for crossdressers and strippers.  

Allen overcame traumatic violence in high school to become an out and proud leader in her community. She earned a LPN and worked at the University of Chicago Hospital and in private homes as a nurse’s aide. In her later years, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners that she received from her mother and grandmother. The young people affectionately nicknamed her “Mama Gloria.” 

Her life and activism were featured in the Chicago Tribune and served as inspiration for the hit play “Charm,” written by Philip Dawkins. The play premiered at Steppenwolf Garage Theater in Chicago before traveling to Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

For her work with the charm school, Allen was awarded the Living Legend Award by Janet Mock and Precious Brady-Davis at the 2014 Trans 100 Awards. She famously appeared on the cover of the book, “To Survive on This Shore,” with photographs and interviews of trans and non-binary elders by Jess T. Dugan.

In 2020, she became the subject of the acclaimed documentary feature “Mama Gloria,” directed by Luchina Fisher. The film was broadcast on “Afropop: the Ultimate Cultural Exchange” on World channel and PBS and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. The documentary brought Allen new audiences and new fame. Her story was featured in People magazine, the 19th News, the BBC and NowThisNews. In 2021, she received SAGE’s Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference.

Allen’s body was discovered Monday morning in her apartment at the LGBTQ-friendly senior residence Town Hall Apartments in Chicago. She is believed to have died peacefully in her sleep. She is survived by several siblings and numerous nieces and nephews, as well as her chosen family.

“I hit walls that were up against me, but I pressed through the walls and made myself known to everybody because I’m not ashamed, and I want people to know that,” she told The 19th News.

ChiFilmFest 2020 | Mama Gloria – Official Trailer:

Meet Mama Gloria. Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen emerged from the South Side’s drag ball culture in the 1960s to trailblaze a path for transgender youth to follow. With positivity and polish, she overcame prejudice and traumatic violence to become a proud leader in her community.

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