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NOH8 project: A photo is worth the change it makes in the world

The NOH8 Campaign is the silent photographic protest created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska & partner Jeff Parshley



Courtesy of NOH8

LOS ANGELES – They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But for Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley, the founders of the NOH8 campaign, a photo is worth the change it makes in the world, and that change is exponentially ever-growing. 

The NOH8 campaign

The NOH8 Campaign is the silent photographic protest created by celebrity photographer Bouska and his romantic partner Parshley, an outspoken activist for the LGBTQ+ community, in direct response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 nearly 15 years ago.

Colloquially known as simply Prop 8 – the proposition against gay marriage in the Golden State – was placed on the ballot in 2008 and in November passed. Before its passage, California was only the second U.S. state (after Massachusetts) to allow same-sex marriage.

Adam Bouska * Courtesy of NOH8

NOH8 Campaign photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8” painted on one cheek in protest.

“Even when it was up for a vote, we were thinking, ‘oh, there’s no way. There were rallies and marches all over the city in Los Angeles,” Parshley told the Blade. “We were taking part in all of those, but we also wanted a way to speak out beyond the streets.” 

Parshley, who is from a small town in New Hampshire, and Bouska who is also from a small town growing up in Illinois shared that, as gay youths, they felt they had nowhere to turn for advice or support. 

“Growing up, I didn’t even know what gay was,” Parshley said. “I knew the feelings I was having, but I didn’t know how to describe them. I didn’t have anybody to look up to. I didn’t even have TV shows like Glee that portrayed gay characters in a positive light. I just felt like there was a lack of knowledge growing up in somewhere that has no resources like that.”

“My experience was very similar,” Bouska reflected. “We didn’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance at school or anything like that. My experience taught me the necessity and importance of activism and shoots like these today.”

“We know what it’s like to have no resources in your area,” Parshley lamented. “That’s why it’s really important for us to get to some smaller places like those as well.”

Recently, the couple was able to bring NOH8 to Parshley’s old high school – an accomplishment that Parshley felt brought his childhood experience full circle. 

“I love that we can spread the message that you are not alone,” he said.

The couple met through a charity photoshoot the pair was working on for Aids Project LA (APLA) over fifteen years ago. Together, they identified with their shared passion for activism and love for photography and bringing people together. 

During their first six months together working on that APLA gig, the two fell in love and have been inseparable ever since. 

“We were uniting activism with photography in the process of us uniting at the same time,” Parshley wryly quipped.

Currently on a 40-location tour with their NOH8 project and traveling partially the U.S. by RV the pair continues to spread their message, one photo at a time. 

Jeff Parshley * Courtesy of NOH8

“It seemed like a natural response for me to use photography to combat this issue,” said Bouska reflecting on the initial foundation of NOH8 . “Jeff was the first one to upload his photo to Myspace at the time. That was around the birth of social media, and we were really using it to change activism. We know that photos are not the end all, but lending a face to the fight for visibility does create change.”

Since its inception, the NOH8 Campaign has grown to a collection of well over 100,000 individual faces and continues to grow at an exponential rate. The campaign began with portraits of everyday Californians from all walks of life and soon rose to include politicians, military personnel, newlyweds, law enforcement, artists, celebrities, and many more from across the globe. 

Courtesy of NOH8

“Prior to the campaign starting, a lot of people didn’t have this kind of outlet,” Parshley said. “I think we are providing this outlet to people, celebrities, and everyday people. Everyday people are the foundation of this campaign.”

While inspired by the passage of Prop 8 and the fight for marriage equality, the scope of the NOH8 campaign has grown to stand against discrimination and bullying of all kinds all around the world. 

Bouska and Parshley started to realize the breadth of the NOH8 message when participants shared their reasons for joining the fight against hate with the couple. To their surprise, participants wanted to combat the hate that extended into their own lives, often having nothing to do with LGBTQ+-specific hate.    

“People started coming in and saying, ‘I’m here because I’m hated on because of my religion, or because of my skin color, or because of my body shape, or because of how much money I have,'” said Parshley. “We realized that there are a lot of different reasons people can relate to hate or discrimination. When they started sharing these stories, we thought, Wow. This is so much more relatable than we initially realized. Because the message was relatable to such a large scale of people, it became even more important for us to bring NOH8 to new places.”

Courtesy of NOH8

So far, the NOH8 team has accomplished photoshoots in 23 countries and counting.  “People overseas understand the message of NOH8 without being able to speak the same language as us,” said Bouska. “This message is universal.”

“I think it’s beautiful how every single event can be so different because everyone has a different reason to be involved,” said Parshley. “But there is one similarity. We have all come together over one cause.”

Bouska and Parshley continue to use the NOH8 in correlation with current events. Recently, they created an event centered entirely around the Club Q shooting, which took place at a drag bar in Colorado Springs last November, killing 5 people and injuring 25 more. 

“If the people here in Colorado Springs felt like their voices weren’t being heard in support of the LGBTQ community, that’s why we are here to share their voices,” Parshely said at the event. 

The shooting started with hate speech online, targeted drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community as “groomers” and “pedophiles” before culminating in violence and death. 

With so many hate crimes like these starting online, Bouska and Parshley agree that something must be done to curb the way the community is targeted on social media. 

“Hate speech is not free speech,” Bouska emphasized.


Recently, Bouska and Parshley started working on a new section of the NOH8 campaign, specifically targeting anti-transgender hate. These photos feature subjects with the trans flag colors painted on their hands and faces, signifying their support of the trans lives matter movement and their condemnation of anti-transgender laws currently sweeping the country. 

Courtesy of NOH8

“We’ve had to explain … ‘this campaign is not solely a campaign for marriage equality, this is a campaign for no hate, this is a campaign for equality, this is a campaign for anti-discrimination and anti-bullying, this is a campaign to bring people together.” 

“You would think that everybody who poses for the NOH8 campaign supports trans lives, but we can’t assume that,” said Parshley, explaining why he and Bouska felt it important to show trans-specific support. 

When asked to compare how this new chapter of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and legislation compares to the passage of Prop 8, both Bouska, and Parshley agreed that circumstances feel more dire now than ever before. 

“In many ways, it feels like history repeating itself,” said Bouska. “This is yet another marginalized community being attacked. This really puts people’s lives at stake. In some ways, what is happening now seems more cruel.”

“Queer and especially trans people are in danger right now,” said Parshley. 

“I think it is important to remember that gender-affirming care being under attack in so many states is a life-threatening issue,” Parshley said. “Trans people are much more likely to attempt to commit suicide than someone else within the queer community. When you take away someone’s ability to be authentic to themselves, you are putting their life at risk. This definitely seems worse than before.” 


Courtesy of NOH8

Anyone who wants to join in the fight against hate is welcome to do so by attending one of NOH8’s many photo events listed on a calendar on their website. Single photos cost $40, and pictures of multiple people cost $20 per face in the photo. Events marked as “free” are sponsored, and so come at no cost to all participants.

“Ideally, we would provide all of these for free,” said Parshley, “but we can’t do that, unfortunately. This looks like a big operation, but it’s really just Adam and me. These are the same price as when we started, though, because we refuse to raise them.”



Seeding a gay community in LA, the gay liberation revolution

1970 was an incredible year of achievement for GLF in LA.  Marches, protests, & a broad range of other militant, highly visible actions



Gay Community Services Center at 1614 Wilshire Blvd. at Union Ave., just east of MacArthur Park in 1972. (Photo credit: Author's collection)

By Don Kilhefner | LOS ANGELES – There is a big difference in magnitude between a liberation movement and a civil rights movement.  Often, the terms “Gay Liberation” and “Gay Civil Rights” are used synonymously.  Those terms, however, are very different in meaning.  

A liberation movement involves an oppressed group seizing power by its own militant efforts and includes a change in consciousness by an oppressed people about its alleged inferiority, restructures economic and educational systems, and claims or reclaims the group’s history and culture.  The central organizing principle of a civil rights movement is lobbying the dominant power structure over time to grant new laws—like voting rights—which gives more equal rights to a minority or majority historically discriminated against without any fundamental changes or threats to the power, economic, or educational systems in place.  

Power structures try to destroy liberation movements, as in South Africa in 1961 when Nelson Mandela and others created the paramilitary Spear of the Nation, turning the African National Congress from a civil rights movement into a liberation movement.  On the other hand, civil rights movements are easily pacified by political posturing and pretending and assimilated by elite capture without posing much of a threat to the basic power structures of society.  Liberation movements are also susceptible to elite capture.   

Author’s Note  You are advised to remember as you read the following article that all of the Gay Liberation organizing being described was done within a context of 1,000 years or more of hetero supremacy in the West in which all religions declared lesbians and particularly gay men to be subhuman and an abomination in the eyes of God; all national and local laws declared them to be illegal and a crime against nature, with police and vigilante groups hunting them down and killing such deviants, often burning them alive at the stake; and in the 20th century the new science of psychology declared them a severe psychopathology and a threat to society.  Gay men and lesbians internalized that hetero supremacist, genocidal ideology, turning it into self-hate, and turning that debasement into fear of being found out, some in fear for their very lives.  And so, in 1969, still being officially labeled sick, sinful, and against the law and against the laws of nature, a new, revolutionary narrative unfolded in Los Angeles.  

Central to the development of a radical, militant Gay Liberation revolution in Los Angeles was the L.A. Gay Liberation Front, which was called into being in August 1969 by Morris Kight, an anti-Vietnam War activist.  GLFs were also organized in other major U.S. cities in the aftermath of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, a single spark that caused a prairie fire.   A gay revolution ensued—a revolution defined as “sudden, radical, complete change.”

For months, GLF meetings were held every Sunday afternoon in random, obscure locations, until, on January 1, 1970, I secured a GLF office at 577 ½ North Vermont Ave. in East Hollywood, formerly occupied by the Hollywood contingent of the Peace and Freedom Party.  Using basic organizing skills learned as a volunteer at the Peace and Freedom Party office in Venice while a UCLA doctoral student in history, I became GLF’s around-the-clock, sleep-in office manager, creating a GLF infrastructure for the first time, including a telephone number, mailing address, bank account, and a stable meeting and organizing space. 

The office was located on the second floor of a graceful dowager of a  fourplex next to the Hollywood Freeway.  Soon after GLF left the space, the building was demolished and replaced by a series of gas stations (southwest corner of Vermont and Clinton).  [If anyone out there has a photo of the building, please contact me.]

The GLF office became a beehive of gay political organizing that propelled the Gay Liberation movement in Southern California forward rapidly (more about all that activity in the future).  In a recent event at USC-ONE Archives, Dr. Craig Loftin, Lecturer in gay history at California State University (Fullerton), described that year as follows, “…1970 was an incredible year of achievement for GLF in Los Angeles.  They staged marches, protests, ‘zaps,’ interventions, and a broad range of other militant, highly visible actions.  They fought back.  They led the march out of the shadows, out of the closets.”

Morris Kight, unknown, Don Kilhefner, Stan Williams. Gay men were arrested in gay bars by police for showing ordinary affection to other men and the rest would flee.
(Photo credit: Author’s collection)

On 9/18/1970, GLF staged a “Touch-In” in a popular WeHo bar, The Farm; at 10 p.m. gay men reached out and hugged each other; L.A. Sheriffs arrived and were warned by GLF: if you arrest one of us, you’ll have to arrest all of us; men continued to show affection for each other; chanting began: “Ho-Ho, Ho Chi Minh, GLF is going to win;” Sheriffs retreated; the beginning of the end of police raids of gay bars in L.A. was upon us.

After liberating The Farm, GLF posted this large poster to every gay bar door along Santa Monica Blvd. (Photo credit: Author’s collection)

While Kight and I played a leadership role in those developments, let me make this clear: a handful, then scores, then hundreds of gay and lesbian people—all voluntarily engaged activists—collectively and constructively made it happen, a record of accomplishment probably unmatched by any other GLF in the country.  

In this essay, I will focus on one of those 1970 activities, the GLF Gay Survival Committee and the subsequent Hoover Street Commune because there is a clear path, through thick and thin, from that Committee to the Commune to the October 1971 opening of the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles (now called the L.A. LGBT Center), the first and, then as now, the largest in the world.  GCSC also seeded what grew into a world class gay community in Los Angeles. 

The Gay Survival Committee, the name tells you where gay people were at that time, was created in the Spring of 1970 when I proposed the idea to GLF which approved it unanimously.  The Committee’s primary purpose was to begin exploring the possibility of offering—out of the GLF office and by referral—services specifically designed for gay and lesbian people suffering from oppression sickness (peer counseling, consciousness raising groups, Vietnam War draft and military resistance counseling, and medical and legal referrals).  A Los Angeles Free Press article in August 1970 caught the zeitgeist of that GLF effort.

Artist: Bruce Reifel (Photo credit: Author’s collection)

By the end of 1970, L.A. GLF was beset by a mostly friendly, fundamental debate as to which direction to go in 1971, either in an evolving liberation direction or a more social direction by opening a Gay Coffee House with entertainment.  After much internal discussion and to resolve the tension, I made a proposal in December 1970 that the GLF office be closed and that GLF financial resources, totaling about $900, be turned over to the Gay Coffee House project.  GLF members agreed. 

Early in 1971, a Gay Coffee House was opened by GLF stalwarts John Platania, Jim Kepner, and others in a storefront on Melrose Ave., a site where the Continental Baths subsequently stood (western corner of Melrose and Kenmore).  After several months it devolved into a crash pad, could not pay its rent, and closed.

During 1970, my thinking had also evolved considerably from the Gay Survival Committee’s idea of providing limited services out of the GLF office to contemplating a more substantial, comprehensive, freestanding operation providing direct services and infused with the radical spirit and methodology of Gay Liberation.  Also, during that year, I grew by leaps and bounds, transforming from a somewhat quiet, introverted academic type into an articulate, assertive community organizer because of GLF’s one-after-the-other successes.  

The more I read, dialogued with others, and self-reflected, it was gradually becoming clearer to me that if we were going to succeed as a liberation movement, it was critical that we enlarge our GLF agenda from merely a reactive strategy of fighting back against hetero supremacy into an enlarged, transforming proactive strategy of building a visible, organized, self-accepting, and defiant gay community where none had ever existed. 

This new way of thinking began a first level of envisioning that a gay center might be the vehicle around which such a gay community could coalesce.  I did not know exactly how GLF could make that happen.  As it turned out, I became the vision carrier for such a project, although at that time I did not know that term nor understand what it meant.  I just did what I did from a deep well of caring and intense gay liberation motivation.  I did know, however, from my many learning experiences as I matured during my 20s, that the path forward reveals itself as we walk the path not as we think about it or discuss it.  And it worked.

[I want to acknowledge the important work done by Rev. Troy Perry, whom I admire, in founding in 1968 in Los Angeles the Metropolitan Community Church

which became an important part of the gay community in L.A. and elsewhere.  The roots of MCC were in evangelical Christianity and the Society for Individual Rights, a conservative homophile organization started in 1964 in San Francisco.  The roots of the Gay Liberation movement, however, were in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.]  

On January 1, 1971, a year after opening the GLF office on North Vermont Ave., a contingent from GLF consisting of Randy Schrader, Steve Beckwith, Stan Williams, Rod Gibson and me, members of GLF’s Gay Survival Committee, moved into the newly created Hoover Street Commune which became the relocated activist center for Gay Liberation militancy in L.A.  Morris Kight and others became an essential part of the organizing activities taking place there. 

Thus, began the second phase of the pioneering work of the L.A. Gay Liberation Front.

Hoover Street Commune (1971-1973): GLF Implements a Strategic Plan for a Gay Community Center

One of the important gay historical sites in Los Angeles is located at 1500 North Hoover Street (at Sunset Dr.), right behind the then KCET public television studios (now the Scientology Media Production Studios) on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake. It was the home of the Hoover Street Commune, which existed from 1971 until 1973—the place from which the building of the gay community center and, by extension, a gay community in Los Angeles emerged.

The Hoover Street Commune (without the fence) at 1500 N. Hoover St. at Sunset Drive in L.A (Silverlake). (Photo credit: Google Earth/Author’s collection)

[Community organizers today have many exquisite organizing tools that we did not have in the 1960s and 1970s; however, missing today is the communal living that focused and magnified our effectiveness.  When I dialogue with young activists today, the absence of such an essential tool in their organizing efforts is glaring.]

The house, built as a duplex, had been turned into one large house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, a dining room, and a living room.  The original communards included very creative Stan Williams, a former Sonja Henie and Ice Capades skater; Steve Beckwith, a suit-and-tie businessman; Randy Schrader, a recent UCLA Law School graduate studying for the California Bar exam; Rod Gibson, a young GLFer; and me.  Occupancy was a bit fluid at first, but then stabilized.  Gibson soon moved out and was replaced by Ray Powers, a Hollywood actors’ agent, and Beckwith and his lover, Van Brown, a student at UC Santa Barbara, needed more privacy and moved elsewhere, replaced by John Platania. 

GLF members Llee Heflin, Dexter Price, and Bruce Cristoff lived right next door at  1502 N. Hoover St.  In and out on a regular basis were Morris Kight, Tony DeRosa, June Herrle, Howard Fox, David Backstrom, John Coffland, Justin Dangerfield, John Murphy, my beloved Luke Johnson, and many more.  The door was always open. 

For me, living there was like being in an always-in-session Graduate School for Advanced Gay Studies, intellectually and spiritually stimulating like nothing I had known before. I was being introduced to gay-centered films, books, art and artists, poetry, ideas, music, personages, spiritual lineages, inventive gay Kama Sutra positions, and much more that were all new to me.

Williams had created a large, low dining table and we sat on the floor to eat; once a week each member prepared supper. Virtually every evening there would be eight to ten people sitting around our large communal table for supper—visiting gay liberationists, soon-to-be-famous filmmakers, writers, and poets, grifters, lovers du jour, the Marlboro Man, mystics, future judges—a gay Noah’s Ark—engaged in animated and liberating discussions. 

Sometimes Lucy would come down from the sky with her diamonds to visit. Williams and Platania would put their long hippie hair up into elegant beehive hairdos to go shopping at the local Safeway grocery store, an aspect of Gay Liberation’s political fight against rigid hetero gender norms. GLF called it “Gender Fuck,” a militant precursor of “Gender Fluid.” Williams created a High Tea which was poured many afternoons at 4 p.m. with rolled joints on a silver platter.  Spirited political discussions would go into the night.  And so it went.

In this exhilarating and creative gay-centered vortex at the Commune, sight was never lost as to why I was there—transforming the work of GLFs Gay Survival Committee into a gay community center.  At both the GLF office and the Commune, the Committee’s composition was fluid with people coming and going.  However, a more or less stable core group formed over time consisting of Beckwith, Kight, Platania, Williams, Schrader, Herrle, and Howard Fox among others.  My role as the Committee’s founding chairman was to provide the leadership and glue to hold things together and guarantee there was forward movement by calling and chairing meetings every two weeks, preparing agendas, facilitating discussion, and ensuring continuity and follow through between meetings.

A revolutionary opening of historic proportions was being created by GLF in L.A. and we collectively leapt through that opening with the most serious intentions and joyful exuberance. Among the critically important developments that grew out of the Hoover Street Commune during those years were the following: 

  • Development of Content Architecture of a Gay Community Center: Every two weeks, I called a working meeting of the Committee at the Commune where contours and content of the groundbreaking gay center were collectively discussed and agreed to.  

After each meeting, Platania and I would meet for an extra hour writing down what we had heard and agreed to in the meeting.  Platania had worked as a grant writer for the City of Los Angeles’ Community Development Department and TELACU (The East Los Angeles Community Union).  I typed up our writings, and by May 1971, an impressive looking, forty-page, bound proposal emerged from the Committee’s collective work that delineated the reasons for such a gay center, described the comprehensive human services to be provided in a community-based context, and laid out a timetable for implementing each component.

That document became an invaluable organizing tool because it clearly described what we planned to do and how we planned to do it.  The proposal clearly sent a powerful message that these gay liberationists were very serious about their intentions, with a blueprint and hammer and nails in their hands, and ready to go to work.  The name: “Gay Community Services Center.” Words never seen before anywhere.

“Gay” because we were totally in your face about who we were, not hiding behind camouflage words as was done prior to Gay Liberation. “Community” because of the core values implied in that word: (1) a community is a unified body whose members assumes responsibility for each other, meaning everyone, and (2) a community was what we were trying to call into being. “Services” because we were planning to deliver services specifically designed to meet the needs of gay, lesbian, and trans people, mending the deep woundings caused by hetero supremacy and invoking the new possibilities of gay empowerment.  “Center” because of our intention that it be a center around which a gay community would coalesce.

  • Creation of a Non-Profit, Tax-Exempt Organization:  This idea was particularly advocated for by me and resulted in several people leaving the Committee, feeling that GLF was changing into an establishment organization, which was a foolish thought given how outcast and vilified gay people were at the time.   No establishment would touch us, even most so-called homosexuals at that time avoided us and were afraid that GLF’s radical ideology and fighting back through direct action would get us all in more trouble. 

My position was that we were attempting to create a gay community center and a gay community, both ideas revolutionary developments for our people at that time.  GLF was building something that would hopefully outlive all of us and a community called for solid community institutions serving the people.  

Moreover, one of the successful tactics of the Gay Liberation movement was keeping the hetero supremacists off balance.  They never could conceive of gay and lesbian people developing self-respect after the centuries of violent intimidation and instilling of fear.  They never expected the audacity of gay liberationists in L.A. creating a community center and envisioning an actual gay community that was real, substantial, and angry, that fought back and thumbed its nose at their supremacist proclivities and actions.    

Beginning in April 1971, attorney Allen Gross and I began the grunt work of incorporating the proposed community center in California.  Gross, an important hetero ally and lifelong friend, had founded the Legal Aid program in Oregon and served as legal counsel for L.A. GLF.  He would serve for 25 years as legal counsel to the Center.  We prepared Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws to submit to the State of California and could not read how the documents would be dealt with by the newly elected California Secretary of State, a young fellow named Jerry Brown.  The documents were returned approved in two weeks and Brown became a dependable ally of gay people in California. 

The same could not be said for the federal IRS tax exemption process, which routinely should have taken a few months, but in our case took five years.  Gross prepared the IRS application with great care and attention to all possible traps that could be used to deny us.  Decades later, I was informed privately that the Nixon White House had instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to put our application in his desk drawer and not act on it. 

In 1972, I was summoned to Washington, D.C., for a special interrogation by Frank Cerny, head of the exempt branch of IRS, in a bizarre scene that unfolded in a majestic hall that was truly a surreal experience. With Gross on one side of me and attorney Ed Dilkes of L.A. Legal Aid  on the other side, and me resembling a hippie Hasidic rabbi, I recited calmly over and over again what Gross had skillfully written in our application—we would serve anyone who asked for our philanthropic services and we would turn no one away, which were the exclusivity grounds on which IRS planned to trap and deny us tax-exemption.  In 1976, our relentless perseverance and political pressure finally forced the White House and IRS to approve our tax-exemption application. GCSC was the first openly gay organization to secure IRS non-profit, tax-exempt approval—a singular achievement then. 

  • Opening First Liberation House.  By mid-1971, the search began in earnest to find a location to open the Center, but initially nothing suitable could be found.  That did not stop us.  In August, Platania found a house on North Edgemont Ave. in East Hollywood, just south of Sunset Blvd., where the newly formed Center opened a Liberation House, the first of many in its Liberation House program over the years.  Ralph Schaefer, a core GLF member, became its resident manager.
Liberation House on Edgemont Ave. in East Hollywood in 1971, the first of many.
(Photo credit: Author’s collection)

The Edgemont Liberation House provided free housing primarily to young gay men, often runaways who were homeless.  From 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. residents were out of the house looking for employment, getting back into school, or whatever.  When the residents returned to the house at 4 p.m., under Schaefer’s supervision, they collectively made supper for the house.

The key words for living in a Liberation House, as in organizing the Center

itself, were “mutuality” and “cooperation.” Evening activities at the Edgemont house included a group discussion led by Schaefer or another GLF member that amounted to a gay consciousness-raising group, something the residents had never experienced before—gay and lesbian people viewed in a positive, constructive light. The residents blossomed. After breakfast in the morning, residents headed out to lean into their goals for the day. 

Opening of the L.A. Gay Community Services Center

In September 1971, Platania found a possible site for the Center in an old Queen Anne style home at 1614 Wilshire Blvd. at Union Ave., just east of MacArthur Park.  Committee members looked at the house and all agreed—yes, let’s do it.  I was the full-time+ founding executive director and Kight, Herrle, and Platania became members of the first Board of Directors.

After a bit of cosmetic fix-up, the installation of telephones, and a big sign in front emblazoned with the words “Gay Community Services Center,” the year and a half of relentless organizing work by GLF members led to fruition. The story of that Center and the gay community it facilitated in Los Angeles, including the role of the Highland Park Collective, will be told later, but this was how GLF got that far.

GCSC on Wilshire Blvd. with sign in 1972. (Photo credit: Author’s collection)

To give you an idea how revolutionary this community organizing was in the lives of gay people, after the sign was hung on Wilshire Blvd., a call was received at the Center from an important gay figure telling us, “You must take that sign down immediately!  You people are going to get all of us arrested!”  Then, most gay people rightfully lived in fear.

  • The Gaywill Funky Shoppe:  The story of the Hoover Street Commune would not be complete without mentioning the Gaywill Funky Shoppe, a thrift store the Center opened in 1972 in Silverlake.  

Amazingly, all the organizing and sustaining of the Center was accomplished with little money or no money at all. The organizers were fueled by something much larger than money. What little funds the early Center did operate on came from three primary sources: (1) Friday night Gay Funky Dances in Hollywood, open to all ages, which were started in 1970 by GLF, went on hiatus when the GLF office closed, and were started up again in August 1971 sponsored by the Center.  After expenses, the dances generated about $150 a week; (2) donations at the Center raised about $150 weekly; and (3) after expenses, the Gaywill Funky Shoppe brought in about $200 weekly.

Stan Williams at the Gaywill Funky Shoppe in Silverlake (L.A.) in 1972.
(Photo credit: Author’s collection)

Central to the Shoppe was Commune member Stan Williams assisted by young GLF members Dexter Price and Bruce Cristoff.  Using a gift possessed by many gay men of being able to transform ordinary junk into objets d’art, the thrift shoppe thrived. It was located at 1531 Griffith Park Blvd., where that street meets Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake, occupied today by the Pine and Crane Restaurant.  When Williams left for San Francisco, Ralph Schaefer took over as manager.  

One day early in 1973, after not hearing from Schaefer for several days and hearing that the Shoppe seemed closed, Kight and I went to check it out.  We found Schaefer dead in the bathroom with a bullet hole in the back of his head.  He had been executed.  Robbery was not a motive since a visible cash box was untouched.  The murder of gay men occurred often then with assailants rarely looked for or apprehended by the LAPD.  One less fag was a blessing for hetero supremacists.

The LAPD Rampart Division called Kight and me in for questioning and tried to pin the murder on us, demanding that we take polygraph tests.

We gave the LAPD the middle finger, telling the investigators to arrest us if they wanted to, but we refused to play their disrespectful game regarding someone we valued so dearly, and walked out.  The LAPD was not heard from again regarding Schaefer’s murder, even after numerous requests for information.

The Gaywill Funky Shoppe was permanently closed immediately as a show of respect for Schaefer. 

At the beginning of this article, you were advised to remember that all this GLF organizing was being done under the most difficult community organizing conditions imaginable. Even under those horrendous conditions, however, you can clearly see that something historically significant had occurred in Los Angeles that took place nowhere else in the same way in the lives of gay and lesbian people, facilitated by a vanguard of young gay liberationists. 

By October 1971, with the opening of the Gay Community Services Center, with much more revolutionary struggle ahead, a whole new realm of possibilities and ways forward began opening up for gay and lesbian people in Los Angeles. The GLF Gay Survival Committee and Hoover Street Commune had done their early community organizing work impeccably. 

A unique revolution in consciousness and liberation unfolded in Los Angeles, radically changing the quality of gay people’s lives and welfare, instilling a new, life enhancing identity and birthing an exciting, emerging community where we learned to value and take care of each other.  The ripples of that Gay Liberation revolution wash over us still today.


Don Kilhefner                      
Photo by Todd Danforth

Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., played a pioneering role in the creation of the Gay Liberation movement and is co-founder of the L.A. LGBT Center, Van Ness Recovery House, Radical Faeries, and has been a gay community organizer for 55 years in Los Angeles and nationally.  [email protected]

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Queer actors Jennifer English & Aliona Baranova, Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 was released on August 3rd, 2023 to widespread critical acclaim. The Blade interviewed two key figures in its development



Image courtesy of Larian Studios Games Ltd.

LONDON, UK – Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is perhaps the most LGBTQ+-friendly AAA video game ever made. It’s also one of the best role-playing games ever, according to Metacritic, the premier website owned by Fandom that aggregates reviews of films, television shows, music albums and video games.

Baldur’s Gate 3 by Ghent, Belgium-based Larian Studios, is a series of role-playing video games set in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. The game has spawned two series, known as the Bhaalspawn Saga and the Dark Alliance.

Baldur’s Gate 3 was released on August 3rd, 2023 to widespread critical acclaim. Unusually for a AAA game, it had spent six years in development, and almost three years of that in early access open beta testing. Larian Studios developed BG3 as a sequel to the first two games, which were released in 1998 and 1999 respectively. 

Recently the Blade had the opportunity to interview two of the key figures in the game’s development.

Actress Jennifer English played the role of Shadowheart, one of the main characters of the game whom the player can have a romantic relationship with, regardless of their gender. Her partner is Aliona Baranova, an actress and motion capture (mocap) performer who worked as one of the Performance Directors on the game. They met during the production of the game and worked closely together during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Jennifer identifies as lesbian and queer, while Aliona identifies as bisexual and queer. They graciously agreed to give the Blade an hour of their time, right after a grueling weekend at London Comic Con.

How was London Comic Con 2023? How were you both received?

Jennifer: It was like being a rock star. It was incredible. We were both there for Comic Con [2022] this time last year [and] when I first turned up there was no one in my queue [for autographs]. Now this year, there were people queuing for 6 hours at one point. It was absolute madness. But it was also just really beautiful. 

We did one of the panels [this year]. And I was expecting it to be like a five hundred or a thousand seater.  When I looked out, it was about 4,000 people. It was really wonderful because Aliona was next to me the whole time, and so many people wanted her autograph as well–like a good third to a half.

Aliona: The number of people that wanted to take a photo of the both of us was so touching, as was how many people [that] came up to us and said, “We watch your streams” and told us that the representation that we  gave them, and how open we are about being neuro divergent, was so meaningful.

Image courtesy of MCM London Comic Con 2023

Did either of you play dungeons and dragons before you started work on this game?

Jennifer: I always wanted to. I just hadn’t been invited.

Aliona: No, never!

Jennifer: I was really lucky that the first time I got to play D&D was with the cast for High Rollers, and we got Mark Humes, who was the best dungeon master, to walk us through it. We felt so safe and guided. It was a really wonderful start into D&D. The space felt very welcome as well, which was nice, and no one seemed to mind too much that we were fumbling through somewhat. And it was really nice to play together as a couple.

Aliona, you posted how you auditioned for the role of Shadowheart in BG3, and Jennifer got it. This led to an interesting start to your relationship. 

Aliona: So I auditioned, and didn’t get the part. And then another call went out looking for people that had mocap (motion capture) experience, which I did have, to direct. When I sent in my mocap reel I was secretly hoping they’d watch and think, she should be in the game as an actor. But no, they didn’t. They rang me to say they thought I should direct.

I came to direct, did a couple of sessions, and then, during my fourth or fifth session, Jen comes in to record Shadowheart. Everyone is telling me “Jennifer is coming in today. She’s lovely. You’re gonna love her”. And I’m like, yeah, yeah, I’ll see. 

When Jen came into the studio she was an absolute ray of sunshine. It was sickening–she was so wonderful, I could not hate her. I wanted to, so badly, but I just couldn’t. She got along with everyone; she was so friendly. I thought, “you’re making this so hard for me”. 

Then we went in to record, and I thought, okay, well, maybe she’s not that good at the role, and I can swoop in and save the day and be Shadowheart instead. But she was amazing. I wanted to hate her even more, but I couldn’t, because she was so talented and incredible.  I was very naive and very confident. I definitely couldn’t do what Jen has achieved, and she was a far better performer than I was back then. I’ve learned a lot from her since then to become a better performer myself. 

It could have gone one of 2 ways: I could sabotage her and direct her really badly, or I could help this incredible and kind woman out and be a good director for her. The rest is history. And I think we nailed it with Shadowheart.

Jennifer, how did you find out Aliona wanted to be frenemies initially?

I can’t remember how I found out, but I remember being shocked, to say the least. And now we laugh about it quite a lot.

What was it like finding the character of Shadowheart?

Jennifer: I found the voice quite easily, and felt like I accessed her [character] reasonably quickly. There was a lot of collaboration and creativity involved with it. But the one thing I really struggled with at the beginning was the physical side of it, because it’s such an overwhelming thing…you’re put into a grey room with loads of cameras on you, and you’re wearing what is essentially a Velcro cat suit with bobbles on it, and then you’re just told to act naturally. 

One thing that Aliona quickly picked up on was the fact that I have ADHD. A lot of our creative process together was working to find Shadowheart within that—to not fight against it, but use it. That was really wonderful.

BG3 Performance Director Aliona Baranova (left) being kissed by partner actor Jennifer English (right) wearing a motion capture suit. (Photo Credit: Jennifer English/Instagram)

Are you having any problems with people blurring the line between Shadowheart and Jennifer when you meet them in real life or online, or are people pretty good about keeping them keeping them distinct?

I think if I had [Shadowheart’s] kind of black cat energy, perhaps. But I am a golden retriever puppy with blonde hair that’s five foot one. I don’t have that kind of statuesque, armor-clad cleric-of-Shar thing going on. So I think our energies are so distinct that it would be pretty impossible to get us confused. 

There is a lot of me in Shadowheart, because I wanted to make her as truthful as possible. [She’s] the part of myself that you’d have to find me in a very vulnerable state to see. That’s a deeper part of myself. Certainly not one that you’d see at Comic-con, or if you bumped into me on the train.

Screenshot, Shadowheart Artefact Activation Baldur’s Gate 3

I know people who generally don’t like video games who are really into BG3. What’s your take on why this is?

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Baldur’s Gate 3 is mainstream. It’s been on South Park.

Aliona: It’s the mocap. It’s not often that you have nearly all 248 actors do their own mocap. I think that’s why it feels like a TV show or film. I’m biased, but I do think it makes a difference, because I’ve looked at another recent release and you can tell that the voice is done separately from who’s doing the body. You can’t care for them as much as you do in this game, because there’s a disconnect.

Jennifer: It feels quite jarring because you can’t be immersed in this in the same way, you can tell everyone’s acting, whereas [Baldur’s Gate 3] feels like people are their characters. They’re so good in them.

 All of the main characters can have romances with members of any sex or gender identity. Did that change how you played or directed the characters?

Jennifer: I don’t get to play a lot of queer roles. I certainly haven’t in the past, though hopefully I will in the future. But even as someone who identifies as gay, I think we’re so heteronormative with our storytelling. When I was thinking about the player at the very beginning, I imagined a [relationship with] a guy. Which is ridiculous because we knew that it could be any gender. So it’s really good to challenge our own heteronormative defaults in our own brains, even as gay people.  

It was a very conscious choice early on [for me], to shake up who I was imagining. So, I would sometimes imagine a hunky dragon born who identified as male, and then sometimes it would be a beautiful female -identifying wood elf or a non-binary human. I think it did massively inform my performance.

When you did romance scenes, did you do separate takes for male and female player characters, or was it the same for both?

Aliona: If there were no specific pronouns [in the script], then it would be just one. But if there were pronouns, then we would do one of she, one of he and one of they.

When there were no pronouns involved, how did the fact that it could be any gender affect your direction?

Aliona: I don’t actually think it did that much. The voice director or I never asked [the actor] to imagine whether a woman or a man stood in front of them, or a non-binary person, because we needed the actor to play attraction and romance with whoever they were imagining. We can’t dictate who they are imagining…it has to be real for them. So, we would leave that up to them. Luckily every actor in the game was completely comfortable with that.

Do you think this reinforces the narrative that love is love at some fundamental level for people, given that actors played romantic lines the same regardless of the player’s gender?

Aliona: I can’t really add anything to that. Love is love. 

Jennifer: Completely. And I feel that if there’s one message I would want to spread about the romance of this game in particular, it is indeed that love is love. 

A lot of players got very emotionally invested in the romance plot lines, and Shadowheart is by far the most popular according to data from Larian Studios. 

Aliona: I think… that the reason her romance option is so popular is because Jen had the luxury of having her partner on the other side of the glass while recording.

Jennifer: You were the barometer of “did this work or not?”, depending on how much you were blushing.

Aliona: I had the voice director next to me and the technicians on either side. Jen would say whatever her romance dialog was, and I could feel people’s eyes on me as I’d be looking down and saying, “Yeah, that was a great take.”

How were the intimate scenes shot?

Aliona: If there was an intimacy scene and the character was speaking, that was done with the cast. If there was an intimacy scene and they were not speaking, that was done with motion capture performers separately. Both cases would have an intimacy coordinator present.

Why do you think that BG3 is so effective at pulling in players emotionally?

Aliona: We’ve been streaming ourselves playing the game, and I’m so invested in my relationship with Shadowheart that when I click the wrong thing and upset her, I get genuinely upset myself. I think, “No, I don’t wanna screw up my chances!” But I’m literally in a relationship with Jen the actor playing Shadowheart, and also have Shadowheart on tap at home. So I really get it!

Jennifer: I think one of the many reasons why this game is so special, from our point of view, is how the voice and the performance direction were very much grounded in truth and reality.

The acting style is very naturalistic, and even when it’s not, that’s for a reason. If it’s more dramatic or more urgent, or someone’s got a bit more of a personality, it still feels like a genuine interaction. I worked very closely with my voice directors – Beth Park, Tilly Steele, Kirsty Gilmore, Natalie Winter, and Tom Mitchell – who, alongside Aliona, were all very keen on it never sounding like bullshit.

Aliona: I’m obviously biased, but I think a secret ingredient of why it feels so real is that we didn’t just focus on the voice. We had performance directors like me focusing on the body, because you can fake truthfulness vocally but you cannot fake it in the body. That lends itself to this incredible performance across the board for everyone. I think when it’s motion capture, and every single minute [of voice and acting] can be seen in the body, you can’t fake it.

Shadowheart, played by out lesbian actor Jennifer English
(Photo Credit: Screenshot/Larian Studio’s Baldur’s Gate 3)

What are your thoughts on people playing queer characters, and being able to see themselves in those relationships, who are playing BG3 in countries where stigma and persecution are still rampant, or getting worse?

Aliona: I think it meant one thing before ComiCon. Now it means not something different, but something more. Now that we’ve met some of these people and spoken to them face to face, and heard their stories, and how much it means to them, it’s just so much more meaningful.

Jennifer: It’s impactful. When somebody looks you in the eyes and tells you that they can’t be out to their family…

Aliona: This game is giving them solace. It means the world to them, and I think we realize that now. I think all the directors know this, and the actors and the writers. And props to the writers–we didn’t mention this before, but the writing is incredible, shoutout to John Corcoran the amazing writer for Shadowheart, Halsin and Nocturne!

Jennifer: To add to the answer before–why people feel so emotionally sucked in–the writing absolutely is a huge part of that.

Aliona: Knowing that this game could be an escape for a lot of people, or a way for them to live out the life that they currently can’t have, was one of the reasons we worked so hard to always ensure truthfulness and authenticity in the performances. We knew that this would mean a lot to many people, especially when we started to use they/them pronouns. 

Jennifer: That was a huge turning point for me. That’s where I realized how important this game was going to be for people, especially in our community. One of the things I’m most proud of is knowing how we’ve created a world of endless exploration and opportunity. It’s a world for people to explore parts of themselves that they don’t feel safe to [explore in real life]. We all took our time over the romance scenes. We wanted to get it right because we knew that this would be significant for people. It might be people’s first opportunity to explore that side of themselves. I’ve heard stories where people have explored their sexuality for the first time through this game.

Anything else you want people to know?

Jennifer: I would love to say thank you, especially to the alphabet mafia, and to allies, for being so welcoming to the pair of us.

Aliona: I just wanted to add to that that we’re incredibly grateful for this community. There was a moment when we thought…should we be private about our relationship? And we realized we can’t, because we’re always together (laughs). We were a team working on this. We fell in love while making this game and love sharing that joy with other people. And we’re also so grateful for the love and support we get back. There’s been times when I’ve posted on my Instagram story some of the homophobic comments that we get, and I see people drowning it out with love and defending us, and that’s so beautiful and heartwarming for us. This community is really something special.


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Forgotten protests in L.A.’s fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the U. S.

Every social movement has its origins in the resistance that arises from domination & the search for identity



Cooper's Donuts shop circa mid 20th century was located at 547 Main Street, corner of 6th, in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of downtown LA. (Photo Credit: Film still from "The Exiles" a Milestone Films 1961 release)

By Rodrigo Herrera | LOS ANGELES – On the opposite side of the country, two protests that preceded the Stonewall riots frame the legacy of history in the fight for LGBTIQ+ civil rights. The older – and nearly forgotten – one was the first time that Black and Latinx transgender individuals, their peers, and the long-forming community stood up against police brutality.

It is all too common that those responsible for documenting history often overlook the contributions of the most marginalized individuals, as well as the contextual factors that give rise to the social movements they inspire. This has motivated me to search for stories, characters, and sites historically relevant to the trans memory of LGBTIQ+ history, from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, and now Los Angeles.

City of Los Angeles historic landmark plaque at The Black Cat Tavern in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Hollywood.
(Photo Credit: Rodrigo Herrera)

Although the first documented LGBTIQ+ civil rights demonstration in the United States occurred in 1967 in response to the Black Cat Tavern raid (1966), Pride commemoration today looks to the Stonewall Riots of 1969 as the event that catapulted the modern LGBTIQ+ civil rights movement.

A decade before those riots, in 1959, a Cooper’s Donuts coffee shop chain located on Main Street Downtown witnessed a clash between police and trans and queer people resisting arrest one early May morning. The coffee shop’s clientele, a diverse group of trans people, drag queens, and hustlers, rallied to their defense by throwing coffee and donuts, thwarting the arrest and forcing officers to retreat and call for backup. The incident caused the closure of the main avenue until the next day and has been documented by a witness, John Rechy, a Mexican-American writer, in his novel City of Night, published a few years later in 1963. This novel would present for the first time the Los Angeles queer scene. The transgressive novel would also inspire the lyrics of the song L.A. Women by The Doors, which describes the atmosphere of glamour, partying, and violence in the city.

The coffee shop episode is described in detail from Rechy’s testimony in the documentary book Gay L.A. A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians by Lilian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, was published in 2006.

It happened in the spring of 1959 at Cooper’s Donuts, a downtown coffee shop on a seedy stretch of Main Street between two of L.A.’s older gay bars, the Waldorf and Harold’s. Since their glamour days as early as the 1930s, both bars had grown shabby, but they offered refugee to the outcasts of that depressed enclave, who also made Cooper’s Doughnuts their hangout. Cooper’s was an all-night haunt, a place to get cheap coffee and doughnuts, a good place to camp or cruise or converse. Most patrons were queens, butch hustlers, their friends, and their customers. Many were Latino or Black. The queens wore the half-drag of Capri pants and men’s shirts, which, they hoped, would enable them to escape arrest for “masquerading” as women (though they knotted their shirts at the midriff in the feminine style of the day). Because the patrons were obvious or suspected homosexuals, Cooper’s became a frequent target for the Los Angeles Police Department, which prided itself on being one of the most determined enemies of homosexuality in the nation. 

In order to understand the causes that led to such mobilizations, it is important to remember that today’s LGBTQ+ experience, although still facing violations of rights, is far different from what it was over seven decades ago. Discriminatory practices by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department included arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and arrests of individuals whose gender expression did not align with their identification. Merely being gathered with other queer people or attending a bar during a raid was sufficient grounds for being detained and charged. Even serving queer individuals was considered a business risk due to the harassment and surveillance it attracted from the police. Both homosexuality and transvestism (referred to as masquerading) were illegal and punishable as perversions and social deviations.

That night in May, a patrol car circle the block a few times, parked, and two police officers entered Cooper’s, demanding to see identification from those seated at the long rectangular counter. As usual, the police stated no reasons for their harassment. “You, you and you –come with us”, and ordered the men into their squad car. But just as would happen a decade later and a continent away at the Stonewall Inn, that night in Los Angeles, the crowd rebelled. The arbitrary arm of the law had come down “one time too many”. Rechy says: “First people started throwing the doughnuts they were eating at the cops. Then, paper cups started flying… Then coffee-stirring sticks and other things started flying at them”.

Location where Cooper’s Donuts café once stood at 547 South Main Street, at the corner of 6th, DTLA.
(Photo Credit: Rodrigo Herrera)

This could be considered the first uprising in LGBTIQ+ history, but the event has been poorly reported or documented.

The address 547 Main Street, corner of 6th, where the Cooper’s Donuts café used to be, is now a parking lot. Another address attributed to the space in other sources, 316 E 5th St, leads to San Julian Park, and the rest, extracted from the official website of the café chain—which is preserved online as a part of the memory of the uprising—lead to a small immigration office next to another parking lot across from the Cathedral of St. Vibiana, which has now been converted into a private event space.

The demolition of places like Cooper’s Donuts coffee shop has contributed to the amputation of trans history within the LGBTQ+ movement itself in the city, starting at nightclubs that more than mere bars, were considered institutions. However, a few places endure and although they have survived economic recessions, police brutality, and the AIDS pandemic, three years since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, today they are at risk of disappearing along with most of the bars that served Latino and African-descent clientele in the city.

Pershing Square (Photo Credit: Rodrigo Herrera)

My third stop was what was considered the “gay ghetto.” Curious to discover what remained of “the run,” a corridor of meeting places for homosexuals along 5th Avenue and nearby bars that operated from the Prohibition era in the 1920s to the 1960s. I arrived at Pershing Square only to witness the transformation of the first and only public square that once served as a gathering place for the queer community in Los Angeles, who lived in anonymity and secrecy. It had now become a three-story parking lot topped with a thin layer of grass, statues, references, and figures with little context to each other, framed by the landscape of the financial district.

The “open-heart surgery” that meant the multiple redevelopments of Pershing Square since 1951 and the demolition of buildings with a strong historical burden for the LGBTQ+ community downtown is part of the suburbanization – and expulsion – machinery built for private cars over pedestrians, which ended up moving the “respectable citizens” to the suburbs and the queer scene to the west, in the city limits and on the margins of police repression.

The overwhelming presence of intoxicated homeless individuals and the marks of human waste on the concrete of Pershing Square contrast with the image of a father accompanying his daughter on the playground. This block has ceased to be a park, leaving behind the hustle and bustle and the vibrant nightlife it once had. Not even the strong police presence would make me want to return here at night. In reality, I had only a few hours left before sunset, and I still had to make my way to East Hollywood.

The next stop was The Black Cat. Located on Sunset Blvd, the building it occupies is now more Shake Shack than a tavern. There’s even a sonic battle between the two spaces, with pop music vs. lo-fi music competing within the modest Art Deco building. Built in 1939, it used to house a Safeway grocery store. By the 1960s, it had transformed into a gay bar and a laundromat that served a predominantly working-class clientele. The neighboring businesses were a series of establishments friendly to lesbian women and gay men.

The Black Cat Tavern, 3909 Sunset Blvd in the Silver Lake neighborhood of East Hollywood.
(Photo Credit: Rodrigo Herrera)

The Black Cat raid occurred at the moment when attendees were exchanging New Year’s Eve kisses and hugs. Eight undercover police officers (referred to as “Hollywood rejects” in the book Gay L.A. due to their attractiveness for deceiving gay men) conducted the raid at midnight. Fourteen people were arrested outside the bar and charged with assault and “public lewdness.” These arrests marked the first time that gay men were defended in a court case against a judicial system that disagreed with their lifestyle. In response, in February 1967, over 200 queer patrons of the tavern peacefully protested against police brutality following the raid. Some photographs of the protest can be seen on the walls along with paintings and artwork referencing cats. Outside, a plaque acknowledges the site as a cultural-historical monument. Perhaps it’s the morning’s disappointments, but I expected to find more substance, more photos, and more history of what transpired here.

Many significant sites for LGBTQ+ culture have been destroyed before their stories could be told or understood as part of the LGBTQ+ movement.

The LGBTQ+ Pride celebration in Los Angeles today commemorates the Stonewall riots in 1969, and while its significance has evolved to increasingly honor the contributions of Black and Latinx individuals who participated in this process (such as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera), there is still much work to be done to do justice to their historical memory.

Every social movement has its origins in the resistance that arises from domination, the search for identity, and the desire to carve out a space in the world. Behind the vibrant LGBTQ+ scene we see in Los Angeles today, lies the history of trans individuals, which is an inseparable part of LGBTQ+ history. This history is often forgotten and stigmatized, even within the same community, but it refuses to be forgotten.

This research has been very frustrating, primarily due to the lack of records and documentation regarding the milestones in LGBTQ+ rights history. However, I decided to give it one last chance and visit the Central Library the next day to explore more sources and databases. Many people have come to the library asking about records of what happened at Cooper’s. The incident has even been endowed with myth, a category that lies between the unverifiable and the irrefutable.

Photo Credit: The collections of the LA Public Library.

It wasn’t until I returned to the book “Gay L.A.” that I realized the true importance of Cooper’s Donuts. The event at the cafeteria, along with countless other reasons, inspired the documentation work for the book. The lack of records further fueled Faderman and Timmons’ search, and in the process of uncovering those stories, they interviewed around 300 people of different backgrounds, identities, and ages ranging from 16 to their 80s and beyond. It was thanks to the photographs and documents treasured by individuals and organizations that other historical milestones, dating even further back in time, were discovered, showcasing the fabric of our community and our collective struggle. For example, the documenting of an “interracial gala” that took place at the Club Alabama on Central Avenue, the “Harlem” of L.A., in 1945.

What makes a building or an event historically significant? Who decides? How do we tell the stories of people and places for which we have no remains? We demand too much from trans history. We ask for documentation, archives, and records, but for a long time, there was hardly any trace of their lives in history. They barely appeared in the media, and when they did, their lives were dehumanized and denigrated.

The revolution began almost a decade before Stonewall, in the heart of the world’s entertainment capital (or even earlier), and LGBTQ+ history must honor the memory and dignity of the trans and queer individuals who dared to throw the first stone (or donut) in defense of the dignity of all people.


We are searching for memories and recollections about places of interest, historic locations, and beloved personalities that are part of our trans and queer memory in Los Angeles.

Queer Maps – An explorable archive built to preserve and share histories of LGBTQ+ spaces, organizations, etc. in Los Angeles from 1871 →  today. (Link)


Rodrigo Herrera is the editor of The New Gay Times and a contributor to both the Washington Blade and Los Angeles Blade.
The New Gay Times is a Mexico City-based media outlet that publishes stories, news and literature for diversity. The space arises as a response to the low representation of more diverse content in the media.



Los Angeles ConservancyThe Black Cat 

ONE Nation Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries 

Ultimate Classic Rock – The stories behind the songs of The Doors’ last hurrah, ‘L.A. Woman’. 

Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians 

Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

LA Times  (2021)New Jalisco: más que un bar, un salvavidas para los latinos LGBTQ, ahora al borde del cierre 

LA Times (2014) Op-Ed: Why we hate Pershing Square

BBC: El baile de los 41: la fiesta gay de la élite de México que desató un escándalo hace más de un siglo

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Reimagining Eden: What we took away from ‘Heaven on Earth’

In a way, his art can be described as a reinterpretation of Eden, a queering of the garden in the same manner that he queers the gallery



Queer artist Christian Rogers at his most recent gallery exhibition, 'Heaven on Earth' in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Christian Rogers)

LOS ANGELES – The best way to describe Christian Rogers’ most recent artistic adventure is by envisioning him dipping his paintbrush into a Rush bottle and spreading this quintessential party drug across the entirety of a canvas.

Perhaps, it is even more fitting to liken it to a psychedelic trip, complete with the blotter art of a rainbow on a tab of LSD. Rogers’ project Heaven on Earth exudes a vibrant tapestry of queer nostalgia and earthly tones – all while maintaining a balance between the transcendent and the tangible.

In Heaven on Earth, Rogers orchestrates an eruption of colors and emotions, painting a vivid portrait of a world that blurs the lines between reality and imagination. This makes it particularly difficult to define what Rogers’ work actually is – it escapes predictable definitions and styles.

“It’s a little painting, it’s a little sculpture, it’s a collage,” Rogers tells the Blade. His willingness to blend and mold diverse artistic elements creates a fusion that mirrors the complexity of what entails the queer experience. 

Roger’s artistic process mirrors the creation of a body, with paper pulp embodying both the physical and sensual aspects. During Rogers’ most recent gallery public showcase within NOON Projects, an art gallery nestled in the vibrant streets of Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown, his artworks exude a bodily presence. From the outside looking in, the frames of the paintings seem to extend from the wall towards the audience, and the paper pulp reaches out to engage its viewers.

Courtesy of Christian Rogers

But upon closer examination, one discovers an unexpected element – erotic imagery sources from vintage gay pornographic magazines. It’s a classic ‘bait and switch,’ a term Rogers employs to describe the provocative nature of his work, designed to pique curiosity and captivate attention. However, this is not done without purpose; Rogers has a deliberate political strategy underlying his art. He explains, “Part of my strategy is to make a painting so desirable that even the most conservative of heterosexual neo-cons will be attracted to it.”

For those who may not be deeply entrenched in the contemporary art world, it is important to recognize that radical queer art is not the most prevalent form of art on display in galleries. According to Rogers, “The art market itself is fairly conservative. A rich, conservative class of people support the galleries while the galleries cater to that clientele. Some of the most radical queer art doesn’t make it to the mainstream galleries.” 

The profit-driven nature of many galleries plays a significant role in this issue. These galleries often grapple with the perception of how showcasing a multitude of queer artists might be received. As a result, they turn down many queer artists while continuing to showcase bodies and sexualities deemed as profitable by broader society. However, Rogers humorously notes, “It’s so funny, the idea that a gallery – an inanimate object – can be perceived as being ‘too gay’.

Even during the early stages of his artistic journey, Rogers faced criticism from fellow graduate students who questioned the inclusion of erotic images in his work. He tells the Blade, “I was told I didn’t need the erotic images because [my work] was queer enough.” However, in Heaven on Earth, Rogers utilizes pornographic imagery in a way that successfully queers the gallery and spaces the artwork occupies. He firmly believes that these erotic images are not just necessary, but integral to his artistry.

Courtesy of Christian Rogers

Amidst these explicit visuals, his work incorporates symbols of nature and subtle references to religion. This deliberate juxtaposition underscores the crucial role played by the candid and exposed portrayal of bodies in shaping the interpretation of his art. In a way, his art can be described as a reinterpretation of Eden, a queering of the garden in the same manner that he queers the gallery.

Rogers explains the title, “Heaven on Earth,” as rooted in a powerful idea: the possibility that heaven is manifested in our earthly existence. “Could heaven be our existence here?” Rogers asks, “And how wonderful could it be if we let it?” Instead of disavowing discussions of religion, Rogers endeavors to infuse his art with a queer perspective on certain aspects of religion. He elaborates on this concept, saying, “I find a lot of value in spirituality and fellowship; in the queer community, going to a bar is like going to church.”

In fact, Rogers shares a profound spiritual connection with the men depicted in his paintings. Through the deliberate inclusion of these images, he is on a mission to safeguard the rightful place of these men within queer history – a history that has been systematically marginalized by heteronormativity and is constantly at risk of being erased.

These men serve as a powerful symbol of remembrance, a way to honor and embrace those who lived unapologetically queer lives in the past – a particularly poignant endeavor in the face of the devastating losses during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Rather than viewing these men as antiquated, solely existing in the past, Rogers identifies with these men: “I think of these men not as vintage but as contemporaries of myself.”

Courtesy of Christian Rogers

Fortunately, Rogers is not alone in his feelings towards his artwork. Heaven on Earth served to be Rogers’ most successful showcase in terms of sales; though, he does not solely care about the money – he cares about the message. “For me, this is the most I’ve been able to sell, but more than anything, the media and accolades feel monumental,” Rogers says with gratitude. 

As Heaven and Earth wrapped up its showcase at NOON Projects, there is more to take away than just the vibrant colors and mixed geometric shapes of various sizes. The project invited viewers to immerse themselves in a realm where queer culture intertwines with earthly elements and transcendental feelings, creating a captivating fusion of vibrant memories and timeless landscapes.

His willingness to blend and mold diverse elements creates a fusion that mirrors the complexity of the human experience itself. His artwork exists unapologetically, in the same way that Rogers is able to tell his fans, friends, and strangers: “I’m thankful I’m gay.”

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New sound ‘Rising’ echoes past yet escapes predictable genres

While Rising’s style resonates with various generations in diverse ways, his purpose is simple: “Preach love through music”



Kyle Rising interacts with his enthusiastic fans and audience members at a recent show. (Photo Credit: Kyle Rising)

PORT HUENEME, Calif. – In the late evening, Kyle Rising took to the stage at a sold-out concert on September 30th, his attire embodying the spirit of a bygone era: a striking red leather jacket, a black low buttoned dress shirt, and flared black pants adorned with a captivating floral design. Rising’s not-so-subtle display of a late 60s- early 70s motif is not merely a predilection of personal taste; it embodies this 27 year-old’s way of life. 

For this very reason, Rising’s performance at Port Hueneme’s Oceanview Pavilion, a Ventura County venue adjacent to the southern California coastal shore, held special significance as he opened for American guitarist Robby Krieger, a surviving founding member of legendary rock band The Doors.

Rising stands out — he’s not your typical person with a predictable routine. In fact, he’s quite the opposite – an eccentric nomad. His entire essence exudes a carefree eclectic persona that can be likened to one’s driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, windows down, music blaring. Combining the mystique of Jim Morrison, the kinetic dynamism of Elvis, the raw energy of Mick Jagger, and the versatility of Gram Parsons, Rising is a mesmerizing force inspired by those music legends of the past while presenting something entirely new. The 60s and 70s free-spirited paradigm, emblematic of authenticity, love, and psychedelia, defines his allure.

During previous tours Rising performed with Sensi Trails, a band he described as a “reggae rock project” stemming from a ‘high school phase’. Nevertheless, it came as no surprise that, under his first-ever solo name appearance, he opened for Krieger, thanks to his outstanding cover of The Doors’ classic “People are Strange.” 

(Photo Credit: Kyle Rising)

While this cover opened a lot of doors for Rising (his pun), he refuses to be confined to a specific genre. “My taste in music is constantly evolving because I am a sponge when it comes to musical influence,” he explains, “so to pick one genre to be stuck with is difficult.” Yet, he admits to having some significant influences such as ‘rock and roll’ and ‘Americana,’ evident in one of his most recent singles “She Freaks Me Out”.

Much of this versatility in Rising’s musical preference stems from both familial influences and his nomadic lifestyle. Currently residing in San Diego, Rising told the Blade of how his travels influenced his music. “I picked up influences from all over the place,” Kyle elucidates, “I lived in West Virginia and got into bluegrass music…I started playing banjo and got really into the Appalachian style.”

As a result of his penchant for diversification, Rising’s musical performances evoke a range of reactions from audiences, with some saying: “That sounds like classic psychedelic rock! Is that Caribbean music? I hear a reggae influence. Wait, is that country? Does that mean I like country music now?”

The musical versatility, resulting in a mix of emotions, works perfectly as Rising seems to intend. He explains: “Depending on which [genre] you listen to, it’s going to affect how you feel.” 

With each new sound and emotion, Rising pulsated in rhythm with his every move during his Port Hueneme performance. Throughout his set, he held the microphone with an almost spiritual connection, swaying with each verse, as if channeling the spirit of The Doors frontman himself.

Seemingly, before anyone has the time to shout, “That’s Jim Morrison!” Rising almost imperceptibly transitions into another style. One memorable moment was when Rising – in the middle of a song – set his guitar on the stage floor and seductively took off his red leather jacket. With a provocative twist, Rising made slight thrusts at the crowd during a particularly raucous moment, a move that made concert goers feel as though they were immersed in something taboo.

He left the audience spell-bound, evoking a sense of nostalgia in those who witnessed it – a rebellious gesture through the music, a siren call for the audience to shed their inhibitions and join him on this sonic adventure. These bold statements were conveyed through his music, his movements, and his display choice of colorful, psychedelic visuals in the background, serving as reminders that Rising was not merely on stage to perform; he was on stage to evoke, provoke, and challenge any authority that dictates restraints on the body.

(Photo Credit: Kyle Rising)

In a reflection, he does this while expecting his performance to be flawed or imperfect in some way. “I think that the human element has been lost in music,” Rising acknowledges, “When I go to a live show, I want to see the human error. I want to witness some flaws, and I don’t want to listen to a bunch of backing tracks; because if that’s what I want to hear, I’ll go home and put the album on.”

All of this culminates in a set of questions: What are the risks taken in today’s music landscape by the contemporary counterculture? Where is the authenticity of those claiming to believe in the spirit of the 60s and 70s revolutionary moment while refusing to bend the rules or test the limits of power? And finally, why did Rising’s performance stand out as one of those rare moments where audience members sensed they were at the heart of something about to erupt, a plateau about to be reached, or a never-ending intensity composed of artistic expression and uncharted musical territory? 

Evidently, Rising understands the necessity for something new – or at least something that bridges the gap between the previous generations and the current one.

“For the older generation, the performance is nostalgic; and for the younger generation, it’s something new and exciting,” he said. However, this “new and exciting” prospect is not predicated off a short-lived career fueled by immaturity. “I’ve gone through phases where I’ve wanted to do the whole rock and roll party thing,” Rising explains, “but it’s not sustainable – that will make a career very short.” Rising noted that tour life does come with surprises, but “the main thing is providing music to the people.”

While Rising’s style resonates with various generations in diverse ways, his purpose is simple: “Preach love through music.”

An elegantly simple, yet profoundly effective means by which Rising imparts this message of love through music is through his dedications to his family, a practice he upheld during this particular concert where his family was present in the audience.

In a poignant gesture, he chose to dedicate “Hickory Wind,” a country song originally recorded by The Byrds in the late 60s, to his younger brother. This dedication was imbued with a nostalgia of growing up in the southeastern United States exemplifying “that feeling of being back home again,” and reminiscing about that time in their lives.

Rising not only preaches a message of love through his music but also refrains from prescribing a rigid definition of what love should entail. He avoids confining himself to any particular religious doctrine, as he elaborated in his interview with the Blade: “I do believe in spirituality,” he says, clarifying that his spirituality is “centered on love and compassion for one another.”

When discussing his diverse fan base which spans various ages, genders, sexualities, and other characteristics, Rising states, “I love all people. As long as we can get together, enjoy the music, and love each other then that’s amazing.” 

Whether on tour or off, Rising endeavors to convey a message of love. His open-minded, bohemian embracement of love may also be attributed to his deep affection for surfing where he finds the ocean to be a profound source of inspiration. As he explains, “There is so much to learn from the ocean; it offers a lot of metaphors about life.” Additionally, his passion for fashion plays a part, as he ardently believes in people expressing and loving themselves through style.

(Photo Credit: Kyle Rising)

In fact, Rising offered that touring has afforded him the opportunity to explore thrift stores for clothing gems: “The best thrifting I’ve found is in the middle of nowhere.” Furthermore, his love for humanity is exemplified by his belief in the importance of passing things onto others. Particularly when it comes to clothing, he criticizes fast-fashion by asserting, “There is already an abundance of clothes in the world; there’s no need to keep making more. We can pass what we have on to others.”

Kyle Rising is a breath of fresh air, a welcome change in the music scene, which would make any manager lucky to have him as a client. Surprisingly, Rising has been doing his musicianship without management, and believes that “someone who knows the industry and relates to his message” could drastically benefit his musical journey.

The current music landscape seems to lack the audacious spirit of pushing boundaries, the fearless experimentation with the body expressed through wild movements and daring fashion choices infused with innovations. It’s missing the genre-defying music and inclusive acceptance of all individuals. Perhaps it’s even missing sneaking a concert-goer into a venue every once in a while. Kyle Rising is a provocateur who bends the rules, reminding us of the essence of real music: rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in the 21st century.

While he insisted on an in-person interview in the Hollywood Hills, his gratitude for an interview with the Blade nearly matched his feelings of opening for Robbie Krieger:  “It was a real honor,” Rising told the Blade, “I never could have expected this.”

As a music journalist eager to write about an artist with fresh style, I had the privilege of witnessing such a performance, complete with its daring risks and imperfections. It was an experience that embodied the Rising spirit by the fact that I had been discretely admitted to the concert, armed only with a flimsy, maybe not-so-official wristband provided by his friends accompanying him.


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Queer author Abdi Nazemian on anti-LGBTQ+ book bans & outing

“The whole reason I want to write these books that I believe in with all my heart is to give young people the gift of seeing themselves”



Abdi Nazemian, a queer Iranian-American author, screenwriter, and producer shown here with his first novel. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Abdi Nazemian)

Los Angeles Blade Diversity Reporter Simhad Haddad recently sat down with author, screenwriter, producer, and queer activist Abdi Nazemian in an interview covering a variety of issues facing LGBTQ+ youth.

LOS ANGELES – As school districts nationwide seek to erase LGBTQ+ youth with dangerous outing policies and other anti-LGBTQ+ regulations, one author is taking a stand for young queer stories.

Abdi Nazemian is an Iranian-American author, screenwriter, and producer whose debut novel, The Walk-In Closet, won the Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction at the 27th Lambda Literary Awards in 2015.

He is also the author of Like a Love Story, a Stonewall Honor Book, and The Authentics. His novel The Walk-In Closet won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction. His screenwriting credits include the films The Artist’s Wife, The Quiet, and Menendez: Blood Brothers and the television series The Village and Almost Family.

He has been an executive producer and associate producer on numerous films, including Call Me by Your Name, Little Woods, and The House of Tomorrow. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband, their two children, and their dog, Disco.

“When they want to ban a book that is about our history and our activism, it is very clear that they are trying to ban who we are,” Nazemian told The Blade in a recent interview. “They are trying to ban us from existing.”

Nazemian moved to Los Angeles from Iran when he was two years old. Growing up in a traditional Iranian family in the 1990s at the height of the AIDS crisis, Nazemian was subject to a deep feeling of unease about being gay.

“I really thought that if I had sex, I would die,” Nazemian said.

Nazemian found an outlet for his queerness through gay nightlife, enjoying an environment of acceptance and freedom with other LGBTQ+ youths. Eventually, Nazemian became educated in safe sex practices but still worried about the lack of LGBTQ+ education available to other youths.

“The whole reason I want to write these books that I believe in with all my heart is to give young people, hopefully, the gift of seeing themselves in history or on a page in media in a way I never had. To know that they are being subjected to the same kind of tactics of shaming and stigmatizing that I was subjected to back in those days, as in the early 90s, is upsetting, but it’s also in the playbook of the people who don’t want us to exist.”

Sadly, Nazemian’s goal of letting LGBTQ+ youth see themselves represented through his novels has caused his writing to come under fire from conservatives. His books have been banned by school districts across the nation. His historical fiction novel Like a Love Story is required reading at some high schools, causing conservative groups to be particularly active in banning the novel.

“It’s about about queer teenagers who get involved in activism. I have spoken to high school classrooms where the kids have told me they didn’t even know what HIV/AIDS was before reading the book, which is really, really crazy when you think about it. Teenagers should know about these diseases so that they can protect themselves.”

Nazemian said that depriving young adults of LGBTQ+ education is depriving them of a right of passage.

“Young adults are almost adults,” Nazemian said. “They are ready to grapple with these subjects.”

In addition to school districts banning Nazemian’s novels, people on Twitter (now X) have taken it upon themselves to attack Nazemian for both his writing and his own queerness.

Two Twitter (now X) users, in particular with large platforms, one former Fox News reporter and a Texan politician, took it upon themselves to rally other Twitter (now X) users to attack Nazemian and Like a Love Story.

“They took passages out of context,” said Nazemian. “It is a book about HIV/AIDS, so it is obviously going to contain some discussion of sex and sexuality. But they would take passages out of context that were about sex to make it seem very graphic. They would call me a groomer and a pornographer and all the buzzwords that they have. Then, inevitably, a lot of people would respond. Some people would respond to me directly with threats. There was a lot of Go back to Iran. The underlying message was that I should feel lucky to even exist in this country because I would be killed in Iran, which is a pretty gross thing to say.”

Nazemian has since somewhat cleansed himself of the social media platform. He deleted all of his tweets and now only posts the bare minimum to keep his readers informed about his projects.

Nazemian said that his desire to tell his own story has been made more difficult by his being a gay man of color.

“I spent about eight years working as a film writer, and I never succeeded in getting anything Iranian or queer made or even off the ground. Anytime I wrote something personal to my culture and my identity, it would get called a writing sample and be used to get me work on projects that were not personal in any way. I really felt this need to just tell a story that was about my own experience, and that ended up being the best thing I ever did.”

After the success of Like a Love Story, Nazemian began to feel a responsibility to LGBTQ+ youth to continue writing books.

“Once I wrote Like a Love Story, there was definitely a turning point for me. It became a much deeper thing. I don’t think I was quite prepared.”

Nazemian said he had no idea the book would resonate so deeply with such a broad international audience.

“I got to hear much more personal stories from readers about what that meant to them-readers who felt seen, readers who were kicked out by their families for being queer. People told me they read the book and then asked their parents about HIV/AIDS for the first time and found out they had an uncle who died of it. Secrets came out. Books and art can be portals to conversation. Knowing this book allowed people to live more honest and fulfilled lives was huge for me. It gave me a different kind of perspective on my own work.”

Nazemian said that getting his stories out through books was easier than through TV/film.

“Hollywood is still a very difficult place to tell these stories. Books have a different path to getting made. They don’t need millions of dollars. They don’t need stars. You can take bigger risks with books in a way that you can’t with movies. It is such a gift to be able to tell these stories and have the experience that every artist wants, which is to feel that you have genuinely expressed what is in your heart and soul.”

Nazemian said he also wants to educate LGBTQ+ youth about history.

“Part of the reason I write historical fiction and I’m so obsessed with history is so much of my ancestry was hidden when I was growing up. I didn’t know anything about the Iranian revolution and what happened to my family. I didn’t know anything about queer history or that there even was one. I thought I was the only person who ever felt the way I did. So, filling in the gaps is really important for me.”

Nazemian said that living through the AIDS crisis and having researched so much queer history has made him understand that the current volatile political climate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights is “nothing new.”

“What is going on now is a bit of a continuation of the 90s,” Nazemian said. “But it has also happened before then. In my latest novel, Only This Beautiful Moment, a whole section takes place in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Drag was very popular in LA in the 1930s. This was when all the movie stars like Marlena Dietrich were going out to see those drag queens perform, and they were becoming quite famous. Because drag was so popular, they criminalized it. They passed these laws that said you could dress and drag on stage, but if you got off stage, they would arrest you. It is similar to what is happening now. A lot of kids are obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race, and now what do they do? They go and they criminalize drag.”

Nazemian, who has visited countless schools, igniting conversations with youths about the LGBTQ+ community, said that libraries are often safe havens for many queer kids with nowhere else to turn.

“In every community I visit, the library has become the haven for these kids because the librarians are often the adults that make them feel seen and give them a place to feel safe.”

Nazemain said that he knows firsthand what it is like to feel safe with an educator at school. He said that he first came out to his English teacher when he was 14, and did not feel mentally or emotionally ready to come out to his family until ten years later.

“My English teacher was one of the first people to encourage me to write. These days, there is this push for schools and teachers to out children to parents… Had I not had that safe environment, I would never be who I am today.”

Abdi Nazemian on right with his husband. (Photo Credit Abdi Nazemian)

Nazemian said he and his husband make a conscious effort to create an inclusive and liberating home environment for their twin children.

“We tell our children that they will be accepted, no matter how they identify and whom they love. We have told them that school is a safe space to build an identity outside of the family unit. They don’t need to tell us everything that they are doing. I think the idea that everything must be reported to parents is really not how we’re supposed to be. So much of our job is to teach them how to be independent people.”

Nazemian also said he would like to see more focus turned to the unsung heroes like his high school English teacher and the librarians who create a safe environment for kids.

“People can help by shining a light in more local ways, like helping the local libraries or educators. There are amazing librarians, educators, and teachers who are standing up to parental complaints. They really stand up for the queer kids in the school. Instead of focusing on people doing the banning, let’s get in the habit of celebrating the everyday heroes.”

Finally, Nazemian said that despite all the negative press surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, he remains optimistic about the state of the world.

“I really want to remind our community of how much love there is out there,” Nazemian said. “I think sometimes social media can really distort our understanding. I have seen in my travels that there is a world out there of support and loving creativity. I just want to remind our community to celebrate love as they fight against the negative things. I really do believe there is more love than hate, and the way for the love to win is to keep shining the love out into the world.”

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Investigation: Divorce records portray ‘Ex-Gay’ activist as violent

Institute for Healthy Families Leader Shoves Ex-Wife’s Mom, Allegedly Strikes Wife and Accused of Grabbing His Children by Their Throats



Nathan Gniewek (L) & Christopher Doyle (R) (Screenshot from documentary film: The Sunday Sessions)

By Wayne Besen | LEESBURG, VA. – Critics have long deduced that Christopher Doyle is divorced from reality, but the ugly reality of his bitter divorce is what will likely cause the demise of America’s most notorious “ex-gay” conversion therapist.

Doyle is a licensed therapist and the Executive Director of the Institute for Healthy Families, which is promoted as “a non-profit Judeo-Christian therapeutic organization in the Washington, D.C. area.” A new Truth Wins Out exclusive investigation, however, reveals that Christopher Doyle is the last person in America who should be doling out advice on what constitutes a healthy family.

Not only has Doyle betrayed the façade that he is an upstanding religious family man, but new evidence strongly suggests that he isn’t “ex-gay”. A series of bizarre text message exchanges with a fellow “ex-gay” activist raises profound doubt about Christopher’s alleged sexual conversion.

Furthermore, Doyle appears to be in flagrant violation of the law, for years falsely portraying the Institute for Healthy Families as a 501c3 tax-deductible non-profit organization. In reality, the tax-exempt status for IHF was revoked May 15, 2020.

After receiving a tip from a disgruntled former colleague of Christopher’s, I traveled to Leesburg, Virginia’s Loudoun County Circuit Court to review the divorce records in Christopher J. Doyle v. Sherry Doyle (20-4461). Up until this point, the dissolution of their marriage had not been made public.

I contacted Sherry Doyle to ask for a comment. She said, “the public record is the public record.” She declined to comment further because the litigation is ongoing regarding child support and other financial considerations. I contacted Christopher Doyle moments prior to publication and he said that I was trying to “smear” him and threatened a lawsuit. I pointed out that the allegations were public record and Christopher threatened to write a piece on my divorce. I responded that it would be fine because I don’t run the Institute for Healthy Families and never had a protective order filed against me for alleged violence.

What I discovered in the divorce records was profoundly disturbing, with his now ex-wife alleging that Christopher was a verbally and physically abusive husband who sometimes terrorized his own family, while hypocritically dispensing wholesome “Christian” family advice to clients. According to his wife’s Counterclaim (Aug. 24, 2020):

Throughout the course of the marriage the Husband has committed acts of mental cruelty and physical cruelty towards the Wife, with the said act being successive, cumulative and increasing in intensity during the last few years.

The Husband would become enraged, often times about the Wife’s refusal to have sexual relations with him. When in a state of rage he would berate her and verbally abuse the Wife and at times batter her by shoving or striking her.

Before we reveal the remaining allegations made against the “ex-gay” leader in court documents, it’s critically important to establish the prominence of Doyle in the broader “ex-gay” industry.

He was a protégé of two notorious “ex-gay” leaders, the late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH and Richard Cohen, a self-described “rageaholic,” who admitted in his book, Coming Out Straight, that he felt like “killing” his wife. Doyle is the founder and clinical director of Northern Virginia Christian Counseling. Doyle created “Ex-Gay Pride”, is a former board member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) and is frequently quoted in major media outlets including, Dr. OzCNNUSA Today and The Washington Post.

Most recently, he made headlines unsuccessfully suing former Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) to overturn Maryland’s ban on “ex-gay” conversion therapy.

Screenshot/YouTube WTTG Fox 5

Doyle is the author of several books including The War on Psychotherapy: When Sexual Politics, Gender Ideology, and Mental Health Collide (2019) and The Meaning of Sex: A New Christian Ethos (2018). He was featured in a documentaryThe Sunday Sessions, where he tried (and failed) to turn a gay client heterosexual. Doyle is the founder of multiple small “ex-gay” advocacy organizations including Voice of the Voiceless, which bills itself as “the only anti-defamation league for former homosexuals.”

Doyle’s hatred for the LGBTQ community is palpable. Though he passive-aggressively feigns love, his seething disgust is evident and ineffectively concealed.

“Whereas I once held contempt for the LGBT community, that has completely transformed to love and compassion. So, I wish to express my gratitude for the many gay activist organizations out there spreading misinformation and committing mass fraud,” Doyle writes in The War on Psychotherapy.

Christopher Doyle and Sherry Montgomery married on August 3, 2006, in Vienna, Virginia. An innocent young Christian woman, Sherry accepted her husband’s word that he was supposedly “healed” from his homosexual feelings. Nonetheless, the marriage was rocky with intermittent outbursts of alleged uncontrolled rage and occasional violence.   

One such eruption occurred in July 2020, during a family vacation in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In an instant, the Doyle’s marriage unraveled with the Christian counselor arrested for attacking his family. The Counterclaim reveals (Aug. 24, 2020):

On July 9, 2020, the Husband became enraged and shoved both the Wife and her mother, resulting in felony criminal charges in the state of Florida. This incident occurred in the presence of the children.

In a protective order affidavit (JA030704-01-00) Sherry describes the terrifying scene:

“He was raging and shoved me and was throwing things at me and in the room—destroying the house. My mother entered and tried to help me and my children and he became angrier and shoved my mother and she fell backwards into a table…the children were scared and my oldest son threatened to call 911 on his father after seeing my mother shoved a 2nd time by his father. He was threatening to take the kids while enraged so we immediately called 911 to protect the children, my mother and myself.”

Another court document states:

This resulted in both felony charges in Florida and a permanent protective order on behalf of the Wife against the Husband in Loudoun County, Virginia.

A court document (August 28, 2020) further elaborates on the protective order’s restrictions for “violently shoving” his family members:

The husband is precluded by court order in Florida from having any contact with the Wife. Moreover, there is a permanent protective order entered against the Husband in favor of the wife in Loudoun, County, Virginia. Said order precludes husband from anything but limited contact with the wife.

(A credible source told me that Doyle was forced to take a course on domestic violence as a condition for release. Due to the incident, Doyle was dismissed as a mental health therapist at Patrick Henry University. His efforts at reinstatement were denied.)

In court documents, Sherry described herself as “an abused spouse at risk of further family abuse at the hands of the Husband.” Immediately following the incident, Sherry fled Florida to return to their shared home in northern Virginia. Once inside the couple’s 6,440 square foot home, she packed her bags and moved into her mother’s basement in Maryland, along with the Doyle family’s five children.

Only weeks prior to the violent altercation in New Smyrna Beach, Christopher was preoccupied with a matter closer to his heart. In the lead-up to an “ex-gay” retreat in Orlando, he engaged in a series of peculiar, eyebrow-raising text messages with Charles “Chuck” Peters. The two men began working together in 2013, with Peters interning for Doyle, as well as being his counseling client at IHF, then known as the International Healing Foundation. Peters is best-known for his 2013 speech where he led an hilarious chant in Washington, DC, “Hip, Hip, Hooray for Ex-Gays.”

The disquieting text messages between Christopher and Chuck, which were entered as exhibits into the court report, began June 6, 2020. Chuck wrote, “I’m sooooo excited you are coming to Orlando.” Christopher responded, “Me too.”

On June 10, Christopher wrote, “Hey Boo Boo, I’m just calling you back, I love you.” Chuck replies, “I love you,” followed by a heart emoji. On June 16, Christopher writes, “Is everything OK?” Chuck responds, “Yeah, just wanted to talk to you…you always make me smile.” Christopher responds, “Thank you, I love you too,” with smile and heart emojis included in the text.

In perhaps the most bizarre text message, Chuck wrote, “Daddy, Daddy” repeatedly, followed by “I love you” eleven times, interspersed with smiles and heart emojis. Christopher replied, “Thanks BuBu can you pick me up in New Smyrna Beach next Wednesday before the retreat starts?” There are several additional text messages where the conversion therapist and his client/research assistant express their love, with Chuck calling Christopher “Daddy” and Christopher calling Chuck “Boo Boo” or “BuBu.” (The different spellings are likely from speech prediction in voice texts)

“Another day, another ‘ex-gay’ fraudster caught lying. Christopher Doyle can’t get rid of his same-sex attraction, the same way I can’t stop being left-handed,” said Chaim Levin, a conversion therapy survivor. “I’d like to hope that Doyle will take this time to reflect on his very hurtful, dangerous actions and the pain he has caused so may gay men over the course of decades, but I’m not optimistic.”

A key source revealed to me that Christopher and Chuck would spend “Brokeback-style” weekends alone together and Chuck was a frequent presence in Doyle’s life. While there is no outright admission of sexual relations or a romantic relationship, the amorous banter is highly inappropriate among Christian men whose activism is centered around curing male clients of their homosexuality. The doctor/patient, boss/worker dynamic also raises serious ethical questions about Doyle’s relations with clients under his care.

In a Voice of the Voiceless post, Peters acknowledges he was a client of Christopher’s practice, claiming that he was “receiving therapy from the International Healing Foundation.” This apparently included the controversial practice of “touch therapy,” where a conversion therapist cuddles on a couch with a client.

“It took a great deal of courage for me, a sexual abuse survivor, to gather up the strength to trust a stranger to hold me in a non-sexual way, when I’ve only experienced abuse and unhealthy sexual touch for so many years,” Peters wrote. 

Touch therapy has led to many instances of sexual abuse, where a trusted therapist takes advantage of his clients. In his book, The War on Psychotherapy, Doyle endorses the supposed efficacy of a therapist undressing gay therapy clients. “It is important to understand how nudity work may be beneficial to some individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions,” Doyle wrote.

Meanwhile, after the incident in Florida, the bitter divorce proceedings began in earnest. In the motion for Pendente Lite Relief, (September 4, 2020) Sherry’s legal team asked the court:

That the Husband be enjoined and restrained from physically or verbally assaulting, interfering with, molesting, annoying or in any manner threatening the Wife, and that the Husband be enjoined from imposing any restraint on the personal liberty of the Wife.

Based on her allegations in the court filings, Sherry had good reason to worry about her safety and that of her children. In one harrowing passage in the Counterclaim (Aug 24, 2020):

On June 21, 2020 the Husband became enraged and grabbed two of the children by the throat and threw them up against his motor vehicle. One of the children stated, “Dad, you’re hurting me” in distress while he was being choked. The Wife had to intervene and slowly and gently lower the Husband’s hands as to not enrage him further.

It was always questionable whether Christopher should be around children. In my new book, Lies with a Straight Face: Exposing the Cranks and Cons Inside the Ex-Gay Industry, there is a chapter on Christopher called “Snake Oil Doyle.” It discusses a creepy passage in “Christopher’s Story”:

Christopher Doyle was a very naughty boy.

In his personal testimony on the Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) website, where he served as a board member, Doyle admitted to a rather shocking crime. He wrote that during his youth, his mom ran a daycare facility, which gave him access to the kids in his mother’s charge. In his online confession, “Christopher’s Story”, he claimed that he molested some of these children.

“I tried to have sex with the little girls that my mother watched in her daycare, and eventually, one of the girls told her parents what I was doing. The shame that was placed on me by my parents was more than I could bear. Rather than rescue me, teach me, and put me in counseling, the ‘bad boy’ was left alone to deal with all of this shame.”

Instead of taking personal responsibility for his criminal behavior and the psychological damage he surely caused his prey, Doyle pitifully casts himself as a victim. One wonders why he wasn’t arrested and sentenced to a juvenile detention center. In lieu of doing time, or getting the help he so desperately needed, the largely untreated Doyle went on to pursue his own counseling career. I’m no psychological expert, but the mental health industry probably isn’t a good fit for a man with Doyle’s professed proclivities.

It seems that much of Christopher’s alleged violence and dysfunction stem from his “ex-gay” experience. The court documents reveal a portrait of a neurotic man always trying to prove his heterosexuality, sometimes by allegedly forcing sex on his wife. The Counterclaim states:

  • The Husband is an ex-homosexual…and has further made sexual relations a focal point of his life and the parties’ marriage to a level of abuse of the Wife.
  • May 2016 the Husband was demanding the Wife have sexual relations with him and the Wife refused. This enraged the Husband and he pushed the Wife down on a bed, got on top of her and punched her in the face.
  • November 2013 the Husband became enraged because the Wife would not perform oral sex on him. The Husband screamed, yelled and threw a heavy mixing bowl at the Wife, narrowly missing her head. The Wife was pregnant at the time.
  • The Husband attended sexual addiction class for approximately one year because he could not cope with the Wife’s refusal to have sexual relations with him upon demand.
  • The Husband would frequently use pornography to satisfy his sexual urges and at least one time bragged about hiring a prostitute.
Doyle/Social Media posts

As the divorce proceeded, Christopher allegedly tried to make his wife suffer consequences. In one document (Jan. 13, 2021) Sherry’s legal team accused Christopher of “scorched earth tactics.” Although Doyle reportedly made $215,000 per year, the documents state he was “currently paying no support to the wife and children.”  He reportedly, “proceeded to terminate the Wife’s access to any of the parties’ joint financial resources” and “terminated the wife from life insurance”, as well as “threatened to terminate the Wife from the family health insurance plan.” (The court has subsequently ordered Christopher to pay child support)  

A former client of Christopher’s, in 2011, Jared Dixon, expressed disgust with the allegations made against his former therapist. While in therapy, Doyle idealized heterosexuality and belittled LGBTQ relations.

“Chris proudly professed that he was living his dreams in a heterosexual marriage,” said Dixon. “He interjected with his thoughts about LGBTQ life, including multiple sexual partners, drug and alcohol abuse, and narcissism. He told us that gay men were highly narcissistic, which explained why many of them did not have children. Leaving those sessions made me feel hopeless, depressed, and suicidal. He’s a total hypocrite and I hope that other survivors of Chris Doyle’s brand of conversion therapy find closure through this revelation.” 

Christopher Doyle might fancy himself a “Christian therapist”, but if his divorce papers are any indication, it seems the counselor is in desperate need of a spiritual awakening and sessions with a team of legitimate therapists to help him wrestle with his inner demons.

“Christopher Doyle would force me to talk about my sexual feelings in his therapy session,” said Matt Ashcroft, another former client of Doyle’s. “Judging by his now exposed anger and violence, I finally know why. I am glad that he is exposed. Our community is safer.”


The preceding article was previously published by Truth Wins Out and is republished with permission.


Wayne Besen is an American LGBT rights advocate. He is a former investigative journalist for WABI-TV, a former spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, and the founder of Truth Wins Out. 

In the photograph to the left Besen is pictured executing research for the preceding investigative piece.

(Photo Credit: Wayne Besen)

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Gay pediatric cardiologist honored at LGBTQ History Month event

The Washington Blade’s editor Kevin Naff will present Kleinmahon with the award on October 1 in Philadelphia



Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, his husband Tom, and their kids. (Photo Credit: Jake Kleinmahon)

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, a gay pediatric cardiologist and pediatric heart transplant specialist, is scheduled to be honored Oct. 1 by the Equality Forum at its annual LGBTQ+ History Month Kickoff and Awards Celebration in Philadelphia.

He has been named a recipient of the Equality Forum’s 28th annual International Role Model Award. 

Kleinmahon became the subject of national news media coverage in early August when he announced he was leaving the state of Louisiana with his husband and two children and ending his highly acclaimed medical practice in New Orleans after the state legislature passed bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

He had been working since 2018 as the medical director of pediatric heart transplant, heart failure, and ventricular assist device programs at Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans.

Kleinmahon told the Washington Blade his and his family’s decision to leave New Orleans was a difficult one to make. He said it came after the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature passed three anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill targeting public schools and a bill banning transition-related medical care for transgender youth.

The state’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, vetoed all three bills. But the legislature overturned his veto of the bill banning transition-related medical care for trans minors beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

Kleinmahon said he and his family moved at the end of August to Long Island, N.Y., after he accepted a new job as director of pediatric heart transplant, heart failure and ventricular assist devices at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in the town of New Hyde Park, which is located along the border of the Borough of Queens in New York City and Nassau County, Long Island.

“The decision to leave is not one that we took lightly at all,” Kleinmahon told the Blade. “And it was not one because I got a better job or other factors,” he said. “The main driver for it was that as we realized where things were going, we were raising our children in a state that was actively trying to make laws against your family,” he said in a phone interview. “And that’s not the type of environment that we want to raise our kids in.”

Kleinmahon said he and his husband Thomas timed their move to Long Island at the end of August so their daughter, who’s seven, could begin school at the start of the school year and their son, who’s four, could begin pre-kindergarten sessions.

“We have been open with our children about why we’re moving because we think it’s important that they carry on this message as well,” said Kleinmahon, who noted that his daughter expressed support for the move.

“We were at the dinner table one night and we were explaining what happened,” Kleinmahon said. “And she goes, you know daddy, we do have a choice, but there is only one good one. And she agreed with our moving to New York.”  

Kleinmahon acknowledges that some in New Orleans, which is considered an LGBTQ+ supportive city in general, questioned his decision to leave on grounds that the two bills that would directly impact him and his family did not become law because the governor’s veto of the two bills were upheld.

“One of the things I’ve heard is that none of these really directly affect a family because the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill didn’t go into effect, and my children are not transgender, and I don’t work in a transgender clinic,” he told the Blade.

“But that’s really not the point,” he continued. “The way we think about it as a family, the people who are elected officials that are supposed to take care of the people in their state are casting votes against our families,” he points out. “So, sure, while the laws may not be in effect this year, certainly there’s a push to get them passed. And why would we want to remain in a state that is trying to push forward hateful laws?”

He said he will begin his new job at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island on Nov. 1.

“They have been incredibly supportive,” Kleinmahon said. “They have actually encouraged me to be open with why we left Louisiana,” he said. “And they have a Pride resource group that’s reached out to me to lend their support,” he said, adding that the hospital and its parent company have been “exceptional in helping us make this transition.”

During his medical practice at Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans, Kleinmahon has been credited with helping to save the lives of many children suffering from heart-related ailments. He said his decision to leave behind his colleagues and patients was difficult.

“Unfortunately, it had ramifications for the kids in Louisiana, which was the hardest part for me,” he said. “And the reason for that is I was one of three pediatric heart transplant cardiologists, and I was the director of the only pediatric heart transplant program in Louisiana.”

He added, “While there are two other fantastic heart transplant cardiologists in Louisiana, the ability to keep a program running that serves an entire state needs a full army of people. And me leaving took 33 percent of that army away.”

He said he was also one of just two pediatric pulmonary hypertension providers in the state, and he just learned that the other provider had also left Louisiana recently. Pulmonary hypertension doctors provide treatment for people with the condition of high blood pressure in their lungs.

Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, his husband Tom, and their kids. (Photo Credit: Jake Kleinmahon)

Regarding his extensive experience in treating and caring for children with heart disease, Kleinmahon, in response to a question from the Blade, said about 400 children receive heart transplants in the U.S. each year.

While heart transplants for kids are not as frequent as those for adults, he said kids needing a heart transplant and their families “deal with a tremendous amount of stress and medical appointments that really change their life,” including the need to take medication to prevent the body from rejecting a new heart for the rest of the children’s lives.

“My hope as a transplant doctor is that I can get these kids to live as normal a life as possible,” he said.

In addition to presenting its International Role Model Award to Kleinmahon, the Equality Forum was scheduled on Oct. 1 at its LGBTQ+ History Month event to present its Frank Kameny Award to Rue Landau, the first LGBTQ+ Philadelphia City Councilperson. It was also scheduled to present a Special Memorial Tribute to the late Lilli Vincenz, the longtime D.C.-area lesbian activist and filmmaker credited with being a pioneering LGBTQ+ rights activist beginning in the early 1960s.

“I am beyond humble to receive this award that is really not an award for me but is an award for my family and for families like ours and for people that are going to continue to fight discriminatory policies,” Kleinmahon said.

Blade editor Kevin Naff will present Kleinmahon with the award on Oct. 1 in Philadelphia.

“Dr. Kleinmahon and his family took a brave stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and they deserve our gratitude,” Naff said. “I’m excited and honored to present him with the International Role Model Award.”

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Julio Salgado: Queer, Latino, & creating a powerful artistic narrative

Openly queer and openly undocumented, one Los Angeles artist uses his platform to destigmatize what many consider taboo



"A commentary on the bullshit idea that the work that immigrants do in this country is considered low skilled," Julio Salgado

LOS ANGELES – Julio Salgado is the co-creator of The Disruptors Fellowship, a program at The Center for Cultural Power in Oakland, California, for emerging television writers of color who identify as trans/and or non-binary, disabled, undocumented/formerly undocumented immigrants.

His work has been displayed at the Oakland Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian, but for the 39-year-old artist, it’s using his art to destigmatize what many consider taboo that’s his passion.

The early years

Growing up in Mexico, Salgado felt pressure from his family and peers to take part in sports, primarily soccer. However, disinterested in the innate masculinity of Mexican sports culture, the young artist chose to spend hours drawing in his room instead.  

“Plus, I’m not a competitive person,” Salgado humbly told The Blade. 

Then, in 1995, when Salgado was twelve, a family trip to Los Angeles took a shocking turn when Salgado’s younger sister developed severe symptoms that landed her first in a general hospital and then later in a children’s hospital. 

“It happened super fast,” said Salgado. “She was rushed to the ER, and her kidneys started failing.”

Salgado’s sister (then 7) was put on dialysis as doctors told the family that she would need a new kidney ASAP. 

Both of Salgado’s parents were matches for his sister. Within a few weeks, Salgado’s mother had an operation to transfer her kidney to her ailing daughter. 

“It’s your child,” said Salgado, reflecting on his mother’s sacrifice. “You will do anything for your child.”

“Portrait I did of my sister after one of her first dialysis sessions last year. After living with my mother’s kidney for almost 26 years, my sister had to go back on dialysis at the beginning of 2022,” Julio Salgado

While the surgery was a success, a new complication arose when doctors told the family that it would be dangerous for the sister to be under the care of new doctors in Mexico. Not willing to risk her daughter’s life, Salgado’s mother decided to stay in America indefinitely.

“My parents were so young,” said Salgado. “They were in their early thirties. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for them.” 

Not fully prepared to move to the U.S., Salgado’s father returned to his job in Mexico. He periodically sent money to his family in Los Angeles. 

“It was the opposite of how it usually is,” said Salgado. “Usually, Mexicans come to work here and send money back home to Mexico. But we did it in reverse.”

For the first couple of months, the family of three couch-surfed their way through different family members’ homes. Eventually, they moved into a small studio apartment with Salgado’s uncle, Chicho. 

The family lived in the US for about a year before their passports expired. 

In 1996, the family moved out of Chicho’s apartment toa home in Long Beach, this time with Salgado’s father, who had finally agreed to give up his life and job in Mexico. 

In school, Salgado bonded with other undocumented kids in his ESL class. Sadly, many of these friends knew they could never attend university due to their lack of papers. 

“That was my biggest fear,” said Salgado. “I knew a lot of my friends went into the kind of jobs no one really wants to do. I did a few of those jobs myself… I wanted more for my life, but I didn’t know what was going to happen to me after high school.”

Luckily, California Assembly Bill 540 (AB 540) passed as Salgado graduated high school, allowing undocumented immigrants to attend community college while paying in-state tuition.

“I still had to make money,” said Salgado, who independently funded his entire college career. “I got creative. I even took odd jobs caricatures for kids’ parties.” 

Salgado recalled that despite building a life for himself in America, he was always hyper-aware of his illegal status. 

“I only drove from work or to school and home,” said Salgado. “There was always this feeling of being a kid forever… My friends just knew that if I were going to come out with them, they would have to drive me.”

Salgado recalled a run-in with the police that left him shaking with fear.  

It was 3:30 AM, and Salgado was driving his 1983 Plymouth for his early morning shift at a large chain store. A young police officer pulled Salgado over and asked for his license and registration. He lied, saying that he had forgotten it at home.   

 “I was inspired to make this image after reading Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans. Immigrants are constantly having to proof their loyalty to a country they were forced to migrate to while being treated poorly. Growing up in this country, I felt like I couldn’t afford to make mistakes or I could be deported. This was mentally exhausted and proof nothing as bills like the Dream Act, a bill that is meant to support “good immigrants” who go to college and follow the rules, hasn’t passed,” Julio Salgado

The officer asked him to pull into a nearby McDonald’s parking lot so that they could search his car. Feeling he had nothing to hide, Salgado complied. 

“Before I knew it, two more police cars showed up,” said Salgado. “I was being told not to move. There was a gun to my head. I was going to cry. I had never seen a gun in my life.”

The police had found some t-pins, used to pin artwork on cork walls, in his trunk and mistaken them for drug paraphernalia. Once he cleared up the misunderstanding, the police made a tearful Salgado abandon his car and left him on the side of the road. 

“I was so scared,” said Salgado, who felt the incident served as a reminder that he was constantly at risk of being deported. 

While Salgado remains currently undocumented, he said that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has helped him settle more into American life. DACA is administrative relief from deportation that protects eligible immigrant youth from deportation originally established via executive action in June 2012 by the Obama Administration.

“Since 2012, I have been able to do more,” said Salgado. “Now I have a social security number and a real ID and driver’s license. I can now get permission to leave the country and come back.”

Salgado said he feels DACA benefits not only immigrants but also the spirit of America as a whole. 

“You are creating citizens who can give back to America. Many who got DACA became doctors and lawyers. Isn’t that the American dream?” 

Coming Out as Gay

Homosexuality had always been a sensitive subject in Salgado’s family. In addition to the stigma homosexuality carried in his religious Catholic household, the AIDS crisis also played a role in the taboo.  

Salgado’s mother had a young brother who died from AIDS. His uncle, Chicho, who the family lived with when they first moved to Los Angeles, was openly gay and had developed HIV. 

“There were always whispers about my uncle Chicho,” said Salgado.

“We were just learning about AIDS and seeing people die on the news… I knew if I followed this path, I would die.” 

“Portrait of my gay uncle Chicho. When he was alive, my uncle was a huge fan of angels. Not sure if he believed in them or what they represented, but he had all kinds of figurines in the many apartments he lived around Echo Park, Silver Lake and East Hollywood,” Julio Salgado

Salgado got his first inkling that he was gay when he was a young boy watching Disney’s Aladdin. 

“I just really wanted to hug him,” said Salgado, laughing. “I knew I was attracted to other men, but growing up Catholic, I also knew that was wrong.” 

When Salgado was in high school, he started to share suspicions about being gay with his female friends. A couple of those friends propositioned Salgado, saying they were willing to offer him their bodies so that he could discover whether or not he was gay. 

“I do think sexuality is fluid,” said Salgado, reflecting on how the experience left him thinking that he was bisexual. “At that point, I had never been with a boy. I was glad we were exploring, but I felt guilty, like I was used to them. And I was ditching school. “

Salgado said that he believed his foreignness saved him from the typical bullying commonly accompanying a young queer person’s journey to self-discovery. 

“I mostly got bullied for not speaking English,” said Salgado. “It was actually the other brown kids who would make fun of me and call me ‘wet back’ and make me feel bad because my parents bought me shoes from Payless. It was immigrant-on-immigrant bullying.”

Salgado did not come out to his family until he was an older teenager. He came out to his mother when he was eighteen after she read some experts about being gay in an old sketchbook/diary of his. 

“At that moment, I felt I had two options. I could either say, how dare you go through my things, Mother, or I could come clean. I told her that I was bisexual because that is what I thought at the time.” 

Salgado did not come out to his father until he was about twenty-five and in college.

“I was in love with my first boyfriend,” said Salgado. “I thought this was really the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with…I came out to my dad because I wanted to introduce my boyfriend to my family.”

Salgado came out to his father in the car on the way home from work.

“I remember not being able to get the words out,” said Salgado. “I said, ‘I’m different,’ and he knew exactly what I was talking about.”

At first, his father said that while he respected “this decision,” he “did not want to see that.”

While Salgado was glad his father did not react with the physical or emotional violence that was especially prevalent when his father drank, he also realized his hope of introducing his boyfriend to his father was impossible. 

Salgado said his father has since come to terms with having a gay son. Their relationship is now better, and they even collaborated on an art piece about homophobia and machismo. Salgado said he realizes that his father’s past homophobia was a misguided way of trying to protect his son. 

The Art

Salgado’s early art is often political, reflecting everything from the queer rights movement to the war in Iraq. 

In college, Salgado stopped being an art major because he found it too restrictive. He then became a journalism major instead. 

Salgado used political cartoons as a way to feel connected to the world at large. The artist said that is when he caught the bug for political art as a way to connect to others.

Salgado met more undocumented college students at Cal State Long Beach and started a support group for them. 

“I started making work focused on undocumented immigrants because I wanted to put a face to the voices that were being ignored. Similar to the coming out of the closet, coming out as undocumented meant you were not alone and you had a community who could support you,” Julio Salgado

Through the support group, Salgado met other creatives and started a magazine called “The Reflection,” which focused on the deep experiences of Latino/Latina students as first-generation students.

Openly queer and openly undocumented, one Los Angeles artist uses his platform to destigmatize what many consider taboo

“All of a sudden, I had a community that was investing in work in our own community,” said Salgado. “I realized this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to make art that mattered to people.”  

Salgado also used his Facebook and the school newspaper to publish political art about the movement. Wanting to represent his entire journey, he stopped separating his queerness from his ‘undocumentedness’ and started to combine the two aspects of his journey in his art. 

“In 2012 I was part of the UndocuBus ride, where I met a lot of undocumented organizers, especially mothers, speaking out about immigrant rights. I wanted to create an image that gave the power back to undocumented immigrants. One of the mothers posed for this image,” Julio Salgado

Salgado would also draw cartoons to be submitted for petitions against the deportation of certain young individuals. 

“I knew we needed to lend a face to those being deported,” said Salgado. “A lot was happening in the shadows.”

“I felt like I could add to the movement through my art…I also knew if my family ever fell into a deportation case, my community would stand behind me. I didn’t feel alone…. Just like we need to come out as LGBT, we need to come out as undocumented and say we are here. These are our faces.”

“I just finished working on a graphic memoir proposal that’s set in 2001. This meant looking at a lot of old photos of mine. This image was based on a photograph from my senior year in high school,” Julio Salgado

Now, Salgado has moved away from political art and chooses to focus on the more positive aspects of his life. 

“I try to make art about the things that bring me joy. For many years. I made art about how fucked up it is to be an undocumented immigrant. Now my focus is on being a gay 40-year-old man who did not think as a teen that he would make it to his 30s. And now here I am.”

After his sister’s kidneys started failing again, Salgado moved in to a home with his sister and mother to help care for her. He drives her to her tri-weekly dialysis appointments while she awaits another kidney transplant. Salgado’s father and mother are now separated but maintain a “beautiful” relationship. 

This past Thursday, September 14, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Houston, Texas ruled that a revised version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, or DACA, is illegal.

While Hanen agreed with Texas and eight other states suing to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, he declined to order an immediate end to the program and the protections it offers to recipients.

The Associated Press reported Hanen’s order extended the current injunction that had been in place against DACA, which barred the government from approving any new applications, but left the program intact for existing recipients during the ongoing legal review.

“While sympathetic to the predicament of DACA recipients and their families, this Court has expressed its concerns about the legality of the program for some time,” Hanen wrote in his 40-page ruling. “The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branches. Congress, for any number of reasons, has decided not to pass DACA-like legislation … The Executive Branch cannot usurp the power bestowed on Congress by the Constitution — even to fill a void.”

His ruling is ultimately expected to be appealed and after lower federal appellate court rulings will ultimately send DACA’s fate to the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time.

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Exploring queer artistry: Felix D’eon’s queer nostalgia

“It’s important to contextualize us and place us in history… Our queer ancestors weren’t able to tell their own stories”



In the vibrant heart of Los Angeles’ art scene, Felix D’eon presented a captivating exhibition at Artbug Gallery. (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

LOS ANGELES – In the vibrant heart of Los Angeles’ art scene, Felix D’eon presented a captivating exhibition this past month at Artbug Gallery, a renowned LA-based venue that celebrates artists of different backgrounds and cultures.

Love and Marvels D’eon’s title of his artistic sojourn, was an exploration of queer culture beautifully expressed through various mediums, including drawing, sketches, paintings, and unique twists on traditional childhood games. 

D’eon has been a professional artist for 20 years with his style evolving over time. “I’ve always painted and drawn in a somewhat realistic style,” D’eon said poignantly. For Felix, art has been a medium for self-expression and societal reflection. “The voices of queer people have been silenced for the past few thousand years,” D’eon notes, “It’s important to contextualize us and place us in history… Our queer ancestors weren’t able to tell their own stories.”

Photo by Noah Christiansen

To this point, the gallery was abuzz with attendees commenting on the politically charged pieces. However, it is integral to bear in mind that D’eon wasn’t just doing a typical art show with queer themes present – he was presenting artwork that explored the intersection between being queer and being Chicano. Evidently, as D’eon has progressed in his artistic abilities, he has also incorporated other demographics into his artwork.

Rogelio, an attendee of the exhibit and a model for D’eon, finds deep resonance with D’eon’s artwork. “[Felix] weaves queer and trans people into the center of the themes, narratives, histories, and iconography,” Rogelio said, “That’s so often omitted from visual depictions of everyday intimacy or in cultural representations where queer or trans experiences are rarely reflected.”

Photo by Noah Christiansen

D’eon’s art, with a myriad of styles and techniques, shared a common element—each piece had a distinct queer perspective. As Felix manages to seamlessly incorporate a plethora of identities, races, and gender expressions into his creations, he offers a comprehensive portrayal of the queer experience. Many of D’eon’s fans were impressed with his ability to retell history through an accurate lens.

One of D’eon’s paintings shows two women in love – a scene from WW1 with a nurse in love with her patient. “These fantasies of love,” D’eon explains, “have been denied to queer people.” Through this piece and others like it, Felix challenges the dominant historical narratives that have ignored or silenced the contributions and experiences of queer individuals.

Photo by Noah Christiansen

“I didn’t know of that many artists who were queer and Chicano and made art like this.”

One of the most engaging aspects of D’eon’s exhibition was his unique take on traditional games. He introduced a queer twist to two beloved classics— La Lotería and Chutes and Ladders

Felix’s interpretation of La Lotería discarded the conventional imagery typically associated with the Mexican game. D’eon’s version featured symbols and scenes pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. Each card told a story, weaving together the vibrant tapestry of queer experiences, struggles, and triumphs. It was a poignant reminder that queerness is not just about identity but also about shared narratives and histories.

Chutes and Ladders also received the Felix D’eon treatment. This revamped version, called “Serpientes y Escaleras” infused with queer themes, brought a whole new dimension to the game. Like a regular game of Chutes and Ladders, players start on the first square and work their way towards the end – hoping to not regress to a previous square. This game was a thought-provoking commentary on the queer experience.

Photo by Noah Christiansen

With a slice of pizza in hand and sipping on their beverage of choice, Miguel, an attendee of the exhibit, was truly encapsulated by the queering of these games. “There’s a reminiscence to my childhood… [D’eon’s games] bring back joy to moments that represent family gatherings where, if they included queer images, would have made me feel even more welcome in those environments of love. His queer Lotería, and now his queer Chutes and Ladders, makes us part of the game not only by bringing back beloved activities we did with as children, but also makes us feel seen and have fun through finding us as we move our little pieces in these makes. Turning our presence into a ludic, almost innocent, representation that changes the cultural meaning of queerness in Mexico.”

Photo by Noah Christiansen

Felix explained his motivation behind queering these games: “I grew up playing La Lotería and Chutes and Ladders as a kid. These games tell a story that’s patriarchal and antiqueer and don’t speak to the values that I hold in any way… Making these games is nostalgic and I love watching people play my games… Queer joy is an important concept.”

Many individuals were struck by the depth of emotion and the stories that each piece conveyed. D’eon’s ability to capture the essence of queer life.

Photo by Noah Christiansen

In an ever-changing world, it’s essential to have artists like Felix D’eon who are unafraid to use their talents to shine a light on the beauty and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. It is evident that Felix is not merely an artist but also a storyteller, a chronicler of authentic queer narratives.

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Instagram: Felix D’eon (@felixdeonart)

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