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Birthplace of LGBTQ movement in LA designated for preservation

The 4th Street Morris Kight Residence tells the story of a trailblazing LGBTQ+ civil rights activist who fought for LGBTQ+ civil rights

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This modest Craftsman home in the Westlake neighborhood was a hub of social activity in the twentieth century and helped form L.A.'s LGBTQ+ civil rights legacy. (Photo by Dr. Laura Dominguez, Los Angeles Conservancy, 2017)

Imagine Los Angeles in the late 1960s. A sharply dressed elderly gentleman with a white combover walks down the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and North McCadden Place. Spotting a homeless, possibly queer youth sitting on the sidewalk, the man hands the youth a card. On it is the man’s name, Morris Kight, his home address, and a phone number.

“Call me anytime,” Kight tells the youth, “day or night.”

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BURBANK – The two women in Hawaiian print T-shirts greeted the Blade with warm smiles outside a mom-and-pop coffee shop in Burbank this past month, joining the quickly forming queue inside the intimate shop where the patrons seemed just as eager to make small talk with the kind woman at the register as she was to get their artisanal coffee orders just right.

Obtaining the drinks- then claiming one of the two available four-tops situated on the sidewalk under red umbrellas just outside of the shop, Miki Jackson a long-time friend and partner in activism to Kight, and her wife Mary Ann settled in eager to share memories of their late friend.

“That was Morris,” said Jackson, Kight’s long-time close friend and activist partner relating the story about the youth. “He would be on his phone all day long taking these calls. Anytime you needed him, he was there…He knew that before we could be accepted by others, we had to accept ourselves. He knew we had to heal first.”

“He saw there was a need,” Jackson reflected. “He was always thinking ten steps ahead.” 

Michael Weinstein, Miki Jackson, Patricia Nell Warren, Morris Kight, Ron Anderegg And unidentified woman (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Kight, born in 1919, grew up in Comanche County, Texas where he graduated from Christian Texas University with degrees in public administration and political science. His biographer Mary Ann Cherry noted that he began his long career as a civil rights activist in the 1940s when he became involved in organizing efforts with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union.

He moved to New Mexico where he married a woman and had two daughters, Carol Kight-Fyfe and Angela Chandler, and several grandchildren before leaving his old life behind to fight for gay rights in Los Angeles. 

Throughout his time as a gay rights activist, Kight rarely discussed his marriage and family life because he believed that it could compromise his credibility within the LGBTQ movement.

In 1958, Kight moved to Los Angeles and chose a house on West 4th Street in Westlake near downtown LA in what was at the time known as the gay ghetto.

From 1967-1974 the modest house was the headquarters to several gay organizations, the most notable of those was the Committee for Homosexual Freedom, and the primary residence of Kight, who is often referred to as the grandfather of LGBTQ+ rights.

Now, Kight’s former residence and the birthing place of the LGBTQ+ movement has been declared Los Angeles’ newest historic-cultural monument.

On August 8th, 2023, after a three-year fight fraught with delays, petitions, and controversy The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to protect 1822 West 4th Street. The declaration will prevent the home from being demolished by developers seeking to build multi unit properties in its place. 

Having grown up on a Texas farm, Kight had developed the habit of waking as early as 4:30 AM. His early waking hours gave him the opportunity to communicate with allies and activists in time zones across America to plan, organize, and execute projects to benefit the gay community, all from his home telephone.

He also used his time to take calls from the thousands of LGBTQ+ people he had handed his card to, all seeking guidance on issues from mental distress, child custody battles, and treating venereal diseases without being persecuted by the authorities. 

Eventually, he began bringing  in volunteers to handle the 200+ calls he was receiving per day. “Every call is priceless,” Kight was known to say, “every call is important…[it is] the most urgent call you’ve ever had in your life.”

Volunteers were drawn on from Kight’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF) which was also headquartered at the house. The GLF started as a 20-member committee that met on Sundays. GLF quickly grew to an over 200-member organization of activists. 

The GLF led over 175 protests. One notable protest took place over the course of months, as the GLF demonstrated and performed sit-ins to protest a sign that read “Faggots stay out” outside of popular Los Angeles bar, Barney’s Beanery. The GLF was successful in having the sign taken down.

Kight’s LGBTQ+ call center was the first of its kind and soon developed into the Gay Survival Committee, which was later known as the Gay Community Service Center (GCSC). Kight spearheaded the creation of the Gay Community Services Center, which operated from 1971 to 1975, which today is known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Morris Kight and Miki Jackson with Sherry Harris at the Center in 1991 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

On June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Riots in New York’s West Greenwich Village neighborhood, in a response to the NYPD raid of the Stonewall. NYPD officers brutalized patrons, arrested 13 people for illegal gay activity, and also performed humiliating sex checks on men dressed in drag. 

It was a three day event that echoed and resonated with LGBTQ people all across the United States.

1969 was the same year as the murder of nurse Howard Efland by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Vice Squad at the Dover Hotel, a seedy downtown establishment run as a de-facto gay sex club. It was a frequently targeted location for LAPD vice & morals raids and ensuing police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community.

The police dragged a naked and bleeding Efland from his hotel room, claiming that he had groped an officer. LAPD Vice officers dragged him down a staircase to the sidewalk, then brutally beat him in plain view of nearly 25 witnesses. Taken to Los Angeles General Hospital, Efland was chained to a bed, where he died of massive internal injuries less than an hour later.

Evelle J. Younger, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, refused to bring charges, and the City of Los Angeles along with LAPD Police Chief Edward M. Davis, rejected calls to discipline the officers. The injustice of Efland’s death sparked outrage in the gay community in Southern California.

In later years Kight himself recalled to his biographer, “We were horrified and we did the first real organized protest about that in that we asked that a coroner’s jury of civilians was put together and they had two days of testimony of police brutality (us mostly), with the police saying he was a dirty faggot and so on. The homicide was called justified. We didn’t think it was justifiable.” 

Mary Ann Cherry and Morris Kight (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

The following year, in honor of these events, the GLF and Kight’s friend, the Reverend Troy Perry from the Metropolitan Community Church collaborated to assemble the first gay pride parade down Hollywood Boulevard, known as The Christopher Street West march (CSW).  

“He was revolutionary for the time,” said Jackson. “He was asking us to march proudly for being gay when we were being killed for it.” 

“So marched we did,” said Kight told his biographer, “with butterflies in our stomachs, with legitimate doubts and fears, but with enormous courage and devotion.”

Christopher Street West was one of the world’s first ever pride parades, but achieving CSW was a battle. At a Los Angeles Police Commission Meeting to obtain a permit for the march, Chief of Police Davis was famously quoted, “Well, I want to tell you something. As far as I’m concerned, granting a parade permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.”

While the Police Commission did grant Kight the permit necessary for CSW, they wanted him to secure a one million dollar bond to cover possible damages and the cost of police. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was contacted and attorney Herbert Selwyn appealed the commission’s demand before the Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County.

The court ordered the issuing of the permit and charged the LAPD with the responsibility to protect parade participants. CSW became the first organization to obtain a parade permit for a pride parade. The permit was granted only two days before the scheduled date for CSW, which also became the very first street-closing gay pride parade in the world.

In 1987, Kight helped organize the Second National March on Washington for Gay Rights that took place on October 11, 1987. Kight along with fellow organizers Steve Ault, Pat Norman and Kay Ostberg met with the steering committee in January 1987 at City Hall in the City of West Hollywood.

The delegates at the West Hollywood convention chose seven primary demands to serve as the platform for the 1987 March. Each of these demands was supplemented with a broader list of demands which extended beyond the scope of single-issue LGBT concerns. In doing so, the organizers wished to underscore their recognition that oppression of one group affects oppression of all groups. The seven primary demands were:

  • The legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships.
  • The repeal of all laws that make sodomy between consenting adults a crime.
  • A presidential order banning discrimination by the federal government.
  • Passage of the Congressional lesbian and gay civil rights bill.
  • An end to discrimination against people with AIDS, AIDS related complex (ARC), AIDS related conditions, HIV-positive status and those perceived to have AIDS.
  • Massive increases in funding for AIDS education, research, and patient care.
  • Money for AIDS, not for war.
  • Reproductive freedom, the right to control our own bodies, and an end to sexist oppression.
  • An end to racism in this country and apartheid in South Africa.

On November 16, 1998, just before his 79th birthday, the City Council of West Hollywood presented Kight with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

In 2003, the year of Kight’s death, the City of Los Angeles dubbed the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and North McCadden place “Morris Square.” Morris Square was also the stepping off point for Christopher Street West, the world’s first ever street-closing pride parade.

Morris Kight at the Matthew Shepard Human Rights Triangle in WeHo.
(Photo by Karen Ocamb)

There is a Chinese magnolia tree and a bronze plaque dedicated to him at the Matthew Shepard Triangle in West Hollywood. Kight used to visit this park weekly to tidy up the area, water and plant new flowers. He encouraged others to do the same.

 

The fight to establish 1822 West 4th Street as a historic-cultural monument

1822 West 4th Street on July 23 2020. (Photo Credit: City of Los Angeles)

When Kight’s home came under threat of being bought and possibly demolished by developers, Jackson with teamed up with writers/historians Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney to nominate the West 4th street house a historic-cultural monument. Eggert and Gosney are also a married same gender couple. 

In 2020, nominating Kight’s home quickly turned into a battle. While the Cultural Heritage Commission, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and the LA LGBT Center all backed the nomination, it was ultimately held up indeterminately by discussions with the developer and the City Council member representing Westlake.

Eggert and Gosney took to social media and received an outpouring of support from those who had been affected by or who had heard of Kight’s contributions to the community. In response to Eggert and Gosney’s website, hundreds of supportive emails came in, acknowledging Kight’s importance and the significance of preserving his home. 

“People were broken,” said Gosney. “The community was sick and broken. First Morris knew he had to make everybody whole. He did that at 4th Street with all the services and all the outreach.”

However, in subsequent meetings in 2023, Councilmember Hernandez insisted that no one on her staff had ever heard of Kight, and discounted the importance of protecting the house.

Finally, on June 6th, 2023, after a three-year fight, the nomination went through to the Planning Commission. 

On June 7th Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez called the nomination, a “land-use issue.” Councilmember Rodriguez and others went toe-to-toe with while Henrandez argued that the architectural changes made to the building and the dilapidated nature of the structure had rendered the home “very much different from what it was like when Morris Kight lived there many years ago.”

June 2023 protest in front of Los Angeles City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez’s office. (Photo Credit: Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy)

These architectural changes included the addition of a bathroom in the basement, replacement of a rear window, and the construction of a two-car garage in 1937; the repair of the front porch in 1994; the construction of temporary ancillary structures in 2019; and the replacement of the rear entrance door and some windows at unknown dates. In addition, based on interior photos submitted by the property owner at the Cultural Heritage Commission site inspection, other alterations consist of bathroom and kitchen remodels; replacement of some original doors; and the replacement of the original flooring in some locations.

At one point, committed to protecting Kight’s former residence, Eggert and Gosney even made a cash offer on the home in a further attempt to save it from developers. 

Then the current owner requested a 60-day extension which was granted.

On August 8th, 1822 West 4th Street was unanimously nominated as an HCM. 

“We did it!” wrote Eggert and Gosney. “Morris Kight’s 4th Street is Los Angeles’ newest Historic-Cultural Monument!! It was a nail-biter. We couldn’t have done it without AHF, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the LGBT Center, and the 100s of people who spoke up. We are forever grateful!”

“We’ll never know what tipped the scales,” said Eggert. “But we are so happy with the outcome.” 

A win for the LGBTQ+ community

The Morris Kight Residence meets two of the Historic-Cultural Monument criteria. 

The subject property “exemplifies significant contributions to the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation, state, city or community.” The home is also “associated with the lives of historic personages important to national, state, city, or local history.” 

Right now, less than 1% of all designated HCMs in Los Angeles represent LGBTQ+ heritage. Other LGBT HCMS include The Black Cat and the Margaret and Harry Hays Residence.

The 4th Street Morris Kight Residence tells the story of the trailblazing LGBTQ+ civil rights activist and the network of organizers who fought for LGBTQ+ civil rights, health, freedom, and joy. In the late 1960s and early 1970s,  Kight’s home was where activists gathered and LGBTQ community history was made.

Los Angeles Department of City Planning
RECOMMENDATION REPORT/CULTURAL HERITAGE COMMISSION (September 3, 2020)

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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

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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

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"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”

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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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Illinois becomes magnet for trans students seeking protections

Opponents of gender-affirming care say children are too young to make transition decisions and claim medical interventions are not safe

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Shigeru Nightengale, 15, recently moved from Iowa to Illinois for protections as a transgender teen and student. Shigeru loves collecting rocks and picked up a stone before sitting down at a swing set in the Nightengales’ new backyard. (Photo by Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

By Max Lubbers | CHICAGO, Ill. – Back in the spring, Kimberly Reynolds stared at a map of the U.S. Each state was filled in with a color gradient: red for those with the strictest active anti-transgender laws, bright blue for those with the most protections for trans people. 

Her state, Florida, was awash in a sea of red. The closest state in blue? Illinois. 

Reynolds took a breath. And some time to panic. 

She had started researching a new place to live after legislators in Florida introduced a slew of anti-trans bills, many targeting transgender youth — including her 11-year-old son.

“Something inside me just broke,” she said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of policies in Florida that are not okay. But now they’re coming after my child. So that’s why we’re done. We’re getting out, one way or another.”

Reynolds asked her son: How do you feel about moving? 

“I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s move. Let’s get out of this place. Let’s get out of this climate,’” Joseph Reynolds recalled thinking. “‘Let’s get out of this house. Get away from these people.’”

After Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several of the anti-trans bills into law in May, Reynolds again checked the map. This time, her state had a new, special designation, marked in black stripes:

Do Not Travel. 

Three months later, the new school year has started, and the Reynolds family remains stuck in Florida. The laws are already deeply impacting her child, Reynolds said. She’s hoping to get her family to Illinois as soon as she can. 

Florida is not the only state that has passed or is considering anti-trans legislation. This year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 14 states passed laws regulating bathroom access, sports participation, or pronoun and name changes specifically in K-12 schools. Additionally, at least 18 states passed laws restricting gender-affirming health care, primarily — though not exclusively — for minors. 

For many families looking to protect their trans children in school and to preserve control over their medical decisions, moving seems like the only option — and Illinois a safe landing spot.

Restrictions impacting K-12 schools during this year’s legislative sessions

Chalkbeat read and categorized 494 bills from the ACLU’s tracker of LGBT-related state legislation, specifically looking for those that would regulate K-12 schools and students, to evaluate the landscape that trans and nonbinary students face.

About 45% of proposed bills sought to change policies or procedures in K-12 schools.

Notes: Excludes bills that use variations on “parental rights” language, which sometimes would broadly propose restrictions across multiple of these categories. The ACLU’s 2023 legislative tracker includes some bills proposed in 2022 for sessions stretching into 2023.

Source: Chalkbeat analysis of ACLU data retrieved from tracker as of 8/18/2023

Credit: Kae Petrin & Thomas Wilburn / Chalkbeat

Bills impact school policies, sense of safety for trans students

Illinois is a sharp contrast to many states across the nation, where anti-trans policies are playing out in schools. Here, state law protects students from discrimination on the basis of their gender identities. Students must be permitted access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams aligning with their identities, according to state guidance.

Changes to education policy are a big part of why the Reynolds want to move. 

Florida’s board of education prohibits public schools from teaching students about sexual orientation or gender identity. School staff are also not allowed to ask students for their pronouns — or be required to use them — under state law. Another law forces K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions to discipline students who use a restroom that doesn’t align with their assigned sex at birth.

Anti-LGBTQ legislation considered in 2023 frequently targeted school policy

More than 4 in 10 bills identified as anti-LGBTQ by the American Civil Liberties Union would directly alter policies and procedures in K-12 schools if passed.

Such laws threaten to disrupt the lives of thousands of young people in Florida — and across the country. About 1.4% of the U.S. population between 13 and 17 identify as trans, according to the Williams Institute’s 2022 estimates, which are based on analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention youth surveys.

Even before the laws were passed, Joseph had run into discrimination at school. One time, he said, a kid in his class made a cross and screamed “die” while shoving it into his face. Still, he said his elementary school had largely been accepting, and he had a strong circle of friends.

But as Joseph watched the Florida laws come into effect over the summer, he said the idea of starting school there became more and more scary. Ahead of his first day of middle school this month, he had one word for how he was feeling: “horrible.” 

At school, he introduced himself as Joseph to his classmates. He said they’ve mostly been respectful. But teachers have been calling him by his legal name, which he no longer uses, and using she/her pronouns to refer to him. 

Under Florida law, teachers must use a child’s legal name unless a parent gives consent. After talking to multiple employees at her son’s school just to get a consent form, Kimberly Reynolds said, she’s not convinced that teachers will follow it.

Ultimately, she just wishes her son could have the chance to be a kid. 

“He shouldn’t have to even know that there’s so many people against him and out to get him,” she said.

But Reynolds said it feels like there’s not much she can do right now. The timeline for their move is up in the air, since it’s been a struggle to get enough money to leave Florida. A few days after the laws were signed, she set up a GoFundMe to help with moving costs, but donations have slowed down. And Reynolds is concerned about having to leave most of her family behind in Florida, especially because she recently had a new baby.

Though her original plans have been delayed — and these challenges loom — she said she’s still prepared to move as soon as possible. They’ve even already started packing. 

As for Joseph? “I just hope that it will be a lot more calm and peaceful than my life here.”

The Reynolds are hoping that the more accepting place could be Carbondale, a town in southern Illinois with a strong LGBTQ+ community, and where residents recently elected the first transgender person to a city council in Illinois.

In the center of town, a rainbow awning hangs above the doors of Carbondale’s LGBTQ+ community center, Rainbow Café. The executive director of the café, Carrie Vine, said that when anti-trans legislation began to increase across the country, a group of advocates got together and decided they should get the word out: Come to Carbondale. 

They set up “Rainbow Refuge,” mainly run through a local group, the Carbondale Assembly for Radical Equity. People reach out over social media, and advocates direct them to accepting areas and schools, including Carbondale.

Vine has previously worked to help people in bordering states access abortion care. But she said supporting trans people through moving involves more long-term support.

“They’re not just coming here for one service and going home,” she said. “You’re talking about lifelong support — bloodwork, labs, doctor’s visits. So we decided we needed to make something that would be more sustainable.”

When families make that move, Vine said, it’s important to get them to a safe place for trans people. Though Illinois has statewide legal protections, she said, not everywhere is accepting.

Despite protections, not everywhere in Illinois feels safe

Jay Smith, a trans man living in a small town in rural Illinois, knows that struggle. For him, being openly trans isn’t a safe option.

Shortly after he finished his undergraduate degree, he got a job where his co-workers were openly discriminatory, using anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. To avoid harassment, he decided to keep his trans identity quiet and allow people to perceive him as a cisgender man. Smith is using a pseudonym for his safety in this story. 

“I can’t really just exist a lot of the time,” Smith said. “At the same time, it’s nice to not have people policing me.”

Smith is only out to particular people that he’s close with, such as his girlfriend and friends from high school. He used to live in Chicago, where he was openly trans and connected with a LGBTQ+ community. Now, he said, he sometimes feels isolated.

Smith is becoming increasingly anxious about what might happen if he were to be outed — and he and his girlfriend are thinking about moving towns within Illinois or even leaving the country.

He’s not alone. Over half of trans and non-binary adults said they’d move — or already have moved — from a state with a gender-affirming medical care ban, according to a Human Rights Campaign survey.

As an adult, Smith can make that choice on his own. But he said he’s concerned about youth, who must rely on their parents to leave. 

For him, he said, school acted as a place of escape against a lack of support he faced at home. 

He attended Chicago Public Schools, where current district guidelines state that staff should use the names and pronouns that align with students’ identities. Students can request a support plan between administration and trusted adults — which doesn’t necessarily have to include parents. 

That’s a divergence from bills that could “out” students as trans to their parents.

Broad parental rights bills could have wider impacts

These bills are not always explicitly about gender identity, but may include language that could restrict LGBTQ-related curriculum, allow parents to limit student participation in clubs and lesson plans, require schools to seek a parent’s permission to use a nickname or new pronouns for their child, or make it easier for parents to sue schools that adopt trans-inclusive policies.

Smith graduated from CPS in 2017. When he came out as trans in high school, he said he simply emailed his teachers about his pronoun change. For the most part, he said, his school gave him a reprieve. 

“It was nice to have that space from home, and know: My parents may not be able to treat me this way, but when I get here, I have that respect, that space, and that support that I just can’t get from home,” Smith said. 

But Smith is scared for the kids who don’t have the same opportunity to escape transphobia, whether in school or out of school. 

Families seek states that protect access to gender-affirming care

Packing up and leaving isn’t realistic for everyone. For many families, the options are limited to wherever is closest.

That’s the case for Carly West, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She is trying to move right across the border to Illinois, she said, in order to protect her trans child, Lisa.

“Sometimes I think that I’m overreacting, because it’s not like they’re banging down the door and pulling her out of my arms,” West said of the anti-trans push in Missouri. “But the reality is that she does need to be safe, and it’s not safe here.”

So much could change for Lisa with a short drive across state lines, West said. 

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has spoken out in support of trans children and established a task force to create more inclusive school policy. In Missouri, the governor has signed bills to ban gender-affirming health care for minors and prohibit trans girls from playing on women’s sports teams.

When Lisa heard about the laws, she said she thought to herself: Why? I’m not hurting anybody.

Lisa came out at 6 years old. Now 11 and attending middle school, West uses she/her and they/them pronouns, alternating back and forth between the two. They wear rainbow glasses and like watching dessert decorating videos. 

After moving, West said, the family plans to keep Lisa enrolled in the same school district, since Lisa spends half their time with their mom and the other half with their dad, who is staying in Missouri. But if school policies change, Carly West said Lisa may transfer.

The biggest threat right now is to Lisa’s gender-affirming medical care. For young people, such medical care might include puberty blockers — which can delay puberty-related changes such as facial hair growth — or hormone replacement therapy. 

A transgender teen holds a bottle of testosterone, which is used for hormone replacement therapy that can align people’s bodies with their sense of gender.
(Photo Credit: Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

In Missouri, minors who were prescribed puberty blockers or hormones before Aug. 28 will be allowed to continue treatment, but health care providers cannot prescribe treatments to new patients. 

Opponents of gender-affirming care say children are too young to make transition decisions and claim medical interventions are not safe. But more than a dozen top medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support gender-affirming care as evidence-based and medically appropriate and have opposed laws restricting such care.  

At least 33 states have proposed bills to limit gender-affirming care, according to a Chalkbeat data analysis of the ACLU’s 2023 anti-LGBTQ bills tracker. About a fifth of bills considered during the 2023 session would restrict gender-affirming medical care for adults, according to a Reuters analysis that identified additional bills not captured in the ACLU tracker. But most policies would specifically restrict children’s medical care.

In Illinois, state law protects health care providers and patients from being targeted by states that have banned gender-affirming care. 

Gender-affirming care restrictions considered during 2023 legislative sessions

These bills propose restricting access to puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or gender-affirming surgery for the purposes of transition. Some would restrict or ban this care for minors even with parental permission. Others would restrict it for some adults.

Before the cutoff date in Missouri, Lisa had a consultation to start gender-affirming care.

“I’m feeling great about it,” Lisa said, at the time. “It’s making me feel more like who I am.”

Then the ban went into effect Monday — and Lisa wasn’t able to be prescribed treatment.

Trans students carve out space in new Illinois towns, schools

On Feb. 28, the Nightengale family sat around the dining table in their Iowa home, making pins that read: “We say gay” and “Protect queer youth.” They stayed up late that night, preparing for a school walkout in protest of pending anti-trans laws in their state. 

Shigeru Nightengale, 15, pinned the new additions to a vest, not too far from a demiboy pin. Shigeru mostly likes using it/its pronouns — sometimes he/him — because it feels void of gender but male-adjacent. Shigeru’s parent, Sami Nightengale, has a matching pin, for their own identity: genderqueer.

Shigeru Nightengale has covered its vest in pins, including ones protesting anti-trans legislation in Iowa. Shigeru passed out extra pins during the day of a March 1 walkout in Iowa.
(Photo Credit: Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

The next day, approximately 50 students walked out of Shigeru’s high school as part of a statewide protest against anti-trans legislation. Across the state, 27 schools participated in the March 1 walkout, the Quad-City Times reported

But a bill banning gender-affirming medical care for minors passed the Iowa legislature and headed to the governor’s desk by March 8 — the day before Shigeru was due to receive its first testosterone shot. 

Shigeru had been going to a clinic in Iowa City for over a year. Sami Nightengale first remembers Shigeru expressing thoughts about gender as a young child. 

“When he was 7, he started to talk a lot about not feeling right in his own body and it would be better if he was just dead. As a parent, that’s not something you want to hear from a little kid,” they said. “Then we went through this whole process, seeing family doctors and therapists and psychologists and finally he figured out what was going on.”

All those appointments led up to the moment of Shigeru getting on hormones. But as the Nightengales made the trip to Iowa City, they had no idea whether the governor would sign the bill into law before Shigeru could get the shot. 

“I was so scared that I was going to just touch it and then have it completely taken away,” Shigeru said. 

That day, Shigeru got its first T shot, and doctors taught the Nightengales how to administer subsequent doses at home, a standard practice for hormone replacement therapy. What was not so standard: With the legislation on the governor’s desk, Shigeru didn’t know whether future hormone prescriptions would be possible.

The next day, the Nightengales started searching for new clinics in different states. But some places didn’t have availability, and others didn’t know whether they could take on Iowa patients.

Iowa’s governor officially signed the gender-affirming care ban into law on March 22, less than two weeks after Shigeru’s first shot. 

“There was just too much going on — the terror of, ‘Oh, God. All of these people hate us, because we are a queer family,’ and also the joy of having my T,” Shigeru said. “It was all so much that I went kind of numb.” 

When politicians first started discussing anti-trans legislation, the Nightengale family had loosely talked about moving. But they thought they’d have more time — to save money, to pay off debt, to search for the best home. 

Over the course of March, the window to wait seemed to close more and more.

In early April, the family found an Illinois clinic that would take Shigeru. And against the odds, Sami Nightengale said, they were able to move before the start of the school year. 

Shigeru Nightengale, 15, settles into his new Illinois home.
(Photo Credit: Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

Now that Shigeru has settled in — and has reliable care — it said it can’t describe the joy it feels. 

“It has been a struggle with ups and downs,” Shigeru said. “But I have been way happier than I have been pretty much my entire life.” 

Having been on testosterone for a few months, Shigeru said this is its first time going into school “mostly sorted out.” Shigeru had previously come out as trans at school in Iowa, but felt people didn’t take it seriously because it still looked feminine. 

Shigeru Nightengale’s desk is cluttered with its collections — including a bunch of rocks. Shigeru often picks up new stones to add to the pile.
(Photo Credit: Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

So far, Shigeru said it has run into some discrimination at school, but that students and teachers have been fairly accepting. Looking ahead, Shigeru is staying hopeful — and carving out a space in Illinois. 

On Shigeru’s bedroom desk are signposts of a new life: its first bottle of testosterone. A scattered rock collection. And, on top of one stone, a Band-Aid — narwhal-themed — from an appointment at the Illinois clinic. 

Little things marking a big move.

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

Max Lubbers is a reporting intern for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Max at [email protected].

Kae Petrin is a data and graphics reporter for Chalkbeat. Contact Kae at [email protected].

Thomas Wilburn is the senior data editor for Chalkbeat. Contact Thomas at [email protected].

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

The preceding article was previously published by Chalkbeat Chicago and is republished with permission.

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Wilson Cruz: Why I’m taking on the role of the new chair of GLSEN

“This is my opportunity to help create a better world for the generations that come after me.” Cruz on his decision to lead GLSEN board

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Wilson Cruz joined his Star Trek co-stars Anthony Rapp and Blu del Barrio on June 8, 2023 for a Q&A with fans. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

NEW YORK — These days, when actor, producer and activist Wilson Cruz isn’t walking a picket line with the Screen Actors Guild and supporting the striking members of the Writers Guild, he’s busy getting up to speed as the new chair of the board at GLSEN, the organization that is also known as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. 

Wilson Cruz picketing, SAG-AFTRA strike on August 11, 2023 in New York City.
(Photo Credit: Wilson Cruz)

“It’s really a turning point for the organization,” Cruz told the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. For the first time in GLSEN’s 33-year history, its board chairs and executive director represent BIPOC, nonbinary and trans people. “And it’s a great time to set a new course for this organization, because if there’s ever been a need for a GLSEN, it is in this moment when education and queer kids and the relationships to their education is so fraught.” 

Variety first broke the news on July 26, but as it turns out, the award-winning actor best known for Star Trek: Discovery and My So-Called Life and for his advocacy spilled the beans to the Blade way back on June 8. That evening, Cruz joined his Star Trek co-stars Anthony Rapp and Blu del Barrio for a Q&A with fans, following a performance of Rapp’s extraordinary one-man off-Broadway musical, Without You.

The Blade asked each of the stars on stage that night at the New Worlds Stages theater in Manhattan what their plans were for Pride Month, and Cruz let it slip that he was about to embark on this new adventure with GLSEN. 

“Just between you and the 30 people who are in here, I’m taking over as the chair of the board of GLSEN,” Cruz revealed to wild applause. Rapp asked his Star Trek “space boo” about the group’s current name, which Cruz confirmed will soon be known only by its acronym. “It’s basically an organization that works around the country to make sure that every school in this country is a safe place for queer kids,” said Cruz. And then he turned to the Blade and added, “You can’t print that yet! It’s off the record!” 

Although newsworthy items are not traditionally considered “off the record” when a newsmaker says it after the fact, the Blade agreed to hold the story in exchange for this exclusive, in-depth interview following the official news release on July 26. 

“This has actually been in motion for six months,” Cruz said in our conversation that day. “Why I am doing it is because I really believe in our new executive director, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, who just came on officially as our executive director after Eliza Byard left, And I really, truly believe in her leadership and in the vision that she has for GLSEN going forward. I really fought for her to become our executive director, and I wanted to support her in this role.” 

As he prepares to celebrate his 50th birthday in a few months, Cruz reflected on his lifelong journey as an advocate: A trailblazer on television at just 15, his work supporting fellow Puerto Ricans, serving as GLAAD’s director of entertainment industry advocacy and as its national spokesperson, serving on the board at GLSEN and now as its chair.  

Wilson Cruz as Enrique Vasquez on “My So-Called Life,”
(Photo Courtesy ABC Television)

“This is my opportunity to help create a better world for the generations that come after me,” Cruz told the Blade. “For 30 years now, I have been a voice for LGBTQ youth because of the fact that I was Ricky Vasquez. And so, it’s been a passion of mine to make sure that the school experience for queer students is better than the one that I had.”

Cruz’s father kicked him out of their Southern California house on Christmas Eve, and he spent three months living in his car and at the homes of friends, he revealed in a 2020 podcast. But as he told Variety, most of his high school peers bullied him.

“I don’t even know what it was like not to be bullied,” Cruz said. “I was called faggot every day. It got to the point where I didn’t even hear it anymore.”

Without a network to support him, Cruz turned to other queer students and to teachers. “I went to high school in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, before there were gay-straight alliances,” he told Variety. “The only way I got through school was with my best friends — the other four gays kids I knew at school. I know because I had them in my life that I had a sounding board and that there was someone who could reflect back my own experience and make me feel like I was not ‘not normal.’ They saved my life. We saved each other’s lives.”

Cruz told the Blade that was another reason he is dedicating his time to GLSEN. 

Courtesy of Wilson Cruz

“One of the things that I did have, which GLSEN is at the forefront, is how students can support each other,” he said. “These student-led groups, where you can see others like you, who you can relate to, who can support you, who you can in turn support. And as we know, community is how we support each other, our children, our families, if you will. And GLSEN is also an amazing place for parents who have queer kids to come and be supported and have resources.” 

Those resources are key at this time as LGBTQ+ children, their parents and healthcare providers as well as adults find themselves under attack across the nation. And GLSEN itself became a target earlier this year, because of its partnership with Target, as the Blade has reported.

The retail giant came under siege over its LGBTQ+ affirming “Pride Collection” of merchandise in May. Target moved some merchandise from display and purchase after physical assaults, verbal threats, and bomb threats. 

“That whole controversy, it was about us,” said Cruz. “We received death threats, which were taken very seriously by the FBI and by the police. One of the ways that we’re protecting our staff is having them work remotely.” 

In a statement released in May, GLSEN called out Fox News and other conservative news media: “Right-wing media outlets have spread harmful and vicious lies about GLSEN — and these intentional and heinous attacks have spurred an onslaught of hateful messages and threats to our mission and the physical safety of our staff.”

Cruz noted that GLSEN is also committed to countering the hate that has spread to statehouses throughout 2023. 

“There have been 650, I would say, anti-queer and anti-trans bills that have been introduced in the last year, I believe. And in terms of all of those legislative efforts, we rely on our core support, which is we work for more comprehensive policies both statewide but also on the federal level. So, we work with state leaders and federal leaders. We work with supported educators to make sure that there is at least one educator in every school that students can look to who they know is an ally and in their corner, we work all day to make sure that there is inclusive curriculum, because we want to make sure that students see themselves reflected in their education and know their history and how we gained the rights that we have gained and the intersectionality that lie within. And we support the GSAs, which used to be called Gay Straight Alliances and are now called Gender and Sexuality Alliances.” 

Cruz said his decision to lead GLSEN’s board was also a result of the woman named vice chair: Imara Jones, an award-winning journalist named to TIME magazine’s 2023 list of 100 Most Influential People and the creator of TransLash Media, a Black trans-led nonprofit news organization and digital community. 

Imara Jones
(Photo courtesy of Imara Jones)

“Imara has been on our board for a year now, and the moment she came on, she was a powerhouse,” said Cruz. “She was powerful in her views. She was a leader right away. She really made sure that we stayed on task and that we stayed true to our vision. I believe she’s probably the strongest trans activist voice that I know personally, and she does it with such joy and such reverence. And I love our working relationship.”

“Wilson is amazing because Wilson brings both tremendous heart and reach and star power,” Jones told the Blade in a phone interview Sunday. “And I think with that kind of combination, of the ability to be able to shine brightly in the world as a star, but also be deeply connected to community and what we’re trying to do and understanding what it is like for queer kids all across the country right now, I think that Wilson is the perfect chair.” 

“She makes me feel stronger and I hope that I do the same for her,” added Cruz. “I think it’s a great pairing of minds. And her strength really filled in for my weaknesses.” 

“I’ve served on a number of boards and I have a pretty strong grasp of parliamentary procedure and just a good idea about how boards are supposed to function,” Jones told the Blade. “And essentially it’s meant to be a committee and an organization of equals. The role of the people that are running it is to facilitate the ability of everyone to bring their talent. And for me, what I look to, more than anything, is to move everyone to consensus. I think we always want to be moving towards unanimity when it comes to what we’re trying to do.”

Wilson Cruz at Outright International Gala June 5. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

That self-deprecating comment absolutely required the Blade to press Cruz to enumerate his so-called weaknesses: “There are some things that I’m not great at, but I’m learning, right? As in, I’ve never been the chair of a board. So, I have to learn, you know, parliamentary rules of procedure. And Imara Jones is like a master at them, so I am learning from her here.” 

Plus, Cruz expects that at some point Hollywood’s ongoing labor dispute will be settled and he will be back to work as an actor. Before the strikes, he spent almost a month filming in Phuket, Thailand alongside actor Benjamin Bratt. 

“If and when I have to go to work and not be available, she can take over for the time that I’m away,” Cruz said. “I was hesitant to do it at all because of my schedule. But with Imara there, I feel really confident that the three of us — for the first time in 33 years that the leadership of this organization is all people of color, nonbinary or trans, you know, queer people — that we really reflect who our students are, that need to be helped by GLSEN the most.”

“Mel is nonbinary, I’m trans and then there’s Wilson, who is gay, and we’re all people of color,” said Jones. “I think that it just reflects the need to expand the thinking about who is LGBTQ. I think that for so long we have had very narrow definitions of who we think are ‘our community.’ And especially at this time of, as you said, unprecedented attacks, I think that it’s really important that we have a wide lens of who our community is, so that we can begin to energize people in the way that we need to, and also be able to push for solutions that are going to help us get to another place, because they’re going to include all of us. So, I think that it just is reflective of where we are and is a really positive step forward.” 

“We know from history, from our experience, from after 34 years, that when we do those four things,” said Cruz, meaning GLSEN’s work with state leaders, with federal leaders, with educators and with students. “When we keep a young Black trans girl at the forefront of our minds, we know if we work to make her school experience better, we make the school experience for every student better.”


You can watch an interview with Cruz as well as with the stars of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and his Q&A with his Star Trek: Discovery co-stars by clicking here.

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Trevor Project in crisis: Financial, staff dissension, ‘union busting’

Long wait times or calls going unanswered, staff dissension, questionable financial issues, union busting, all plaguing LGBTQ+ youth resource

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(Editor’s note: This article contains references to suicide and self-harm. If you are having thoughts of suicide or are in crisis, call 988 to talk to a counselor or 911 for medical attention.)

By Joel Lev-Tov | COLLEGE PARK, Md. – He was cutting himself and his mother was worried. 

Whom should she call? Who could help her son John, who is gay, and doesn’t have an accepting community in Asheville, N.C.? She asked around. Trevor Project, one person said. Trevor Project, another said. Trevor Project. Trevor Project. Reach out to the Trevor Project, the world’s largest nonprofit assisting LGBTQ+ youth.

Phone service, his mother Darlene Coleman said, is unreliable in the town so she selected “chat” on the organization’s homepage, hoping to talk to a counselor.

She waited. And waited. For five minutes, then 10, 15, 40, and 47 minutes. No one answered. The website warned her that hold times were longer than usual. But this long? It had taken her forever to convince John, who asked for his name to be changed for fear of backlash, to even talk to someone. This wasn’t helping.

She checked back later that day. And waited on hold. And waited some more. She gave up, then tried the hotline the next day. Again she waited and waited until eventually giving up. 

What, she wondered, was going on at the Trevor Project? How could the organization dedicated to preventing LGBTQ+ youth suicide not help her son? Coleman reached out to several other organizations before getting help from the Rainbow Youth Project, but the question still haunts her: What if someone wasn’t as determined as she was? What if someone in crisis didn’t want to wait around for hours to talk to someone? 

Her son looked at her and said, “They really don’t give a damn if I’m here or not.”

“I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Coleman said, tearing up.

Her experience isn’t an anomaly. Josh Weaver, who was Trevor’s vice president of marketing until November 2022, said the average wait times to talk to a Trevor counselor are about three minutes. But during nights and weekends, they said, wait times often exceed 30 minutes. Another employee confirmed that wait times could stretch anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours during peak periods. 

“That could be life or death,” Weaver said.

The Human Rights Campaign has issued a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States. Legislators around the country introduced and passed a record 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills just eight months into 2023.

The stakes could not be higher. A Trevor Project study found that close to half of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in 2022. But when those LGBTQ youth were surrounded by communities supportive of their identity, the study found, the rate of attempted suicide dropped dramatically. 

In 2022, Trevor’s phone and chat lines supported a record number of people, more than 263,000, through calls, texts, and online chats, according to the organization’s 2022 annual report. And the organization has been rapidly expanding, seeking to help more and more youth. 

But in interviews, 11 current and former Trevor employees, many speaking to the Blade anonymously for fear of retaliation, said that growth was much too fast and came at the cost of service.

Former CEO Amit Paley spearheaded the organization’s expansion from a handful of people to a massive organization with more than 700 employees.  (Trevor initially declined to speak to the Blade but later said the number was 458 employees.) In the process, the employees said, it became more like a corporation than a nonprofit.

“A lot of us were joking that it was the most corporatized nonprofit that anyone has ever worked for,” said a former mid-level employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was very money driven, very growth, growth, growth.”

Former Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley spearheaded the organization’s expansion from a handful of people to a massive organization with more than 700 employees. (Screen capture via YouTube)

During Paley’s tenure, the organization’s LGBTQ youth crisis lines went from serving about 50,000 people to more than 600,000 and the TrevorSpace social networking site went from a few hundred users to more than 500,000 around the world, a source told the Blade.

Trevor’s coffers had $9.7 million in them in 2018 and rose to more than five times that in 2022, close to $55 million. The marketing, content, and communications team was even called the “growth vertical.”

Informed about the size of Trevor’s assets, though, Coleman was outraged.

“Fifty-four million dollars,” she repeated. “And they can’t answer a damn phone?”

That growth put massive pressure on Trevor’s staff, especially the people running crisis services. 

“Those wait times are there because it’s demand, demand, demand, demand, let’s get everything out there,” Weaver said. “Let’s get as many people as possible and not think about the quality of it.”

Suddenly, crisis workers couldn’t take time off between calls to regroup without taking paid time off or sick leave. The crisis workers criticized that policy, saying that they needed to be doing well to support callers, but management didn’t budge. The managers cited Trevor’s “tools to support wellness” in an email seen by the Blade. 

“We are building structure and accountability so that we have counselors available when youth call. That means putting structure around when and how crisis workers are spending time not interacting with youth,” an email sent on Sept. 2, 2022, from the lifeline management team – Richard Ham, Vivian Suniga, and Heather Gillespie – read. 

A month later, on Oct. 20, 2022, the team followed up with an even more blunt email message. 

“Given our current call per hour metrics (1.2 calls per hour per crisis worker), September’s call outs and partial shifts would equate to 470 LGBTQ youth in crisis we were unable to support.” 

A Trevor employee familiar with Trevor’s crisis services speaking on condition of anonymity said Gillespie resisted calls for crisis counselors to get more time off – despite the difficult job counselors have. 

“The work is very heavy, it’s very challenging,” the employee who used to be a crisis counselor said. 

Counselors are often working with youth contemplating suicide or even in the process of taking their own lives and many of the counselors are coping with their own stress because they are also members of marginalized groups, they said. Not to mention the prank calls and callers using the line for sexual gratification. 

The three managers who had authored that blunt assessment in the email as well as three other Trevor Lifeline leaders were later fired after being placed on administrative leave, but the policy didn’t change, the anonymous source said. Counselors were reportedly told to take as many calls as possible. 

Some transgender staff, staff of color, and disabled staff felt erased and unable to be themselves, which reached a breaking point at a routine meeting in October 2022. In it, top staffers presented the results of that year’s staff climate survey. 

The results of the survey were harrowing. About two-thirds of staff said they weren’t satisfied with how decisions are made at Trevor, according to its results reviewed by the Blade. 

A majority – 55% – of Trevor employees said they hadn’t seen positive changes based on the last climate survey. Most employees said they weren’t satisfied with the leadership or had no opinion. Only slightly more than half of the staff said they wake up feeling fresh and rested for work – though, the data emphasized, that was up 12% from the previous year. Far fewer employees – though still a vast majority, three quarters – said they would recommend Trevor as a great place to work. 

In previous years the results presented to staff did break down the satisfaction by race or gender. When Black staffers pointed that out, they were “completely dismissed,” said Preston Mitchum, who was a director of advocacy and government affairs at Trevor before he quit in February. 

“With the numbers that have been presented, we have an obligation to maintain a level of confidentiality and anonymity within this process,” Meg Fox, who was the director of people, culture, and experience until July, said in a recording reviewed by the Blade. “Again, for 20 years I’ve been doing surveys, that has been the path paramount principle by which we live by, so nobody is trying to silence anybody’s voice here.”

When the results were finally released after several weeks of pressure, Latinx staffers showed the lowest level of satisfaction, numerous former staffers said. 

That process angered staff who were tired of being ignored, Mitchum said. Resentments deepened following reporting in HuffPost about Paley’s role, when working as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co., working to reduce Purdue Pharma’s legal liability over opioid litigation brought by 47 state attorneys general.  

“It became a ticking time bomb,” Mitchum said.

Enter the Trevolution — or the Trevorpocalypse, depending on whom you ask. The fire burned and burned, and Trevor’s board of directors eventually forced Paley out of the organization. The board quickly replaced him with Trevor’s co-founder, Peggy Rajski, in November 2022. 

Trevor’s board, a former manager said, wanted to portray stability with her hire. But it ended up only exacerbating the controversies within the organization. Richard Vargas, who was Trevor’s senior operations associate and used to run the organization’s New York office, was one of many who raised red flags about her performance.

Critics pointed to her ousting from Loyola Marymount University, where she was the dean of its School of Film and Television for less than three years. 

“She was known to rant and rave at people,” a former Loyola Marymount University professor said, according to The Wrap, which was first to report Rajski’s ousting. 

Rajski spent her first weeks organizing listening tours – with a select few people chosen from each department and affinity group. Sources familiar with those conversations said she was sympathetic to staff concerns, saying that she couldn’t believe what Paley put the organization through.

The honeymoon was short lived as she started describing staff who spoke out as rude, arrogant, and worse, sources told the Blade. Current and former staff said she criticized workers for speaking out, blaming problems on everyone but herself, misgendering staff – and being offended when corrected – and making everything about herself.

“I saw that in all hands meetings, she would get very snippy, very combative,” said Vargas. 

During a meeting in which she announced layoffs at Trevor – 12% of its workforce – she chided staff for using emoji reactions in the chat, he said.

The 44 mid- and upper-level staff were laid off after, seemingly, a huge budget hole emerged. It’s unclear how big exactly that hole is – a Trevor Project statement revealed a “sharp drop” in revenue but did not provide an exact figure, and no current and former employees who spoke to the Blade were able to provide an exact figure. 

One former employee said they were told there was a $25.2 million deficit in late April of this year, but a former Trevor finance official told the source the deficit was reduced to about $6 million. Another former employee familiar with the organization’s finances confirmed that the deficit was between $4 million and $7 million around then. 

That didn’t worry the Trevor Project’s executives, according to a former employee, because the organization had more than enough money in its reserves – about $55 million at the end of July 2022, according to public financial documents – to cover that loss.

But sometime between late April and June of this year, the Trevor ship sprang a huge leak. 

Members of the recruitment team, payroll team, the training team for Trevor’s hotline, much of the financial team, as well as other staff were laid off, sparking anger. (A Trevor spokesperson clarified after this story was initially published that the payroll, recruiting, and training operations teams were reduced by 67%, 96%, and 31%, respectively.)

What, they wondered, happened after Paley left to the $55 million the organization had reported in assets? 

Indeed, Trevor’s assets grew rapidly during Paley’s tenure, according to independently audited financial statements on Trevor’s website:

• In FY 2016 (the year before Paley became CEO): Assets were $1.6 million

• In FY 2017 (the first year that Paley served as CEO): Assets increased to $4.4 million (due to a $2.8 million surplus)

• In FY 2018: Assets increased to $9.7 million (due to a $5.4 million surplus)

• In FY 2019: Assets increased to $18.5 million (due to a $7.6 million surplus)

• In FY 2020: Assets increased to $31.0 million (due to a $10.6 million surplus)

• In FY 2021: Assets increased to $48.1 million (due to a $20.1 million surplus)

• And in FY 2022: Assets increased to $54.9 million (due to a $6.8 million surplus)

No one is sure what happened after that and a Trevor spokesperson declined to make executives available for an interview. But the staff have some ideas. They cite Trevor’s rapid expansion as a main cause and some described wasteful spending, even though The Trevor Project has a 100% Charity Navigator Accountability & Transparency score, an A- grade on CharityWatch, and a Platinum GuideStar Rating.

Trevor’s leadership would tell employees to spend surplus funds at the end of year, instead of putting them into Trevor’s reserves – even when the deficit was discovered, according to a former employee. 

“There were no policies around spending either,” the source said, which a Trevor spokesperson disputes.

A Trevor Project statement said that the organization made budget cuts, reduced outside consulting expenses, instituted a hiring freeze, limited non-urgent work travel, and used its reserve to close the deficit. Two current employees confirmed that travel restrictions seem to have taken place. 

The organization created a new role that oversees both Trevor’s digital operation and its phone lines – instead of hiring one person for each. It did not hire more lifeline associates, a source told the Blade. Both employees pointed out, though, that there are several open roles on Trevor’s website. One employee said the organization considered the positions “mission critical,” which is why they were posted. 

It’s unclear how much revenue Trevor lost – representatives for the federal government, Trevor, and for Vibrant Emotional Health all declined to reveal the figure. The Blade has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the numbers. 

The layoffs upset those close to the Trevor Project, but they didn’t receive widespread recognition. Layoffs among the 988 anti-suicide line staff representing the Trevor Project did, though, thanks to TikTok. 

“Basically, we are being told, you are without a job – we can try and get you a job but you might have a job, good luck out there,” Eli, a former crisis counselor working for Trevor, said in a viral TikTok video that racked up 62,000 views. He did not respond to a request for comment.

988 Suicide Hotline & the Trevor Project

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 created 988’s LGBTQ+ subnetwork as a pilot project. During that pilot, the Trevor Project was the only organization running the section of 988 dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth. Mitchum said he pushed back on that, saying Trevor did not have the resources to run the lifeline by itself and even if it did, more than one organization should provide support. Then-CEO Paley, though, reportedly disagreed.

“I think Trevor became so bogged down in the minutiae of money, of notoriety, of power, that it lost all ideas of responsibility to LGBTQ people,” Mitchum said.  

Nevertheless, 988 lifeline administrator Vibrant Emotional Health sent out a request for proposals for the pilot project, several former employees confirmed to the Blade, but it is unclear if any organizations other than Trevor applied. 

The Trevor Project was the only organization running the LGBTQ+ line. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, charged with federal oversight of the 988 program, pumped $7.2 million into the pilot. The federal government vastly underestimated the numbers of callers and texters to the line, leaving Trevor short-staffed and unprepared for the surge of people seeking support, a source told the Blade. Long wait times were the norm, so much so that Vibrant rebuked Trevor over the issue, two former staffers told the Blade.

Trevor kept the news about the dedicated LGBTQ+ line quiet until December, when it announced the service in a press release – despite its soft launch in September of 2022.

“The Trevor Project is incredibly thankful to the federal government for the major investment in these life-saving specialized services,” Mitchum said in the press release. “It’s vital that all young people have access to culturally competent care in moments of crisis.”

The 988 program was successful enough for Vibrant to make the hotline a permanent fixture less than a year later in July. This time, the federal government allocated $29.7 million to the LGBTQ+ subnetwork – more than three times the amount that the entire 988 lifeline received in 2021. 

As part of the expansion, Vibrant decided to increase the number of call centers running the LGBTQ+ crisis line from just one, the Trevor Project, to seven, with Trevor still on board. The change meant a smaller piece of the pie for Trevor – the $29.7 million would now be distributed among seven different organizations. 

That decision came as a shock to Trevor, Mitchum reflected. 

“After a while, Trevor leadership genuinely thought we would never have additional providers outside of Trevor,” Mitchum told the Blade.

A Trevor Project spokesperson said in a June statement that the organization had “recently learned” about the expansion of the LGBTQ subnetwork. The Trevor statement noted that the expansion would lead to “an exponential increase in support for the number of LGBTQ callers and texters to the 988 Lifeline.”

Having to split the funding, though, was enough to cause Trevor lay off more than 200 crisis workers, Trevor Project crisis counselor Finn Depriest said. Trevor disputes this and says fewer than 85 contract counselors from a third-party company called Insight Global were let go.

The counselors received the news on May 14. They had been invited by an email entitled “988 updates” with a meeting link. The crisis counselors’ recruiters, managers said, would contact them by the end of the day to let them know if they were fired or not.

Depriest got their call and was in luck. But fellow crisis counselor Rae Kaplan wasn’t so lucky. A person in Trevor’s IT department – not even her recruiter – told her she was being let go.

“I was definitely starting to have a panic attack,” Kaplan said.

A whirlwind of communication followed. Staff were first told they would be laid off on July 2, two weeks after the meeting, but were later told that Trevor had secured more funding to keep the counselors on its payroll until Aug. 31. Now, a Trevor spokesperson confirmed, the organization has received additional funding to keep the counselors on through the end of September.

Kaplan took advantage of the offer to stay on until August when they received it but was fired in July for reacting with emojis during an all-staff meeting, they said. 

Toby Everhart was scheduled to begin work at Trevor the same day the layoffs were announced. But at their orientation, they were suddenly told they were no longer needed. They posted their now-viral TikTok with 91,500 views.

Everhart moves down in the frame of their TikTok video to reveal the Trevor Project’s website, warning that “wait times to reach a counselor are higher than usual.” 

“Which is so weird,” Everhart continued in the video posted June 9, “because this is what their website said right after I got laid off.”

In reality, the higher wait times were unrelated to the position they were hired for, working on the 988 line. Counselors for Trevor’s crisis services, who run the services on the organization’s website and phone line, are employed by the Trevor Project directly. Counselors working on the 988 hotline representing Trevor, what Everhart was hired for, are contractors employed through recruiting company Insight Global. 

No counselors working directly for Trevor’s Lifeline or TrevorChat products have been laid off, several current employees confirmed, and a surge in wait times for Trevor’s own services has no bearing on wait times for 988 counselors. A Trevor spokesperson did not respond to a message seeking comment.

A statement from Vibrant showed that the average time on hold had risen slightly, from 34 seconds to 36 seconds, despite the addition of six more centers taking calls. The Blade’s query on Trevor’s community platform, TrevorSpace, asking whether people had experienced longer hold times on the 988 hotline was deleted by administrators. The administrators cited “inappropriate promotion” as a reason and issued a warning.

An automated message checks in on those waiting on hold, but kids “in a truly acute mental health crisis” won’t wait and won’t respond to automated prompts, a source told the Blade.

The six new organizations running the LGBTQ+ youth hotline, CommUnity, EMPACT-Suicide Prevention Center, Solari, Inc., Centerstone of Tennessee, Inc., PRS CrisisLink, and Volunteers of America Western Washington, aren’t well known in the tight-knit LGBTQ+ advocacy world. From what Depriest has been able to tell, it hasn’t been going well.

“Their resources are not helpful, and they’re not very personable,” Depriest said. “They don’t have the trauma-informed training that we have had to take. And you could tell a big difference.”

Lance Preston, who runs the small LGBTQ+ crisis organization Rainbow Youth, pointed specifically to the Volunteers of America Western Washington organization. He said his organization has attempted to place homeless youth at their facilities across the nation but has had many issues. Preston declined to elaborate. 

In a statement, a Vibrant spokesperson said that each call center must submit their LGBTQ+ competency training program for approval. Each backup center, according to Vibrant, has “similar training requirements” and access to the same training support. Vibrant also announced a two-year program to improve staff training.

But Mitchum, Trevor’s former director of advocacy and government affairs, who was intimately involved in the rollout of 988’s LGBTQ+ hotline, told the Blade that more providers for the line is a good thing.

“The people you talk to may say that it’s negligent to have these orgs who have no services, a lack of training, allegedly,” he said. “But why can’t they build them out? If Trevor actually cares about LGBTQ youth, not just their organization, why can’t they support these organizations, and build out these trainings that they say are best in class?”

Concerns about diversity

Issues concerning the organization’s diversity have cropped up, including during Trevor’s expansion to Mexico. Instead of hiring a translator, it asked Latinx staff to translate material into Spanish, Vargas said. Another Latinx former staff member said the group was treated as a monolith. The entire group were congratulated on Mexican Independence Day – even though not all the Latinx staff were Mexican-American. 

Trevor disputes this and submitted the following in response: “Trevor invested in a top-rated translation services vendor, TransPerfect. Trevor also hired an entire staff in Mexico for the launch of its crisis services in the country; that staff also created Spanish-language materials in preparation for launch. Two Latinx leaders (who themselves are not Mexican) sent a slack message that said ‘Happy Mexican Independence Day to our Mexican colleagues’ because they wanted to recognize an important holiday for their colleagues in the new Trevor Project Mexico office. It is inaccurate that the sender and the message assumed that all Latinx staff are Mexican-American.”

Mitchum told the Blade decision makers at Trevor never took the diversity concerns seriously. Weaver, former vice president of marketing, said the Trevor Project was more focused on checking boxes and performative diversity.

CEO Rajski said that the organization is committed to diversity in a statement Trevor sent to the Blade.

“Over the years, I’ve seen the organization I started, flourish and adjust to the changing needs of LGBTQ young people and shifting our outreach efforts to highlight the needs of the most marginalized LGBTQ young people — including young people of color and transgender and nonbinary young people.”

Trevor Project co-founder Peggy Rajski now serves as CEO. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Union issues

These and other concerns led to the Friends of Trevor United union to begin organizing in early 2022. That process was far from easy. Trevor did not immediately recognize the union, instead asking for a card count, where employees sign union authorization cards. A Trevor Project spokesperson said the organization recognized the union voluntarily in 2023 – which is true, but insisted that a “wide margin” of cards support Friends of Trevor. 

Gloria Middleton, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1180, under which Friends of Trevor is organized, said Trevor opposed the union. While union organizers were in talks with Trevor, the organization began laying off workers. The union condemned that, calling it “union busting,” and said that Trevor intentionally gave the union very little time to respond. 

Trevor provided Friends of Trevor with a formal layoff plan on June 29, according to a union Instagram post. The union did not post anything about the layoffs publicly until July 6 – layoff day. A Trevor Project statement said it notified the union on May 31, but Middleton said it was only informed on June 16 and the information did not include information about the timing, scope, and impact of the layoffs. 

Some asked if the layoffs were retribution for the formation of the union. The Trevor Project strongly denies this, pointing out that it laid off both workers in the union and non- union employees. The union, though, questions why Trevor announced layoffs during the negotiations and not before. 

“With an employer, there’s nothing in the law to my knowledge that says they can’t lay off at any time, to my knowledge,” Middleton said. “It’s just about the way it looks.”

Current and former staff told the Blade that Trevor targets dissidents, the employees that speak out against leadership. Vargas, who wrote a letter of solidarity to staff that spoke up about their mistreatment? Laid off. Josh Weaver, who is Black and spoke about having staff satisfaction data stratified by race and gender and amplified staff concerns? Laid off, though before the July layoffs. And many more, employees say.

“If I were white, I would have had a second chance. I’m certain of it,” Weaver said. “If I were a white person, I would have gotten a reprimand. I would not have been in the same situation.”

The staff who spoke on condition of anonymity with the Blade were worried about retribution as well – even those who no longer work at Trevor. A message the Blade received through a secure dropbox sums it up well: 

“Thank you for doing this. I wish I could talk to you without losing my job,” the text document submitted reads. “Give them hell.”

Even Trevor Project co-founder Celeste Lecesne slammed the organization in a statement last month released by the Communications Workers of America.

“When I co-founded The Trevor Project, I did so to create a resource for LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling to express their identity and feel accepted in a world where being gay or trans can feel terrifying. The Trevor Project is about supporting each other, and to see the way these workers have been treated by management – for engaging in their right to organize – is appalling and completely unacceptable,” said Lecesne, who no longer works for the organization. “The workers being targeted have saved lives and helped countless members of the LGBTQ+ community feel heard. It’s time that management hears these workers and joins them in their fight to create a more equitable workplace.”

In a statement to the Blade, the Trevor Project said it takes its obligation not to retaliate against employees seriously. 

“We have a strict anti-retaliation policy, which The Trevor Project upholds, and retaliation in violation of any law or policy is not permitted.” 

Middleton said that while Trevor’s behavior is terrible, it’s not unusual. Major nonprofits with good missions become corporatized and start treating their workers poorly. 

“They run the companies like most American companies run,” she said. “The bosses get the money, the workers get the minimal amount of income, just do the job.” 

Indeed, former CEO Amit Paley made $473,969 between August 2021 and July 2022, according to Trevor financial documents. Meanwhile, fewer than half of employees said they received a fair salary in the survey, according to a copy the Blade has seen. 

Not only do staff say they are not paid a fair wage, they say they must work under an executive that does not seem to care about the mission.

“Peggy created this organization in 1998 on the heels of a movie that was about a white, cisgender gay boy,” said Weaver, the former vice president of marketing. “And I think the aspect of queerness and its multifariousness today is something that Peggy does not want to really jibe with.”

Rajski had to be “pulled up” to include messaging about transgender and nonbinary people, a source said. Within the organization, Mitchum said Black staff weren’t promoted like others, nor were they paid as well. This is “actively the issue” inside Trevor, he added.

In a statement provided by a Trevor spokesperson, Rajski acknowledged she doesn’t always “get it right.”

“The gift of being part of Team Trevor is being able to serve, learn from, and grow with some of the most talented mission-focused leaders and staff,” she said in the statement. “I have recognized deeply how critical the need is in the LGBTQ community to have supportive and affirming allies — and how to be that kind of ally in new and better ways.”

She presents herself as an ally in the statement and in other public appearances. She called herself the “straight, white, godmother of a gay suicidal hotline,” in an interview with NPR affiliate KCUR in Kansas City, prompting ridicule among staff. But it pointed at a larger issue, employees told the Blade: Trevor’s C-suite is almost entirely white and cisgender. 

“I think there needs to be a permanent CEO who is LGBTQ+,” Mitchum said. “And in my opinion, one who is a person of color, or at least someone who actively understands intersectional framework and how to have these culturally important clinical conversations of competence and responsibility to specific communities.”

In the meantime, though, Trevor is led by a straight, white, cisgender woman. Current and former Trevor employees are scratching their heads over how to treat Trevor. Mitchum said that Trevor “has enough of your money” in a tweet and suggested donating to other organizations instead. Others aren’t quite sure.

“It is kind of a fine line with me right now, do I say support the Trevor Project because all these young people are calling in?” a former mid-level employee asked in an interview. “Or do we support other organizations? But this happens all the time. It isn’t specific to Trevor.”

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see,” Weaver said. “But what can you do? The one lesson that I learned was that at the end of the day, you’re the purpose, it’s not the organization. The mission sticks with the people. And so if the Trevor Project is not going to do it, somebody will.”

Rajski said in a statement that she is committed to supporting the most marginalized LGBTQ+ youth, including transgender and nonbinary youth as well as youth of color.

“I have heard firsthand through the voices of our people that we can do more to help them thrive and do their best work,” she said. “We have listened and are making important investments in our people, our culture, and organizational infrastructure to help Trevor be a sustainable force for good.”

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct title for Richard Vargas. Also, in 2022, Trevor’s phone and chat lines supported a record number of people, more than 263,000 served, not 236,000 as originally reported.) 

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

Joel Lev-Tov is a student journalist and photographer in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area majoring in journalism and minoring in Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

They are a journalism Fellow at the Washington Blade and have skills in both photography and A/V systems.

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Oscar Stembridge’s music reveals his optimism & emotional truth

He sings about mature themes and current events, all while finding music to be a catalyst for urging people to embrace activism

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Oscar Stembridge by Martina Monti

MALMO, Sweden – With the rapid onslaught of new music coursing through our ears, many of us are looking for something authentic in music – something real. And although authentic music exists, it only exists in small doses and quantities. Oscar Stembridge, a 15-year-old singer-songwriter from Sweden, gives his listeners much more than a small dose of authenticity: he gives us what he calls his “emotional truth.” 

Unlike today’s contemporary hyper-consumerist culture of music that follows a strict formula for likes, shares, and retweets, Stembridge’s music carries themes of endless possibilities and coming-of-age optimism from his personal experiences. His music is an anthem for Generation  Z, a suspended cry of hope and disparity amid a larger global socio-political struggle.

His original music echoes the concerns of his generation facing climate change, destruction of natural habitats both in the oceans and across seven continents, and the crisis brought about by wars and natural disasters.  

Stembridge won the Rookie Artist of the Year at the Sweden Pop Awards in 2022 (he was the youngest awardee) for his EP titled ‘Thir13en’ – an EP that details the teenage anguish of being belittled by the system and the hope that follows. We must ask ourselves, “who is Oscar Stembridge?” (Newsflash: he’s more than just a young kid with floppy dirty blonde hair and who speaks with an endearing British-Swedish accent)

The Blade had the privilege recently of interviewing Stembridge, and asked him that very question. 

“I write songs, I play music, I sing and I perform” Stembridge replied ever-so-humbly. But he doesn’t just play music, he plays four instruments – guitar, piano, drums, bass, and then there’s his vocals. Stembridge’s music is amazingly eclectic and versatile.  Inspired by artists such as Ed Sheeran, Queen, Guns n Roses, Van Halen, Sam Fender, Dominic Fike, Nirvana, and others, he has built up a strong global following on social media.

From a young age, Stembridge has been a musician, but he was born to perform. Whether he performs for a small, intimate crowd or a large festival, Stembridge feels calm and collected. “I’m never nervous,” Stembridge laughs, “I’m just gonna have fun.” And he can be seen having fun in every one of his performances – including his rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing in front of the Swedish Royal Family. And maybe, Stembridge was a bit nervous that one time. “It’s not every day you get to play for the Royal Family,” he says laughing.

Then 12-year-old Oscar Stembridge performed his cover of powerhouse American rock group Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ in front of Sweden’s Royal Family. (Screenshot/SVT1)

To perform without error – and without a sense of nervousness – Stembridge spends a lot of time perfecting his craft; evidenced by one’s listening to Stembridge’s carefully crafted album Thir13en. “The reason why it’s called 13 is because I wrote It when I was 13 years,” he tells the Blade adding; “That time period was a rollercoaster for me… I wasn’t in the happiest place, but I came out of that. Writing this EP was very therapeutic.”

Rather than embarking upon the creation of an EP alone, Stembridge shared his vulnerability with two of his friends in the process. “I wrote [Thir13en] with two of my music buddies and awesome singer-songwriters, Isa Tengblad and Kristofer Greczula.” Stembridge described the process of working with Tengblad and Greczula as both positive and innovative with the vocals for the EP being recorded in Tengblad’s bedroom. “It was never a static formula, and it never has been – We would bounce around as a team.”

Thir13en, in all of its anguish, optimism, and truth raw in its sound, is ultimately true in its emotions and eclectic in its composition. Rather than starting with lyrics first and music second or vice-versa, Stembridge isolates that the album started out as a concept – a sound on the brink of possibility in the wake of being told what to do and how to act.

In fact, the cover of the album would be a good place to start. “[The cover comes from] a notebook that my godfather gave to me…. I wrote out the mind map for the EP – and the cover of the EP is that mind map.”

 Thir13en EP cover art & design by Oscar Stembridge

As a mind map, Thir13en is incredibly cohesive in how it encapsulates the teenage lament towards a system that seeming refuses to listen.  The ep is about teenage angst but not in a punk rock type of way, more of an activism way on subjects and issues that Stembridge and his fellow Gen Zers are confronting in an increasing complicated world.

But Thir13en dares to showcase the optimism that adults seem to lose as they age but when they witness the vitality of kids like Stembridge they are able to regain hope.

From the EP, the song Young Ones is the statement that the youth has made – and has been making – regarding the older generations not listening to them. “It’s like we’re the enemy // Don’t forget we’re in the same team” // “All you do is blame it, blame it on me” // “Youth is wasted on the young ones.”

In Don’t Lie To Me, the chorus sounds like a group of teenagers pleading to not be lied to. “Don’t lie to me // I know everything you don’t want me to know.”

Unlike the type of teenage angst seemingly solely directed at older adults, [read] parents not listening to them or the ‘no one understands me’ trope, Stembridge sings about mature themes and current events, all while finding music to be a catalyst for urging people to embrace activism.

“What if bombs were confetti,” Stembridge sings in his song “What If” which posits a series of questions about how the world could be. But although Stembridge notes that he won’t be the one to stop all bombs, he still has hope that he can make the world a better place.

The one cause that Stembridge continues to be a  fierce advocate for is the climate movement. “I am a climate activist and am very vocal about that,” Stembridge says with certainty in his voice. As Stembridge marches alongside his friend, Greta Thunberg, herself a Gen Zer and longtime Swedish environmental activist, known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation- he stays positive about his effort to bring awareness to climate change. 

Oscar just before a performance.
(Oscar Stembridge Music/Instagram)

Rather than falling into apathy – which most of us seem prone to do – Stembridge uses his energy to write music. “I had a positive outlook on my song ‘We March’ – “we can [solve the problem] if we all march together.”

Whether Stembridge plays music at the climate protest rallies or marches along with the crowd, he is sincere and passionate about his activism. “Music is the language of emotion – it breaks all norms and boundaries – it reaches a wider range of people,” Stembridge stresses ecstatically.

But the climate movement isn’t the only thing that Stembridge cares about. The LGBTQ+ movement has been one of Stembridge’s advocacies as well. “I am 100% an ally,” Stembridge says, “I think people should be able to identify themselves how they want. I don’t think that anyone should be restricted to some gender thing.” 

Rather than adhering to someone else’s view of how you should be, Stembridge’s song ‘Fake Front’ advises the listener to be authentic. He states that “a lot of people in the world have their fake façade… you don’t have to have a façade in order for people to like you– everyone should be authentic to themselves.”

By playing music with an emotional truth, Stembridge believes that “a lot of people can relate to the songs and can use them as a way of helping themselves.”

Although Stembridge’s critically acclaimed EP Thirt13en was released just last year, Stembridge has music on the way. “I’m creating an official album release… Some of the songs I’ve written are really really really good” (The Blade took note that there were three “really(s)” excitedly uttered so it must be really good).

Stembridge describes that his new album is going to be a more mature version of Thirt13en; and no, it won’t be called Four14en. “This is like, ‘okay. I’m going to write an album now,’’ Stembridge says happily. Oscar hinted that his new, unreleased music will be performed at an event in Austin, Texas on August 9, as he headlines his first ever U.S. concert.

Ultimately, Stembridge’s emotional truth is one that he tells the Blade that everyone should live by. “Be who you are. Just be yourself and be confident with it because it will be great,” Stembridge advises. And with a great pause, Stembridge leaves the readers with one final note: “Believe in yourself.”

Stembridge is slated to perform in Los Angeles on August 2, at the Hotel Café in Hollywood and then again on August 5 in Santa Monica.

On August 9th, the Austin Film Society will present the world premiere screening of Primitive Planet Director Brian Gregory’s film, ‘Trust Your Wild Side with Oscar Stembridge,’ a captivating documentary that follows the incredible journey so far of Stembridge. 

After the screening, he will perform his first headlining concert in the USA, playing to thrill the audience with his catchy melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

LA tickets are available here: (Link)

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Calif. Rep. Calvert joins House GOP attacking LGBTQ+ Centers

Will Rollins, the gay Democrat vying for a second time to unseat the Republican castigates Calvert’s support for anti-LGBTQ+ amendments

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Will Rollins (right) with partner Paolo Benvenuto (Photo credit: Will Rollins for Congress)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Will Rollins, the gay Democrat vying for a second chance to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (Calif.), spoke with the Washington Blade by phone on Thursday following the uproar over his opponent’s support for an anti-LGBTQ+ amendment to a spending bill that was advanced by conservative members of the House Appropriations Committee this week.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Subcommittee’s package contained a total of 2,680 Community Project Funding earmarks, all previously cleared by members from both parties, but just before its passage on Tuesday Calvert joined his Republican colleagues who removed funding for two LGBTQ+ centers in Pennsylvania and one in Massachusetts.

The decision to go after three CPF initiatives that provide housing and other support for LGBTQ people in need, none located in his district or state, was “pretty consistent” with Calvert’s “pattern of bigoted behavior towards the LGBTQ+ community,” Rollins said.

A former federal prosecutor who worked in counterterrorism and counterintelligence and was involved in the Justice Department’s pursuit of charges against participants in the deadly January 6 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, Rollins is set to square off against two other candidates in his party’s primary ahead of the November 2024 elections. According to Cook Political Report, new data shows Calvert’s seat has moved from red-leaning to a tossup.

Calvert has served in the House since 1993, representing California’s 41st Congressional District for less than a year since it was redrawn in 2022 to include more Democratic and LGBTQ+ constituents, many residing in the Palm Springs area. Rollins challenged him in last year’s midterm elections, decisively beating primary opponents but ultimately falling short in his gambit for Calvert’s seat by about 11,000 votes. 

Reflecting on the 2022 race, Rollins noted that while “the turnout was relatively low, I was the only Democratic challenger in California to win independent voters and had the best performance of any Democratic challenger” in California as measured against the share of votes in the state for President Joe Biden in 2020.

As a first-time candidate with only five months between his Democratic primary and the general elections, Rollins added, he had nearly unseated a member of the House who enjoyed the advantages of the name recognition that comes with being California’s longest serving Republican in that chamber.

In 2024, “we have enough support to flip the seat,” Rollins said — noting that the campaign now has 17 months to build awareness about his candidacy before voters cast their ballots, including by tapping into media markets that were prohibitively expensive in 2022.

Rollins told the Blade Calvert has a “fundamental misunderstanding of LGBTQ+ Americans” and is uninterested in learning about their lived experiences as sexual and gender minorities, as evidenced by his allyship with the GOP members whose move during Tuesday’s THUD markup provoked accusations by Democrats of rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, igniting exchanges between lawmakers that became so heated the Committee was forced to recess three times.

At one point, Out Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus and serves on the Appropriations Committee, advised Calvert that he would be wise to vote against his party’s anti-LGBTQ+ amendment lest he be looking for a path to retirement courtesy of the more diverse constituents he now represents.

Last month, Calvert, who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was criticized after passing an amendment to a military spending bill that, among other provisions, proscribes “any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person speaks, or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.”

In practice, Democrats on the Committee argued, this could provide a pathway for someone who is responsible for the disbursement of survivor benefits to deny them to gay and lesbian beneficiaries.

Showing voters the contrast between Calvert’s extreme positions on matters like LGBTQ+ rights proved successful in courting more support for his campaign last year, Rollins said, but these issues are galvanizing not just for LGBTQ+ communities and their straight allies in bluer areas like Palm Springs.

“Study after study has shown that where you discriminate against the LGBT community, whether it’s anti-gay laws in Georgia or anti-LGBT rules overseas, economic output decreases,” stunting small business growth and depressing wages, he said.

So, Rollins said, while it is difficult to conceive of an alternative explanation, let alone a benign one, for the actions this week by Calvert and his fellow ultraconservative Subcommittee members, “we also have to be making the argument that the attacks on us really are an attack collectively on our economic growth and on opportunity and equality.”

“When you’ve got a Party that is prioritizing making sure that gay seniors can’t get food when they need it, versus a Party that wants to make our streets safer, or a candidate who wants to raise wages in Riverside County,” Rollins said, regardless of their political affiliation “voters understand that those priorities are misdirected from the far right.”

Additionally, he said, “part of the job, too, has to be changing the terms of the debate because a lot of the premises that these Republicans are operating from are complete lies.” And while elected Republicans “definitely have some serious problems with the truth,” Rollins said “the good news for me in a purple district is that regular Republican voters, many of whom are actually moderate, will stand up against extremism.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, echoed some of these arguments in a statement to the Blade: “Ken Calvert is determined to turn back the clock on LGTBQ+ rights.”

“Calvert’s bigoted pattern of anti-LGBTQ+ extremism is disqualifying, disgusting, and wildly out of step with the values and beliefs of everyday southern Californians,” the group said.

Critics question motivations for Calvert’s support of the Respect for Marriage Act


Rollins said that contrary to Calvert’s claims last year that his thinking on LGBTQ+ rights had evolved, the congressman is “willing to take calculated votes to keep himself in power, which he did before the [2022] midterms” by voting for the Respect for Marriage Act — a move Rollins characterized as “a pretty transparent attempt to wash away an anti LGBTQ+ career that’s lasted three decades.”

Speaking to the Blade by phone on Thursday, gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who serves as ranking member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a co-chair of the Equality Caucus, said Calvert’s tendency to vacillate between whichever positions are most politically expedient has been on display throughout his 30-year tenure in the House.

The two ran against each other in 1992 and 1994, with Calvert winning both races, and they have served together in California’s Congressional Delegation since Takano first took office in 2013.

Takano said that when Calvert faced off against six opponents in 1992 and ultimately beat him in the general election by fewer than 600 votes, the Republican candidate had “assured key women in the community that he would moderate on social issues like abortion.”

By contrast, Takano said, today “the reality is he cannot survive a Republican primary” without embracing far-right positions, particularly on social issues. Because the GOP has become more extreme since 1992, Takano said, “for [Calvert] to stay in politics, he has to be representative of that extremism.”

The California Democrat contrasted the act of political bravery, and by an elected Republican with unambiguously conservative bona fides, with Calvert — a politician who made a “Faustian bargain” selling his soul to stay in Congress.

“Mark Sanford and I disagreed on a lot of stuff,” Takano said, referring to the Republican former politician who served as Governor of South Carolina and represented the state’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019.

Takano recalled how Sanford came to the defense of “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda when then-President Donald Trump attacked the Broadway star — “punching down at a citizen” — because Miranda had “made this appeal to Mike Pence to remember that he was Vice President for all of America.”

“From that moment on, Mark Sanford was on the pathway to lose his primary,” Takano said.

Calvert and conservative LGBT group defend his vote for the appropriations amendment

On Friday, Calvert shared a statement with the Blade about Tuesday’s appropriations markup: “I voted along with every Republican colleague on the Appropriations Committee to remove funding for three facilities in the FY2024 THUD appropriations bill due to objections over political activism by some facilities that include pro-communism propaganda, gender affirming care with no age specification, and sexually explicit material for children,” the congressman said.

“I believe most of my constituents, regardless of sexual orientation, do not believe that U.S. taxpayer dollars should be used on activities that undermine the foundations of our country. I do not condone discrimination of any kind and I will always vote my conscience,” he said.

Calvert did not answer questions about why he deserves the support of LGBTQ voters and their allies in his district or whether he encountered blowback from any LGBTQ conservative constituents over his vote on Tuesday.

Responding to the statement, Rollins said “Actions speak louder than Ken’s empty words. He’s voted to ban LGBTQ+ Americans from serving openly in the military, to prohibit us from adopting children, and to allow employers to fire people simply for being LGBTQ+.

Rollins noted that Calvert also voted against the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, adding that “The silver lining of these votes – and his latest vote this week – is that they will seal his loss in 2024 because LGBTQ+ Americans are just as foundational to our country as the belief that all of us must be free to control our own lives and destinies.”

Speaking with the Blade on Thursday, Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran disputed the allegations against Calvert along with the characterizations of his behavior and motivations that were provided by Rollins and Congressional Democrats.

Last year, Moran said, Calvert focused on strengthening relationships with his LGBTQ constituents, including through meetings with individuals and groups like Log Cabin, in a deliberate and sincere effort to better understand the community and its needs.

“I had drinks with him immediately following the vote” on the Respect for Marriage Act, Moran said. “And he presented to me a card [on which] he [had written] down the final vote total, and he handed it to me when we sat down because he was proud” to join his 46 House GOP colleagues who also backed the bill.

Moran noted that in 2020, Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Center, one of the three CPFs whose funding was removed from Tuesday’s appropriations package, had welcomed participation from the city’s Log Cabin Republicans chapter in a forum about public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic before reversing course and disinviting the group in response to pushback.

While he had not yet discussed the THUD amendment with the GOP members behind it or with their Congressional offices, Moran said that they likely had legitimate reasons for removing the earmarks — objections over issues like the practice by at least one of these organizations of discriminating against conservatives.

A choice between the status quo and the promise and potential of new leadership

At the same time, Calvert has arguably sought to police political speech by, for example, restricting the ability of institutions like the U.S. Armed Forces to administer programs centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion — provisions that were a major component of the amendment he passed along with the House’s Defense spending bill in June.

Takano, who has served as the Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s top Democrat since 2019, noted that the need for “affirmatively cultured” diversity in the military has been shown through, for instance, the “conflicts that arose during the Vietnam War era between an un-diverse white officers’ corps and Black and Brown grunts.”

Maintaining the status quo, therefore, runs contrary to the national interest, he added.

Today’s Congressional Republicans “don’t want to see LGBTQ+ service members [being] made to feel welcome, and they don’t want the officers to be trained in order to be sensitive to the backgrounds of service members of color and service members who are LGBTQ+ or service members who are women,” Takano said.

When it comes to next year’s race for California’s 41st District, Takano praised Rollins — a candidate whose reasons for running are “so admirable,” the congressman said, “because at its root, his efforts flow from a very high-minded devotion to our democracy, and in my mind, democracy includes space and protection for all people – LGBTQ people included.”

Rollins told the Blade that while he is appalled by Calvert and other Congressional Republicans’ “blatant targeting of a very small minority,” he is confident that it will add fuel to voters’s desire for change, including through new leadership in the Congress.

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Rev. Jesse Jackson names his Rainbow PUSH Coalition successor

The White House released a statement from Biden whose working relationship & friendship with the civil rights icon spans 40+ years

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Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. with his wife of sixty-one years, Jacqueline Lavinia "Jackie" Jackson. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition)

CHICAGO – During the annual meeting of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition civil rights organization he founded and has headed for over 5 decades, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. formally named Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III of the Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas as his successor.

The Rainbow PUSH Convention was held on Sunday at the Apostolic Church of God in the Windy City’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Also in attendance was Vice-President Kamala Harris, the event’s special keynote speaker, who had arrived at Chicago’s Midway airport earlier on Sunday morning.

“I am looking forward to this next chapter where I will continue to focus on economic justice, mentorship, and teaching ministers how to fight for social justice. I will still be very involved in the organization and am proud that we have chosen Rev. Dr. Haynes as my successor,” Rev. Jackson said in a statement released by the organization.

Rev. Haynes has served as the senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist for the past four decades.

“Rev. Jackson has been a mentor and I have been greatly influenced and inspired by this game-changing social justice general, international ambassador for human rights, and prophetic genius. Sadly, justice and human rights are under attack in the nation and around the world. The work of Rainbow PUSH is as necessary as ever and I am committed to standing on the shoulders of Rev. Jackson and continuing the fight for freedom, peace, equity, justice and human rights,” Haynes said.

Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III with Vice-President Kamala Harris.
(Photo Credit: Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes/Facebook)

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden, who has had a longtime working relationship and friendship with the civil rights leader for over 40 years:

“The promise of America is that we are all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives. While we’ve never fully lived up to that promise, we’ve never fully walked away from it because of extraordinary leaders like Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr.

“Throughout our decades of friendship and partnership, I’ve seen how Reverend Jackson has helped lead our nation forward through tumult and triumph. Whether on the campaign trail, on the march for equality, or in the room advocating for what is right and just, I’ve seen him as history will remember him: a man of God and of the people; determined, strategic, and unafraid of the work to redeem the soul of our nation.

“Jill and I are grateful to Reverend Jackson for his lifetime of dedicated service and extend our appreciation to the entire Jackson family.  We look forward to working with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition as he hands the torch to the next generation of leadership, just as we will continue to cherish the counsel and wisdom that we draw from him.”

Vice-President Kamala Harris, the special keynote speaker, addresses the Rainbow PUSH Coalition on Sunday, July 16, 2023, with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. seated behind her listening intently. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Jacquelyne Germain, political reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times and the pool reporter accompanying the Vice-President, reported notable quotes made during Harris’ speech included:

“So today, we celebrate one of America’s greatest patriots. Someone who deeply believes in the promise of our country.”

“At the core of Rev.’s work is the belief that the diversity of our nation is not a weakness or an afterthought, but instead, our greatest strength.”

“Early on, he even had the audacity to name this coalition the National Rainbow Coalition.
He defined the rainbow. He was one of the first to define the rainbow. A coalition to push the values of democracy and liberty and equality and justice, not from the top down but from the bottom up and the outside in. He has built coalitions that expanded who has a voice and a seat at the table.”

“Across our country, we are witnessing hard fought hard won freedoms under full on attack by extremist, so called leaders. These extremists have an agenda, an agenda to divide us as a nation, an agenda to attack the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion and the unity of the Rainbow Coalition.”

“These extremists banned books in the year of our Lord 2023. They ban books and prevent the teaching of America’s full history. All the while they refuse reasonable gun safety laws to keep our children safe. Understand what’s happening.”

“Fueled by the love of our country, just as Rev. has done his entire career, let us keep hope alive”

Rev. Jackson, 81, was an early supporter and a protégé of the iconic civil rights leader, the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., starting his work with King participating in the three Selma to Montgomery marches, held in 1965 along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.

King gave Jackson a role in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), sending Jackson to head the Chicago branch of the SCLC’s economic arm, Operation Breadbasket, which he later was appointed President of in 1967.

At 6:01 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, 1968, King, SCLC leadership, Jackson and other civil rights activists who had gathered at the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, Tennessee to stand in solidarity with striking African-American city sanitation workers, were on the balcony outside King’s room 306 when a shot rang out. King was leaning over the balcony railing in front of his room and was speaking with Jackson who was in the parking lot beneath the balcony.

The bullet struck the civil rights leader in his face rendering him unconsciousness and he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. King never regained consciousness and died at 7:05 p.m. whereupon in the aftermath, post-assassination rioting broke out in major cities across the nation.

On April 3, 2018, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Rev. Jackson spoke with a reporter from Scripps News about the events of that night:

In the years following the death of Dr. King, tensions between Jackson and King’s successor as chairman of the SCLC, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, created a rift that escalated until early December of 1971, when Jackson, his entire Breadbasket staff, and 30 of the 35 SCLC board members resigned and began planning a new organization which formed the basis for People United to Save Humanity (Operation PUSH) which officially began operations on December 25, 1971 based in Chicago.

Rev. Jesse Jackson (Center) participating in a protest rally in support of the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act, on January 15, 1975. The Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 27, 1978, and codified as 15 USC § 3101.
(Photo Credit: The U.S. News & World Report collection at the Library of Congress.) 

In 1984 Jackson organized the Rainbow Coalition and resigned his post as president of Operation PUSH in 1984 to run for president of the United States. He became the second Black-American to run a national campaign for president in a major party’s primary. 

Twelve years previously in 1972, Shirley Chisholm, a Democratic Representative from New York City’s 12th congressional district, centered on Brooklyn’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood, was the first Black person, male or female, to run for president within a major party, and Chisholm became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s national headquarters at 301 E. Cermak Rd. in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Antonio Vernon)

The Democratic primary campaign races for president was a national political watershed moment for the country’s LGBTQ+ community. It marked the first time that all of the Party’s leading candidates had sought the endorsement of LGBTQ+ organizations.

At the national Democratic convention held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in 1984, Jackson became the first candidate to deliver a speech to mention gays and lesbians. In what became known as his “Rainbow Coalition” speech, Jackson said:

[…] “Our party is emerging from one of its most hard fought battles for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in our history. But our healthy competition should make us better, not bitter. We must use the insight, wisdom, and experience of the late Hubert Humphrey as a balm for the wounds in our Party, this nation, and the world. We must forgive each other, redeem each other, regroup, and move one. Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow — red, yellow, brown, black and white — and we’re all precious in God’s sight.

America is not like a blanket — one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.” […]

Jackson decided to make a second run for the presidency in 1987.

On Oct. 11, 1987, at the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which was thematically honing in on the HIV/AIDS crisis that had enveloped the LGBTQ+ community, among the speakers at the march rally, held on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, was presidential candidate Jackson along with gay U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, both Democrats from Massachusetts; former National Organization for Women president Eleanor Smeal and United Farm Workers Union president Cesar Chavez.

The 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights
(Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

In his remarks, Rev. Jackson told the crowd of approximately 300,000:

“We gather today to say that we insist on equal protection under the law for every American, for workers’ rights, women’s rights, for the rights of religious freedom, the rights of individual privacy, for the rights of sexual preference. We come together for the rights of all American people.”

During the 1987 primary campaign, Jackson would often spar with the party’s frontrunner, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis over the governor’s apparent lack of proactive concern over the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had gripped the LGBTQ+ community with thousands dying from the disease. Additionally, there were many leaders in the LGBTQ+ community who viewed Dukakis as homophobic.

Former Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, in his April 15, 1988 Post column reported that during a March primary debate, Jackson drew cheers from a vocal gay contingent at the debate when he spoke of the AIDS “hysteria.” Recalling the march on Washington, he said: “I saw people in their wheelchairs who are dying of AIDS. . . . Not one of the {Reagan administration} officials would come downstairs and shake their hand.”

Kurtz also noted:

“Dukakis is someone who has gone out of his way to hurt us,” said David Taylor, president of Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a 400-member club that has endorsed Jackson.

The contest for gay voters is almost a microcosm of the larger campaign: While Jackson moves gays with his eloquent speeches on gay rights, Dukakis takes a more measured approach and finds himself pinned down on specifics from his tenure as governor, Kurtz reported.

After the ’88 campaign, Jackson, now living in the District of Columbia, ran for the office of “shadow senator” when the position was created in 1991, serving until 1997, when he did not run for reelection. This unpaid position was primarily a post to lobby for statehood for the District of Columbia.

While he declared that he would not be a candidate again for president, he and front-runner Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had a series of public disagreements after Jackson called for the creation of “new democratic majority.”

On April 26, 1992, Jackson and Clinton had a 40-minute meeting and emerged to announce that they were both committed to defeating Bush in the general election. Asked if he was ready to endorse Clinton, Jackson said,

“Well, if he wins the nomination of our party, he would be well on his way. We need a new President and we need a new direction. We cannot afford any more of what George Bush represents,” The New York Times reported.

The National Rainbow Coalition held a leadership conference June 13, 1992, entitled “Rebuild America: 1992 and Beyond,” Jackson and Clinton appearing together spoke about their plans for the future of the U.S.

Over the course of the 1990’s Jackson devoted his time and efforts to stemming the rising gun violence, along with efforts to further advance civil rights for the disenfranchised minority communities. He also worked on the campaign for his son Jesse Jackson Jr., who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as Congressman from Illinois’s 2nd congressional district who served from 1995 until his resignation in 2012.

President Bill Clinton awarded Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. (Screenshot/Video from the Clinton Presidential Library)

On March 1, 2000, Rev. Jackson announced his support of and endorsed Bill Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, for the latter’s presidential run. After George W. Bush won, Jackson was a vocal opponent of the Bush Administration’s policies.

During the course of the rest of the decade Jackson was active in social and cultural issues often being present at numerous protests. One notable incident occurred in November 2006, after a white comedian, former Seinfeld actor Michael Richards had launched into onstage racist tirade at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood directed at a Black audience member.

CNN later reported that Richards had called Jackson a few days after the incident to apologize; Jackson accepted Richards’ apology and met with him publicly as a means of resolving the situation. Jackson also joined Black leaders in a call for the elimination of the “N-word” throughout the entertainment industry.

Rev. Jackson was an early supporter of Illinois U.S. Senator Barack Obama who announced his candidacy in 2007 for president. In 2012, he praised then President Obama for his decision to support same-sex marriage and compared the fight for marriage equality to the fight against slavery and the anti-miscegenation laws that once prevented interracial marriage, a position that brought immediate criticism from conservatives- especially evangelical and Pentecostal Black Pastors.

After the infamous shooting death on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, that brought about a national protests, and in which his killer, George Zimmerman was later acquitted under Florida’s so-called ‘Stand-your-ground’ law, Jackson refused to accept it comparing the decision to the acquittals in the cases of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, decades earlier.

In the next few years he would also be vocal about the injustices and deaths of young Black males at the hands of primarily white law enforcement officials.

Jackson continued to actively work on behalf of civil rights causes as exemplified during the administration of President Trump calling out some of the more blatant examples of white supremacy seemingly endorsed by Trump.

As the 2020 election neared, Jackson said that Trump had left “African Americans in the deepest hole with the shortest rope” and predicted “African Americans—and particularly African-American women—will vote overwhelmingly for Joe Biden.”

A few weeks ago, Rev. Jackson announced his plans to step down as the leader of Rainbow PUSH, following 64 years of civil rights activity within this movement. Aides said that his decision was brought about in consideration of his advanced age as well as health complications – Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, and was hospitalized twice in 2021, after testing positive for COVID-19 and then following a head injury.

Rainbow Push Coalition: Celebration of Reverend Jackson’s Life’s Work:

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Made with Love; Tom Daley’s a crafty influencer & a Dad- again

“I think it’s really important to find that one thing that you look forward to every single day, something you can’t wait to get home to do”

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Tom Daley displaying his new line of yarn chats with the Los Angeles Blade at a recent photo shoot in Laurel Canyon. (Photo by Simha Haddad)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – British Olympic gold medalist diver, LGBTQ-human rights activist, husband and father of two boys, Tom Daley, whose enthusiastic passion for his knitting is well known, has recently partnered with Lion Brand Yarn for a new venture.

The crafty Olympian’s self-titled “Made with Love by Tom Daley,” is slated to arrive in Michael craft stores and online starting in September 2023. Made with Love will feature Daley’s custom patterns for beginners and yarn colors inspired by his life and career, such as “Gold Medal” and “Primrose Hill.” 

Daley took a break from a Made with Love/Lion Brand Yarn photoshoot up in Laurel Canyon in the hills above West Hollywood recently to chat with The Blade about knitting, family life, and striking a work-life balance. 

Early on

Daley grew up in Plymouth, a port city in South West England about four hours outside of London. His long competitive diving career started in 2003 when he won a medal at National Novice Championships in the 8/9-year-old category.

At age fourteen, Daley was the youngest qualifying British Olympian athlete since rowing coxswain Ken Lester. In 2007, he became the youngest-ever winner of a British senior title when he took the individual platform event and the following years retained his title and added the synchronized event with partner Blake Aldridge.

Tom Daley at age 14 training prior to the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing 2008
(Screenshot/YouTube Olympics)

In March 2008 he scored a surprise victory at the European Championships in Eindhoven to become the youngest-ever European champion in either swimming or diving. After Beijing he claimed two silver medals at the 2008 World Junior Championships, before winning the senior World Championship in 2009 at the age of 15.

Daley won two gold medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, in the 10-metre individual and synchronized event with Max Brick. He competed in his second Olympics in London’s 2012 games and won an individual bronze medal. After the London Games, he gained celebrity status and hosted his own TV show titled Splash.

During the entire course of the Olympic games in Tokyo 2020, held from 23 July to 8 August 2021, audiences following the diving competitions were certain to see the British Olympian quietly and intently focused in-between matches- on his knitting.

The Gold medalist only picked up his first set of knitting needles in March of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the globe, strangling normal daily routines in its deadly grip.

After being seen knitting at the Olympic Games, Daley has become a craft influencer whose dedicated Instagram page attracts 1.4 million plus followers.

Photo courtesy of “Made with Love by Tom Daley/Instagram.

Daley founded his Made With Love fashion label in November 2021, stemming from his genuine love for knitting and crochet and his desire to share it with the world and encourage others to take up the hobby.

“It’s been a journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles in March 2020. Fast forward 18 months and I’m so proud to introduce these kits to you all so that you can experience the joy I found learning to knit,” Daley said on his website at the time of the launch.

“I designed these knit kits to help encourage you to pick up those needles, learn the basics, and fall in love with knitting at the same time – all whilst creating something to show off or pass on. Ready? Pick up your needles, learn the basics and let’s have some fun!”

Daley recently moved to Los Angeles from London with his husband, D. Lance Black, and their two sons, Robert – known as Robbie (age 5) and newly arrived Phoenix (age 3 months). 

A Passion for Knitting

Lion Brand Yarn, which has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community with initiatives like Knit the Rainbow, “crafting handmade clothing for LGBTQ youth,” caught wind of Daley’s passion and approached him about collaborating on this project. In turn, Daley loved the idea. 

“I love the crafting community,” Daley told the Blade. “Diving is extremely niche. People might like and enjoy diving, but everyone who loves diving doesn’t necessarily do it. Whereas with knitting, the people who love it are really doing it. It’s nice to have a community where everybody actually does the thing they are passionate about rather than one person watching and one person doing.” 

Daley’s line will focus mainly on beginners and first-time knitters, with a few projects for intermediate knitters thrown in as well. Although well-known for his knitting, Daley was a novice himself not so long ago. 

Daley quietly and intently focused in-between his diving matches on his knitting during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
(Photo courtesy of “Made with Love by Tom Daley/Instagram.)

“I started knitting in 2020,” said Daley. “My coach told me, ‘You’re always on the run. You’re always on the go. You need to find a way to slow down.'”

Daley was perplexed by the concept of slowing down. He shared that he is easily bored and is not prone to sitting and watching TV. Daley’s husband, an Academy Award winning filmmaker, who often saw actors knitting on set between takes, suggested that he take up the craft. The rest is history. 

“I became completely obsessed with it,” said Daley. 

Daley knits for an hour every day after his children have gone to bed. He usually gifts his finished creations to his loved ones or donates them to raise money for those in need. 

“Every stitch is made with love; every stitch is handmade; every stitch is imperfect in its own way. To be able to gift that to someone else is really nice.”

Daley stressed that he believes passion should be an integral part of everyone’s life. 

Tom Daley displaying his new line of yarn chats with the Los Angeles Blade at a recent photo shoot in Laurel Canyon.
(Photo by Simha Haddad)

“I think it’s really important to find that one thing that you look forward to doing every single day,” Daley told The Blade. “You have to find that something you can’t wait to get home to do. For me, that’s knitting. It’s my mindfulness. It’s like a meditation.

Marriage 

Daley and Black met in March 2013 at a restaurant in Los Angeles. After some casual chitchat about how the happenings inside the Olympic Village would make a great TV show, the pair decided to meet for drinks. The two have been together ever since. 

During their first date, the pair instantly bonded over two shared life experiences. The first was that they had both recently lost a loved one. 

“He lost his brother the year before,” Daley told The Blade, “and I had lost my father the year before.”

The second point of bonding came over what Daley describes as “the slump” that comes after reaching the height of career success. 

“We were both in similar places in that we had both achieved our career goals. I had won a gold medal, and he had won an Oscar for his film ‘Milk.’ So we both understood what it meant to get to that, but we also understood what is really hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. We both understood the slump or the crash where you ask yourself, ‘What next?'”

Daley reminisced about how good it felt to have someone understand what he was going through: “I really had this feeling like I had found a partner in this life.”

Children

Daley instantly lit up when describing his home life, sharing that the couple loves their role as parents.  

“Fatherhood is the best and hardest thing anyone ever did,” said the proud Dad of two boys. “Having children puts a different perspective on everything. You start to see the world through their eyes and how you take so much for granted. Fatherhood brings your inner kid out.”

Black with the couple’s eldest son Robbie near their London home in August of 2022.
(Photo by Tom Daley)

Dad life for Daley also means maintaining as much of a routine as possible. That means Daley wakes up before anyone else in the house for an hour of “me time” to knit and watch the news. He then gives Robbie his breakfast, gets him ready for the day, and takes him to daycare on the way to work.

At the end of the day, Daley picks up his eldest and brings him home, and makes dinner for the family. Daley said that his husband is an amazing father who takes over nighttime feedings of their infant so that Daley can get his much-needed sleep.

Of course, maintaining a routine isn’t always easy, especially with Daley’s chaotic travel schedule, which he told The Blade is about to pick up soon. When Daley is away, his husband often has to take time off from work to care for their children full-time. Black’s solo parenting job will become even more demanding now that there are two children in the house. 

When asked whether the couple will look in to hiring a nanny, Daley admitted that he feels pressure and guilt around the subject. 

“I feel like gay dads are judged so much more harshly,” said Daley. “There is this attitude that as two dads, we should be doing it all ourselves. I mean, it takes a village, but there is shame there for me. I never want people to say, ‘Oh, see, they couldn’t do it.’ I know I have to build up the courage if we are going to take that step.” 

When asked about the difference between raising children as a gay couple in London versus Los Angeles, Daley said that he noticed a huge difference in body positivity in the United States. 

“LA is very gay,” said Daley. “But there is this pressure to have one standard look. I know I’m an athlete, so I’m guilty of looking a certain way as well, but I think it’s really important to value all body types and shapes and sizes.”

Tom with husband Lance in January of 2023.
(Photo by Tom Daley)

Daley and Black keep the conversation open at home about everything from body positivity to the fact that families also come in all shapes and sizes. 

“I think keeping the conversation open is the most important thing,” said Daley. “When you avoid a topic, you create shame around it. We always say that every body is beautiful and that everybody is unique in their own way.” 

When asked whether the couple is considering a third child, Daley said they might be open to the idea in a few years time. 

Work-Life Balance

Daley also commented on how important he now finds the lesson that knitting taught him. He explained that while slowing down can be difficult, it is also necessary for a healthy, well-balanced life. 

“I know there are a lot of people who want to work all the time. That can work in some cases, but really, I think you have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I working so hard if I’m not enjoying life?'”

Daley stressed that while his schedule may become more hectic soon, he will always make time with his family and friends a priority.

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