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Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith named to Time’s Top 100 list for 2022

“In the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith”

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Courtesy of Equality Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Time magazine released its annual 100 most influential people list and this year one of the honorees was Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. In the biographical sketch accompanying Smith’s listing, Time writer Kristen Arnett noted “in the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith.”

“I am deeply honored to be included in the TIME100,” said Smith, a Black, queer woman. “This recognizes decades of work not only by me, but by the dedicated team of volunteers, staff and supporters I’ve had the privilege to work with at Equality Florida.  Our work is far from done as Florida, once again, stands at the center of the fight against extremism and hate.  We are bearing the brunt of a governor willing to sacrifice the safety of children and destroy our most basic liberties in his desperate bid to be President. But this is not simply Florida’s fight. The wave of anti-LGBTQ, racist, freedom-destroying bills sweeping the country calls each of us to fight for our rights and, indeed, our democracy.”

The list, now in its nineteenth year, recognizes the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. 

Smith comes from a long line of activists and barrier breakers. Her grandparents helped form the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to fight for the rights of sharecroppers. While in college, Smith co-founded IGLYO, the world’s largest LGBTQ youth and student organization. She co-chaired the 1993 March on Washington that drew a million marchers and she was part of the first Oval Office meeting between a sitting President and LGBTQ leaders. In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Smith and her team coordinated a national response including raising millions in direct resources for survivors and families of the 49 killed. 

Smith’s recognition comes as Florida has taken center stage in the right wing, anti-freedom agenda aimed at erasing LGBTQ people from classrooms, propagandizing curriculum, censoring history, banning books, and putting politicians in control of personal medical decisions.

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions have fueled bills like Don’t Say Gay, the Stop WOKE Act, a 15-week abortion ban, and dangerous national rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize LGBTQ people in service to the most extreme segment of his base,” Equality Florida stated in a press release Monday.

The 2022 TIME100, and its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, with related tributes appear in the June 6/June 13 double issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, May 27, and online now at time.com/time100.

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The death of Irene Cara and the broken promise

Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color- but her voice inspired my gay generation

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Irene Cara (Photo Credit: Judith A. Moose, CEO JM Media, publicists)

HOLLYWOOD – As I walked down the dark alley towards the glowing light, the opening bridge of the song called to me. “Baby, look at me and tell me what you see, You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time, I’ll make you forget all the rest, I got more in me…” 

The movie Fame had just come out and its anthem theme song was HOT. The glowing light that night was a gay disco, tucked away from heterosexual view, while gay bashers circled in trucks a few blocks away. That safe haven in the dark alley allowed me, a 20-year old youth, a path out of the closet in which I emotionally and sexually had residence. To me, the words of the song Fame, and its overwhelming delivery, was my inner drive and conviction that I could be me, and my own personal superstar.

The young woman delivering the song was barely an adult herself. Irene Cara had been a child performer and was now breaking into the fame she was singing about. She was “instantly” famous thanks to Fame. Amongst other accolades, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. The song itself won the Oscar that year.

The Grammy nomination put a public trapping on what we all knew: She was a star, and had all the makings to become a superstar, an icon.

For LGBTQ people, her work that year spoke to our souls and our optimism. As “Randy 503” shared on the Joe.My.God site,  “I was a deeply closeted and lonely kid in my early 20s. Not lonely because I didn’t have friends (had tons of them), but lonely because I refused to admit I was gay and kept away from all that. I saw the movie and was transfixed. Bought the album and played it all the time, especially her songs. Her voice was so strong, and so expressive, it really touched me.” 

Cara’s second song in the movie also resonated with the gay audience. While Fame spoke to the sassy optimism of embracing our outstanding selves and taking the world by storm, Out Here On My Own spoke to the dark loneliness of the closet. “Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in… when I’m down and feeling blue, I close my eyes so I can be strong and be with you…I dry the tears I’ve never shown, Out here on my own.”

Randy points out,  “Out here on my own always left me in tears. It hit so close to home, and I could feel sadness on it. It’s a great song sung by one of the best.”

After the success of Fame, Cara ventured into a sitcom pilot and a freshman album, “Anyone Can See.” Neither caught the world on fire, as apparently only some of us could actually “see” her real worth.

It was not long after however, where Cara’s apparent life mission to deliver culture changing anthems, came calling again. She was recruited to help out with the new Flashdance movie, and to work with iconic gay producer Giorgio Moroder for its theme song. Cara was reportedly reluctant. She had already been criticized as a second tier Donna Summer with Fame, and was hesitant to get into that musical lane. Later she would work with John Farrar whom she credited as being responsible for ALL of Olivia Newton John’s hits. It seems that her superstar aspirations were more to be Pop Princess than another Queen of Disco.

She did sign on board with Moroder and Flashdance, and made history. Her song Flashdance… What a Feeling went to #1 for six straight weeks. It affected American culture in style, attitude and substance. On Academy Awards night, Cara made history again. (She had already made history in a minor way a few years before as the first person to ever perform two nominated songs in one evening.) This time, she became the second African American woman to win an Oscar – the first being Gone With the Wind’s Hattie McDaniels. 

Cara was the first African American woman to ever win a non-acting Oscar ever.

The anthem Flashdance…What a Feeling spoke to LGBTQ audiences of the 80s, in a way that Fame had. “First when there’s nothing but a slow glowing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind. All alone, I have cried silent tears full of pride in a world made of steel, made of stone, Well, I hear the music, close my eyes, feel the rhythm wrap around, take hold of my heart. What a feeling, being is believing I can have it all..”

Online, Joe.My.God reader BearlvrFl shared, “LUV the song “Out Here On My Own” I call “Flashdance: What A Feeling” my coming out song, popular on the dance floor very close to the time I finally came out at the age of 22. I could relate to “Take your passion/And make it happen.” Super simple lyric, but it’s timing was everything for me, having been closeted for so long.”

This time, AIDS had brought a very dark cloud over the community, however. Its ravage was starting to take widespread hold. It made the line in the song “now I’m dancing for my life” even more poignant and relevant.

The darkness that was falling over the LGBT world was on a parallel track in Cara’s own life. As she picked up Oscars and Grammys, there was a sadness in her eyes above the smile on her face. She shared later that the public glory was matched with a behind-the-scenes horror story. Her record company was keeping her from garnering any success from her accomplishments. Columnist Liz Smith stated in a 1993 piece that Cara earned only $183 in royalties.

Cara inspired women of her generation. Patti Piatt shared on Twitter, “I am from a generation of women who thought anything was possible because of Irene Cara. She gave us so much joy. We all danced to her songs, didn’t matter if we could dance, we danced because she made us want to dance.” 

In spite of singing THE anthem of women empowerment, Cara became an example of a woman destroyed by the male dominated music industry. As she fought back for earnings due her, she became black-listed, and her trek to superstardom halted. They made her all but disappear. A decade later, she won, but by that time, the damage had been done. 

Her final solo album subconsciously called out her professional demise with songs titled “Now That It’s Over”, “Get a Grip” and the ultimate defeatist title “Say Goodnight Irene.”

“I know well enough this is going nowhere… Might as well say goodnight, Say Goodnight, Irene.”

In the end, she seemed to find peace. Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color. She comfortably settled into what she called “semi-retirement” and her Florida home with a steady stream of funds from her hard-earned residuals.

The promise of becoming a superstar eluded her, but she busted the ceiling so it might not elude others. Painfully for fans, the promise from the song Fame, “I’m gonna live forever” also did not come true. 

Let’s instead, think of her making “it to heaven” and lighting “up the sky like a flame.”

For those trying to find final meaning from her life, and the un-fulfilled promise of what could have been for her and for us, may do so in the words from her lesser-known anthem. Here we swap out a promise instead for The Dream

“We can all be free, we hold the key, if we can see what we want to be. Life is never easy, you get no guarantees, why not give your all and see what you can find?”

And, yes.

Irene Cara, we will always remember your name.

The Dream

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Leaving beauty & truth behind, Doug Probst aka ‘a porn prince’ dies

He dared to tell the true story behind the scenes of “The Golden Age” of porn. He blew the door on the past wide open and let everyone in

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Doug Probst/Facebook "Shawn Mayotte"/Doug Probst - Facebook

WEST HOLLYWOOD – He may have been the last truth-teller about the “golden age” of 80’s porn. Doug Probst, known better by his porn name, Shawn Mayotte, passed away in his sleep. He had been battling throat cancer. He was 57, and is survived by his wife Marie, son Josh and his beloved dog Archie.

 I was introduced to Doug through his publicist who felt he would be a great candidate for my podcast Rated LGBT Radio. Doug had just finished his memoir Mayotte: The Musings of a Narcissist: A Survivor’s Story.

The only complaint I had with the book when I finished reading it was the title.  Doug Probst was anything but a narcissist. He was a man of heart. And his book was not a sharing of “musings” it was a sharp steel blade that went right for the emotional jugular. 

He shared a story of horror and sexual abuse, a descent into drugs and the inspiration of recovery. He pulled the covers off a salacious lust-inducing industry that built up mini-gods only to cavalierly toss them onto the pyre of the AIDS crisis and stood by to watch them all burn one by one.

Few who participated in the industry of the time survived, but Doug and his alter-ego Shawn Mayotte did. He owned his own sexual power while refusing to allow the power brokers to entice him into self-destruction.

He ultimately grabbed two lifelines: his music and his son Josh. With his music, he exposed his true soul and most beautiful gift. With the birth of his son Josh, he found his true deep capacity to love and the emotional earthquake that forced a dramatic shift of priorities. He got clean and sober, and discovered his best life, one free from danger and demanding a constant need to fight.

He and I talked about it here and I wrote about it here.

There is a promise within a popular program of recovery, that thanks to the healing nature of sobriety, the healthy will not “regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”

That was a truth that Doug lived by. He blew the door on the past wide open and let everyone in. He wrote of his life, and proudly showed off his beautiful nudity. On social media, he wrote profound tributes to his many friends and lovers, porn gods, each of whom who had been worshipped, lusted after, and died either from drugs or AIDS. He did not write of their superficial qualities or their tragedies. He wrote about their hearts, their dreams and the lives they had intended to lead. He took them from the footnotes of gay history and memorabilia and re-introduced their true depths and humanity.

Of Doug, his wife Marie wrote; “You were a warrior, a force to be reckoned with. A man who would put his life on the line for me and the people he loved without thinking twice. Your life was not an easy one, yet you saw the good in so many things/people and always fought for the underdogs. You had overcome so much in life.  We were so close to the finish line; just 5 more days of radiation. We started making new plans, new adventures, new memories. You were so happy yesterday, I could see the changes, I could feel it myself, only for you to be taken away in the middle of the night. I am not ready to say goodbye.”

Doug maintained a powerful social media presence. He did not have “friends”, he had “best friends”. He made each one feel like they were the special one.

For me and him, we had plans.  We were going to write. Possibly a play based on his life, possibly a musical. We had ideas.

With Doug, it was easy to get caught up in his passion to create, to be grateful and to love.

His message to the world on his last day was a simple one.  It was “Simply grateful for today.”

His message from the day before was possibly more profound. “Stop carrying old feelings into new experiences,” he shared. It is a sentiment I pray he continues to hold now, in his re-birth.

His life had been hard. There were plenty of deep dark and angry feelings that he had to swim through. Now they are released, discarded, disintegrated.

The beautiful, music-filled prince of porn is free at last.

*************************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Democratic icon Roz Wyman dies at 92, brought Dodgers to LA

Wyman the 2nd-ever woman to serve on the Council & 1st Jewish Councilmember in decades went on to transform LA through her dynamic leadership

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Tommy Lasorda (R) with Roz Wyman (Photo credit: Los Angeles Dodgers)

LOS ANGELES – Rosalind Wyman was a force of nature and politically astute according to those who knew her best. Early on in her career she made her mark on the political landscape of the City of Los Angeles as the youngest person ever elected to the City Council at the age of 22 in 1953.

Known as Roz, the longtime Democratic Party leader influenced California’s politics infusing her unique brand of progressive public service. She passed away at her home in Bel-Air late Wednesday at the age of 92, her family said in a statement.

Writer Sue Cameron chronicled the early years of Wyman’s career and life wrtiting; In 1953 she married the brilliant attorney and Democratic Party operative named Eugene Wyman. Gene and Roz were one of the most powerful Democratic couples in the country. It was Roz Wyman who Bobby Kennedy called in 1960 to ask how to get Hollywood to notice and support his brother’s candidacy for president. “I’ll throw a fundraiser,” said Roz, thereby being the certified inventor of the Hollywood Celebrity Fundraiser. She called Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh; the Kennedys showed up in Los Angeles; the rest is history.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) the proud son of immigrant parents from Mexico, who earned his political credentials starting with the 1994, campaign fight over California’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny public benefits to immigrants, and later in 1999, at the age of 26, elected to the Los Angeles City Council found himself following Wyman’s footprints and often her sage advice.

In 2001, just two years later, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as President of the City Council—the youngest person in city history and the first Latino in over 100 years to hold the position echoing Wyman’s election 48 years previously. 

Today, Senator Padilla released the following statement remembering his friend:

I’m deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend Roz Wyman. From her days on the Los Angeles City Council leading efforts to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles to serving as chair of the 1984 Democratic National Convention and supporting decades of Democratic leaders, she was truly a trailblazing public servant.

“The daughter of an immigrant from Russia, Roz didn’t just embody the spirit of the American Dream, she carved out a path for future generations to achieve it, too. And because of her, young people, women, the children of immigrants, and countless Californians with hopes of making a difference in our country saw engaging with our government more accessible. Because of Roz Wyman’s example, achieving change became more within reach.

“Over the course of her career, Roz forged close friendships with political titans like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and left an indelible mark on the ethos of California. We’ll be forever grateful for her dedication to fighting for progress in California and across the nation.”

Wyman over the course of the nearly sixty-nine years of politics and public service would influence future leaders such as current U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In a November 2002 article, Variety columnist Army Archerd reported on Pelosi as she took over leadership of the Democratic caucus in Congress that year.

Archerd, writing about a gala attended by Pelosi and her husband Paul, where they were at a table with Jean Picker Firstenberg, the then-President and CEO of the American Film Institute (1980-2007) and her best friend Wyman, noted:

Roz Wyman’s association with Pelosi dates back to the Demo Convention in SanFran in 1984. “She (Pelosi) has many friends in the industry,” Wyman told me. They include the Kirk Douglases, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening and Sherry Lansing, who co-hosted one of the Hollywood welcoming parties for Pelosi earlier this year … And, of course, Jack Valenti has known Pelosi throughout her career and reminds, “She makes sure that our highest priority is protection of copyrights.”

Wyman alongside Firstenberg attended many political and Hollywood functions, but Wyman’s love for baseball and especially the L.A. Dodgers was legendary.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Wyman was best known for keeping an unusual campaign promise – vowing to bring Major League Baseball to L.A. It took months of negotiations with Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley before he finally agreed to relocate the team for the 1958 season.

“Roz paved the way for the Dodgers to come to Los Angeles, and her impact was not just on our organization, but the entire city. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to her family,” the Dodgers posted on Twitter.

Wyman and Firstenberg, also a massive baseball fan, spent many an hour at Dodger stadium oft times with just family, but frequently with friends and political notables.

Front: John A. Pérez,  68th Speaker of the California State Assembly, Rosalind Wyman and Jean Picker Firstenberg Back: Michael Barrett & Mitchell Draizin at the Dodgers/Yankee Game 06-27-2010
Photo Credit: Pérez/Facebook

On his Facebook page Thursday, Out former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez commented, “My heart aches today as I’ve lost an amazing friend and Los Angeles has lost a groundbreaking leader.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom remembered Wyman;

Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Roz Wyman, a trailblazing icon who inspired generations of women in politics to pursue their dreams.

Elected to the Los Angeles City Council at just 22 years old, Wyman was the city’s youngest Councilmember in history. Surmounting countless barriers, Wyman – as the second-ever woman to serve on the Council and the first Jewish Councilmember in decades – went on to transform Los Angeles through her dynamic leadership. She was a champion for the arts and for sports, playing an instrumental role in bringing the Dodgers, the Lakers and the Giants to the Golden State.

Wyman continued her tireless political work and activism after leaving office, going on to chair the 1984 Democratic convention and helping to elect dozens of women to powerful positions – including as Senator Feinstein’s Senate campaign Co-Chair and close advisor for decades.

Roz Wyman’s passion, perseverance and leadership live on as an inspiring example to people everywhere, and the countless ways she enriched California will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with her family and many friends as they morn this great loss.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement honoring and remembering her friend;

Roz was a force of nature: breaking down barriers for women in California politics, while forging new ways to bring people together through politics, the arts, and baseball.  She made history as the youngest person elected to the LA City Council – and just the second woman to ever hold that office.  Her leadership helped draw her beloved Dodgers to Los Angeles – and my Giants to San Francisco – so that California families could experience the thrill of America’s pastime.  Through the arts, parks and the Coliseum Commission, she ensured millions of families could enjoy our State’s many cultural wonders and make lifelong memories.

Personally, it was a blessing to share a warm friendship with Roz for decades: bonding over our devotion to family, passion for politics and love of sports.  We all took pride, joy and love in that. 

Roz, then-mayor Dianne Feinstein and I had the privilege of leading the 1984 Democratic National Convention in my hometown of San Francisco as our party nominated the first woman ever for Vice President of the United States.  

Generations of activists and elected officials respected Roz as a godmother of the the Democratic Party because she nurtured young people, mentored candidates and helped elect dozens of women to office.  She took special pride in electing her dear friend, Dianne Feinstein, to the Senate.  Roz had words of advice and wise counsel for everyone, from presidents to precinct workers.  She cared deeply about our Democracy, about women’s equality, and about opening parks, arts and public service  to everyone.

Roz’s extraordinary life and legacy is immortalized with a beautiful plaque in the Coliseum’s Memorial Court of Honor.  Now, young girls for generations to come will see her likeness there among a pantheon of Los Angeles legends and know that, for them, the sky is the limit.  

“Roz was devoted to her family: her beloved late husband Gene, her children Betty Lynn, Robert and Brad, her grandchildren Samantha, Eugene and Oliver whom she loved dearly.  May it be a comfort to the entire Wyman family that so many in California and across the country mourn their loss during this sad time.”

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Former Defense Sec. Ash Carter, LGBTQ+ ally, has died

“To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military,” Carter said

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President Barack Obama stands with Ashton Carter in the Oval Office before the President announces Carter's nomination for Secretary of Defense, Dec. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

BOSTON – Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who served under President Barack Obama during the implementation of the repeal of the anti-gay ‘Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy and who cleared the way for transgender military service has died.

Carter passed away Monday evening from a ‘sudden cardiac event’ his wife, Stephanie, and his children, Ava and Will announced in a statement: “It is with deep and profound sadness that the family of former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter shares that Secretary Carter passed away Monday evening in Boston after a sudden cardiac event at the age of 68.” 

Carter, in a statement made on Sept. 20, 2016, marking the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that barred gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, noted:

“I am proud to report that five years after the implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” our military, drawn from a cross-section of America, is stronger than ever and continues to exemplify the very best that our great nation has to offer,” the secretary said. “The American people can take pride in how the Department of Defense and the men and women of the United States military have implemented this change with the dignity, respect, and excellence expected of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

He then added:

“As the memory of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fades further into the past, and we move forward together to face new challenges,” he said, “we recognize that openness to diversity and reaching out in a spirit of renewed inclusiveness will strengthen our military and enhance our nation’s security.”

In the final years of Obama’s second term, Carter worked to lift the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military. That decision was one of the last remaining barriers to LGBT participation in the U.S. armed forces.

In July of 2017 after President Trump tweeted he was banning transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. military, Carter reacted noting that transgender people already serve capably and honorably.

“To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military,” Carter said.

Upon hearing the news of his death, former President Obama in a statement praised Carter saying his advice and role made the military “stronger, smarter, more humane, and more effective.” Then Obama added; “Ash’s greatest legacy, however, may be the generations of younger leaders he taught, mentored, and inspired to protect our nation and wield power wisely.” 

Carter’s predecessor as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Carter’s “insights and perspectives will be difficult to replace and his humor and regard for the troops deeply missed.”

The White House Tuesday released a statement from President Joe Biden who summed up his view of the former SecDef up with the word ‘integrity.’

Integrity. – When I think of Ash Carter, I think of a man of extraordinary integrity. Honest. Principled.  Guided by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of using his life for public purpose.
 
Ash Carter was born a patriot.  A physicist and national security leader across decades, he served with immense distinction at every level of civilian leadership at the Department of Defense, including as our nation’s 25th Secretary of Defense.
 
I was Vice President at the time, and President Obama and I relied on Ash’s fierce intellect and wise counsel to ensure our military’s readiness, technological edge, and obligation to the women and men of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.
 
Ash was a leader on all the major national security issues of our times – from nuclear deterrence to proliferation prevention to missile defense to emerging technology challenges to the fight against Al Qaida and ISIS. He opened every field of military service to women and protected the rights of transgender service members.
 
His public contributions were amplified by his many years at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he inspired and mentored the next generation of national security leaders. As President, I continued to rely on his expertise through his presence on my Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
 
Above all, Ash understood the sacred obligation we have to our servicemembers, veterans, and their families. He was relentless in his pursuit of technology solutions for our warfighters, rapidly accelerating delivery of mine resistant vehicles to our troops to protect them from improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.  His work saved countless lives and limbs. On many weekends Ash and his beloved wife Stephanie would quietly visit wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  He did so out of the spotlight, demonstrating the personal integrity and sense of duty that distinguished him throughout his life
 
Jill and I grieve with the entire Carter family, including Stephanie, Will, and Ava, and countless friends and colleagues across the world who are mourning this sudden loss of a great American
 
Ash Carter was a great American of the utmost integrity.”

Carter led the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and his children, Ava and Will.

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Fighting for LGBTQ Kids with no place to call home

For One Amazon Executive, the mission to save LGBTQ Youth is not altruistic, it’s personal- fighting to overhaul the system

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David Ambroz (Photos via Ambroz/Instagram)

HOLLYWOOD -Amazon, whether you love it or hate it, revolutionized the way shoppers shop. Unprofitable in its early years, it held tight to the vision to take the shopping experience out of the brick-and-mortar store, and transport it to a more intimate locale, the shopper’s own home.

Home. When shopping, it just means a place where you can comfortably make purchases while sitting in your underwear in front of your computer screen. For one Amazon executive, “home” means so much more.

Meet David Ambroz. He is the Head of Community Engagement (West) for Amazon. He has been recognized by President Barack Obama as an American Champion of Change. He led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television and was president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. He graduated from Vassar and from the UCLA School of Law. He has been publicly praised by Hillary Clinton and Geena Davis.

With all that as a resume, there are only two facts that he is really interested in you knowing about him. One, that until the age of 12, he grew up homeless with his two younger siblings in the care of their mentally ill mother; and two, he was a victim of severe abuse in the foster care system as an adolescent gay teen boy.

These two realities form the narrative of his new memoir, A Place Called Home. We sat down to discuss his book and his life on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio this week. Even though he now lives comfortably and is the father of a now-adult son, adopted through foster care, David sees the concept of home as something else.

“Home is what I was seeking within myself, a sense of purpose and of mission. It is the feeling of love both for myself and for these people that I am of, and from, and still part of. It is a place I always had even though I felt like I didn’t, because I defined home as this idea of walls, and it never was that. I have a beautiful home at this point in my life, but that sense of mission is what gives me the true feeling that I’m in touch with the universe and doing something that matters,” he tells me.

The people from whom David was “from” for the most part, were not kind or gentle. A Place Called Home is a tale of survival from a mother who could lash out in violence instantly on a hairpin trigger. She stayed homeless long into David’s adulthood, long after he became established and could go find her. She is now safe in a living unit, and David is her caregiver.

Home is also the tale of a dysfunctional foster care system, homophobic to the core, and the worst place in which for a boy to deal with his awakening homosexuality. David was seen as gay by his handlers long before he himself had come to terms with it and was persecuted dramatically for it—all in the name of “helping him.”

Hope for him came in the persona of a woman named Holly. As a volunteer in a YMCA services program, Holly encountered young David, and knew instinctively that “he was hers.” She became a foster parent, and then was able to integrate David into her family. “I don’t know that I’d be here honestly, without them, and despite all the efforts within the system,” David acknowledges.

His entrance into young adulthood was not particularly easy, either. He had been conditioned to accept violence and abuse. As he stepped into the world seeking intimate companionship, he found himself raped instead. He did not fight it. He did not report it. He just accepted it, and moved on, just as his life up to that point had trained him to do.

He is no longer just moving on. He is fighting back to save kids, particularly LGBTQ kids who are subject to homelessness and foster care.

“There are 424,000 approximate foster children today in the system and we don’t talk about them,” he says. “I get asked about many controversial topics, but not that.”

He points out that the overturning of Roe versus Wade, the separation of children at the border, the opioid crisis, all have and will drive thousands of kids into the system. Adults discuss those causative issues, but never the foster care system itself, which is the current recipient to receive all the children harmed and affected. 

“Foster care is not a system that is going to be overwhelmed in the future,” David points out. “It is overwhelmed NOW. It can’t handle the volume of children that are entering the system and they are falling out all the time. More of those kids leave the system and become homeless, than the ones that ever go to college. More of those kids go to jail than they do go to college. More girls coming out of foster care have a baby before they are 20 than go to college.”

David is fighting to overhaul the system to encourage more loving families to make themselves available to the kids who need them. He would like to see more LGBTQ parent households, more households that are not seeing foster care as an income source, and more households of color, participate.

David knows the many levels of being a foster parent himself.  Not only did he gain the son that he describes as “the love of my life and a remarkable human being,” but he allowed his son to teach him lessons he himself needed to learn.

“From the earliest moments of my life, vulnerability was just a constant. The hunger games of survival. I was vulnerable to all these things just coming at me, starvation, near-death experiences and a perpetual state of fear. I had a fundamental misunderstanding that I was unfortunately passing on to him,” David recalls. “My misunderstanding was my philosophy that the world does not give a damn, that you better prepare for whatever happens and to move on. But my lack of vulnerability did not give my son the space to acknowledge his own traumatic childhood before I got him.”

David realized however, that he had a calling with his son, to help him move through his trauma, to help him heal. He discovered something about “the world does not give a damn” idea. “That it was not true. I cared. I loved him. He gave me vulnerability and emotion. I now think of vulnerability as a superpower.” 

Moving forward from that lesson, David re-examined his priorities.  He was inspired by ideas on how to help his son, but now, he was thinking bigger: how could he also help all the other kids like his son in the world, to help them reach their full potentials? A mission, thus, was born.

David had come home at last.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Notables

LGBTQ journalist Chuck Colbert died: reported on Catholic sexual abuse

“Chuck was extraordinarily principled and helpful, especially when addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church”

Published

on

National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna (L) with journalist Chuck Colbert (Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Chuck Colbert had a touch of old Cary Grant in him — dashing and debonair in his tuxedo at swank LGBTQ events. But he was also deeply humble and bursting with joy from his lifelong devotion to the core beliefs of the Catholic Church.

His journalistic discipline controlling his personal anguish over the proclamations about homosexuality enabled him as an out gay man to report professionally on the sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.

As a regular freelance contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets, Chuck debunked tirades against gays and often underscored how girls and young women had been raped and abused by priests and church officials, too. 

I thought about this a lot when I heard that Chuck had died on June 30. He was 67. 

I was shocked by his sudden passing and how long it took to find out he had died. I met him decades ago through the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. Why did it take a month and a half for news of his passing to spread? 

Chuck’s friend Karen Allshouse posted news on his Facebook page:  “I’ve learned that while visiting in Johnstown [Pennsylvania] he developed a serious medical issue (involving his esophagus reportedly) and he needed to be transferred to a higher level of medical care and was transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital. Respiratory complications developed and he died. For those who are concerned about his mom – a former high school teacher of his (English) accompanied his mom to the cemetery for the committal service.”

I considered Chuck a loving friend and a journalistic colleague but I realized I actually knew little about him. Our friendship ranged from email exchanges to quick chats at events to deep conversations about religion, including the influence of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ.

If anyone sought to imitate Christ, it was Chuck Colbert. He was kind without thinking about it. He walked the walk and scolded those who didn’t but claimed to have created the path. 

On March 17, 2002, two months after the Boston Globe exposed the sexual child abuse by priests rotting the foundation of the Boston archdiocese (depicted in the movie “Spotlight”), Chuck wrote an op-ed in the Boston Herald entitled Leaders of Catholic Church Must Listen to All the Faithful.”  

“Clearly, the Catholic Church in Boston is in crisis. Some blame ‘militant homosexuals’ among the clergy, branding them ‘a true plague on the priesthood.’ Is the crisis, in fact, rooted there?Let me offer another perspective—one based on more than 25 years of faith life as a convert. First, I have failed, somehow, to encounter any Catholic church culture characterized by ‘priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation.’ The reality is significantly more boring,” Chuck wrote. 

He went on to describe his scholarly and theological journey from the University of Notre Dame to Georgetown University, Harvard University and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, receiving degrees at each stop. 

“Still, it was not until I arrived in Cambridge 15 years ago that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction found its positive counterpart: consolation,” Chuck wrote in the Boston Herald. “The catalyst for that life-saving, personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest became my spiritual director.

“He listened,” Chuck continued. “Over time, I broke the silence of my anguished pilgrim journey and its struggle with homosexuality. He understood that I carried with me the heavy baggage of church teaching, those deeply wounding, soul-shaming words from the Catechism, ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic evil,’ that pathologize (and objectify) same-gender love and its sexual expression. Through the respectful, nonjudgmental listening and guidance of spiritual direction and through richer encounters of God’s grace in the sacraments, therapy, and prayer, I came to experience God’s unconditional love. I now feel, to the core of my being, that God loves me (I suspect you) along with all my quirky postmodern, American, but very human, strengths and vulnerabilities.”

Chuck became an expert reporter covering the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. During a May 7, 2002 appearance on CNN, Chuck responded to a question about the culpability of Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston. 

“I think the question raises a very interesting question, or point,” Chuck said. “And it is not just the personality of the cardinal. Other bishops who were auxiliary bishops at the time [of  Fr. John Geoghan’s arrest for child molestation and release] and are now bishops in other places, as the [Father Paul] Shanley documents have been revealed, these show higher levels of involvement of knowledge. And so it is systemic — but it is also the leadership, the broad leadership that Cardinal Law mustered to either handle or mishandle this scandal, and I think that we will see more of that come out in court.”

Chuck’s expertise was invaluable to the LGBTQ community, as National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna told the Windy City Times.

“Chuck was a friend and colleague—one who was extraordinarily principled and helpful, especially when addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church. He was instrumental in helping us frame and address the abuse scandal when church leaders scapegoated gay priests, as a person of faith and an intellectual,” Renna said. “[W]orking with him was a vital part of my work taking on the Catholic Church hierarchy while at GLAAD, along with other queer and allied groups. But he was also a pleasure to be friends with, who found joy in life and our community, and was one of the people I most looked forward to seeing at the NLGJA convention and other events. He will be greatly missed.”

Chuck caused some ripples in my life after an interview we did for the online LGBTQ press trade newsletter Press Pass Q in 2016 about my being laid off as news editor by my longtime publisher Frontiers Newsmagazine.

Chuck had interviewed Bobby Blair, chief executive officer of Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, and the new publisher of Frontiers. “Unfortunately, Karen fell where we realized we were moving toward a digital and Millennial audience, and we wanted to give the generation of Millennials a real shot at creating our content,” Blair told Chuck. “Did you get that on tape?” I asked him. 

Chuck Colbert summed up his philosophy via a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace:

“Life is everything. Life is God. Everything shifts and moves, and this movement is God. And while there is life, there is delight in the self-awareness of the divinity. To love life is to love God. The hardest and most blissful thing is to love this life in one’s suffering, in the guiltlessness of suffering.”  

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Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and the former editor of the Los Angeles Blade, has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She is currently the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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