Feature Story – LGBT Weekly http://lgbtweekly.com Wed, 25 May 2016 19:28:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Keepers of the flame: Annise Parker and Michael Connolly to be honored at San Diego’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/05/12/keepers-of-the-flame-annise-parker-and-michael-connolly-to-be-honored-at-san-diegos-harvey-milk-diversity-breakfast/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/05/12/keepers-of-the-flame-annise-parker-and-michael-connolly-to-be-honored-at-san-diegos-harvey-milk-diversity-breakfast/#respond Thu, 12 May 2016 19:13:37 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=70446

Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Alberta Assemblymember Michael Connolly to be honored at San Diego’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast

Nearly four decades after his assassination, the legacy of former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk continues to be felt.

“When I lost my first two elections to Council, I re-watched the documentary on him and re-read his biography,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “How he dealt with his losses helped me to decide to run again.”

The life and work of Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials, will again be celebrated at San Diego’s eighth annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Thursday, May 19 at the San Diego Bayfront Hilton Hotel.

“We are thrilled to honor former Houston Mayor Annise Parker for her years of service to our community, both as an activist and as an elected official,” said Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, chief executive officer of The San Diego LGBT Community Center. “And having Michael Connolly join us, who was elected last year to the Alberta legislature at the age of 21, honors what we know – that our youth have a significant role to play in the future success of our community. We look forward to hearing from both of them at this year’s event.”

Parker, who will receive the Harvey Milk Lifetime Achievement Award at the event, served as an out lesbian on the Houston City Council, from 1998-2003, as city controller from 2004-2010 and ultimately as mayor of the nation’s fourth largest city from 2010-2016. In 2015, Houston passed a proposition that extended the terms of mayor, city controller and councilmembers to two four-year terms, making Parker the last Houston mayor to be limited to three two-year terms.

As a lesbian activist in the 1970s, Parker remembers attending her first LGBT organizing event in 1975, “So I was aware of [Milk’s] campaign and later, of his election. I was stunned by his death. It was frightening, because I don’t think any of us who were active then didn’t have to face threats, but it was also galvanizing, because we wanted to add meaning to his sacrifice.”

She has most certainly done that. She was Houston’s second female mayor, and one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city. Parker is the only person in Houston history to hold the offices of councilmember, controller and mayor.

Michael Connolly

“I was the mayor of a great city. That I was able to be that and still be true to myself was priceless,” she said. “I was not a lesbian elected official, meaning I did not speak for our community or try to advocate for them differently than any other constituent group, but the notoriety allowed me an unparalleled opportunity to raise the profile and status of Houston and show millions of people another example of who we are.”

And Parker showed them exactly who she was. Not just an elected official, not just a lesbian, Parker, a second-generation Houstonian, showed she embraced family as well. She and her wife, Kathy Hubbard married in 2014 after 23 years together. The two have been visible and vocal advocates for adoption, raising four children together. And in 2010, Parker was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.

Once she became an elected official, Parker even borrowed from one of Harvey Milk’s more visible legislative victories. “I actually cribbed from one of his initiatives to pass Houston’s pet waste ordinance,” she said.

More significantly, Mayor Parker – like Milk had tried during his time as a supervisor – issued one of the most comprehensive non-discrimination orders in the nation, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which was passed by the City Council, but when it was challenged by opponents, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the city had to rescind the measure or put it up for a public vote. The measure was put on the November 2015 ballot and was defeated 62-38 percent, and left Parker with a little over a month left in her final term to fight back against the vote as mayor.

“We are winning the war for both hearts and minds and for tangible protections, but we will still lose battles. Houston’s vote was the first item the Right could target after the Supreme Court resolved marriage. Great progress always provokes a backlash,” Parker said.

“But it clearly showed that transgenders are much less known and understood, and the attacks they often endure in life will be amplified at the ballot box and in legislatures in shameful and deceitful campaigns,” she said. “The 50 years we’ve spent showing the face of gay and lesbian America often excluded them, both because sexual orientation and gender identity are different, and because many gays and lesbians were struggling with their own feelings and fears about the issue. And we can’t forget about our brothers and sisters around the world who are decades behind our progress.”

While Parker has years of activism and public service experience, the other special guest at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast was first elected in 2015 at the age of 21. Canadian Michael Connolly currently serves as a member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, representing the Calgary-Hawkwood district. He is one of the first three openly LGBT people elected to the Alberta legislature, along with caucus colleagues Ricardo Miranda and Estefania Cortes-Vargas.

Connolly serves as deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills, as a member of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee and the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future. He studied history and political science in a French immersion program at the University of Ottawa, focusing on European integration, Eurosceptiscism and Scottish politics and nationalism. He also completed an internship with an office of a member of Parliament, and helped organize a forum for young women leaders from all over Canada.

Annise Parker and her wife Kathy Hubbard

“Although I’ve known of Harvey Milk for many years, it wasn’t until last year, my last year of University, that I really started to research who he was and the movement that he led. However, since being elected, much of what he said has been instrumental to how I represent both my constituents and the LGBTQ community as a whole,” Connolly said.

“In Harvey’s speech to a San Diego dinner of the gay caucus of the California Democratic Council March 10, 1978, Harvey stated, ‘A gay person in office can set a tone, can command respect not only from the larger community, but from the young people in our own community who need both examples and hope.’ This quotation (from the Randy Shilts biography, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk) speaks to how I see my role as one of the first openly gay members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta,” he said.

Connolly said he has felt a deeper connection to Harvey Milk and his legacy since taking office.

“It is difficult not to. Although, I can imagine being an openly LGBTQ+ elected official in 2016 is easier than in the late 1970s, I can attest to the fact that we – the three openly LGBTQ+ members in my caucus – receive hateful messages and death threats related to our sexual identities and gender expressions. However, like Harvey, that only drives us to fight harder for our sisters, brothers and siblings who don’t have the privilege we possess as elected officials,” Connolly said. “Harvey said it best when he stated, ‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.’ We fight so that those who will come after us need not to.”

Serving as an out public official has been both meaningful, and challenging, for Connolly.

“By far, the most meaningful part has been speaking with our LGBTQ+ sisters, brothers and siblings of all ages, hearing their stories, and learning what we need to do next to further our rights. When I was first elected, I had a number of individuals come up to me in tears and tell me how happy they were that they finally had someone in our legislature who was like them, who knew what they had been through and what our youth are going through,” he said. “The most challenging part is knowing that I will never be able to accomplish as much as I would like for our community. In Alberta, 40 percent of our homeless youth identifies as LGBTQ+, Alberta’s trans and gender non-conforming people are, like everywhere in the world, constantly under attack by our legal system, other governments and citizens. While I can do my best to make my province more equitable, I will never be able to do as much as I wish.”

Celebrating the life and legacy of Harvey Milk provides the opportunity to think about the legacy of other openly LGBT elected officials, including Parker. She said she hopes her legacy will simply be that, “I took the torch, I raised it high, I passed it on.

“I have lived the arc of changes created by our movement, and they are more than we ever imagined,” she said. “But the most powerful engine of change has always been each of us living with openness and integrity.”

Michael Connolly

On that notion, Parker and Milk agree. “Every gay person must come out,” Milk said. “As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”

San Diego’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast began as the vision of Nicole Murray Ramirez, Robert Gleason, The San Diego LGBT Community Center and a coalition of civic and business leaders. It now draws more than 1,100 community leaders each year.

Thursday, May 19, 7:30-9 a.m. at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 1 Park Blvd. in San Diego. http://events.thecentersd.org/site/Calendar?view=Detail&id=101321

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Fight AIDS! Dine out! http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/28/fight-aids-dine-out/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/28/fight-aids-dine-out/#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:05:24 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=70039

Photo: Big Mike

Dining Out For Life® San Diego celebrates 10-year milestone April 28

There was a time when fighting AIDS meant claiming the streets in civil disobedience and getting arrested. The heady turbulent winds blowing through the ’80s were filled with enraged voices chanting “Fight AIDS! ACT UP!” People were battling for their lives and believe me, police batons hurt – they leave a nasty bruise and make breathing painful for weeks afterwards.

Gratefully, the circumstances of HIV/AIDS have changed dramatically during the ensuing years. Today, fighting HIV/AIDS is as easy as picking up a fork, or raising a glass of wine. Today, the mantra is “Fight AIDS! Dine out!”, and you’re cordially invited to join the fight Thursday, April 28.

I recently spoke with Ian Johnson, the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s director of events, about Dining Out For Life. Here’s what he had to say.

Photo: Cali Griebel

Lance Ryder: Congratulations on Dining Out For Life’s (DOFL) 10th anniversary. How has the event changed over the years?

Ian Johnson: Thank you. It’s exciting! DOFL San Diego has grown tremendously from its inception in 2007. The inaugural year had 31 participating locations and now that has more than doubled with close to 70 locations participating in 2016. Restaurants, bars, coffee houses and ice cream parlors have all joined this year in an effort to prevent HIV and to provide services for those living with HIV/AIDS. We’ve also seen an increase over the years in the number of businesses willing to go above and beyond the 25 percent (of sales) level of donating, which is really incredible.

And, most importantly, we continue to see more and more people dining out, sometimes making a full day of it and dining out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Without the enthusiastic community support this event has enjoyed since it began, we wouldn’t be celebrating this 10-year milestone. We’re very grateful for the support from everyone involved in making DOFL such a successful community event.

What is new this year?

Photo: Cali Griebel

This year, we’ve added a new element to our event called “Tipping Out.” In celebration of the 10th annual DOFL, the event will donate 15 percent of its net proceeds to the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative. Community members this year will also be able to drive down the street and spot red balloons in front of restaurants/bars that are DOFL locations. This has been made possible thanks to our Balloon Brigade Volunteers.

DOFL is a nationwide event. Do the funds raised locally stay in the community?

Funds raised by DOFL San Diego stay in our community. DOFL happens in almost 60 different cities, but all are produced by different local HIV/AIDS service organizations as a way to benefit those communities. Since its inception, DOFL has raised over $4.23 million for local HIV/AIDS organizations.

What specific programs benefit from DOFL?

Photo: Cali Griebel

There are many! Perhaps most importantly, we have recently expanded our #BeTheGeneration (thecentersd.org/programs/hiv-services/bethegeneration.html) HIV testing to six days a week at The San Diego LGBT Community Center as result of community support.

How has DOFL changed lives in San Diego?

In addition to raising much-needed funds for HIV services and prevention efforts, I think an important aspect of the event is it helps break down the stigma regarding HIV. It gives all participants a chance to visibly show support for people living with HIV and that they are committed to supporting efforts to help end this disease. It also gives a chance to provide important HIV education in a positive and engaging way.

What do you want our readers to know about DOFL?

This is truly a win-win-win event for our community. Not only can people raise funds for vital HIV services and programs, but they send a message of support for those impacted by HIV. Our supportive and generous restaurant/bar partners benefit by the increased business. And our community benefits when we all get to participate in a meaningful way for an important cause.

The City of San Diego is once again proclaiming April 28 as the “Dining Out For Life San Diego Day”. It’s such an amazing day to be out and about – there’s an exciting energy from all the diners, restaurant staff and the amazing ambassadors. I really look forward to the day just so I can move around town seeing so many familiar and new faces out for the same reason – to make a difference. Everyone is in such a great mood. Obviously, I really love this event!

A dozen local businesses have been a part of Dining Out For Life® San Diego since the beginning. They are: Baja Betty’s, Crest Cafe*, DiMillie’s Italian Restaurant, Martinis Above Fourth*, Pecs Bar, Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, Redwing Bar and Grill, The Mission* and Urban Mo’s. Several “newcomers” include many yummy restaurants I’ve previously reviewed, including: Hillcrest Brewing Company, Fig Tree Cafe, Buona Forchetta, Brazen BBQ and Big Front Door.

I wanted to obtain a participating restauranteur’s perspective and spoke with Big Front Door’s owner Sheep Riley. We were sitting outside on a warm sunshiny day when I asked him why he does it; why he participates in DOFL. He gave me a look of incredulousness. “You’re kidding,” he said. “I’m serious,” I replied. “We do it to support the [San Diego LGBT Community] Center,” he said. “The Center is a valuable asset for the community, and we do everything we can to support their efforts.”

Do your part to make a difference. Lift your fork or raise your glass to fight HIV/AIDS and fund life-changing programs. You’ll be glad you did.

Find locations and make reservations here: http://www.thecentersd.org/events/dining-out-for-life-restaurants.html

* Indicates 50% of sales donated for HIV/AIDS services and prevention efforts.

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Rediscovering Robert Mapplethorpe http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/rediscovering-robert-mapplethorpe/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/rediscovering-robert-mapplethorpe/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:37:23 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69712

Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato on their definitive documentary of the artist

Last month, both the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounted their respective installations on famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, both retrospectives attempt to narrate the complex arc of an artist who saw “perfection in form” in everything from flower petals to nudes while placing him in the canon of some of the finest photographers and artists of the second half of the 20th century, if not one of its most controversial.

To coincide with this much-needed visual history, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat, HBO’s Wishful Drinking and The Eyes of Tammy Faye) have released what they hope will be the definitive documentary of the artist, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures.

The title stems from then-Sen. Jesse Helms’ (R-NC) comment expressing outrage over the National Endowment for The Arts’ (NEA) decision to fund an installation of Mapplethorpe’s – his last – at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. (The Corcoran Gallery caved to the pressure but the installation became a center of controversy once again when the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati mounted the presciently-named The Perfect Storm. It resulted in obscenity charges against the museum and its director at the time Dennis Barrie. The charges were eventually dropped.)

Photo: Edward Mapplethorpe

San Diego LGBT Weekly had the chance to speak with the directors to help lend some perspective on someone who, although somewhat tamed by time, still provokes such aesthetical and illuminating reactions in an age of sexting, porn and reality television.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: I’ll start with the obvious: Why him? Why now?

Randy Barbato: It’s a really good question. The timing is perfect because, although Helms is long gone, his old state of North Carolina has just enacted a heinous and ridiculous anti-LGBT law. And we have Cruz, Trump and countless other racists, bigots and hypocrites seeking to close the American mind. Mapplethorpe said the purpose of art was to open something up – our hearts and our minds – and that is exactly what his work does. So why now? Because we need him more than ever!

Fenton Bailey: Like it or loathe it, Mapplethorpe’s art was about truth and honesty. Interestingly the Catholic League just attacked the film saying that we left out Mapplethorpe’s vicious attack on Cardinal O’Connor – the church’s equivalent of Nancy Reagan (i.e. not someone known for compassion for gay people). Anyway they said Mapplethorpe called him a “fat cannibal from the house of walking swastikas”. Of course Mapplethorpe never said any such thing. A simple google search reveals it was David Wojnaworicz. The point is that Mapplethorpe, in contrast to all this lying, was nothing but honest and direct.

What made Mapplethorpe the artist he was to become?

RB: As our film relates, he was gay and a misfit and something of an outcast within his own family. And like so many gay kids he had to go find his tribe which he did by moving to New York City. It’s a textbook rite of passage.

One critic of your documentary went on to write: “Having had a religious upbringing in Floral Park, N.Y., the photographer took many years to fully embrace his homosexuality, and with it, the gay leather aesthetic that would make him famous. Unfortunately, Look at the Pictures fails to understand how this conflict – and Mapplethorpe’s intense ambition to resolve this conflict through his photos – enhanced the artist’s work.” How do you respond to that criticism? Is it fair?

FB: It’s just not true and nothing in his work or his words supports that idea. Mapplethorpe was always gay and always OK with being gay. If it was a problem, it was other people’s problem. He was not conflicted. He was not tortured on the rack of Catholic guilt, like so many others. His work was all about showing what was in his life, documenting what he was into. There wasn’t a struggle.

Photo: Marcus Leatherdale

His journey of self-discovery was not a tortuous path twisted by self-doubt. And even if he took pictures of torture, he was not himself tortured. He always knew who he was and completely confident and steadfast in his work. His fascination with all kinds of duality should not be mistaken for doubt, vacillation or some sort of struggle to choose.

RB: Yes, his first love affair was with a woman (as he himself admits in the film) but at his core he was always who he was. Our choice was to trust the artist by looking at the pictures and listening to his words, so none of this is really a matter of our opinion. Sure, people have theories that they can spin, but we suspect Mapplethorpe would have little time for them. He often didn’t read what was written about him. All that mattered to him was that he was written about.

Who influenced Mapplethorpe? Did he have any sort of protégés? Mentors?

RB: [Marcus] Leatherdale was a protégé and [Sam] Wagstaff was a mentor. But in both cases the relationship was much more complex than the usual mentor/protégé role might suggest. That’s why we see his evolution as an artist more in terms of a series of intimate collaborations in which each party brought something different to the table that would benefit the relationship. Everyone interviewed in the film knew Robert intimately and none of them characterized the relationship as exploitational. There was always some reciprocity.

The New York Times writes: “When [Mapplethorpe] was an art student, photography was considered as much craft as art. As a photography critic and a former picture editor at The New York Times says in the film, the genre would gain stature concurrently with the gay rights movement. Do you believe that to be true? Why?

RB: Yes, it is true. Were they merely parallel developments or was there a connection, some kind of cause and effect? It’s a fascinating question outside of the scope of our film, but one we would love to figure out someday.

FB: The resistance to photography as art and the resistance to homosexuality as an “acceptable lifestyle” were both about denying reality. Perhaps post-WWII, our culture has increasingly faced reality. People are gay and photography can be art. Allowing for both makes life better for everyone (except for bigots and snobs).

Vanity Fair remarked: “Robert really saved Sam Wagstaff’s life. At the beginning of the ’70s, anyone who knew Sam said that he was virtually a recluse. Robert is the one who got him interested in collecting photography. Sam revolutionized the way we look at photographs. When he sold his collection to the Getty Museum, his position in photography was forever assured.” Can you talk a bit about their relationship, the generational differences and how, if at all, Sam affected Robert’s work?

RB: It was a very complex and layered relationship; and in that respect like any real true relationship. People like to judge and say Mapplethorpe used Sam, but we feel it was a truly symbiotic relationship.

FB: The way we see it is that Sam took the initiative (calling Mapplethorpe on the phone to introduce himself) but Mapplethorpe led the way. He needed Sam to champion the medium he had chosen. Mapplethorpe could say it was art but people needed to hear it from a respected curator and collector before they took photography seriously. Wagstaff was perhaps Mapplethorpe’s most brilliantly strategic hook-up. And they genuinely loved each other. It might be complicated – perhaps more complicated than we can grasp – but that doesn’t make it any less true.

How do you both think a younger generation will react to Mapplethorpe, given the ubiquity of cameras, camera filters and 24/7 sexuality? What perspectives can/should they bring?

RB: Well, you can arguably see Mapplethorpe as a pioneer of sexplicit selfies. He was also into recognizing the male body as an erotic form the same way the female nude has always been revered in art history. Would Calvin Klein’s groundbreaking Marky Mark campaign have existed without his groundbreaking work?

FB: At the same time the tsunami of similar kinds of imagery only goes to show how unique Mapplethorpe’s vision was back then, and remains so today. You can spot it immediately and there is nothing like it. While some of his contemporaries and predecessors were working in a similar area, he is the one we remember today. That’s no accident.

What would each of you say is the best representative of Mapplethorpe’s work and why?

RB: For me it’s not necessarily the photographs but the early collages with spray cans and cut-up porn. They are so raw, immediate and beautiful. But you have to look at all the work which is what makes the amazing retrospectives curated at LACMA by Britt Salvesen and The Getty by Paul Martineau such essential viewing.

FB: Mapplethorpe said that the life he was leading was more important than the pictures he was taking. His life was the work of art. I think we discovered that making the film, and it was his ultimate masterpiece. He lived his best life before Oprah coined the phrase. It’s inspiring: Life is a work of art, so value it and live it as such!

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures is available on HBO GO. For more information visit mapplethorpefilm.com

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‘Poz Link’ membership continues to grow, attract new members http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/poz-link-membership-continues-to-grow-attract-new-members/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/poz-link-membership-continues-to-grow-attract-new-members/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:34:27 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69714


It has recently been reported that over 20,000 individuals in San Diego County are affected by HIV/AIDS – this is a third of HIV/AIDS cases in the state of California. Often, those newly diagnosed are unsure where to turn for emotional and community support.

Now, a new site – Poz Link (www.pozlinksd.com) – provides a safe, online forum where those affected by HIV can connect with resources, support and others in their community. Managed by Family Health Centers of San Diego’s (FHCSD) Gay Men’s Health Program, Poz Link is leading the way for San Diegans living with HIV/AIDS to find comfort in community and knowledge. Since its launch in January, the site has grown by more than 200 percent.

“For me, I appreciate a support group that focuses on the positive side of things. Most groups just talk about the problems,” said one user of the site who preferred to remain anonymous.

Poz Link was developed and co-founded by Kaleb James and Rafael Acevedo, who worked together on another site called San Diego Young Positives. “I’m pleased to see FHCSD is continuing the work that Kaleb and I started in 2004,” said Acevedo. “Even better, they’ve expanded services and the clientele to include more ways for people to learn, grow and connect with others, specifically those who care for HIV+ folks and other relevant prevention treatments such as PrEP.”

Poz Link collaborates with its members to provide content through blogs, forums and information on events happening in the community. It offers news integrated directly from Twitter and Facebook so real time information is readily available in various feeds that populate the homepage once the user logs in. Message boards allow members to ask questions, share their experiences, socialize with one another in a safe and fun environment and take part in online campaigns, such as the “Fight Stigma” movement.

“We encourage members to contribute to the site by sharing their thoughts on topics like dating an HIV negative person, ways you remind yourself to take your medication and other positive experiences for this community,” said James. “This site is only as strong as it participants.”

Poz Link membership is free with the simple creation of an anonymous online profile. During the registration process individuals are asked if they are in HIV care services. If not, they are asked if a health educator can contact them to assist them in accessing these important services, which helps bring the online support offline to their daily lives.

Later this year, Poz Link plans to go beyond its online presence by incorporating community outreach, social events and mixers. Those interested in connecting can visit any three of Poz Link’s online spaces for more information: www.pozlinksd.com, facebook.com/pzlnk or @pozlink on Twitter. To contribute ideas, time or resources, contact FHCSD Gay Men’s Health Program at info@pozlinksd.com.

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San Diego sunshine delivers solar energy value http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/31/san-diego-sunshine-delivers-solar-energy-value/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/31/san-diego-sunshine-delivers-solar-energy-value/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:46:56 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69359

Photo: Mauzy solar

Driving through the neighborhoods of San Diego, it becomes nearly impossible not to take notice of the increasing number of solar panels adorning the rooftops of homes up and down the sunny streets.

Solar panels, known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, provide the technology used to convert the sun’s energy into usable electrical power as well as the mounting, cabling and other electrical accessories needed to manage and meter the distribution of the claimed electricity into the power grid.

Such technology was once very expensive and cost prohibitive for most homeowners. However, with tax incentive programs for purchases, lease to own plans, and Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), homeowners can more easily afford equipment costs, installation and maintenance while also reducing their energy costs and increasing their property value.

A study, titled “Understanding the Solar Home Price Premium: Electricity Generation and ‘Green’ Social Status” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It reported that for the average installation, solar panels added a $20,194 premium to the sale price of the house based on repeat sales data.

Determining the best approach for acquiring solar panels can be complex and confusing. San Diego Gas & Electric provides a useful tool in determining if your household’s usage is well suited for solar power. The Solar Calculator provides potential costs and savings by going online in customer’s ‘My Account’ under the ‘My Energy’ tab and clicking “Save with Solar Energy.” Many solar contractors also provide useful online tools to show how much consumers can save with solar energy.

For the Serra Mesa household of couple Richard Hogan and John Hurrell, who went to the San Diego Home Show in January 2016 to learn more about solar and if it would help them save money, it was a process to learn about all of the options available to them. Hogan said, “With so much information, much of it conflicting, we wanted to meet with contractors and vendors in person.”

Installation of solar panels does require meeting certain criteria in order for it to be feasible. First, homes must have enough clear and unobstructed access to sunlight for most if not all of the day. The house roof needs to have a large enough area to accommodate the system. West and south facing rooflines are best suited for the panels. And finally, financial considerations including tax incentives and home appreciation should allow for the investment to pay for itself.

Hogan added, “Despite it being a two to three-month process, the tax incentive and energy savings made it a valuable investment that ultimately will add equity to our home.”

In December 2015, the United States Congress passed legislation, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended the 30 percent credit for residential solar to Dec. 31, 2019. To take advantage of this credit, homeowners must buy or finance their solar panel system. When leasing solar equipment under a program, the leasing company receives the tax credit and not the homeowner.

  | Photo: Mauzy solar

Several programs are in place to assist homeowners with financing a solar panel system for their home. The two most common are Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs and home equity loans.

San Diego owned and managed Mauzy (www.mauzy.com) operates with a core philosophy of delivering both quality products and quality service at competitive prices for homeowners. Third generation owner Cody Mauzy said, “PACE and local credit union financing have great rates and allow homeowners to finance these projects over various terms with no money down. Essentially fixing their energy costs for the term selected and then have no payment or energy bill after the loan is repaid.”

Homeowners Hurrell and Hogan are pleased with their investment. Hogan said, “We are super happy we went with Mauzy in part because they are a local company who support our community. They are straightforward and the customer service has been amazing.”

Under Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), local governments create property tax finance districts to issue loans to homeowners for renewable energy such as solar PV systems. Payment takes place through your normal property tax bill to repay the loan under a low and fixed interest rate.

San Diego based Renovate America’s HERO Program (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) partners with your local government to offer a unique, more affordable financing option using PACE. Additionally, the program qualifies equipment providers and installation contractors so that the homeowner simply applies for the program through an approved contractor or Renovate America.

As an alternative to financing the solar panel system, two similar yet different options are available to homeowners: Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and solar leases.

With a PPA, a third party owns and provides all maintenance to the customer’s solar panel system. It sells solar generated electricity back to the customer. Customers who opt for a PPA typically have lower electricity costs that is at a fixed rate or with incremental annual rate increases. However, under a PPA there are no federal or state tax benefits. Generally, homeowners must have excellent credit to qualify. Terms range from 15 to 20 years.

Michael Leeper, director of operations for Hibrid (www.gohibrid.com), a San Diego Solar contractor offering homeowner PPA deals, HERO and financing programs through partners such as GreenSky, said “It’s advantageous to use a PPA agreement because there is no upfront cost, reduces your energy bill and is good for the environment.”

However, PPA program solar panel systems may not be right for all households. Leeper said, “For customers whose bill is more than $100 per month, typically there is a reduction of 35 percent off the electric bill. PPA agreements are usually not cost effective for people on CARE or for homes with electric bills under $100 per month.”

Richard Hogan and John Hurrell | Photo: Mauzy solar

By leasing a solar panel system, homeowners can get the benefits of the system without the capital costs. Those opting for solar leases simply rent the solar panel system from a company while earning the benefits from the electricity the system produces. With a lease there is no payment for any of the power generated by the solar panels. Solar panel power is technically free, but homeowners have a set lease payment that rises 3 to 4 percent a year. That is typically less than the 5 percent rate increases that can be imposed by the electric company each year. Some programs offer a flat rate with no yearly increases. For leases, homeowners can expect a term of 15-20 years and must have excellent credit.

Cody Mauzy commented, “Solar is great because it allows the homeowners to take advantage of the sun individually on their home and contribute to making a cleaner planet for everyone. It also allows them to escape rising energy costs from their local utility company and in most cases eliminate kWh charges completely.”

Solar panel systems offer significant savings in energy costs. However, acquiring the equipment offers challenges to homeowners for finding the right program for their circumstances as well as considering financial goals and constraints.

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Parenting a transgender child http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/17/parenting-a-transgender-child/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/17/parenting-a-transgender-child/#respond Thu, 17 Mar 2016 21:27:29 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68976

Meet Hillary Whittington, the author of ‘Raising Ryland’ – the remarkable story of the transition of her son

May 22, 2014 the San Diego LGBT community were introduced to little Ryland Whittington. The sixth annual Harvey Milk Breakfast audience hushed as Jeff and Hillary Whittington presented a video of the background and transition of their son Ryland. The emotion that was felt in the large ballroom of the Bayfront Hilton that bright San Diego morning has since been replicated across the country and the world as the video went viral and has been seen by more than seven million viewers since its posting.

When San Diegans Hillary and Jeff Whittington posted the YouTube video chronicling their five-year-old son Ryland’s transition from girl to boy, they had no idea the interest that it would generate.

After they discovered their daughter Ryland was deaf at age one and needed cochlear implants, the Whittingtons spent nearly four years successfully teaching Ryland to speak. But once Ryland gained the power of speech, an amazing thing happened. Ryland kept insisting, “I am a boy!” After learning that 41 percent of people who identify as transgender attempt to take their own lives, Hillary and Jeff decided to listen to Ryland and made it their mission to support their child – no matter what.

In February their book, RAISING RYLAND: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached was published by William Morrow. Authored by Hillary Whittington it is a full, emotional and moving account of their journey with their amazing child. Following the book launch I had the opportunity to talk with Hillary Whittington about this powerful story of acceptance and unconditional love.

Steve Lee: Hillary, thank you so much for talking with me. I was in the audience at that Harvey Milk Breakfast back in May 2014 when you presented your video on Ryland. It was an exceptional moment. Did you expect the reaction you got following the release of that video?

Hillary Whittington: Thank you so much for your kind words, Steve. We actually made the video a year prior to the Harvey Milk event, and we were very protective of it. When we first used it to educate the school staff, the reactions we received gave us indications it had the potential to peak a lot of interest. Our fear was that if it got out, it would go viral and we could never get it back, but we never realized it would gain over 7 million views and get the attention it eventually received! We were a bit overwhelmed with the response around the globe.

In “Raising Ryland”, as Ryland is being wheeled into the operating room for cochlear implants, you describe passing the Pediatric Oncology Unit which prompted you to say, “… this could be so much worse.” Tell me about that moment and did all the issues with Ryland’s deafness better prepare you for what was to come?

I think it is normal for parents to grieve when they first learn their child may face any extra life challenges. Initially, we were devastated to learn Ryland was deaf, but when we stepped back and realized Ryland’s deaf diagnosis was not a matter of life-and-death, it put everything into perspective. We could still hold our child in our arms, love him and give him the best life possible. I sometimes say Ryland’s deaf diagnosis gave me a “warm-up” for the next hurdle. It made our skin a little thicker, and prepped us for the next challenge.

With “Raising Ryland” you really do take the reader behind the scenes to experience what your family was going through. Many would have interpreted Ryland’s insistence as being a boy as a “phase a child grows out of.” What convinced you and Jeff that this was different. What made you guys really “listen” to Ryland?

When Ryland began showing signs of pain and shame from being seen as a girl, it became clearer to me he wasn’t just being a defiant child or going through a phase. From the very beginning, Ryland has aimed to please us, and he would eventually “cave in” to my insistence of bows and “girl” outfits, but his resistance became stronger with each passing day. The stronger and more insistent he became, the more I realized that this wasn’t a phase. The eventual comments of, “When the family dies, I will cut my hair so I can be a boy,” and “Why did God make me this way?” were the final push to exploring the reasons behind why Ryland felt the way he did.

What was the reaction of your immediate family and friends to your decision in supporting Ryland in his transition?

Most of our family and friends were initially shocked when I first began explaining what I thought was going on. Some of those close to us began researching and reading recommended books, while some questioned us continuously and some avoided talking about it altogether. Once our friends and family saw Ryland’s happiness growing, they jumped on board with our decision to change pronouns and see Ryland as a boy.

You used a letter to tell a wider audience about Ryland’s transition. What prompted you to take this course and looking back would you have changed anything?

We created a letter and handed it out to close friends and family with the intention of answering the many questions that could arise, before they had a chance to be asked. The letter also helped us from having to answer the same questions over and over again. This was three years ago, and there was muchless media and talk about being transgender. I wish I would have made the video earlier because it seemed to have a bigger impact on skeptics, but the letter was also a strong way to get the message out there.

You describe the considerable strain transitioning Ryland at such a young age put on your relationship with Jeff and your close family. What was the key to keeping that all together?

All of our family dealt with Ryland’s transition differently, and we all grieved in different ways. Jeff and I certainly dealt with Ryland’s transition in our own ways. There were so many times Jeff and I didn’t see eye-to-eye and there were many moments of wanting to “give up.” We love our children so much, and I think that deep down, we were both just very scared. We had so much inner turmoil for the unknown future ahead, and we took it out on each other. At the end of the day, both of us wanted what was best for Ryland and Brynley and I think this is what held us together. No one will love our children as much as we do, and we strive to maintain a stable home where our children feel heard and loved.

Throughout the book Ryland comes across as resilient and remarkably calm; calmer, in fact, than anyone else. Why do you think that was and did this make transitioning easier?

Ryland is a very intelligent, insightful child. Part of me believes his deafness transformed him into the perceptive person he is today. I have to also attribute some of his calmness to his inner confidence and sense of self. Transitioning Ryland was definitely easier because he learned to be patient and understanding, and was bright enough to understand this wasn’t common or easy. We were all learning what to do. He remained grateful for our efforts to treat him as our son and continues to have much forgiveness for others who do not understand.

Ryland seemed to adjust to his “celebrity” status with a maturity well beyond his years. Did that surprise you and are you happy to now tone that down?

Ryland understands there are many children in the world who are not accepted by their family, and he knows that his story was seen by many and perhaps offered a group of children a more promising future. I am not at all surprised by how Ryland has handled himself throughout this process, though we remain committed to making his day-to-day life as typical as possible. I hope he will always remain humble and grateful for this opportunity to help others and we will continue to follow his lead when it comes to being public about his journey.

Clearly there will be many challenges in the future, particularly with the onset of puberty. Have you thought about how you will face that and will you continue to document Ryland’s progress for perhaps a follow-up book?

Puberty is a difficult time for all children, and even more so for children like Ryland. If Ryland continues to present the same in the next couple of years, he will receive hormone blockers, which are harmless and completely reversible. Hormone blockers will “buy us time” as Ryland matures, and if he still feels the same way in his teenage years, we will allow him to receive cross hormones so he can develop like his male peers. I can definitely see a follow-up book in the near future, but also want to make sure I keep my family as my primary focus.

Looking back would you have done anything different?

If I could take one thing back, I wish I hadn’t forced Ryland to wear feminine clothes and bows in his hair for so many years. I knew deep down how much he despised them, but I did it because I was uncomfortable when others thought Ryland was a boy. I wish I had known more about gender before becoming a mother, and it would have been nice if I had dressed Ryland in gender-neutral clothes as an infant, so I have more photos to display now. I feel like I have had to hide or erase many memories from our past because I wanted him to appear “cute” to others.

Toward the end of the book you come to the realization that you “… have to stop ‘scuttling’ in hurried shame … and have to start walking the walk … to come out.” Can you describe that pivotal moment?

It has been challenging to remain strong in the face of criticism, but if I want Ryland to be courageous and proud, then I must lead by example. The more I learn about the atrocities many transgender people face, the more confident I become in my message and purpose. I cannot sit back and wait for someone else to change our world. If I am able to help one family gain hope, or gain one unlikely person’s support, then my purpose is complete.

Finally, what would you say to parents facing a similar situation?

I would start by reading and researching as much as possible. Gender is a spectrum and sometimes children don’t fit perfectly into the male “box” or female “box.” Find other families on this journey or support groups where you can gather information and find the best resources in your area. Try to set expectations and boundaries with friends and family, and support your child as best you can. Above all else, love your child unconditionally and let them know you will support them no matter what.

Hillary, thank you so much for talking to me. We wish you, Jeff, Ryland and Brynley all the best in the future.

Thank you so much, Steve! We appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and San Diego LGBT Weekly! All our best, Hillary.

RAISING RYLAND: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached

by Hillary Whittington

Published by William Morrow

Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other good bookstores

The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story:

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Queen of the divas: Michelle Visage http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/queen-of-the-divas-michelle-visage/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/queen-of-the-divas-michelle-visage/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2016 22:39:03 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68661

The RuPaul’s Drag Race judge talks about her life, loves and why everyone deserves equality

There is no one word that describes the multi-talented Michelle Visage. She is a singer, dancer, DJ, television host, actor and more, but most of all she describes herself as a diva.

Michelle hails from South Plainfield, New Jersey. In the late ‘80s she moved to the big city and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. It was there that she was introduced to the underground world of voguing balls. She later formed the all-girl pop group Seduction and met a glamazon named RuPaul that would forever change her life. Now the one-woman powerhouse known for her role as a judge on the hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race has written The Diva Rules, her advice for living life to the fullest and finding success no matter what hand you’re dealt.

San Diego LGBT Weekly caught up with Visage to find out what makes this queen diva tick.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: Describe the three tenets of divahood?

Michelle Visage: No. 1: Bitches and divas are not the same thing. No. 2: Divas expect others to do them, not do for them. No. 3: All divas, no matter what size, sex, race, orientation, class or fashion sense, are beautiful.

Do you consider yourself a misfit?

100 percent. I always have and I always will identify as a misfit. No one ever understood me growing up; I was always looked at as the school weirdo and the best way I knew to get past it was to be funny and/or self-deprecating and for me, that worked. I realized when I was about 13 years of age that not only did I not fit into the “norm”, but I didn’t want to be “normal” because that meant I would blend in.

Why did the Go-Go’s save your life?

The Go-Go’s saved my life because at the age that I found Belinda Carlisle and the all-girl band was the time in my life that was the darkest. I had few friends, I was chubby, boys not only didn’t like me, but they wouldn’t even look at me. Here was this plus sized chick who was the lead singer of a huge pop/rock band wearing miniskirts and loving herself for who she was and celebrated it. I connected with that immediately. She gave me the balls to start dressing the way I wanted to with zero regrets. That is when my love for hardcore punk rock music began. It all started with Belinda, Gina, Jane, Kathy and Charlotte.

What was it like growing up in New Jersey?

I wouldn’t trade growing up in Central Jersey for anything. I was raised in enough of a suburbia to be somewhat, but not completely sheltered but city enough to get my much-needed street smarts. Jersey has it all. New York City was 40 minutes away, the shore was an hour away and malls to make the most flaccid, erect people from Jersey have that extra special something that you can’t quite put your finger on for better or for worse.

How did you find out that you are adopted?

My parents told my brother and I from an early age that we were adopted. There were never any lies or misconceptions; it was what it was. They used to give us books “You are an adopted child” etc. and my dad is the president of the board at the adoption agency where they got us. It’s pretty cool that he’s stayed involved all these years later. Adoption is a beautiful thing. We are chosen. I am truly blessed.

What was it like meeting your birth mother?

Meeting my birth mother Joanne was surreal. It wasn’t an Oprah moment mostly because I loved my mom (Arlene) and was secure in that relationship, but I mean, who wouldn’t want to meet their birth parents? Walking off that plane and seeing her face was a scene I will never forget. She was as beautiful as the sun in that moment, radiant, tall, olive complexion. She was so open and loving but not overbearing. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to that woman, even more so now that I am a mom. I can’t imagine carrying a child to term then having to give said child away. She knew I would have a better life and she didn’t think twice about it. She also could’ve terminated the pregnancy but went through with it and gave me life. She is the bravest, strongest woman I know and I will forever be indebted to her graciousness and love.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up and why?

Well, at first a veterinarian, but my mom knew that I would never make it through the schooling as I was an ADD kid and my focus on school studies was never quite there. Her way of getting around that was telling me that I would have to euthanize animals and that stopped me right there. Smart woman that Arlene. I then looked at her and said “I want to be an actress.” She was happy to support me with that choice believe it or not, and here I am today. Today I still am yet to prove my acting skills but I love that my career is still wide open.

What do you think is your best quality?

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 judges Ross Mathews, Michelle Visage, RuPaul and Carson Kressley

I think my best quality is this: I have a gift. My gift is getting people to open up. I think I’d be a great therapist, to be honest. People have always walked away from me saying, “I have never told anyone that before.” I think it’s because I truly care about people. I love hearing their stories. I have always been a rescuer. I want to rescue the world. I love very deeply. I also feel very lucky that people feel safe with me.

What is your pet peeve?

Bigotry. Close mindedness. People who refuse to learn and grow. People who know everything. People pushing on the elevator before you get out.

How did you meet RuPaul?

We first met when I was 18 years old and we both worked for Susanne Bartsch in New York City. I would see Ru, Ru would see me, but it was a passing by acknowledgement, not a friendship. The true “meeting” came in 1992 when my song “Lovely Day” came out and he had “Supermodel” out and we met up in a green room at a music conference. We connected. We had a moment. Then inevitably we were paired to audition, unbeknownst to us, for a morning radio show in New York City in 1996. That was the start of the magic that exists today.

How did you and RuPaul become working partners?

After we started on the radio show together at WKTU in New York and it was a monster hit, Ru brought me on to his new chat show on VH1 called The RuPaul Show as his sidekick. Our chemistry was palpable and still is to this day. You can’t create chemistry, it’s just there.

What do you think your legacy should be?

I hope my legacy is about love and acceptance both of yourself and others. I fight for the ones who don’t have the ability to speak up. Everyone deserves a fair chance and everyone deserves equality. I will keep fighting till we have it.

What was it like being in the group Seduction?

Seduction was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything either. I made no money, but I was rich with experience. I learned so much from those two power years, from recording to performing to touring, all of it. Being in a girl group is an interesting dynamic and I did it when I was 19 years old. I totally understand why they all break up.

What is your home life like?

My home life would be pretty boring to most, actually. I am a mom to two teenage girls; I have a hubby of 18 years and two dogs. When I am not working, I am a full time mom: cooking, cleaning, playing chauffeur. I am very lucky that I have a husband that is a stay-at-home dad to our girls whilst I am out touring and shooting. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

What is your advice for queens auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race?

Be Yourself. So many girls audition and produce their audition tapes with this character that they think will get them “noticed”. That isn’t what they look for. Ru loves honesty and vulnerability. The ability to grow and be humble; being human is beautiful, being false is exhausting.

What was it like being a part of the voguing scene in New York City in the late ‘80s?

At the time, it was just family. It wasn’t a “voguing scene”, it was just us misfits and freaks becoming one every night in a different club setting or down at the Christopher Street piers. The love and acceptance I felt everyday with this community is the reason I am so devoted. They all took me in from the minute I met them, no questions asked, no eyebrows raised. Looking back at it, I am so lucky to be a part of queer history. A moment in time that not only will I never forget, but will forever be grateful for.

The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage on Chronicle Books available now at a bookstore near you or Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more on Michelle Visage visit: michellevisage.com

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Poz Link, a San Diego online community for people with HIV http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/poz-link-a-san-diego-online-community-for-people-with-hiv/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/poz-link-a-san-diego-online-community-for-people-with-hiv/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2016 22:27:07 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68663


San Diego has a new anonymous online community resource in Poz Link (www.pozlinksd.com) for people living with HIV that provides valuable support and information that can be accessed from phone, tablet or computer.

Poz Link is a free online and social community for individuals living with HIV and those who care about them. Developed by Family Health Centers of San Diego’s (FHCSD) Gay Men’s Health Program it provides a central location for information such as upcoming events, resources, and connecting with others impacted by HIV in San Diego.

With news integrated directly from Twitter and Facebook, real time information is readily available in various feeds. From outreach messages such as the ‘Fight Stigma’ campaign to the latest research updates, with Poz Link you’ll never be out of touch and always have the latest news at hand.

Membership is free. Creating a profile takes just a few minutes and allows full access to the site, which has seen an impressive growth pace by more than double each week since its launch earlier this year.

Poz Link is a continuation of work started by San Diego Young Positives, founded in 2004 by friends Rafael Acevedo and Kaleb James with a goal to address the needs of recently infected HIV + individuals. The intent was to connect and become informed on how to best manage living with HIV.

Rafael explains, “Recently infected HIV+ men were experiencing a second coming out and needed to learn how to feel ‘normal’ again. In other words, they needed to learn how to be more than their HIV status.”

The site has been designed from the ground up with several social elements including a chat room, forums and blogs. Poz Link has a growing online community with members who advocate for one another through the site’s forums and chat room. Users can share real life experiences such as taking HIV medications and related side effects or experiences about disclosing their positive status to a partner.

According to Bob Lewis, director of Special Populations at FHCSD, “Our providers do a great job of providing education and support to people living with HIV, and with the addition of Poz Link we are now able to provide increased supportive services linking individuals with shared experiences to create a peer support network.”

San Diego County has the third largest number of HIV and AIDS cases in California; and California has the second highest number of cases in the U.S. To date, there is an estimated 20,000 diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in San Diego County.

Connect with resources, support and other HIV+ individuals on Poz Link.

Visit Poz Link at www.pozlinksd.com.

Connect with Poz Link on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pzlnk.

Follow Poz Link on Twitter @pozlink

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Interview: Josh Kim http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/18/interview-josh-kim/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/18/interview-josh-kim/#respond Thu, 18 Feb 2016 21:08:35 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68272

Josh Kim

Director of Thailand’s gay-themed entry for the 2016 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)

Thailand’s official entry for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ for the 2016 Academy Awards is a gay-themed parable titled How To Win At Checkers (Every Time). Though it was released last spring here in the states, it did not make the final cut; four other pictures which are also gay-themed did not make the cut either. But it still reflects well on Thailand’s reputation as the most gay-friendly nation in Asia to have even nominated it and a huge feather in the cap of Texas-based director Josh Kim. It is based on a series of short stories, two actually, from Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s critically-acclaimed collection, Sightseeing. Released in April 2005, it’s a dark and, according to Kim, cautionary tale about Thai corruption that makes our system of government appear positively Utopian.

But it is also an exuberant celebration of childhood as told through the child’s-eye fish lens of the 10-year-old narrator, Oat (a remarkable Ingkarat Damrongsakkul). He, and his brother Ek (played with substantial nuance by Thira Chutikul) are orphaned early, living in squalor outside the Bangkok city limits with their auntie and cousin Kwan. When Oat turns 21, he must go before a mandatory military draft, and while conflict with their southeastern neighbor Malaysia is intensifying, a conflict is set up between Ek’s fortunes and that of his boyfriend Jai. Jai comes from the moneyed class and is easily able to bribe his way out of his predicament with a local official. Ek? His fortunes are, sadly, also tied to money.

Oat tells his story in substantially brighter tones, told largely through and over a motorcycle that Ek will one day bequeath him. (Kudos to cinematographer Nikorn Sripongwarakul!) For Oat, it represents an emotional connection to Ek, whom he idolizes. It also represents a simpler time when the thrill of being in the driver’s seat with your big brother guiding you through the countryside on a motorcycle takes on legendary proportions.

Thira “Um” Chutikul (left) and Arthur “Jin” Navarat (right)

Josh Kim spent three years in Thailand to make this picture. He spent time, he tells me, in the homes of the dancers and sex workers who Ek commiserates with fictitiously on film. It is a labor of love and San Diego LGBT Weekly is thrilled that Josh agreed to answer a few of our questions about the film and the directorial process that contributed to its positive reviews.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: Why did you decide to revisit Oat’s 10th year of boyhood to tell the story?

Josh Kim: Well, technically we counted backwards, since he is recounting the story when all males in Thailand are called to the draft (21 years old). But we also felt this age was a pivotal time in our lives where one begins to come of age. I remember watching other coming of age films like Stand By Me and wanted to create a similar emotion.

You tell your story from an unpleasant moral universe where the good guys pick the ‘red’ chips in the military lottery but you can live at the top of the City if you are willing to lie and cheat to get there. I’m guessing that’s the reality for a lot of Thais?

Thira “Um” Chutikul (left) and Arthur “Jin” Navarat (right)

Well, it’s also part cautionary tale. We wanted to look at the cost of success. Even though he grows up to be quite successful, he is still haunted by these nightmares (of his brother’s face on fire). This sort of represents the guilt he feels for all the bad decisions and desperate things he’s learned to do in his life.

It’s a very personal film. Are you in it? If so, in what ways?

Yeah, I would say if I had to choose one character, it would be the young Oat. I also have an older brother who is nine years older than I am and I remember asking him where he would go at night and if I could tag along. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he never did let me tag along, and maybe that was for the better, for the things I never saw (and shouldn’t have seen) at such a young age. He was also the inspiration for the title as he was the one who taught me how to play chess and I remember quite keenly the day I beat him.

There’s a lot of child-like exuberance to the picture?

Thira “Um” Chutikul (left) and Arthur “Jin” Navarat (right)

I guess since it’s from the point of view of the kid, maybe it comes from that. Also, I’d say Thais just have a really great sense of humor. Even while we were translating and writing the film in Thai, a lot of small lines got turned into jokes and the atmosphere on set was quite light and friendly. It was really a fun shoot.

When did the motorcycle, and all that warmth that goes with it, Oat and Ek, become a central device in the way you told your story?

In the original short story, At the Cafe Lovely, the motorcycle was quite prominent so we wanted to keep that as a [main] line of the film. It was something that was handed down from his father, to his brother then it became his. But in the end, he decides to sell it because he doesn’t want to follow the same fate as his father and his brother.

What are some of the reasons you agreed to do this picture?

Thira “Um” Chutikul (left) and Arthur “Jin” Navarat (right)

I felt the characters in the original book of short stories were quite compelling. Even though the stories were set in another country, I felt that the characters were people I knew, my brother, my neighbors, my friends, etc. Rattawut, the author, wrote the stories in such a visual way that it felt like I had just watched a movie. It was almost as if I had licked the colors off a film strip. Also, a lot of the themes like inequality and class were themes that also resonated with me. It was something I was willing to spend three years of my life to turn into a reality.

Do you have a daily rhythm to the way you direct on the set?

I think it changed as the shoot progressed. I might have been over-prepared in the beginning. Toward the end I loosened up and would look less at my shot list and would improvise more with the director of photography and actors each time we went to the locations.

Which directors influence you and in what ways?

Arthur “Jin” Navarat (front) and Thira “Um” Chutikul (back)

Years ago, I remember watching the films of Thomas Bezucha – Big Eden (2000) and The Family Stone (2005) – and realizing how films could be vehicles for change. In Big Eden, a gay artist from New York City returns to his conservative hometown in the Midwest and instead of encountering prejudice and discrimination as one might expect, he is surprised to find neighbors and elderly women trying to set him up with other gay friends. It was the first time I saw how creating a world (which was unlikely at that time and place) could show viewers a world which could be possible. And I wanted to do that with this film as well.

Is directing what you started out in life wanting to do?

I didn’t even know about directing until in my early twenties. My family didn’t’ really go out together and watch movies. I think the only ones I watched in theaters with my parents were Bambi and Jurassic Park. It wasn’t until I started watching films in college that I started to get interested. And then when I was 24 I went back to school in Hong Kong to study film. But I dropped out after three months. I felt that it was something I had to learn by doing instead of reading from a book.

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Valentines among the vines http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/04/valentines-among-the-vines/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/04/valentines-among-the-vines/#respond Thu, 04 Feb 2016 22:50:00 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67890

Photo: Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association

Wine country is closer than you think!

“Happy Valentine’s Day. You’re being kidnapped,” I said.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked. “Lestat” looked good in tight jeans, flannel shirt and down vest. Beard trimmed short, neat. Cap cocked, all attitude. “Just get in the car,” I insisted, and he did. I had a surprise up my sleeve to celebrate the day dedicated to love and affection.

San Diego faded in the rearview mirror as we cruised up Interstate 15 – corporate offices became tract homes became orchards; shaggy clouds shuffled across a cerulean sky. On the radio, Marvin Gaye longed for “Sexual Healing”. An easy hour later, Temecula Valley sprawled sun-dappled across the horizon. Mt. San Jacinto, jagged in the clear distance, wore a snowy shawl. “Behold, wine country,” I said. Lestat squeezed my hand.

Native Americans, the Luiseño people, knew this broad basin as “Temecunga”, meaning “place of sun”. Spanish explorers interpreted the word to mean “where the sun breaks through the mist”. The auspicious mix of early-morning mist and midday sun – plus granite-based soils, provided the necessary elements for growing grapes. That’s why grapes have been cultivated in the Temecula Valley since the 1700s. Today, 35,000 acres of rolling hills are dedicated to viniculture and the production of award-winning wines.

Boutique wine is big business, pouring $625 million into the local economy and fueling nearly 7,000 travel-spending supported jobs. Every year, more than 30 wineries slake the thirsts of two million visitors. The sound you hear is the popping of cork after cork after cork.

Temecula businesses provide a wide range of options for exulting nature’s bounty. Whether you prefer spending time in a luxurious chateau or a rustic farm house, riding in a limousine or on the back of a horse, taking in the view from a helicopter or a hot air balloon – a weekend or an afternoon, there is something certain to satisfy everyone.

Miramonte Winery | Photo: Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association

Lestat, a recent San Diegan, had never savored the abundance of wines available up the way. He was unfamiliar with the lay of the land and I wanted him to have a memorable wine-tasting experience – a guy never forgets his first time. He beamed as we pulled into Miramonte Winery and paid $17 for six tastes. Most wineries offer tours of the facilities and grounds, too, but we were there to exercise our palates.

The casual winery set atop a hill provides a sweeping 360-degree view. We stepped through the wide doors of the large high-ceilinged tasting room, glasses in hand, and found seats on one of many spacious sunny patios. Known for their Rhone varietal wines and blends, between the two of us we sipped our way through: Grenache Blanc resplendent with green apple, a fruity Rosé, a complex dry Riesling, a Pinot Noir filled with dark fruits, a full-bodied Pinot Gris, a robust Estate Syrah, a sweet peachy White Sangria and a spicy Moscatel. I “bagged” a bottle of Riesling and Lestat nabbed the Moscatel.

We also shared a delicious flatbread served steamy hot from the on-site Flowerhill Bistro. Tender bites of roasted chicken with caramelized onions and a drizzle of tangy chimichurri sauce, are topped by coarse-chopped fresh cilantro. The crust of whole wheat flour dusted with blue corn meal is light and crunchy. Yummy!

Our next stop was just down the road at the award-winning Callaway Winery, a comparatively huge place with a distinctly high-tech industrial vibe. By huge I mean they ship 15,000 cases a year. By high-tech industrial I mean the tasting room has expanses of

Callaway Vineyard and Winery | Photo: Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association

glass and steel with a wall of enomatic dispensers – a system which delivers wine directly from bottles utilizing inert gases. We bypassed the dispensers, sidled to the poured concrete counter and paid $15 for six tastes.

Lestat and I sampled: a woodsy Sauvignon Blanc, a zesty Reserve Chardonnay aged in French Oak, a Special Select Zinfandel with notes of black cherry, a delightful light-bodied Reserve Roussanne (90 point rating = a classic wine), a caramel kissed Reserve Syrah, a seductive Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (87 point rating = very good) and a playful Reserve Profondo. I added a bottle of Syrah to our collection.

Meritage Restaurant at Callaway Winery | Photo: Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association

We decided to visit the adjacent full-service restaurant, Meritage, for another quick bite. After being seated, we admired the austerely beautiful landscape – long rows of leafless gnarled vines, dormant, awaiting rebirth, rolling down a ridge. Lestat chose the Kobe Eye of Round Carpaccio, and I the Foie Gras. The carpaccio, served with crostini, features thin slices of exquisite raw beef nested atop Romaine lettuce tossed with capers, shaved parmesan cheese, portobello mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. The buttery pan-seared melt-in-your-mouth goose liver is served with earthy baby Spinach greens and a blackberry gastrique, garnished with fresh berries and toasted hazel nuts. Delectable!

We bid farewell to the ochre-hued hills, driving home as the sun slipped away and a deep purple fell. Distant city lights sparkled. On the radio, Sade crooned about a “Smooth Operator”. We were sated, content. Thankful we had visited wine country during the “off-season” when the narrow country roads aren’t clogged with traffic, and the parking lots aren’t jammed with large tour and boisterous party buses.

Temecula Valley is an ideal setting for a romantic getaway, weddings or other special occasions, like Valentine’s Day. Lestat thought so as well, and gave me a lingering kiss after we pulled up and parked at the curb. “Thank you,” he said, walking up the driveway cradling his souvenir bottle. “That was the best kidnapping ever.”

More information:

Miramonte Winery

33410 Rancho California Rd.

Temecula, CA 92591



Callaway Vineyard & Winery

32720 Rancho California Rd.

Temecula, CA 92591




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Looking for an LGBT roomie? There’s an app for that! http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/21/looking-for-an-lgbt-roomie-theres-an-app-for-that/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/21/looking-for-an-lgbt-roomie-theres-an-app-for-that/#respond Thu, 21 Jan 2016 21:34:32 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67533

Wei Fan

Finding a good roommate can be difficult for anyone but finding a roommate who is part of the LGBT community, or is an ally, can be an even bigger hurdle.

Wei Fan, a recent graduate of the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, witnessed this common struggle for LGBT people firsthand when she was assigned a straight roommate for her grad school housing.

“We barely talked,” Fan recalled. “I came out to her because I didn’t want to hide it and I wanted to decorate my living room with the rainbow flag and everything. But everything felt weird. She hung out with her friends and I barely talked to her.”

Fan looked back on her experience, as well as those of her LGBT friends, and became inspired to create TUTUroomii, a social app designed to help LGBT people find roommates.

The app first asks how you identify yourself – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or ally – and then asks which identifications you would like to live with. Then, you can choose a location and view potential roommates and houses within your specifications.

Although the app is available globally, there’s currently only an English version and most of the registered users are in the United States, with the highest concentration in San Diego.

Fan decided to name the app TUTUroomii, which is a combination of “tutu,” the Chinese word for rabbit, and a playful spelling of “roomie.” She explained that rabbits commonly symbolize a relationship between a couple in the LGBT community in China, which is based on the story of Mulan.

“As the famous writing goes at the end of the story, ‘When two rabbits are running side by side, you can’t tell which is male, which is female,’” Fan said. “So the rabbit or bunny somehow stands for unisex or suggests that there’s no difference in sex. That’s probably why in China we have a god who is in charge of the relationship between men that also has the image of a rabbit and we call him the Tu God.”

She chose to spell roomii with two i’s to symbolize two people.

Now that the app is live, Fan is working on promotion and getting more people registered on the app. Since they don’t have a budget for online advertising, she is relying on organic, word-of-mouth marketing throughout the LGBT community.

“We got The San Diego LGBT Community Center’s support and they are willing to help us spread the word and we went to all the schools,” Fan said.

So far, there have been around 1,000 downloads but Fan hopes to see that number expand quickly.

“We have a lot of downloads but not many people are registered and listed,” Fan said. “We’re figuring out how to bring more people in.”

The inspiration behind TUTUroomii

Growing up in China, Fan knew from an early age that she liked girls but found few resources in China to help her better understand herself and the rest of the LGBT world. When she moved to San Diego to pursue a masters in finance at UCSD in September 2014, she found a more welcoming LGBT community. Between the Internet and programs at the university, she was able to learn more about other people like her.

She decided to create a resource for LGBT people in China on WeChat, which is a popular web platform in the country. Beginning in March 2015, she started to share articles about different sexual orientations and real stories of people’s journeys to self-identification. She recruited a friend from her undergraduate university in China to create cartoons based on this information and the online group quickly grew to thousands of followers.

“The self-identification here in the U.S. is deeper, and people do explore their own identification and people are very OK to talk about it, and I can easily find information online or at the LGBT Resource Center,” Fan said. “But in China, we don’t really talk about it, and the information is not convenient for us to get.”

For example, Fan explained that the concept of being transgender isn’t openly discussed in China so she created a cartoon based on the life of someone who is transgender to share with her followers on WeChat. She also mentioned the stereotypes that exist even among the LGBT community in China, such as that lesbian couples should have “one butch and one lipstick.” She created another cartoon to depict the relationship between two butch women as an alternative to the stereotype.

When Fan traveled back to China last year, she met with her friend, the cartoonist, and learned about the difficulty of finding a safe and welcoming place to live for LGBT people in China. Although her friend, who is a lesbian too, was lucky to find an accepting roommate, another lesbian friend in the same building didn’t fare as well. She moved in with a straight couple who didn’t treat her well after she told them that she was a lesbian.

“There are dating apps and social apps for lesbians and I wondered if there was a way to use those channels (to find a roommate) but they’re more for finding friends or friends with benefits,” Fan said. “It’s hard to find (LGBT friendly) roommates and that’s what inspired me.”

Fan returned to the United States and began to consider creating an app specifically for helping LGBTQ people find a fun, safe living environment.

“There is a need because it makes sense that we want to live with someone that we’re not afraid to hide ourselves and we can be good friends because we understand more about each other,” said Fan. “People who you live with will definitely influence your life quality.”

She started to spread the word about the app around the business school at UCSD, which offers resources and encouragement for start-ups. After she joined an entrepreneur challenge at the university, she formed a team to help get the app started. She created a prototype in June and by late July development of the app was underway. Two months later, the app was live.

The future of TUTUroomii

There’s more to the app than just finding a roommate though. A handy chat feature makes it easy to connect with people in your community and possibly find new friends too.

“When people who have initial chemistry start to chat with one another, they could eventually become roommates and if not, hopefully they can also become friends,” said Fan. “We welcome all good outcomes of using our app to connect people in the LGBTQ community.”

TUTUroomii officially launched in the Apple Store in September and although it is currently only available for iPhones, there are plans to create web and Android versions in the near future. They are also currently collecting feedback to help them decide which features are most helpful.

“As our ultimate goal, we aspire to create an app that can make roomie finding in the LGBTQ community as easy and fun as possible,” said Fan. “As our logo goes: ‘Better and colorful life at TUTUroomii.’” tuturoomii.com

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OUSTED: Hillcrest Business Association’s restraining orders target homeless http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/07/ousted-hillcrest-business-associations-restraining-orders-target-homeless/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/07/ousted-hillcrest-business-associations-restraining-orders-target-homeless/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2016 20:32:00 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67155

In an effort to reduce the impact of homelessness on local businesses, Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) now uses temporary restraining orders to ferret out people who are simply homeless from those who are homeless and pose a threat to their own safety and that of others because of severe mental illness or criminality. (hillcrestbia.org/clean-safe/homeless-outreach-program/)

According to HBA’s executive director, Benjamin Nicholls, adding restraining orders will expedite the efforts of a program in Hillcrest modeled after downtown San Diego’s Homeless Outreach Team, or “HOT.”

“We used the downtown model to set up our own homeless outreach team – the Alpha Project,” says Nicholls. “Using $50,000 provided by Councilman Todd Gloria’s office and another $30,000 from HBA over two years, we basically created a full-time team of specialists with a van full of supplies going around Monday through Friday helping to get homeless people in Hillcrest off the streets and into services they need.”

But, he says not all of Hillcrest’s homeless population want services, no matter how badly they need them. According to Nicholls, a “core group” of about eight homeless residents of Hillcrest “refuse assistance.”

“They tend also to be the ones who intimidate businesses, their employees and the customers trying to do business or make purchases in the neighborhood,” Nicholls says. “With a restraining order, we can enlist the help of police to guide them into medical and mental-health services.”

According to Nicholls, volunteers and staff working under the auspices of the Alpha Project, have enlisted the help of local businesses to hone in on a core contingent of chronically homeless and purportedly mentally ill people who he says “cause the most trouble” for local residents, businesses and shoppers.

“We’re not talking about simply asking for money,” says Nicholls. “Spitting on people, threatening physical violence, blocking customers from entering stores, openly using drugs where children are present; these are the kinds of things we’re talking about – not your ordinary homeless person just down on their luck.”

One barista at a Hillcrest coffee house who asked not to be identified by name because she is not authorized to talk to the media believes heroin use by local homeless youth is on the rise. She says she has encountered evidence left behind in Starbucks’ restrooms as she was cleaning.

“It’s really scary,” she tells San Diego LGBT Weekly. “You’ll find needles, even blood splatters in the restroom right after one of these young homeless teenagers leave. I understand that they need treatment, not jail. I fully support that. But maybe the restraining orders, which I didn’t even know we’re being used, will help them get into treatment.”

Says HBA’s Nicholls, a single individual has been identified as the source for as many or more disturbances at local coffee houses, retail shops and businesses along University Avenue and nearby streets, than all of the others in the “core group” of Hillcrest’s chronically homeless population combined.

“We know that individual’s name and have gotten a temporary restraining order to help protect our members who say he’s been harassing them for a long time,” says Nicholls.

One local business owner and HBA member claims to have suffered particularly severe damage to their storefront business in the form of vandalism and lost customers due to intimidation by the same homeless and possibly mentally ill individuals upon whom Nicholls and the Alpha Project team are now focusing.

“I’m glad someone is finally taking action,” says the business owner, who asked to remain anonymous because they fear being retaliated against. “Sometimes extreme problems call for extreme solutions.”

But critics say programs like the Alpha Project simply criminalize homelessness. They say arresting people or using restraining orders to move them out of neighborhoods like Hillcrest does nothing to solve the root problems that cause homelessness.

Advocacy organizations have said for years that the root of the homeless crisis is insufficient access to mental health services and addiction-treatment programs, as well as a lack of affordable housing. Indeed finding affordable housing is a major challenge in cities like San Diego that one need not be homeless to encounter.

“Making us criminals because we ain’t got nowhere to go just don’t seem right,” a homeless man who goes by the name, “Buck” tells LGBT Weekly. Since the weather got colder and wetter in recent weeks, Buck has been sleeping in Hillcrest storefront doorways instead of the nearby canyons where he spent much of the summer and fall.

“Sometimes you ain’t doing nothing wrong and someone will call the cops on you just for breathing,” he says. “It ain’t easy. Oh yeah, they’ll take you away in one them vans if you act crazy enough, but they don’t give you no home to live in. So, you just come right back to where you started from.”

According to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, San Diego has 100 municipal ordinances that effectively criminalize homelessness.

“Criminalization is not successful at reducing homelessness,” authors of the report, titled “No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities” write. (nlchp.org/ documents/No_Safe_Place)

“[C]riminalization measures are expensive, ineffective, and may be unconstitutional,” the report continues. “Instead of criminalizing the life-sustaining conduct of people who are involuntarily homeless, cities should institute constructive alternatives to criminalization that reduce homelessness while also meeting the goals of the local business community, service providers, government and taxpayers.”

Yet homeless advocacy groups and organizations like Hillcrest Business Association share the opinion that society is putting too much pressure on agencies whose primary purposes are anything but providing mental-health and social services.

“The police can only do so much,” says HBA’s Nicholls. “HBA can only do so much. We would like to do everything possible to help these people get help and find homes. But we’re a business advocacy organization first and foremost. That’s our mission; that’s our job, helping businesses in Hillcrest thrive.”

According to him, the Alpha Project has “removed” hundreds of homeless people from Hillcrest’s streets. However, many question his claim, not least among them Anthony Gioffre. Gioffre recently authored a column in this publication lambasting what he describes as a failed “care-not-cash” approach to homelessness. (lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/07/ homeless-in-hillcrest-why-the-care-not-cash-approach-just-isnt-working/)

Nicholls is unfazed by such criticism.

“The critics don’t understand the problem businesses face,” says Nicholls. “We’re trying to find a balance of doing the right thing for the chronically homeless and mentally ill in Hillcrest, while making a safe, enjoyable place to shop and do business.”

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Driving is a Drag http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/24/driving-is-a-drag/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/24/driving-is-a-drag/#respond Thu, 24 Dec 2015 21:27:35 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66840

Ridesharing superstar Erika Simone on celebrity, shock value and staying safe during the holidays

As we slowly approach the end of not only the holiday season but the year itself, our thoughts naturally turn to that most diminished of celebrations: New Year’s Eve. I mean, there was a time when you could ride seatbelt-less from party to party, consuming ever larger quantities of alcohol, before shuffling your bleary-eyed self off to the next affair without too much overall concern about the law. (See: Men, Mad.)

But due to a combination of pesky safety laws and a certain moral opprobrium that became increasingly associated with all-out, fall-down public drunkenness, well, that slowly became a thing of the past. Now, thanks to a new crop of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, those halcyon days are coming back with a vengeance and sparing some hard charging New Year’s Eve revelers the prospect of starting 2016 with a ticket for DUI.

And if you happen to be out and about this New Year’s Eve and live in Los Angeles, you may be lucky enough to hail a lift from Erika Simone, the resourceful cab maiden who’s schticky business, Driving is a Drag, is catching on fire and has helped launched Driving is a DRAG-TV, a new YouTube series featuring Erika – née Erik Koral – in a confessional, lighthearted and occasionally musical romp around the City of Angels.

San Diego LGBT Weekly caught up with Koral between fares to talk about his approach to the now ubiquitous business of ridesharing. As it turns out, Koral’s introduction to drag came completely by surprise. “To be completely honest, dressing up was a complete accident 18 months ago,” explained Koral. “I was in a sexual situation with a bi couple and they wanted to play dress up. I said, sure why not, you only live once and as soon as I tried on women’s clothes a chemical reaction happened and I’m like, wow…where has this been all of my life? I quickly went down the rabbit hole and experimented some more. I never saw this as some inner desire to be a woman; I thought it was fun and creative. It doesn’t go much deeper than that for me.”

Koral then went on to explain how he monetized his desire to wear women’s clothes. “I was really getting into cross dressing during the summer of 2014 when I needed to take the job as a Lyft driver to pay some bills,” revealed Koral. “I read online that there are some other themed Lyft rides like Batman, Big Lebowski, Harry Potter, etc. and coming from a 15 year marketing background I thought, what the hell am I going to do? I was driving on Mulholland Drive one day and had an epiphany. What if my alter ego, Erika Simone, showed up to pick people up? I then saw the name of the company in a big neon sign and it said, “Driving is a DRAG,” which has a much better hook to it than “Driving is a Crossdresser.”

Since then, in a matter of a few short months, Erika Simone became not just a thing to capitalize on but an ideal about how one should live their life each and every moment.

Koral, a native Angeleno added that his drag influences are pretty universal. “I really have no specific drag influence. I created my own character that is very cartoonish, like Hanna Barbara’s Penelope Pitstop. I am not a performer either. I dance like Elaine on Seinfeld. Not ruling it out though.”

Commenting about the current Zeitgeist and how no one had really capitalized on that sooner Koral said, “Thanks to RuPaul drag culture has entered the mainstream and there is a ton of attention on drag and transgender characters in the media with Caitlyn Jenner, Transparent, Laverne Cox, etc. Also Uber and Lyft have shown that they are part of the most disruptive technologies of the last five years with a $60 billion transportation industry. Somehow, I have combined both of them into a funny stew and the response has been wonderful. I have major plans for this business including two different web series and cameos in documentaries. I am a contestant in a reality TV pilot that will hopefully air next year; I’ve done 35 press interviews since February, and eventually I want to franchise this as a party bus and limo business fronted by drag queens.”

But doesn’t part of the shtick come from the rider not knowing who’s picking them up? So I asked Koral if he’s ever had a fare where the party he was picking up didn’t know he was part of the act. Did something turn ugly, a case of steroids (or, estrogen, for that matter) gone mad? “I’ve been really lucky that after 1,600 or so trips in the last 15 months, I have only been turned down once by a guy and he was nice about it. I’ve had a few drunken people get a bit weird in the car, but overall no problems. I credit this to being a smart driver only picking up in safe neighborhoods and avoiding the 2 a.m. bar crowd. I’m not naive thinking I am immune to problems in the future, but that’s the risk I take putting myself out there like this. I think my yellow taxi outfit with the TAXI cap really helps me though because people immediately get the joke that this ride is supposed to be fun and not to be taken very seriously.”

As mentioned earlier, Koral is branching out into the content creation business. With the launch of his web series, Driving is a DRAG-TV, and the promise of other opportunities to reach a wider audience, he is confident about where his brand is going. “I don’t have a web show yet, but my web series Driving is a DRAG -TV follows my adventures picking up crazy passengers with six GoPro cameras mounted on my car,” said Koral. “There are some really hilarious rides and you’ll just have to check them out as they are released in the coming weeks. I think that if this series gets picked up and made into a network TV show, we can really push boundaries by moving my adventures into more conservative states. Imagine Erika picking up a bunch of nuns or people at an NRA rally. Then we are definitely veering into Borat territory!”

Finally, the temptation became simply too great and I had to ask, “Who is the most famous person you’ve driven in drag? Was it a happy ending?”

“I took the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, Jared Hess, to Los Angeles Airport this year,” replied Koral. “He was really cool and loved my concept. It ended with a cash tip, so that’s always a happy ending for me as Uber has no tipping feature within the app. A really happy ending would be a cameo in his next movie. Hint! Hint!”


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2015 Year in Review: At Last http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/10/2015-year-in-review-at-last/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/10/2015-year-in-review-at-last/#respond Thu, 10 Dec 2015 21:43:19 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66488

As the song says “At last my love has come along.” Like most LGBT people, my love affair with same-sex marriage has finally been consummated. I am sure you will agree that the issue that defined 2015 was marriage. June 26, same-sex marriage became the law of the land, at last. While the year and ruling will go down as a historic moment for our community, just like the integration of the armed forces did for African Americans, 2015 also produced a backlash against LGBT equality.

2015 will be remembered as the inflection point in LGBT civil rights, where everything begins to move forward at a quicker pace, whether it is the approval of the Equality Act, transgender specific rights or simply the first drama centered around LGBT characters on network TV. It may not be smooth sailing going forward but we are finally out of the marriage hurricane.

Here are the LGBT events and stories that touched and amused us most deeply in 2015.

The Year of Caitlyn

Bruce Jenner rung in 2015 as well, Bruce Jenner. However, she will ring in 2016 as Caitlyn. No matter what you think about Caitlyn Jenner, she defined the conversation about the transg

ender community this year. From her introduction to the world on the Vanity Fair cover, to her TV show I am Cait Jenner was everywhere. But controversy was not far behind, like when she stated that she was Republican and intended to vote that way, or simply not understanding fully the money and job struggles of the normal transgender community. But far more troubling for the transgender community was …

Trans women murders continue to rise

As of this writing 23 trans women have been murdered this year in the U.S.; the vast majority of which have been trans women of color. Worldwide, one transgender person is murdered every three days. We must all join the calls for an end to anti-transgender violence.

Pope Francis

It was Pope Francis’ schizophrenic LGBT year. Whether it was giving an LGBT group the VIP treatment at the Vatican, ex-communicating a gay priest, meeting with gay and transgender prisoners in Naples or reaffirming his opposition to same-sex marriage, Pope Francis kept us guessing in 2015. On his first trip to the U.S., the pope met with Kim Davis, a clerk that refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in Kentucky, compared transgender people to nuclear weapons, yet he welcomed gay comedian and TV reporter Mo Rocca to give the Lector, or first reading. Talk about mixed messaging; but it seems the Pontiff is moving the Church slowly toward LGBT acceptance.

Same-Sex Marriage Backlash

wpid-188_5358_7981.jpgBefore and after the historic ruling on same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court in late June, the LGBT community has been fighting against the conservative backlash against our civil rights. Whether it was Florida Attorney General Pam Bond filing to prevent marriage going forward in her state, or counties refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, conservatives were trying every trick in the book. Fortunately, their efforts have not been met with much success including …

Religious Freedom Restoration Act Legislation

The religious right actively tried to undermine the Supreme Court even before their marriage ruling with Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation that was characterized by that passed in Indiana. RFRA laws allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against groups based upon their religious beliefs. There was a national firestorm that put Indiana in the crosshairs of all fair-minded people in America. The NCAA threatened to move the Final Four, Silicon Valley CEOs signed a letter repudiating the legislation and companies threatened to move from Indiana. The firestorm also ended the presidential aspirations of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The public outrage slowed RFRA legislation throughout the country.

Republican Presidential Candidates Double Down on Anti-LGBT Rhetoric

The Republican slate of Republican candidates, with few exceptions, can’t seem to accept that same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Each of the top candidates railed at the decision with Sen. Ted Cruz saying the day was “among the darkest hours of our nation.” Former Neurosurgeon Ben Carson said that being gay is a choice, just look at prisoners. The front runner Donald Trump is the most LGBT friendly and has said that LGBT people should not be fired from their jobs simply for being LGBT, but Trump still does not support marriage equality. If you are a one issue voter, you must love …

The Gay President

President Obama continued to move LGBT civil rights forward in 2015. Not resting on his laurels, Obama nominated the first openly gay secretary of the Army, spoke about LGBT equality during a visit to Kenya in front of its homophobic president, illuminated the White House in rainbow colors to celebrate the same-sex marriage ruling and endorsed the Equality Act. Coupled with the litany of rights and policies his administration has implemented, you would think Obama was the first gay president. You would think everyone in our community would be singing President Obama’s praises, but…

Transgender Heckler at White House Pride Reception

Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender activist who is also an undocumented immigrant, heckled the president at Obama’s annual White House Pride Reception. Gutiérrez was protesting the abuse of transgender detainees. While Gutiérrez’s cause may be important, many felt wrong place, wrong time. Before she was escorted out after interrupting the president several times, the president shut her down by saying, “No, no. Hey, listen, you are in my house.”

While we are on the subject of inappropriate behavior …


Gay Hoteliers Host Fundraiser for Anti-Gay Sen. Ted Cruz

Gay hoteliers Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass hosted Sen. Ted Cruz at their New York apartment. Then they were silly enough to post a picture on Facebook with the senator. As they say, the rest is history. The backlash from the LGBT community was swift with a protest at the business partners’ hotel OUT NYC. Reisner and Weiderpass are also large owners of property in Fire Island where there were protests and boycotts as well. The pair’s explanations were feeble like “we did not know Cruz was anti-gay.” I guess you can be rich and dumb.

Cat Fight

wpid-188_5358_7987.jpgJust when you thought you had heard everything with respect to celebrity feuds, Dolce & Gabanna and Sir Elton John took it to a new level. Domenico Dolce described IVF babies as ‘chemical children’ and ‘synthetic.’ Needless to say that did not sit so well with Sir Elton. He fired off in social media, “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as “synthetic”. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce & Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.” Over 66,000 people pledged to do just that. After five months Dolce and John kissed and made up. Everyone could wear D&G again, what a relief. Mentioning relief …

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

San Diego Airport and the White House debuted gender neutral bathrooms this year. The single occupancy restrooms have been popping up at high schools, restaurants, colleges and universities all across America. San Diego has the most interesting sign that somehow created a new third gender but progress nonetheless.

Scouts Lift Ban on Gay Leaders

The Boy Scouts rescinded their ban on LGB adult scout leaders but extended exemptions to those troops that were run by religious organizations. Despite a threat by the Mormon Church to leave over the new policy, the Church ultimately decided to stay in the Scouting fold.

Tiffany & Co. Gay Engagement Ad

The revered jeweler Tiffany debuted an ad featuring a gay couple. It was the first ad with an LGBT couple in the company’s 178 year-old history. The “Will You?” campaign featured six different couples one being of the same sex. Let freedom ring.

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Ends

After 40 years, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival played its last note. While the festival was legendary for decades, in recent years it has been saddled with controversy concerning the exclusion of transgender womyn.

HERO Loss in Houston

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance went down in flames this year. The ordinance would have made Houston the last of the top ten cities in America to enact protections based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. While Mayor Annise Parker said the defeat could not have been averted, the question then is why would she waste the LGBT community’s time and money.

Stonewall Movie Tanks

The movie chronicling the legendary riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City tanked at the box office. The movie to date has grossed $187,674. You read that right, $187,674. Controversy arose because the director chose a white protagonist for the film when many felt that the film should have been anchored by a transgender activist, a person of color or both. Everyone knows that Silvia Rivera was the person the film should have chronicled. Rivera is so famous, due to the riots and beyond, her portrait was installed at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution this year. To re-enact the riots, many people were throwing rocks at the screen while watching this bomb.

The Truth about Truvada

The preventative HIV drug Truvada really blossomed in the scene this year. The use of Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) became the topic of conversation for sexually active people in the LGBT community and beyond. Just a few weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control issued a study that suggested that 1 in 4 gay men should take Truvada. Unfortunately, 34 percent of health care providers had never heard of the drug, which explains the paltry 21,000 people taking it.

Leelah Alcorn Suicide

The suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old transgender girl, attracted international attention after she arranged to have a suicide note posted on Tumblr hours after her death. In her suicide note, Alcorn cited loneliness and alienation as key reasons for her decision to end her life and blamed her parents for causing these feelings. She committed suicide by walking out in front of oncoming traffic on the Interstate 71 highway.

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Danny Pintauro: Rethinking HIV http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/25/danny-pintauro-rethinking-hiv/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/25/danny-pintauro-rethinking-hiv/#respond Wed, 25 Nov 2015 22:05:01 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66024

Danny Pintauro

The last twelve months have seen some of the most public and progressive steps in the now decades-long battle against AIDS and the virus which causes it, HIV. This includes the mainstream and open discussion of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in culture with television programs like How to Get Away with Murder (ABC), a call to action by both medical professionals and AIDS activists for TasP (Treatment as Protection), and public figures such as actors Danny Pintauro (Who’s the Boss, Cujo) and Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men, Major League), as well as locally with the director of events at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, Ian Johnson ‘coming out’ to erase the misplaced stigma of the disease.

Now in its 27th year, World AIDS Day was first designated Dec. 1, 1988 by the World Health Organization (WHO) which is an agency of the United Nations. This year WHO continues with the theme “Getting to Zero” and throughout the world leading AIDS organizations challenge us to “Rethink HIV” and better understand the disease to help eradicate stigma. HIV patients struggle with being open about their condition for fear of being ostracized socially, loss of professional opportunities and even rejection in romantic relationships. While terms like T-cells may be familiar to some, others like ‘undetectable’ viral load (which is when there is fewer than 20 copies of the virus in a sample of blood) remain elusive and even confusing.

Child actor Danny Pintauro came out as openly gay in 1999 in an interview with the National Inquirer. This fall, Pintauro found himself ‘coming out’ again when he publically revealed on Oprah: Where Are They Now that he has been living with HIV since 2003. He now finds himself as an activist sharing his story and helping others live their truth as a person with HIV.

“One of my goals is to make everyone who is positive more comfortable talking about it. Someone who is healthy, taking care of themselves and undetectable should be proud of that,” Pintauro shares.

He adds, “You can’t get people to come out and talk about it until there are people they can look up to where they can say ‘ya know he is just like me and he has done it, so I too can live my truth’ (about living with HIV).”

Ian Johnson, who recently came out as HIV+, is grateful to Pintauro for helping to end the stigma of HIV. “I applaud Danny on the strength it took for him to come out about living with HIV. Many of us living with HIV remain in the “closet” because of the stigma we have faced. After we experience the challenges of dating, the negative attitudes and the shunning from our own community, many remain living in silence … afraid of how others will perceive them, not wanting to be labeled only as the person with HIV.”

Johnson adds, “It takes strength to live out, live proud and live unafraid. The hardest part about all this isn’t actually living with HIV, it’s living with the stigma associated with HIV.”

Ian Johnson

Pintauro is a huge proponent of HIV testing. He shared his opinion that if everyone knows their current status, there would be far fewer, if any, new transmissions. In reality a test is only relative to when it’s taken and an individual’s last sexual encounter. He says, “As a community (LGBT) who wants to take care of one another, then we are going to learn our status so that we can take care of each other.”

Testing remains the No. 1 way to reduce HIV transmission. However, testing also plays a key role in a new approach toward the battle against HIV/AIDS called PrEP.

Dr. Gary Blick of World Health Clinicians, one of the leading specialists and doctors focused on HIV/AIDS and co-founder of HIV EQUAL, an anti-stigma campaign says, “Bottomline, PrEP (which is the single-pill medication known as Truvada) has positively impacted the LGBT community knowing it can protect against HIV by reducing the chances of contracting HIV somewhere between 92-99 percent. While nothing is 100 percent, there are not yet any known cases of people taking PrEP daily who contracted HIV.”

He adds, “An HIV+ individual’s chances of giving someone HIV is reduced by 96 percent + just by knowing their status, getting into or back into care, taking much safer antiretroviral medications, and getting one’s viral load to undetectable. This is called TasP.”

As an HIV+ gay man, Pintauro comments on PrEP and TasP with enthusiasm. While he is thrilled that the conversation has been elevated to a national level with PrEP being on prime time television, he added it is important to understand what it really is. “People are realizing this is a godsend, being able to protect yourself in more than just one way from HIV.” Adding, “If you’re diligent about taking PrEP, transmission can be reduced by up to 99 percent. That’s amazing! There is a whole conversation that has to happen when you’re talking about PrEP. You have to go see a doctor to go on it. You can’t just go get it (from a store). Plus, you have to get tested on a regular basis. Further, in order to continue receiving your prescription, doctors require the test, so the patient is continuously monitored. Additionally, the tests also monitor other STIs (sexually transmitted infections).”

PrEP and TasP combined make for some of the most promising outlooks on reductions in transmission. “You have someone not only preventing getting HIV with PrEP, but you also have them going to a doctor on a regular basis being tested for HIV,” says Pintauro.

However, he challenges the notion that PrEP is the end answer and that guys can freely engage in unprotected sex. “There are those Web sites that are geared toward having unprotected sex and you see profiles that say ‘negative but on PrEP.’ That’s not the solution. Number one, you are opening yourself up to all of those other STIs, some of which are becoming untreatable such as the rare drug-resistant gonorrhea.”

Dr. Blick, an out gay doctor adds, “Our LGBT community needs to understand risks versus benefits and make informed decisions. Sex and intimacy may feel much better, but getting infected with an STI for life, like genitorectal herpes (HSV-2) or human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes anal cancer, needs to be considered, as does the rare drug-resistant gonorrhea. With the Hepatitis C virus now an increasing STI in our community, a person needs to first get the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision and think with one’s brain.”

As Dec. 1 approaches, Danny Pintauro’s message for others encompasses so much of the theme this year as well as the progress made in the last 12 months. He says, “While World Aids Day is a day to remember the millions of people we’ve lost to this disease, it is also a day to look ahead. We can beat HIV! Live life to the fullest by getting tested regularly. Cherish your life by doing everything you can to protect yourself. And love those you care about by getting on treatment!”

As Danny Pintauro, Ian Johnson and many of those living with HIV here in San Diego will attest, while the disease may have at one point felt like and even been a stigma in their lives, today they can be proud of their undetectable viral load and healthy lifestyle, all of which has been liberating while being life sustaining. World AIDS Day is Dec. 1.

Danny Pintauro can be followed on Twitter at @dannypintauro.

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San Diego Human Dignity Foundation honors three LGBT advocates http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/san-diego-human-dignity-foundation-honors-three-lgbt-advocates/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/san-diego-human-dignity-foundation-honors-three-lgbt-advocates/#respond Thu, 12 Nov 2015 21:25:10 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65703

Photo: Victor Hoff

Rev. Carl Bean, Kurt Cunningham and Wilson Cruz

Lincoln Aston did not go quietly into the night. He did not fall asleep one night never to awake. He was not surrounded by loved ones in his final hours. And his sudden death actually did come as a surprise. Lincoln, 61, was also tragically one of three gay men brutally murdered in San Diego that May of 1995, pre-Cunanan but post-Dahmer. But it was Lincoln’s death, perhaps because of his star turn as noted and respected architect, which would lead one day to a gala being named, in part, after him.

Hattie “Sunshine” Brooks couldn’t have been more different. Her presence wasn’t just more public, it was far more obviously civic-minded in nature and she was as much a part of San Diego’s DNA as anyone. She was a founding member of Price Club – later Costco – and created a scholarship for their employees and their children to attend college with a $1,500 grant to an accredited college or university. She was committed to the arts and owned a theater in Oceanside and left a $40 million dollar trust to some 15 San Diego charities including the San Diego AIDS Foundation.

Sunshine Brooks, who was described at birth as a ray of ‘sunshine,’ died after an extended illness in December of 1999. She was 91. Saturday, Nov. 7 at the San Diego Hilton Resort & Spa on Mission Bay some 400 friends, board members and supporters of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF) gathered among rivulets of hand-passed canapes and a tsunami of free alcohol to celebrate the Aston-Brooks Awards Gala. The SDHDF, whose members recognize excellence in and among the LGBT community will be celebrating their 20th anniversary next year.

Wilson Cruz and Kevin Beiser | Photo: Pro Motion Entertainment

The event – which sparkled that night in hundred dollar plus haircuts, fine silk shirts and brilliant smiles – serves as a platform to donate funds to people and organizations who then further spread the largesse through, in many times, community-based projects. To date, SDHDF clarified at the dinner, they have already dispersed $750,000 in funds this year alone.

That’s a lot of outreach.

Saturday night, three awards were handed out. The first, The Sunshine Brooks HIV/AIDS Advocacy Award went to the Rev. Carl Bean, known as much for his musical talents as well as his founding of the Unity Fellowship Church of Christ, which in 1982, was groundbreaking. “Archbishop Bean has taken adversity and created inspiration for the disenfranchised,” said John L. Brown, executive director, SDHDF. “He knows first-hand the struggle and heartache people of color who live with HIV/AIDS experience and has created a safe, welcoming religious space so they feel loved and accepted.”

Honored for the memory and life of this generous philanthropist whose multimillion dollar legacy gift has benefitted HIV/AIDS charities in San Diego County for the last decade, Bean was being recognized with the award that honors an individual whose efforts have improved the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. The Rev. Gerald Green and the Rev. Romie Wilford accepted the award on behalf of Archbishop Bean.

Rev. Gerald Green with Rev. Ronnie Wilford | Photo: Victor Hoff

The next award to be presented was the Richard Geyser Community Leadership Award which is given to the person who best demonstrates ethics in community outreach and volunteerism. City Council Member Todd Gloria introduced self-described ‘Mayor of Hillcrest’ Nicole Murray Ramirez who spoke tearfully of Kurt Cunningham’s contributions. Although he was an avid advocate of mental health, Mr. Cunningham, unfortunately succumbed to his own mental health issues and took his own life Oct. 12.

Then Wilson Cruz, who looked flawless in a tweed jacket and low-cut sweater vest which accentuated his white shirt and black tie, spoke. With amazing force, rapidity and insight, brimming with intensity behind his black, horn-rimmed glasses, he blended a tale of quick success followed by long stretches of little-to-no work, which cast his fate as activist. “I’ve been so fortunate to have been of service to a community that I love. Early on, when I was a young person myself, it was really important to me to give voice to the concerns and fears of LGBT youth by speaking about my own experience as a young gay man of color. I never saw anyone like me on TV. It made me feel invisible and misunderstood. I longed to see someone with whom I could relate. When I was given the opportunity, I wanted to be that person for someone else. So many young people, to this day, are bullied into silence and shame. Back then, I wanted to give them hope and give them a sense of what was possible. Now, in my 40s, I’m no longer a young person, but I want to continue to empower them to use their own voices and encourage them to demand to be heard. We need them and their energy. We need to be listening to them so that we can assist them in making the world they want.”

San Diego LGBT Weekly caught up with Cruz prior to the event to talk about his career and what messages he has for today’s LGBTQ community. “In my work as an actor, I have never been happier than when my art can be an opportunity to shed light on our community and our issues in an authentic and entertaining way,” said Cruz. “I’ve always believed that when you know someone who is LGBT and you understand us for who we actually are – and not the lies told about us by anti-LGBT forces – it’s more difficult to stand against us or vote against us. I’ve seen the power of the stories told on television, film and theatrical stages and the effect they’ve had on a generation that were invited to experience our lives and empathize with our experience. I feel it’s been a great honor to have played a few of those roles. And I feel great pride in being the first gay person some young people ever knew. I like to think they carried those stories and those characters with them when they’ve walked into a voting booth or when someone in their own family, possibly their own child, came out to them.”

And for the next generation of LGBTQ members, Cruz had this to say: “My message to LGBT youth today is that, though we’ve experienced success, recently, in terms of marriage equality, this is no time for complacency. There is still so much work to be done in order to realize true equality. The work is not done. This is especially true if you are a person of color or if you are a trans person. And even more work to be done if you happen to be both! The world that my generation is handing over to them is one in which they’ll be called on to not only continue that work, but also to do two other things simultaneously. First, they will have to remain vigilante and safeguard against the attacks on the rights and protections we’ve gained, here, at home. Like abortion rights and voting rights, LGBT rights are surely to be attacked. We need only to look to Houston this past week, and to claims of so-called “religious freedom” for proof of what’s to come. Secondly, they must not turn their backs on our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world. The lives of LGBT people in places like Russia, China and the Middle East, just to name a few, are frightening. In these places, and in many more, you are faced with a VERY real threat to your life just because of who you love or your gender identity. It will be their generation that will be called on to share the lessons learned here and to act as allies by shining a bright light on the tragedies and injustices endured by LGBT people everywhere.”

Andrea McArdle and Wilson Cruz | Photo: Pro Motion Entertainment

The night’s entertainment was provided by Tony Houck on piano, Rae K. Henderson, Melissa Fernandes and Luke Jacobs. Broadway legend Andrea McArdle (Annie, Starlight Express) ended the night on a hopeful note.

“The individuals we honored at our gala event embody the mission of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation,” said Brown. “Their work and dedication to equality, tolerance, wellness, well-being and human dignity transcends the LGBTQ communities, striving to bridge understanding throughout San Diego and beyond.”

Moving forward, 2016 promises to be another banner year for the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation as they progress with their ParkArts campaign to improve the facility that houses Diversionary Theatre and Lambda Archives, and work with their grant making partners to end new HIV infections throughout San Diego County. All this while they continue to sponsor and support the many wonderful LGBTQ Charities in the community.

For more information visit sdhdf.org

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Shopping for labels of love with jewelry this holiday season http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/shopping-for-labels-of-love-with-jewelry-this-holiday-season/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/shopping-for-labels-of-love-with-jewelry-this-holiday-season/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:26:12 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65705

Now that the holidays are just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about gifts for those we love. In the spirit of making the holidays as blissful as possible, a gift guide is in order. What’s one gift that symbolizes emotion and love? Jewelry. In many different forms, the possibilities are endless when it comes to jewelry, watches and accessories as gifts.

But, where to begin when it comes to relationships and holiday giving? We’ve put together a guide of the greatest holiday gifts fit for any stage of a relationship.

For the new couple

When it comes to a new relationship, the beginning is always hard to navigate. The initial gift sets the tone for the rest of the gifting afterward. It’s important to pay close attention to your partner’s personal style. If they normally wear bold pieces, opt for a bold statement piece to add to their collection. If they wear more delicate pieces of jewelry, a bracelet or earrings are great options.

Fred Nasseri, local jewelry expert and owner of Unicorn Jewelry and Watch Boutique in Rancho Bernardo says, “If your partner is into leather accessories, a money clip, wallet or belt is a simple and classic choice.”

For the ready to wed

Now that you’ve found your match, it’s time to find the perfect ring, whether it’s vintage, classic or modern. Since a ring is a symbol of eternity, it is also a natural expression of never-ending love, so make sure your ring will last a lifetime. With options ranging from yellow to white gold or platinum, and diamonds or colored gemstones, it’s important to get a ring that is representative of your partner’s style and also your relationship.

The first step is to learn the five C’s: cut, clarity, color, carat and certificate. Take note of your partner’s personality and individual style. Pay attention to the little things like whether they prefer gold or silver, if they like simple, understated pieces or more flashy ones. After all, the engagement ring is the first chapter of the story that couples will create when they decide to spend their lives together.

For those who are ready to tie the knot, picking out the engagement ring can be a stressful process, but the end result will be far worth it. “When shopping for a ring or wedding band, it’s important to know how things can be customized to fit your taste, style and personality, as a symbol of your love. There is no reason that someone should settle for anything less than the ring of their dreams,” says Nasseri.

For the lasting lovers

For those who have been together for a while, a fancier gift is in order. This is the time to give the gift that your partner is going to remember and cherish for years to come. It could be the nice watch they’ve had their eye on or those silver cuff links they’ve been talking about for a while. Cuff links are an incredible choice for those who want to put the finishing touch on their ensemble, from business to evening wear. With such a large selection from silver to gold, diamonds and gemstones, cuff links are sure to dazzle. There is also a world of options when it comes to timepieces. Watches are beautiful, elegant and durable, so find the timepiece to make your partner’s wrist stand out among the crowd.

“At this point in a relationship, a matching jewelry set is a nice and classic touch for those couples who have given several gifts each holiday season. Tie it all together with cuff links that complement a watch, or a necklace and bracelet pair. Make them feel like they’re getting something like never before. Something they will keep forever,” Nasseri shares.

Local jewelry store, Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique in Rancho Bernardo is the perfect place to find all of your holiday gifts for your loved ones this season, for any relationship and any budget. With a friendly and knowledgeable approach, owner Fred Nasseri and his family offer variety and service that is unmatched.

“Every person who walks through our doors will always be treated like family. We want to create a unique relationship and experience here at Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique, one that is eternal like each couple’s love,” says Nasseri.

For over 34 years, Unicorn Jewelry has been the largest independent family-owned jewelry store, with the biggest and most magnificent collection of designer jewelry, high-quality certified loose diamonds, watches and more. Not only will these gifts be suited for who’s on your list, but you’ll be ready to find just what you’re looking for with Unicorn Jewelry. Aside from the sparkling selection of many known brands, they offer the option of custom-designed pieces to make your dream jewelry come to life.

Unicorn Jewelry strives to give the highest level of service to guests when helping them to select and create pieces that truly shine. Keep in mind this holiday season that gifts for your partner should be meaningful.

Visit Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique in Rancho Bernardo to find the perfect gift they’ll always remember.

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The Dragon Boat Girls http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/29/the-dragon-boat-girls/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/29/the-dragon-boat-girls/#respond Thu, 29 Oct 2015 21:40:24 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65354

Photo: Victor Hoff

Meet Lezbhonest: The first Laotian lesbian boat racing team debuts this Halloween

Exactly three things come to my mind when the topic of rowing comes up in a conversation, the chances of being swallowed up by a black hole by the end of this article being greater. One is Merchant Ivory Productions with their assortment of white people on the precipice of losing power who still manage to watch rowers row the River Thames. Two is some 1980s motivational poster with a celestial blue background shaming me into believing that the only way to personal fulfillment is through teamwork (because there’s no ‘I’ in teamwork!). The last is upper body strength. You have to have a strong back, core and arms, along with disciplined cardiovascular control, to maintain a brisk rowing pace, I recently discovered, and if you’re not keeping that pace, the team suffers. Needless to say, rowing, like any team sport, has its challenges.

But it also holds a unique place in history as arguably one of the oldest team sports in the world, along with polo and a form of Scottish rugby known as harpastum. While historical records such as cave dwellings in France show wrestling and sprinting to have existed for many several thousands of years further back, rowing, having begun to appear in ancient Egypt, still makes an impression on what a sport is.

The mechanics of rowing, or crew as it is more commonly known in the United States, consists either of men or women or both in a boat facing the stern (back) and using paddles (oars) to propel the boat forward. The rowers can use either a single oar – known as sweeping – or two oars, one in each hand – known as sculling.

Competitive rowing, as we generally understand it, started in the early 18th century, underwent regulatory control by the end of the nineteenth with rowing growing in popularity and, now, spans six continents with 118 countries having official status in rowing federations.

Locally, however, there are any number of clubs for all ages, skills and competitive intent. There are also a few that are called Dragon Boat Races in San Diego and it’s not always easy for an outsider to keep them straight. There was the Dragon Boat Races (boats brightly colored and adorned with a dragon head at the bow and a tail at the stern) sponsored by the San Diego Alliance for Asian Pacific Islander Americans back in May which garnered proclamations from the City Council and Mayor Kevin Faulkner and featured local Asian-American newscaster Michael Chen from Channel 10 as emcee.

From left to right: Team Manager Dina Somsamouth, Team Captain Josie Marshall, rower Ariana Robinson | Photo: Victor Hoff

There are also the AeroDragons, a self-described ‘competitive recreational team.’ The members, made up largely from the military-industrial complex, recently competed in the 6th Annual San Diego Dragon Boat Race in early October.

And now, we have Lezbhonest, a member of the Mekong Boat Racing Club and about to compete in the 2nd annual Lao Boat Racing Festival this Halloween at Mission Bay Park.

Like those other rowing communities, this is an opportunity to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander culture but with a specific focus on the Lao community. Team Manager Dina Somsamouth, 34, explains. “I was asked to get a girls’ team together. First thing I thought of was why not get a lesbian team going since it would be a good idea to break the barrier between my [Laotian] culture and [the LGBTQ] community.” So she did. And by July they were off and rowing. “We have been having practice since late July. Almost every Sunday afternoon we will meet up and get together. The organization that puts this race together is the Mekong Boat Racing Club, It’s their second year doing this.”

Photo: Victor Hoff

Josie Marshall, the only black member of Lezbhonest, serves as team captain. Perhaps it’s her nine year stint in the Navy that gives her a commanding presence and the unflappable support of her friends, but her views on how or whether the Lao community accepts or doesn’t accept them ? Meh, not so much. “It is nice to show the communities involved and the ones watching that we are here and we have formed our own family and community if you don’t accept us. If you do accept us, we are happy about that.”

I spent a couple of afternoons with the team at De Anza Cove, a pretty indistinguishable stretch of Mission Bay, both on and off the boat. The whole plot of grass was peppered with tents, the smell of grilled tripe and sausage, children laughing and doing cartwheels. In fact, if there were any hostilities toward an all-lesbian rowing team, they certainly were very-well muted.

The competition will be held, Somsamouth clarified, on Halloween. “A full dragon boat team consists of 22 people: 20 paddlers, 1 drummer (who keeps the beat of the stroke), and 1 steer-person (provided by the festival). We generally suggest that each team have three alternates as well in case someone unexpectedly drops out. On race day, we are only going with 16 paddlers due to safety issues. The winners will continue until four teams remain for the final round.”

Photo: Victor Hoff

Ariana Robinson, 33, and self-described “awesome rower,” summarizes with that c’est-la-vie sunniness San Diego is famous for what the meaning of the rowing club is when reduced down to its most basic molecular structure: “Great new friends and awesome arms!” Marshall agrees. “A sense of community, commitment, and camaraderie. Somsamouth rounds the circle on a philosophical note: “It’s a scary thought knowing they can be against us. But you can’t always hide what you are. I’m openly gay. My family and friends except it and support me. I believe others shouldn’t be scared and have to hide who they are. Being out there is showing the newer generation you don’t have to hide and it’s OK to be gay. Letting them know they are not the only Lao person that is gay. Showing them that you still could be openly gay and still be part of our culture and community.”

The race begins at 9 a.m. and runs through 4 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 31. Award winning Laotian-America writer Bryan Thao Worra will be in attendance. The race will also include Lao music, Lao food vendors and cultural performances featuring Lao music and poetry. (According to Worra, there are approximately 7,000 Lao in San Diego.)

To learn more about becoming a member or about festivities the day of the race, visit facebook.com/mekongboatracing.club

Lao Boat Racing Festival
Tecolote Shores North
Mission Bay Park, San Diego
Saturday Oct. 31
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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Recognizing the role of LGBT people in our history http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/15/recognizing-the-role-of-lgbt-people-in-our-history-2/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/15/recognizing-the-role-of-lgbt-people-in-our-history-2/#respond Thu, 15 Oct 2015 19:35:25 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64977

Mick Jagger

October is LGBT History Month and Equality Forum, an LGBT civil rights organization, is celebrating by highlighting 31 icons that have made a difference in the lives of the LGBT community. Each day during the month a new icon will be featured in the spotlight, ranging from rock star Mick Jagger to transgender actress Laverne Cox, and including activists, politicians and athletes.

To be considered as an icon, the person must be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and fit one of three criteria: “1) distinguished him/herself in their field of endeavor; 2) national hero; or 3) made a significant contribution to LGBT civil rights.”

Icons are nominated by the public and then selected by the Equality Forum’s board of directors. This year’s co-chairs were Professor Lillian Faderman, author of The Gay Revolution and Professor Paul Farber from Haverford College. The board of directors managed to narrow down the list of 500 nominees to 31 icons to be featured on the Web site.

“The LGBT community is the only community worldwide that is not taught its history at home, public school or religious institutions,” said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum. “LGBT History Month provides role models, teaches our empowering civil rights history and makes a resounding statement of our important national and international contributions.”

Laverne Cox

Each LGBT icon has amazing achievements that deserve to be celebrated. You can currently view a number of the icons and a new one will be added daily throughout the month.

2015’s crop of icons includes what some may regard as unusual choices, but that’s what keeps LGBT History Month fresh and exciting. LGBT Weekly took a look at some of this year’s icons.

Mick Jagger

As the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, Jagger has spent the past 50 years in the spotlight. His talent and charisma have won numerous awards, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

Angelina Jolie

During the 1970s, Jagger began to experiment with a glam-rock persona that included daring fashion and makeup. He became a fixture at New York’s famed Studio 54, often seen with gay icons like writer Truman Capote, fashion designer Halston and dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Jagger is credited with opening up “definitions of gendered masculinity.”

“Especially in his relationship with gender bending David Bowie, Mick Jagger was among the first superstars to openly embrace sexual fluidity,” said Lazin. “He was on the vanguard of bisexuality.”

He performed with fellow rock star Bowie at Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985 and has been romantically linked to Bowie, as well as several other men and women over the years, including The Who’s Pete Townshend.

Laverne Cox

Clive Davis

Since her breakout role as a transgender inmate on Orange Is the New Black, Cox has made a name for herself in the entertainment world as an actress, producer and LGBT advocate. She not only made the list of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, earlier this year she became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of the publication.

Cox’s list of achievements continues to grow. She was named one of the Most Beautiful Women by People magazine and received a GLAAD Media Award for her hour-long documentary, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word.

Angelina Jolie

Jolie is almost as well known for her humanitarian efforts as her eclectic resume of acting roles. She starred in Girl, Interrupted and Maleficent and is well-known as the title character in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series. She’s also served as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador for over a decade and has traveled around the world to bring attention to war, poverty and violence.

William Rufus King

Never one to shy away from the truth, Jolie has been open about her bisexuality for years. She was in a relationship with model Jenny Shimizu in the late ’90s but has been in a highly publicized relationship with Brad Pitt since 2005.

Clive Davis

At the age of 81, Davis came out as bisexual when he published his autobiography, The Soundtrack of My Life in 2013 and wrote about having his first sexual experience with a man in the 1970s. The record producer has won five Grammy Awards and has been president of Columbia Records, founder of Arista Records and J Records and is currently chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment.

William Rufus King

Bill Tilden

King became vice president of the United States in 1853 under Franklin Pierce and, due to a fatal bout of tuberculosis six weeks later, is known as the shortest-serving vice president. Prior to his short stint as VP, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for almost 30 years and served as minister to France. He also helped draft the Compromise of 1850 in an effort to lessen the growing tension between the North and the South.

King is also known for his long-term relationship with James Buchanan, who served as president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. The two former U.S. senators shared a home in Washington D.C. for ten years and attended many social events together. The two well-known bachelors were rumored to be a couple and nicknamed “Miss Nancy” and “Miss Fancy” by Andrew Jackson.

Bill Tilden

From 1920 to 1925, Tilden was the number one tennis player in the world. He’s also the first American to win Wimbledon as well as a record seven U.S. championships.

Tom Stoddard

“Bill Tilden is arguably the greatest male tennis champion of all times,” said Lazin.

Due to his flamboyant personality, rumors circulated about his sexuality and he was accused of sexual misbehavior with teenage boys on two occasions. Since homosexuality was illegal at the time, there are questions regarding the validity of the accusations and the possibility that he was targeted due to his sexuality.

Tom Stoddard

As one of the first openly gay lawyers, Stoddard helped to improve the rights of LGBT members in America. He worked as an executive director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1986 to 1992 and helped the organization become one of the top LGBT legal resources in the country. He also taught the first law school course on LGBT civil rights.

Frances Perkins

Stoddard, who was diagnosed with AIDS, became an advocate for people with AIDS who faced discrimination and he joined the board of the American Foundation for AIDS research.

Frances Perkins

Perkins became the first female United States cabinet officer when she was appointed secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. While in office, she worked to create child labor laws, a 40 hour work week, Social Security and minimum wage.

Although Perkins married Paul C. Wilson in 1913, she had a long-term romantic relationship with Mary Harriman Rumsey, founder of the Junior League, and lived with her until Rumsey’s death.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam

When Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014, he became the first openly gay football player drafted in the NFL. His reaction to being drafted, which included kissing his boyfriend on national television, became a notable moment in sports history.

Sam eventually signed with the Montreal Alouettes, making him the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League, however he soon resigned citing “personal reasons.”

Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, widely considered to be the “godfather of gay marriage” is an LGBT civil rights leader, who in 2003 launched Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide. Wolfson spent more than a decade working at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, where he created the National Freedom to Marry Coalition and began leading the ongoing national marriage equality movement for equal marriage protections. He authored the book, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. In 2012, Wolfson was awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction alongside President Barack Obama.

Visit lgbthistorymonth.com to read more about these LGBT icons and others throughout the month. Each icon’s page features a biography, images, video and other resources to help you learn more about the way they influenced LGBT history.

Submissions are currently being accepted through Dec. 11 for next year’s list of icons.

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Gay Bowl XV http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/01/gay-bowl-xv/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/01/gay-bowl-xv/#respond Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:01:08 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64566

Can the San Diego Bolts win their fourth national championship?

Gay Bowl is the national LGBT flag football tournament, put on every Columbus Day weekend by the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL). It’s been a decade since San Diego hosted Gay Bowl, but NGFFL teams will make their way to America’s Finest City for the 15th Annual Super Gay Bowl October 9 – 11. Another record breaking showing for the NGFFL, with 34 teams in the Open Division and nine in the Women’s Division.

The NGFFL is a 501(c)(3) sports organization that seeks to promote the positive social and athletic enjoyment of American Flag Football. Through the league, their events and most importantly their members, the NGFFL also seeks to foster and augment the self-respect of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to promote respect and understanding from the larger community.

It is a fundamental principle of NGFFL that all activities, social and athletic, are conducted to be inclusive in nature and that no individual shall be excluded from participating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic ability, physical challenge, HIV status or gender identity. Currently, over 200 teams in 23 leagues across the United States and Canada are members of NGFFL.

Established in 2004, the San Diego American Flag Football League (SDAFFL) also a 501(c)(3) is one of the largest flag football leagues of its kind in the United States with 16 teams and nearly 300 players. As a second time host of Gay Bowl the SDAFFL not only brings a wealth of experience to the tournament but an unmatched record of having won the last four Gay Bowls. Can the San Diego Bolts make it four?

Eric Reissner ,San Diego Bolts co-captain and Compete Magazine’s 2014 Athlete of the Year believes they can, “We are incredibly excited and driven to winning another championship,” Reissner told LGBT Weekly. “We are working very hard to make this happen in our own hometown. It would be awesome to have a win in San Diego.”

The tournament is played at the San Diego Polo Club, 3855 Via De La Valle in Del Mar. For Gay Bowl XV, approximately 12 fields will be set up along with various food and consumer tents along the perimeter. Located 19 miles north in the community of Rancho Santa Fe, the fields are less than a 25-minute drive from San Diego.

San Diego is represented by six teams, which is the most of any city, and they will be joined by 34 men’s teams and nine women’s teams from all across the U.S. SDAFFL will be playing host to more than 1,000 players and supporters and have secured unprecedented participation from local businesses to open up Hillcrest to Gay Bowl visitors.

“We’re very fortunate that so many businesses have come forward to support Gay Bowl XV. These are businesses that continue so support the San Diego league during the regular season and have really stepped up to the plate for this fantastic event,” said current SDAFFL Commissioner and Gay Bowl XV Co-Chair Steve Farrow. “These pledges provide pivotal funds to the San Diego Flag Football League in its role as the host city of Gay Bowl XV and will help ensure the national championship is a great success,” continued Farrow.

Corporate sponsorship is one way of supporting the SDAFFL and Gay Bowl but individual contributions are vital too. “Your donation of any size will help the San Diego League not only put on the best Gay Bowl but also to showcase our city’s premier hospitality and LGBT community,” said Farrow. “We want to prove that America’s Finest City isn’t just a tag line meant to attract tourists; it’s a designation we locals are proud to have earned. From $5 to $5,000 and any amount in between, your generosity will help ensure

One of the interesting facts about Gay Bowl and the SDAFFL in general is it is not all LGBT. Many straight allied players play alongside their LGBT teammates, shattering stereotypes and illustrating how sport cuts across all social lines.

“Sport is a great leveler,” Co-Tournament Director Russ Edra, told LGBT Weekly. “We have a lot of straight players in the league and there are many examples of how joining the league and playing with LGBT players has changed their views of the LGBT community. I’ve heard of stories where straight guys have included gay men they’ve met at football in their weddings.”

‘The tournament is so much more than just playing to win,” said Farrow. “Gay Bowl represents the opportunity to compete and showcase athletic ability without any consideration of sexual orientation or gender expression. Gone is the fear and stigma of being picked last because of perceived athleticism. The Gay Bowl tournament shatters any stereotypes associated with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes.”

Organizing Gay Bowl XV has been a tremendous undertaking which has taken over the lives of Farrow and Edra. Their passion for the game though shines through as they get closer to the start date.

“This has been probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” said Edra. “Made harder by having moved twice since taking this on. But San Diego was prime for such an event, and we didn’t want to let our city down. Plus not all cities have it as good as we do. I think we owe it to those cities who work hard fundraising and planning all year.”

Farrow also acknowledges the enormity of the task, but is confident San Diego will not disappoint. “I’ve never taken on such an event like this,” said Farrow. “Huge kudos to previous Gay Bowl cities! They made it look so easy and effortless. And each year just gets better and better. There are huge expectations of our tournament. I’m confident that we won’t disappoint.”

Volunteers are a big part of the success of Gay Bowl and while many have signed up to help there is still room for more! The tournament organizers are still looking for a few more volunteers to help make this the best Gay Bowl ever. If you are interested simply go to sdaffl.com and sign up.

The importance of Gay Bowl and other similar LGBT inclusive tournaments go far beyond the actual days of the tournament. As Farrow writes on the Gay Bowl XV Go Fund Me page it is an important step in the quest for equality. “Even with the legalization of same-sex marriage and gay acceptance reaching an all-time high, LGBT athletes are sadly still stigmatized,” states Farrow. “There are very few openly gay athletes to serve as role models and even fewer active LGBT athletes. We must turn to ourselves and our community to provide these role models, as well as avenues like the Gay Games, and Gay World Series for LGBT athletes to compete at a higher level and strive to achieve equality through sports.”

For more information on every aspect of Gay Bowl XV visit gaybowlsandiego.com and get ready for the best Gay Bowl ever.

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Are you ready for AIDS Walk? http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/17/are-you-ready-for-aids-walk/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/17/are-you-ready-for-aids-walk/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 22:16:42 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64196

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson is ready.

Johnson, the special events director for The San Diego LGBT Community Center, is ready for AIDS Walk. He is the lead staff person for the annual event, San Diego County’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraiser, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 26.

Johnson, the community advocate, is ready to #BeTheGeneration. He plays a key role in The Center’s innovative campaign to end the HIV epidemic by reducing, and ultimately eliminating, new HIV infections.

Johnson, the gay man living with HIV, is ready to help end the stigma associated with HIV by publicly disclosing his status.

Johnson, now 40, was diagnosed more than a decade ago. While he has been healthy and undetectable for a number of years, Johnson recalls that his journey with HIV challenged many aspects of his life.

“I found out after getting really sick. I was told I had infectious meningitis, but they didn’t give me an HIV test. I got sick a couple months after that, and I went in to get treated. This time they gave me an HIV test, but I never went back for the results. I think I kind of knew,” Johnson said. “That was the beginning of my life crumbling apart. I got a letter from the County of San Diego saying they wanted to reach me to talk about a health situation. Sure enough, I found out I was positive.

“I was in such a bad, bad place. At the time, I didn’t have a relationship with my family, and I had moved down to San Diego. I had a stressful coming out, and I was estranged from my family. I did check in with my mom, but that was really it,” he said. “So when I got my diagnosis, I became even more self-destructive.

“When you grow up, you don’t have the conversation with your parents about what to do when you become HIV positive. I was so disappointed with myself. I was the good guy. I was the class president. I remember my parents saying they really expected me to go far. I felt like a failure. I didn’t want to accept it, so I was using a lot of drugs. I became homeless. I was living out of my car basically. It was horrible. Now, when I look back on it, I think, ‘Oh my God, it was this long period of time,’ but it was only a couple of years.”

In spite of the estrangement, it was Johnson’s family that helped bring him back from the brink.

“I went to my sister’s wedding, and that was one of the first times I had seen my family in a really long time. There was this spark for me, like ‘What the heck am I doing?’ My youngest brother was in high school and was coming out, and I just thought, ‘How am I a role model for him, the way I’m living?’ Later I found out my sister was pregnant with my first nephew, and that sort of got to me, too.

“That’s when I finally went to the doctor and attempted to get on medication. I started to meet people who were healthier for my life. I started working at Martinis (Above Fourth) and I found support – authentic, caring support from the people I met there. I built up a family in San Diego.”

As things got better for him, it was Johnson’s late mother who also was a constant voice advocating for him to access the best medical treatment for his HIV.

“I attempted medications a couple of times, but I had a horrible reaction to it. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ When my mom passed away, it was a big wake up call for me. She wanted me to get on medication. Every phone call was, ‘Have you started medication?’

“So, I tried again. In addition to the physical side effects, starting a medication regimen was going to be a daily reminder that I was living with HIV. I had to get over that, and I hope to help other people get over that hurdle as well,” Johnson said.

“I started on Stribild, and it completely changed my life. It was a big step, but I have now been undetectable for years. Being undetectable gives you hope about everything. It helps with the stigma associated with dating since the chances of me giving it (HIV) to a partner are almost non-existent. It’s a weight off the shoulders. I think it makes living with HIV that much easier,” he said. “You have to be made a certain way to deal with an HIV diagnosis. But being undetectable is the best feeling ever. Screw the stigma. I know I’m going to live a long, healthy, normal life.”

“Ian’s situation is a great example of how HIV has changed over the years,” said Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, chief executive officer of The Center and the architect of the #BeTheGeneration campaign.

“HIV is a very different disease in 2015 than it was in 1995 or even 2005,” Jacobs said. “With treatment, those who are HIV positive can become undetectable, thereby reducing the odds of infecting a sexual partner by more than 99 percent. For those who are HIV negative, the utilization of PrEP, or Truvada, has been proven to prevent HIV transmission. So if the folks who are negative are protected, and the folks who are positive are on treatment that gets them to undetectable levels, we can effectively end new HIV transmissions, and bring an end to the epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS.”

But HIV stigma still has its impacts, whether the damaging messages took place two decades or two weeks ago. Johnson recalls when he was first infected, having to tell his bosses so they could make sure to take any precautions if he got a cut at work, and the concerns expressed about him serving food.

“That stigma just holds us back,” he said. “I’ve been worried about what people are going to think, or what they are going to say – that they won’t like me because I’m positive. I’ve already experienced that. There’s sometimes a sense that my life doesn’t have the same value as the life of someone who is not positive. For me, the hardest thing about being an HIV-positive person hasn’t been dealing with my health and my diagnosis, it’s been dealing with the stigma associated with it.

“Everyone has the right not to date someone with HIV, but when you reveal your status, and that rejection happens repeatedly, it takes its toll,” Johnson said. “You have to think about when is the appropriate time to tell someone – do you tell the person before you even go out? Do you tell them after the first date, or wait until they get to know you a bit so they don’t judge you based only on your HIV status? Everybody has their coming out stories. When you are living with HIV, there’s a whole other coming out process.”

While Johnson now enjoys a leadership role at The Center, he hasn’t forgotten the HIV/AIDS service organizations that were there for him during some of his darker days.

“When I was living out of my car, I didn’t know where to go. I had been to The Center when it was on Normal Street. I called The Center seeking resources, and asking where I could go for a doctor. They referred me to Being Alive’s resource book, and that resource book saved my life. I got a case manager at Family Health Centers. They helped me so much. I didn’t have insurance, so they got me on Ryan White. I got a doctor at the Owen Clinic, and I still have that doctor. I got dental treatment; they got me on ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program). I’ve been on the flip side of where I am today. I’ve been a recipient of these services; I have benefitted from these services. If I didn’t have those resources, I don’t know …”

In 2006, Johnson helped start an AIDS Walk team for Martinis to pay tribute to Brent Glover, a roommate who died of AIDS-related complications. By 2007, his enthusiasm and effectiveness led him to serve as the AIDS Walk Teams Coordinator in a short-term assignment. Today, as The Center’s director of special events, he is responsible not only for AIDS Walk, but also for Dining Out for Life San Diego, another large-scale HIV/AIDS fundraiser.

“Sometimes I’m amazed by it; by where I’m at today,” he said. “I feel like I overcame a lot, but it made me who I am today. I have no regrets – this is exactly who I’m supposed to be.

“I remember one of the first AIDS Walks I ever did, getting goose bumps when I crossed the finish line,” Johnson said. “It’s very special to me. At the Walk, you see moms and grandmas carrying a sign in memory of a son or grandson they lost, but there still are not that many people who are open about their status. I hope (by coming out about his own status) that those people who say they don’t know someone who is living with HIV, will now know that they do. I hope that those who are living with HIV, but may not be accessing medical treatments, will have the courage to do it because it changes your life. It takes away the pressure. And, I hope people will talk about it more.”

Last year, The Center launched #BeTheGeneration, a multi-pronged campaign to end new HIV transmissions in San Diego County. In part, the campaign’s goals are to end stigma; provide education about medical treatment options; make routine HIV testing more widely available; and to increase access to vital medical care, pharmaceuticals like PrEP and PEP and condoms. It’s a campaign that has truly impacted Johnson, both professionally and personally.

“Not even all my colleagues knew I was living with HIV when we started talking about this campaign,” he said. “One of the messages is to live out, live proud and end the stigma. People are asking questions, and the conversations about HIV are happening again. The voices of those with HIV haven’t been as loud lately, but I think this campaign is helping to change that and I think that’s critically important. It’s helped me be more open about who I am, and the ways in which I have taken responsibility for, and managed, my HIV and my overall health. I want to encourage and support others to do that as well. #BeTheGeneration is changing lives.”

Johnson laughed a bit when asked about his goals for the future. But today, he is “closer than ever” with his family, relishes his role as an uncle, has good friends and a job he loves.

“The possibilities are endless for me right now, and I’m open to everything. It took me a long time to get over thinking that my life was going to end early, and to accept that I am going to have a long life,” he said. “I am much more comfortable in my own skin, and I’m proud of who I am. I know I have value, I’m doing important work and I am worthy of love.

“I want to continue to do the work I do, which I know is making a positive impact. I love taking on new challenges. I also want to use my voice to help educate those afraid of what HIV is,” he said. “I hope I can make it easier for those who are newly diagnosed to see that life is going to be alright. I will continue to live my life to fullest – happy and excited for my future.”

Ian Johnson is ready.

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LGBT families in the military http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/03/lgbt-families-in-the-military/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/03/lgbt-families-in-the-military/#respond Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:59:14 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=63890

Courtney Reese and Korinne Reese | Photo: Ryan Burns / R Patrick Photography

How the military is embracing LGBT families into the broader military family community

Over the past few years, the United States military has taken steps to become more friendly to the LGBT community. It crossed another major milestone in August when military bases in Germany, which host about 43,000 U.S. military personnel, were added to the list of duty assignments available to same-sex couples.

Prior to this addition, same-sex spouses and their children were not allowed to accompany LGBT members of the military to bases in Germany despite opposite-sex spouses being granted the right to join their families.

More than 40 countries, including Japan, Italy and the U.K., are available to same-sex military couples. Several other countries were approved earlier this year, including Armenia, Czech Republic and The Bahamas.

While Germany recognizes same-sex couples, the delay in acceptance of same-sex couples on the military bases was due to concerns regarding the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which offers military families protection while overseas.

“In the locations that remain unavailable to LGBT military families, the same-sex spouses of U.S. service members are denied what is known as ‘command sponsorship’ by the U.S. due to concerns that they are not covered under the current SOFA with the host nation as military dependents,” said Nick Stone, director of communications at the American Military Partner Association (AMPA). “This effectively prevents same-sex spouses and children from accompanying their service member to their new duty station in those locations.”

AMPA, which is the largest organization of LGBT military families in the United States, includes over 40,000 members and supporters.

“From its beginning, AMPA has always been focused on connecting, supporting, honoring and serving the partners, spouses, families and allies of LGBT service members and veterans,” said Stone. “Our unprecedented campaigns to tell the stories of LGBT military families have and continue to profoundly impact the fight for fairness and equality.”

Ensign Seymour’s commissioning ceremony aboard USS Midway with husband David Ochoa and son, Caleb Seymour-Ochoa | PHOTO: DANIELE POLAND

San Diegan Joey Seymour, a public affairs officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, is pleased with the improvements that the military has made in recent years in accepting LGBT service members.

Seymour first applied for direct commissioned office (DCO) in the United States Navy Reserve in 2011. A DCO typically is a civilian who possesses special skills that are critical to sustaining military operations, supporting troops, health and scientific study. June 6, 2014, he was selected and commissioned Nov. 1, 2014. He also married his partner of 10 years, David, in 2013 and they have a son, Caleb, who will be two in November.

“A lot changed during that time,” said Seymour of the progress made by the military for LGBT members between 2011 and 2014. “I not only feel comfortable talking about David and our son Caleb to members of my unit, but am encouraged to. David and Caleb are eligible for all of my benefits.”

“It certainly is a different atmosphere than when I first began looking into joining,” Seymour continued. “We’ve met so many wonderful military families like ours, which has greatly enhanced the experience and feeling of inclusion.”

When Seymour first applied for the position, neither Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had yet to be repealed.

“Had I been selected before then, I knew that I had to be OK with being closeted,” Seymour said. “It was unfortunate but it was one of those things I would deal with to be able to serve. Yet, while the years went by and the selection boards passed me over, it turned out to benefit me. I was selected in June 2014 and DADT and DOMA were no longer in existence which meant I would be able to serve openly.”

Seymour has few concerns about the way that the military now addresses LGBT service members and those issues focus on the administrative end.

“While we have felt included by unit members and other same-sex military families, I still believe that there are a few remaining hurdles, mainly in processing administrative paperwork,” said Seymour. “On a few occasions we encountered delays in normal processing because there was lingering confusion. However, I am confident that all the kinks will continue to get worked out.”

Arik Rangel, U.S. Coast Guard and his husband Eli Reyes | PHOTO: DANIELLE L. MITCHELL, DANIELLE LYNEE PHOTOGRAPHY

Despite these slight paperwork missteps, Seymour is pleased with how far the military has come in such a short time in accepting LGBT families and making them feel welcome. He has received only encouragement from his commanding officer who said, “All she wants are good sailors and she considers me a good sailor.”

“I am proud to serve my country and even prouder to do so in a time when I can be open about myself and my family.”

Another major step in LGBT military rights is also currently taking place with the Pentagon recently announcing its plan to lift the ban on transgender troops in the military. The date that transgender Americans will be able to openly serve in the military is currently set for May 27, 2016 and the change affects about 15,500 transgender troops currently serving in secrecy.

“After Secretary Carter’s recent historic announcement that the ban will be lifted, the hope and expectation is that transgender service members will be able to serve openly and honestly,” expressed Stone. “Outdated policies and regulations that are inconsistent with medical and psychological advancements concerning transgender people will be updated, and the standards of service will be focused on someone’s qualifications and ability to complete the mission.”

Although large strides have been made in recent years regarding LGBTs in the military, there is still plenty of work to do.

For instance, now that Germany is officially on the list of approved same-sex bases, the attention turns to South Korea, where military personnel face a similar issue with SOFA. South Korea hosts about 30,000 U.S. military personnel. In the meantime, LGBT service members often have to choose between a duty station that would allow their families to join them and one that may be better for their career.

“Much work also remains to be done in regards to education and active efforts toward full inclusion of LGBT military families,” said Stone. “Unfortunately, there are still far too many stories of families being excluded, especially from some chaplain-led military family events, either overtly or subtly.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention announced in August 2013 that NAMB-endorsed chaplains were prohibited from ministering to same-gender military couples.

Brian and Matthew Alvarado with the USS Midway in the background | PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN L. ALVARADO

“With a disproportionate number of chaplains (around 1,400) endorsed by the NAMB, this has major implications for our military families in accessing support and guidance, especially for those located in places with limited numbers of chaplains, like on ships and remote bases.” explained Stone.

These chaplains are specifically prohibited from offering counseling to same-gender married couples and “offering any kind of relationship training, on or off a military installation, which would give the appearance of accepting the “homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing.”

“However, for the most part, the military community in general has been overwhelmingly supportive and embraced our new modern military families into the broader military family community,” said Stone.

For more information about AMPA and LGBT military families visit MilitaryPartners.org.

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Rain Dove: This female androgynous supermodel is turning the concept of gender on its head http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/20/rain-dove-this-female-androgynous-supermodel-is-turning-the-concept-of-gender-on-its-head/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/20/rain-dove-this-female-androgynous-supermodel-is-turning-the-concept-of-gender-on-its-head/#respond Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:15:24 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=63407

Rain Dove with fellow model Sannie Pedersen | Photo: Paul Mariano

Two points. One, Rain Dove is literary. By that, I mean she presents her point-of-view in a way that is both shockingly precise and emotionally compelling. It is clearly the work of both a voracious reader and natural writer, I’m guessing. When asked, for example, for practical advice in the fashion industry, where she has commandeered attention for her astute performances in Beau Lawrence’s Ace Revington menswear campaign and the Play Out campaign featuring women with bilateral mastectomies who have bypassed reconstruction. “Treat yourself like a company. Not a product.” That isn’t just some squishy universal modeling maxim. Nothing touchy-feely like: “Win on the inside first!” on posters of smiling mountain climbers with remarkably white teeth given the elements. It’s sensible and, Dove goes on to explain in terms even a household pet could understand, “Most models are not successful long-term because they spend their careers relying on other people to discover them or to sell them. They rely on their agency to brand them and set a price on their time worth. The most famous models and successful ones don’t do this. They run themselves as a business.”

And then Dove goes a step further and focuses on one subject she feels passionately about: Self-worth.

Which shouldn’t be entirely shocking given she’s managed to get noticed in fashion for her androgynous look, byproduct of genetic randomness, and as a model equally at home in both women’s and men’s clothing, tempting both male and female and everything in between audiences. And that doesn’t come along every day, now does it?

Photo: Lawrence Pope Givens

Second point. Dove doesn’t come across as deeply introspective. A doer, not a thinker. I asked her about the time in Colorado when she was on a wildlife fire prevention crew, the result of interest, timing and her unique ability to pull off being a man in a male-dominated field. “There was just this perception that women couldn’t ‘step to it’ as much as the guys. I went under a pseudonym and nobody even asked if I were trans[gender] or gay; they just thought I was a guy. I lived a year like that,” she boasted to Buzzfeed. But when asked if her emotional needs were being met in Colorado or whether she dated or was dating, she remarked with characteristic pluck, “My emotional needs are met by my own validation. I learned a long time ago not to rely on others to make me feel attractive, confident or capable.” Dove goes on. “I have been a very careful dater all throughout my young adult life. Even when dating openly, communication and the ability to still pursue my individuality is important to me.”

Her story, one that is still very much being written, routinely comes down to several seminal stories like the one above.

Once, on a bet, and with a healthy dose of sororal goading from a good friend, she decided to go to a modeling audition after her Cleveland Browns lost. When she arrived, she found out two things. They wanted her to come back the next day (maybe they only wanted blond-haired women?) and the next day, when she entered and saw not a room full of brunette women but men only, she had another Aha moment: Gender capitalism.

For Dove, gender capitalism is this notion that, “The beauty of clothing is the engineering which is meant to highlight and celebrate all body types regardless of gender. What I really wish is that the advertising of these garments were more sex-nonconforming. I wish that through the promotion of commercial goods that are commonly purchased at stores like H&M and The Gap, all human sexes felt that the clothing was accessible for purchase without social stigma.” And by agreeing to model men’s clothes, she takes gender capitalism to its natural conclusion by not only promoting a designer’s wares but by showing how it is possible to carry it off.

So, is there another level of exploitation that comes with a new genderless generation of potential supermodels? For Dove, there is. “I think it’s part of the game for any model to be exploited. And at times people will hire me as a ‘novelty’ to show how diverse or ‘open-minded’ their brand is. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Any movement toward displaying acceptance of different types of people is great and should be encouraged. The issue is when I’m presented in a way that makes me seem like a gimmick, because for some it may be ‘odd’ or ‘unique’ to have someone like me in their clothing. But for me, as a person, it isn’t odd at all. It’s not an inspiring or strange thing that I wear briefs and tuxes. It’s not bizarre that I enjoy lacey lingerie or pleated skirts. This eclectic nature is all day every day for me. It’s not a trend and it’s not likely to change.”

I mentioned there were a few well-documented stories about her life and her relationships with her family, though somewhat known, is always a subject Dove can return to with characteristic honesty and intelligence: “My father has a special relationship with me that involves very little communication. When I came out, I was ready and resolved about it. I was at peace enough to put my relationships with my family members on the line in exchange for integrity. However I had been able to go through a 21 year process at the time. I got to mourn my expected identity, question myself, explore, celebrate, cry, get angry and feel that feeling of It-is-OK-ness. However, my family hasn’t had that same amount of time with the information I’ve had. My parents come from another generation. My father, a tough human to crack, was technically just another kid like me; just as vulnerable and just as needy for the processing of things. I think we all tend to expect our parents to just accept us immediately because they have to. We’re they’re kids, after all. But I think things like the [emotional] rollercoaster my father is displaying is not wrong or unhealthy. It’s what some people need to digest things. I had my time to process. The least I could do is give them theirs.”

If Rain Dove seems wise beyond her tender years, it’s because she is. Being a pioneer in anything – including gender-nonconforming modeling in the world of high fashion takes smarts, instinct and a healthy dose of confidence. But the one question that up-and-coming icons never seem to tire of asking is this: Who gets to play you in the story of your life? Suddenly an unexpectedly childlike Rain Dove comes out. “Epic question! The story of my life of course must be played by Justin Bieber with dark hair and breast implants. Or Meryl Streep. (Who can technically be anyone at any time.) Or Hugh Jackman with a manicure and breast implants. Orrrr, some previously undiscovered actor who ‘just needs that big break.’”

Expect to see a lot more from Dove as she uses her platform to truly turn the concept of gender on its head. “The goal this year is to work with a brand that is for ‘girls next door types’ to represent ‘a new type of girl next door,’” enthuses Dove in typical style. “I have the breasts for Victoria’s Secret so maybe it could be them. It sounds impossible to most, but if it’s impossible then I want to try to do it. It’s a cop out and easy for a 6’2″, muscular, square jawed, short haired woman to be a male model. But for someone like me to be able to sell a dress on a commercial (aka popular) level? Surprisingly that’s the hard part in both fashion and film. So let’s make it happen!”

Rain Dove: Forever casting a wider net.

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Interview: Jake Graf http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/06/interview-jake-graf/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/06/interview-jake-graf/#respond Thu, 06 Aug 2015 19:50:07 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62949


London filmmaker discusses his trailblazing LGBT short movie {Brace}

Jake Graf | Photo: Paul Grace

Brace, writer/director Jake Graf’s short/indie pic about a whole slew of things transsexual, has taken on a life of itself. A queer film festival favorite, Brace has pleased a wide variety of audiences and cultures but few, I’ve found, really say why. It might be that the 10 minute or so film is both a mystery and a smack at LGBTQ violence. Its grit, filmed among other places at Manbar, one of London’s queer icons, lends a peculiar view on violence that is both local and cosmic.

The premise is simple enough. Subject A discovers his sexual identity, leaves his wife and meets Subject B, a strikingly composed, seemingly lost half, at a gay bar. They cavort, violence outside the bar ensues and then, in a completely unexpected twist (or not), Subject B makes a discovery about Subject A that upends the entire narrative.

Now, if some of you familiar with Brace feel as if I’ve already given too much away, it’s only because the fact that the story is even being told deserves our curiosity. How, for example, does the role of gender identity inform our way of navigating the world? Why does Subject A continue to lie after we’re been led to believe that he’s cleansed himself of lying when he comes out to his wife? These and other questions we find ourselves asking help elevate Brace beyond the well-atrophied LGBTQ indie film tropes.

Luckily for us, Jake and his team reached out to San Diego LGBT Weekly and we gladly obliged.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: ‘Brace’ can mean a lot things and it can be used in a lot of ways; as a noun, a verb, as an adjective even, as in, “Do you think she was sufficiently braced to hear the news?” How do you use it?

Jake Graf: For us, ‘Brace’ referred to the similarities between the two male leads: a brace of birds, a pair, a coupling. There was of course also the idea of bracing yourself for news, or for a shock, and of course a brace in architecture which serves to hold and support, so the many meanings were what made co-director Sophy Holland and I decide on the title!

The film bills itself as a short narrative about homophobia. Are there many differences between American homophobia and England’s version? Are there any differences given our cultural connections?

Whilst I did live in New York for a year nine years ago, I didn’t have much experience of homophobia on the streets. Always having presented as very male, I once got called a ‘faggot’ on the subway, and the kids in Spanish Harlem, where I was staying, used to throw blocks of ice at me as I walked by, to calls of ‘get the gay boy!’, but there was never more than that.

The narrative in Brace touches on phobias from the outside as well as on the inside. The two main characters in Brace each represent different POVs, generationally and emotionally. Are they archetypes or sides of you, Jake, that have not been reconciled?

I wrote Brace some five years ago, at the beginning of my transition, which for me was a time of huge change, both emotionally and physically. Aside from learning how to most naturally embrace an identity that I had been told since birth I wasn’t allowed to acknowledge, and dealing with a second puberty (albeit one that felt overwhelmingly right!), I suddenly found myself attracted to men for the first time, which was a more than unsettling experience. That I was in a relationship with a wonderful and loving woman at the time only further muddied the waters and it was a very difficult period of change and heartache. I think people make the mistake of thinking the second they get their first shot of hormones or their first surgery, that things will magically fall into place, but it took me years to feel happy within myself, and the lack of immediacy only exacerbated my frustrations.

Both Rocky and Adam mirror aspects of how I felt at the time, with a more than healthy helping of self- loathing, doubt, and internalized homophobia and transphobia, a result of years of hiding away the person that I knew that I had always been. Now, seven years in, I am more than happy with my attractions, which have now levelled out: I find both men and women attractive, and find myself drawn to strong, confident and kind people, whichever gender.

I am more comfortable within myself than I ever have been, and have found that this calmer and more positive outlook has made me more focused, more creative, and infinitely more driven to elicit positive changes for future generations of transgender people, so that hopefully one day trans people are treated with understanding and acceptance, and given the help that they need when they truly need it: as young, scared and lost children.

What has Caitlyn Jenner changed?

Love or hate her, Caitlyn Jenner has moved things on for trans people drastically, by simply putting herself out there, but it’s important not to forget that Laverne Cox was the woman who spearheaded much of this change, years before Caitlyn! As the first trans person ever to grace the cover of Time magazine, I feel that it was she who really got people sitting up and taking notice, and for that we all owe her a huge debt.

With regards to Caitlyn, granted, she could have chosen to transition quietly, privately, away from the media glare, but as someone who has lived their life in the limelight, this would have been both playing against type, and a huge waste of an opportunity to open up the trans dialogue, which she has most certainly done. Yes, the detractors have their reasons for berating her, and much of what she arguably represents, but surely at this stage in the battle for legislative change and understanding for trans people, any presence or representation that sparks debate and conversation is a good thing?

To some extent, Brace is as much about the grim reality for some of us as it is the grim dishonesty about some of us. After all, Adam is in a self-destructive relationship with a woman, before falling for Rocky while hiding the fact that he, himself is transitioning. Is this a meditation on the fluid nature of sexuality or something more serious like a major character flaw?

The debate as to when to ‘disclose’ one’s trans status to a prospective partner is one that has no clear answer. Some people feel that you should disclose before even meeting a potential crush, particularly in relation to online dating. Some feel that that deters people without ever giving them a chance to discover the person inside, regardless of trans status. Others would leave it to the first kiss, some to the first sexual encounter, and others still, somewhat questionably, and surgery allowing, feel that a ‘reveal’ is irrelevant, as they are effectively ‘complete’ in their correct gender. For something so very personal, should we not be afforded the luxury of at least making an impression on our date, before delivering what can seem like a bombshell?

Rocky is eager to disclose his trans status from the outset, whilst Adam, although older, is greener, more naive, and more scared of losing his new found interest. When Adam realizes just how deep Rocky’s self-loathing and internalized transphobia runs, he sees just how big a risk being honest will be.

What inspired you to make Brace?

Brace is a very personal story, and one that I had never seen played out on screen. I imagined that I couldn’t be the only trans guy feeling the way that I was feeling, and the reaction since its online release has confirmed that, with an outpouring of empathy and support from the trans community. Aside from that, it has been cathartic beyond belief, and something that I am hugely proud of.

So much has changed about making, marketing and distributing pictures. How has this new food chain helped creators of LGBTQ content so that we may get more personalized stories like Brace do you think?

To be honest, I really wouldn’t know. I wrote Brace, co-produced it, was involved in the final edit, and then did all the promotion, marketing, submissions and so on myself. I was adamant that the film be seen, and so I went about making that happen. We made a small budget go very far indeed, and I truly believe that if your story or vision is important enough, then you will get it out there, by hook or by crook.

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COMING OUT: The Web site dedicated to sharing the world’s coming out stories http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/coming%e2%80%88out%e2%80%88the-web-site-dedicated-to-sharing-the-worlds-coming-out-stories/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/coming%e2%80%88out%e2%80%88the-web-site-dedicated-to-sharing-the-worlds-coming-out-stories/#respond Thu, 23 Jul 2015 19:15:20 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62514

After speaking with a friend earlier this year about their experience as gay teenagers, Nate Warden realized there was a serious lack of accessible coming out stories in the LGBT community. An online search yielded few responses and he immediately saw a void that could easily be filled.

Less than six months later, 25-year-old Warden launched ComingOut.space, a Web site devoted to sharing coming out stories with a new generation of young LGBT people.

“I think a lot of LGBTQ people turn to the Internet as their first resource for learning about the coming out process and consequently, I think there should be better resources online to facilitate that process,” Warden said.

Warden recalled spending time during his teenage years browsing the Internet in search of people with similar stories. He would seek answers in chat rooms and hook-up sites, which he deemed “not a healthy environment.”

Since the Web site’s launch June 26, it’s steadily drawn a collection of coming out stories from people around the world and Warden is hopeful that it will continue to reach more people who are willing to share their story.

While many of the first posts on the site were written by Warden’s friends, about a third of the first 18 posts were from strangers who happened upon the site.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Warden said. “So many friends and family members have been amazingly supportive and we’re getting to the point that total strangers from around the world are viewing the site and even contacting me to submit their stories.”

To get the ball rolling, Warden shared his own coming out story in the Web site’s initial post. After growing up in a conservative small town in Ohio, he waited until college to begin to tell his friends that he was gay. Eventually he worked up the courage to tell his family, which consists of a “man’s man” father, “devout Christian” mother and “quintessential Midwestern” younger brother.

“It was an emotional experience the night I came out to my family, but those painful few hours were nothing compared to the decade of denial and exhausting deceit I had endured up until then,” he wrote in the post.

Although his family initially needed some time to process the news, Warden’s relationship with his parents and brother is now stronger than ever.

“As is the case with most of the many LGBTQ people I know, coming out allowed me to close a dark chapter in my life and begin a bright future, full of confidence, happiness and the excitement of knowing that I was finally becoming the person I have always wanted to be,” concluded Warden’s post.

So far, the site mainly features an assortment of stories by gay men but the goal is to accumulate a wide range of stories from other members of the LGBT community as well.

Nate Warden

According to Warden, one of the most compelling stories is of Cecilio, a transsexual man in Ontario, and his struggle to convince people that he’s a straight man and not a butch lesbian.

“My last coming out has been the hardest for sure; coming out as a straight man sucks,” Cecilio wrote in his post. “The whole world sees me as a lesbian and always has. This is probably why coming out as queer was super easy. I’ve always looked like a dyke, but never felt like a dyke. Maybe that’s why I pushed away from my queerness for so long; I didn’t start accepting my love for women until I was 19. It took me even longer to realize I wasn’t a woman who loves women; I’m a man who loves women.”

Another section of the Web site, Coming Out in Reverse, welcomes straight people to share the story of how their friend or family member came out to them. The site’s first post from this angle was shared by an anonymous man about his gay brother.

“Since the day my brother came out, my perspectives on life and people in general have changed tremendously,” wrote the anonymous poster. “I have learned to be more accepting and look more toward the qualities in people that make them genuine and nice. Having an older brother who is gay has made me a better person.”

Since starting the project in January, Warden has paid several hundred dollars out of pocket for the entire process of starting the Web site, including registering the domain and paying for the web hosting. In addition to his day job as a marketing optimization consultant, he also devotes about five to fifteen hours a week working on the site. To cut costs, he was able to find a web developer, Jessica Duarte, and graphic designer, Johnathan Fong, to volunteer their time to the project.

Eventually, he plans to register as a non-profit organization so he can receive sponsorships or generate revenue through advertising to help cover operating costs and upgrade his volunteers to paid freelancers. Before he can apply to become a non-profit, however, he will have to appoint a board of directors, which will come after attracting more press and building a reputable site.

“I want to fulfill our mission of creating a Web site with truly diverse content that any reader can visit and find stories they can relate to,” said Warden. “To do that, we need stories from folks of all cultural backgrounds and from across the entire LGBTQA spectrum.”

Anyone can submit a story by visiting ComingOut.space. The guidelines are simple: keep your story to 700 words or less as anything longer will need to be abridged, be honest and make it as relatable as possible to help others cope with a similar situation.

The Web site is also designed with handy filters that categorize your post to make it easier for people to find. For instance, you can use one of the popular tags, such as college, Midwest or gay. You can also create your own tag to express your specific story.

After a story is submitted, Warden edits and reviews it to make sure that it’s appropriate for the site.

“I do this to ensure quality content on the site but also to avoid any hateful posts being automatically uploaded,” Warden explained.

In an effort to help spread the word about the Web site, Warden has teamed up with the Huffington Post to be a regular contributor in its Gay Voices section. Starting by the end of July, he’ll be writing blogs about the Web site and sharing some of the coming out stories.

“If I had found a site like this when I was a teenager, I think my experience of coming to accept myself would have been totally different,” Warden said. “Much healthier, much less painful and much faster.”

“Everyone has unique stories about coming out to friends and family,” added Warden. “Some of us were very young, some older, and most of us were very alone. Imagine if we could see how others did it – to use their stories as a guide or to help find the strength to go through a difficult time.”

See more at http://comingout.space

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Hands across the world http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/hands-across-the-world/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/hands-across-the-world/#respond Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:52:22 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62515

Eli Lieb

LGBT Weekly looks at the development and impact of Allstate’s #OutHoldingHands campaign

In the late July pall, after the hangover that is June Pride, we rarely revisit, let alone dissect, the fervor of the moment. We understand that the sixth month of the year is a nonstop, streaming overload of events, parades, news coverage and, because of a calendar set for the Supreme Court and Congress, it is also a potential impactful month. But then July follows. And the seventh month invites us to reflect upon what we just celebrated. Why, those of us who are paying attention ask, is Pride, as a concept, sentenced to one month of the year? A kumbayah moment of goodwill, short on time and long on visibility. Like Black History Month. Only spectacular!

I ask this weighted question because I was recently tasked with writing about Allstate’s #OutHoldingHands campaign, a sugary viral media campaign that, as I’ve already mentioned, codifies our spectacular-ness through a sleek mix of song, animation and purposefulness during the month of June. There is nothing funny about being in danger through the mere act of holding someone’s hand in public. But since the general public missed that meme, the insurance giant and YouTube personality – singer/songwriter Eli Lieb – have teamed up to create a novel way of generating buzz about an act of such simplicity yet the cause of such animus in others.

I wanted to know how, after everything that’s been written about this scaled down, “It Gets Better”-ish attempt to address a concern within the LGBTQ community, I could bring something singular to the subject, a point of view that hasn’t already been mined to death by others in the press and media.

But first some background. According to the Allstate press release we are told: “Through an interactive experience on Allstate.com/LGBT, people can upload a photo of themselves holding out their hand to become a link in a global hand-holding chain. Once they add their hand to the chain, they are prompted to extend an open hand to their friends via their social networks to help propel the chain’s growth.” Once there, “Individuals visiting Allstate.com/LGBT can view the animated short film with Lieb, titled Safe in My Hands and can download the remix of the 2015 Association of Music Producers (AMP) award-winning song by [Eli] Lieb featured in the film.” Naturally, there’s “a link for consumers to find a local Allstate agent to discuss their individual protection needs.”

Allstate’s #OutHoldingHands campaign

It seems like such a natural fit, doesn’t it? A media campaign about holding hands with a company whose tagline – You’re in good hands with Allstate – lends itself perfectly in cosmic symbiosis.

But is it effective? While I don’t doubt a few outliers may extend a viral hand to some of their less evolved friends on the matter, more likely than not the chain would be undone. But then this is yet another in a long line of corporate media buy-ins that have capitalized on Gay, Inc. by promoting a cause to an already sympathetic audience. When I asked an Allstate representative what metrics they used to gauge success, I was told, “As a whole, we continue to measure the success of the campaign through engagement of the total program with our target audience. We particularly focus on the responses and engagement to our social media posts that highlight the campaign as well as views/shares to our short film titled Safe in my Hands featuring Eli Lieb.” Er, OK. So are you measuring success by numbers or by shifts in public perception? I asked Eli Lieb the same question. He confessed, “For me, if I get even one tweet seeing how the campaign really helped someone accept themselves, then it’s a success to me. I get emails very regularly from people saying they were suicidal but then after watching one of my videos, they learned to love and accept themselves. That to me is complete and total success.” I suppose that’s it then. If we can now declare we’re here, we’re queer, we’re used to it in 140-characters-or-less, we can ring the bell, declare success and go home? And are suicidal people so mentally susceptible to relief, that a viral holding hands campaign can tip the scales?

Two men or two women holding hands really isn’t that big deal outside of the United States. In parts of Africa and the Middle East, men hold hands as a sign of respect or simply affection. Women are frequently seen holding hands across all cultures. But in many industrialized nations, the fear of harassment is so great that, according to a report by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, 74 percent of those asked refrain from doing so. In a recent video from ChebuRussiaTV on YouTube, published on Huff Post two men walked the streets of Moscow, Russia while holding hands and reaction to that served as a necessary reminder about the state of LGBT rights in Russia. The video shows reactions ranging from verbal attacks to physical assault on the pair.

Much to his credit, it didn’t stop President George W. Bush from holding the hand of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, which exacerbated all sorts of anxieties in the American public when it happened back in 2005.

This isn’t meant to be seen as a riff on Allstate or Lieb who also told me he lived a pretty unencumbered life growing up gay, when he actually accepted his gayness that is. “It really wasn’t an issue for me. I guess I was a late bloomer. I mean, I’m pretty sure I knew at a younger age but never really started to open up that part of my life until I moved to NYC when I was 20. I 100 percent knew my parents wouldn’t reject me for who I am. So I never had to prepare myself.”

Clip from Safe In My Hands, Allstate LGBT campaign video

And as far as the “Good Hands” people go, they rank a mostly respectable 85 on the widely read Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Are they ExxonMobil, whose reputation as hostile to the LGBTQ community is legendary? Not even.

We’ve come a long way from the days of the Coors boycott when a bunch of gay men in San Francisco forced Coors to change its hiring policies by not drinking their brew. It signaled a tectonic shift in corporate America’s views of the power of the gay dollar. But that same shift was also a cynical gambit to tap into the economically vibrant LGBTQ community. Where once gay Pride parades were acts of political subversion, they and their accompanying festivals are now mostly billboards for beer makers, banks and, yes, property and casualty insurance companies.

Development of the #OutHoldingHands campaign

• In 2013, Allstate created the Out Holding Hands campaign in partnership with long-time ad agency, Leo Burnett.

• In 2014, Allstate enhanced the Out Holding Hands campaign with development of a short animated film titled Safe in My Hands to connect and draw in consumers. Allstate approached out-singer songwriter Eli Lieb who wrote a custom song to accompany the film, which serves as the soundtrack and shares the same title, “Safe in My Hands.” The newly designed Allstate LGBT Web site gave consumers the opportunity to watch/share the film as well as download the song. Additionally, consumers can view insurance tips relevant to the LGBT segment and contact a local Allstate agent that is LGBT friendly.

• In 2015, Allstate once again enhanced the Out Holding Hands campaign by adding in a new interactive social tool and teaming up with Eli Lieb to create a movement by asking fans and supporters to take his hand to spread the love on Allstate.com/LGBT. On the site people can upload a photo of themselves holding out their hand to become a link in a global hand-holding chain. Once they add their hand to the chain, they are prompted to extend an open hand to their friends via their social networks to help propel the chain’s growth.

Viral campaign:




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2015 PRIDE HEALTH CHALLENGE: And the winner is … http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/2015-pride-health-challenge-and-the-winner-is/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/2015-pride-health-challenge-and-the-winner-is/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 18:00:01 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62082

Sharell Gooding: Start

Metabolic Direct and San Diego LGBT Weekly are proud to announce the winner of the 2015 Pride Health Challenge … Sharell Gooding. A little over eight weeks ago, LGBT Weekly partnered with Metabolic Direct to give members of the community an opportunity to pursue a healthier lifestyle before Pride. While it was difficult to select a winner from the four contestants that took the journey, Sharell was selected for her determination, winning spirit and overall results.

Sharell’s journey is amazing; she lost over 35 pounds and has made a permanent change in the way she views food, exercise and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. Using the outstanding Metabolic Direct supplements and nutritional products, coupled with lifestyle coaching by Vincent Ferrucci and Chris Stewart, plus eating real food she prepared, Sharell was able to achieve phenomenal results.

Here in her own words is what Sharell had to say about her journey:

“My Pride Health Challenge journey has been life changing, to say the least. I have grown and adapted a healthier approach to what I do and eat. I look for the “better” options when I go out to eat and I look for opportunities in my schedule where I can get a great workout (for free). I have a “can do” attitude toward a healthy lifestyle moving forward, and I could not have done that without great help from my coaches Vincent and Chris from Metabolic Direct. For them, I will be forever grateful.

I have been all in from the beginning of my journey through today. I started what I thought was a healthy menu a week before I found out I was a contestant, in hopes that I would get accepted and be able to make an attempt to reach my goal. By doing that, I eased into the preconditioning menu with less of a battle. On the other hand, exercise has always been my biggest hurdle. Since I’m on a budget, I started looking for free (and fun) exercise classes and found out that the public libraries host a variety of workouts, from Zumba to yoga.

Sharell Gooding: Finish

In the middle of my journey, I became more self-aware. I noticed that I had more energy to do everyday tasks, like bounce up a flight of stairs as opposed to being winded when I reached the top. I could eyeball correct portions rather than use a food scale. This is when I noticed I was feeling happier. Of course, I did have that one meltdown in front of family at a buffet because I couldn’t have a slice of cheesecake. I felt happy because I felt able, like I was in control again. I felt like I could control what I ate despite my mood or what everyone else was doing. I started focusing on me.

Now, I feel unstoppable! I feel like I can reach my goal weight. I’ve lost 35 pounds and gone down two sizes! I have a better understanding of what I put into my body and how everything I do affects my energy level and weight.

Thank you to the LGBT Weekly Pride Health Challenge and Metabolic Direct for helping me to become a healthier me. You have helped me overcome emotional hurdles and excuses to come out more confident than ever before. This Pride, I will be celebrating a new me. A thankful, confident and healthier me!”

It is so gratifying to know that LGBT Weekly and Metabolic Direct helped four people take the steps to achieve health goals that were important to them. Marcel Hetu, Kurt Cunningham and Ildifonso Carillo all have different journeys with good results. Please check out their stories too on LGBTweekly.com.

Be sure to cheer Sharell on as she rides in the Pride Parade. What exemplifies Pride more than achieving goals you set and pursuing a healthy lifestyle? Congratulations Sharell, Ildifonso, Marcel and Kurt, you have inspired us all with your commitment to yourself and your health!

If you would like to achieve the results of the Pride Health Challenge Four, please call Vincent Ferrucci at 1-844-Fat-Lose or visit Vincent’s Metabolic Direct web page at coachvincent.com

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Meet Pride headliner Emma Hewitt http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/meet-pride-headliner-emma-hewitt/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/meet-pride-headliner-emma-hewitt/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2015 17:45:59 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62081

2015’s no average year, Emma Hewitt’s no average Pride diva

In many ways, Emma Hewitt is a classic diva – a perfect San Diego LGBT Pride headliner. With a legendary electro-mezzo vocal style, Australian-born Hewitt owns the descriptors “haunting” and “yearning” and has every right to claim them in her bio.

But it turns out Hewitt’s alighting on top-billing atop an impressive array of artists slated to perform on the Pride main stage Sunday, July 19, was anything but a chosen career path.

As Hewitt notes, “music was a form of escape for me and not something I ever consciously set out to follow as a career path. I was always inspired to ask questions; of myself as well as others and I guess over time those questions just sort of grew wings and turned into songs.”

It’s been a long, hardworking ride from her native southern Australia coastal town of Geelong to the moment when working with acclaimed British electronic dance music guru, Chris Lake, Emma Hewitt knocked Britney Spears from the dance-music airplay charts in the U.K., where Spears had sat perched for 50 weeks.

That ride continues; but it only happened after she was able to shake off an attempt at reshaping her music to fit corporate marketing strategies and financial bottom lines that came with an early, big record company contract.

Hewitt says that as an artist and an individual, she is fiercely passionate about equality and is humbled to be headlining San Diego LGBT Pride this of all years on the heels of the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in favor of marriage equality.

San Diego LGBT Weekly is grateful to have secured the following Q&A with the illustrious Ms. Hewitt. Be sure to check her out at Pride 2015 and visit emmahewittofficial.com after reading on …

San Diego LGBT Weekly: How does it feel to be among the big name headliners at one of the world’s largest Pride festivals right after the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality?

Emma Hewitt: It is an absolute honor to be performing at this incredible and iconic festival, especially now that the Supreme Court has legally recognized that everyone should have the right to choose who they wish to love and marry. The timing couldn’t be more perfect to make this year’s San Diego Pride Festival one of the biggest and most memorable celebrations in history. I am beyond moved to have the opportunity to be present and perform in this moment.

Justin Blau seems really, really excited about working with you on “Alive Again,” which he says opens a whole new musical chapter for him. How do you feel about working with him and the product that emerged from that collaboration?

I am a huge fan of Justin’s music; he is creating fresh and somewhat groundbreaking sounds which are defying genres and carving him out his own very unique path. I was really excited about the potential of what we could create, and the final finished track has exceeded my expectations to be honest. I think with this song we have both done something that is pushing the boundaries for each of us creatively. I am really looking forward to sharing this with the world.

Your music is at once moody, even haunting, but also thumping. If you had to choose one, would you contribute that successful marriage of timeless sound with energetic rhythm most to a) your vocal prowess? or b) your talent overall, as a musician or c) good sound engineering and arrangement?

I believe it is a combination of all three and perhaps more. When a track just works something in the writing of it seems to flow from another place, as though the song spirits take on a life of their own and almost dictate how they want to be heard. When everyone involved in the creation of a song/track is tuned into this same muse and hearing the same direction in their heads, then magic and alchemy can happen. This only happens very rarely, so when it does I appreciate it greatly. I know now that even if one song realizes itself in the most beautiful way, there is no formula and the next songs still may not happen so gracefully.

As an Australian who now lives in Southern California, are you hopeful that your home country will turn away from its sharp-right turn toward conservative, sometimes anti-gay politics. Asked another way, do you think Oz will soon have marriage equality too?

We can only hope. Australia does tend to often follow America’s lead when it comes to major political decisions, so many of us Australians are holding out hope that in this case Australia will also follow suit and make the right choice to support equality and freedom of choice.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing and seeing perform at San Diego Pride?

The lineup is fantastic. I am looking forward to seeing fellow Aussie Ruby Rose on Saturday, she is gorgeous. And I am a huge fan of Taryn Manning so it would be awesome to see her set too.

2012 was a breakout year for you, with several hits from Burn Down the Sky, including “Colours,” “Foolish Boy” and “Still Remember You.” However, you’ve been a fixture in the world of trance and EDM a lot longer than one might expect for someone whose not yet even 30. Can you tell us a little bit about your musical journey from, say ’07 when you were still playing music and writing songs with your brother, through today?

I was always involved in music from a young age, playing in bands in high school and from then I went on to work with various mentors in the pop song writing world after I signed my first publishing deal. I cut my teeth learning to write for quite a few years and my brother and I used to get by playing acoustic shows.

I had rock bands and pop acts that were signed to a couple of different major labels in Australia, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I ventured into the world of electronic music, when on a writing trip to London I met and worked with producer Chris Lake. The song that was born of this meeting, “Carry Me Away,” seemed to be well received and I loved how it worked with my voice in a way that rock music never seemed to. From then on electronic music became my love and my home.

Your lavish, asymmetric bangs are kind of your fashion trademark. What first inspired you to adopt what just happens to be one of this writer’s favorite looks?

Oh thank you! (Smiles). Actually I always had very long hair, and one day out of the blue I got a little bored and decided to shave half of it off. I didn’t do this overly well myself, so a quick trip to a brilliant hairdresser ensued and the short style he gave me just kind of stuck with me from then on.

Can you share a little about your love life?

One thing about music and touring being my first love has kind of meant that relationships in my life have often had to take a back seat and have often suffered as a result; in the end I always felt music was too important for me to compromise. The logistics of trying to keep something serious going have often been tough and complicated, even though I have had some wonderful relationships and learned a lot. However I am discovering now that perhaps the right kind of person will understand.

What songs will you be performing at Pride?

This will be the U.S. live premier of the new song with 3LAU “Alive Again.” I am so looking forward to this, especially being that the key line in the song is “This Is Where The Rainbow Ends …” I couldn’t imagine a more perfectly suited moment to perform this for the first time in the U.S.

I will also perform another new track, a couple of my favorite collabs I have done and a few mashups too.

Any surprises as far as other artists joining you on stage – just asking.

(Laughs) No there won’t be any other artists joining me onstage. However, I am likely to pull a few drunken audience members up with me if I can get away with it. This is going to be a celebration and I intend to enjoy every minute of it with all who turn up to be a part of the festivities.

What would you like to add?

I would love to thank you for taking the time to chat with me, and for including me in one of the world’s most exciting Pride Festivals during this monumental time in American history and in the advancement of global human rights. We are living in a moment of wonderful change and it truly is the greatest honor and I can’t wait to celebrate with you all down in San Diego.

Catch Emma Hewitt on the Stonewall Main Stage at the San Diego Pride Musical Festival Sunday July 19 at 6 p.m.

For the latest news on Emma Hewitt visit emmahewittofficial.com

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When wedding bells ring … http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/when-wedding-bells-ring/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/when-wedding-bells-ring/#respond Thu, 25 Jun 2015 22:14:10 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61681

For over 33 years, Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique in Rancho Bernardo has been the largest independent family-owned jewelry store, with the biggest and most magnificent collection of designer jewelry, high-quality certified loose diamonds, watches and more. With a friendly and knowledgeable accepting approach, owners Fred Nasseri, his sister, Minoo Anvari and father, Dr. Said Nasseri welcome guests as family, building a relationship with each person who walks through their doors.

As wedding season is upon us, Unicorn Jewelry aims to provide the community with just what they’re looking for – the perfect rings and bridal pieces. Aside from sparkling and vintage wedding bands and the selection of many known brands, they offer the option of custom-designed pieces to make your dream jewelry come to life. With beautifully hand-crafted engagement rings, luxury bridal jewelry and more, Unicorn Jewelry provides a whole new experience. The friendly staff welcomes all customers instead of pressuring them, building a relationship along the way.

“Every person who walks through our doors will always be treated like family. We want to create a unique relationship and experience here at Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique, one that is eternal like the ring that symbolizes each couple’s love,” says Fred Nasseri.

Family owned and operated from the beginning, Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique has built a reputation based on trust and personalized service before all. The team incorporates this into everything that they do at Unicorn Jewelry. Not to mention, they will never be undersold.

With a commitment to the highest quality personalized service and attention to detail, Unicorn Jewelry in Rancho Bernardo is truly accepting of everyone and every budget. The staff is made up of six master jewelers and two watchmakers onsite who are dedicated to craftsmanship and design, and two full-time gemologists. To take it even further, they offer the chance to sit alongside a jeweler to watch as each job is completed, and to make sure it is exactly what their customers want, all within their budget creating everlasting memories.

Engaging San Diego since 1981, Unicorn Jewelry offers the largest collection of certified loose diamonds in San Diego to help guests select their dream stone, with the perfect cut, color, carat and more, all within their budget. Not to mention, designer brands like Verragio, Tacori, Sandra Biachi, Scott Kay, Ritani, Michael M, Natalie K, Gelin Abaci, Demarco, A. JAFFE and more.

Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique strives to give the highest level of service to guests when helping them to select and create pieces that truly shine. During wedding season, Unicorn Jewelry invites the community to be a part of the unforgettable experience of picking out something that means so much.

“When shopping for a ring or wedding band, it’s important to know how things can be customized to fit your taste, style, and personality, as a symbol of your love. There is no reason that someone should settle for anything less than the ring of their dreams,” says Nasseri. “From ‘yes’ to ‘I do’ and everything in between, we want to be the ones to make that happen at Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique,” he adds.

A wedding ring is one of the most intimate pieces of jewelry a person will choose, which is why attention to detail is paramount at Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique. A lot of the time when picking out a ring, clients do not know what they are looking for or want until they see it on their finger. With the skilled team at Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique, shoppers will feel confident as they pick out a timeless piece. One that is a unique and perfect representation of their relationship. After all, a diamond is forever.

Visit Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique, The Plaza, 16781 Bernardo Center Dr. in Rancho Bernardo to find the ring of your dreams. unicornjewelry.com

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Transgender forward http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/transgender-forward/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/transgender-forward/#respond Thu, 25 Jun 2015 20:42:45 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61634 ]]> http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/transgender-forward/feed/ 0 Destroyed: Historic San Diego LGBT site in rubble http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/destroyed-historic-san-diego-lgbt-site-in-rubble/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/destroyed-historic-san-diego-lgbt-site-in-rubble/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 19:56:32 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61192

Photo: Steve Lee

Councilman: Demolition of historic LGBT house ‘not … illegal’

District 3 Councilman Todd Gloria says there appears to have been nothing illegal about the allegedly deceptive manner in which the so-called Michels-Carey House, the initial headquarters to San Diego’s fledgling LGBT-rights movement, was demolished to make way for future development.

However, Gloria has referred the matter for further investigation by the mayor’s office, which at press time had not yet confirmed what if any investigative action will be taken.

“The limited information we have at this time does not indicate that this action was illegal,” a spokesman for Councilman Gloria said. “Given the sensitive and high-profile nature of the property involved, it raises questions that the building was demolished without notification of all interested parties.”

A volley of questions faced Michael Neal, president and CEO of developer HG Fenton Company, which bought the property at 2004 El Cajon Blvd. last September, as he appeared with one of his employees at a community meeting, June 4. The pair came to the University Heights Community Association (UHCA) meeting bearing artist renderings of a seven-story, mixed-use project that is planned for the site where the two-story, “saltbox” house stood three weeks ago.

“The house was going to be demolished no matter what,” a resolute Neal replied to one resident at last week’s UHCA meeting.

Charles Kaminski, a retired architect and board member at Lambda Archives, is angry about what he says was a deliberately underhanded demolition job by Neal’s company.

“Come on, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what these guys did,” said Kaminski in an interview with San Diego LGBT Weekly, following the community meeting. “They stealthily got their permit Thursday or Friday, then even more stealthily came in late Friday afternoon and tore the house down in a matter of a couple of hours.”

At the University Heights community meeting, Neal said his 109-year-old, family owned “strictly San Diego” firm had worked closely with the local community to revise a previously approved plan for the property. That outreach, says Neal, led to a new plan and a fresh design for a seven-story residential and commercial project now planned for the site.

“We took a look at that original design and saw an opportunity to really create something better,” senior development director at HG Fenton, John LaRaia told the crowd at the University Heights Community Association.

But according to one local resident at the meeting, what the developer means by “better” is simply “bigger.” It wasn’t immediately clear what community groups HG Fenton had consulted regarding input on the revised development plan.

“Do you think the University Heights Community Association could be part of your future focus groups?” one of the group’s volunteers asked Neal and LaRaia as last week’s meeting wrapped up. “We’re probably the largest group of University Heights residents around and we would love to be a part of helping shape the project.”

The property, located on the north side of El Cajon Boulevard between Alabama and Florida Streets, is in the heart of University Heights.

“There aren’t going to be anymore focus groups,” Kaminski told LGBT Weekly. “I’m not sure if everyone understood that this developer tore down a historic building late last Friday afternoon. Now they’re going to build whatever they want. That’s just the way it is.”

Lambda Archives, which maintains San Diego’s largest depository of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s historical documents and media, is working to compile a database that traces the region’s architectural and cultural assets of particular significance in the struggle for equality.

The preservation of buildings, landmarks and public-space artifacts will presumably be the survey’s paramount purpose. Until the building’s destruction on the afternoon of Friday, May 29, securing official status for the Michels-Carey house, built in the 1920s, as a historical asset was one of Lambda’s top priorities.

Lambda Archives President Maureen Steiner | Photo: Steve Lee

“The Michels-Carey House had a lot of significance for us,” said archives President Maureen Steiner. “It was the ‘ground zero’ of LGBT activism in San Diego in the very early 1970s. Not only did Bernie Michels and Thom Carey, his partner, lay the groundwork for the first LGBT Center in San Diego, Bernie Michels developed a curriculum at the house.”

In fact, the curriculum Steiner refers to, developed by San Diego LGBT Community Center cofounder, Bernard “Bernie” Michels while he lived at the now-razed house, became the first college-level LGBT studies course offered in San Diego. The course, titled “Myths and Realities Concerning Gay People” was offered at San Diego State University in 1974.

But longtime San Diego LGBT-rights activist, City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, who is a columnist for this publication, says the house was far from a mecca for LGBT activism.

“Those two moved a lot,” Ramirez said. “You can’t save every stick in town just because someone lived there for a year or two – or held a meeting. Look, the work they did was very important for the community, but that doesn’t mean the house was.”

Nonsense, says Charles Kaminski.

“The articles of incorporation were written there with Thom (Carey), who was treasurer of the planning group for what would become The Center,” Kaminski said. “Bernie Michels was director of the planning group and Jess Jessop became the director of the actual center. As far as Nicole’s comments, it’s true; there were meetings held all over. But the first two or three meetings that laid the groundwork for The Center happened there. The Bernie Michels Archives at Lambda Archives show that in detailed notes.”

Steiner and Kaminski were assured by representatives at the City of San Diego Historic Resources Division via email that notice would be given before the building was razed. That did not happen.

Councilman Gloria says he was unaware that such assurances were given.

However, Bernard Michels, who now lives in the Boston area, wrote in an October, 2014 email to preservationists that Gloria was nonresponsive regarding efforts to save the informally historic building where he once lived.

“Not only did Todd Gloria not answer me, but I confronted him last October about not doing so when I was at the Metropolitan Community Church in San Diego,” wrote Michels. “I still do not have a positive reply from him.”

A spokesman says the councilman regrets the loss of the building.

“The property owner and historic preservationists had been discussing options for the existing building for several months,” the spokesman said in an email to LGBT Weekly. “It’s obvious that those negotiations were not successful and that’s regrettable. Councilmember Gloria hopes that both parties will re-engage to find a mutually agreeable way to honor LGBT history somewhere else in Council District Three.”

In fact, Steiner and Kaminski were preparing for a trip to Sacramento as part of efforts by Lambda Archives and the Save Our Heritage Organization to secure national historic registry status for the Michels-Carey House.

“We submitted a historic nomination to the state of California Historic Resources Commission,” said Kaminski. “Fenton as the owner was made aware of it and hired a pro-developer historic-resources consultant to denigrate our report. We addressed their issues and resubmitted the nomination to the state. On May 27, Wednesday, I posted information that the formal hearing for a historic national registry listing for the site would be held in August in Sacramento. By Friday afternoon at five o’clock, close of business time, this house was demolished.”

HG Fenton Company says it will dedicate a portion of a side wall of its new project to honor LGBT history.

“We met with Lambda Archives,” CEO Mike Neal told LGBT Weekly. “We offered that the building could be moved. We were told that they didn’t want to move it or they didn’t have a site to move it to. We’ve offered monumentation; and what that looks like and is going to be; we want to work with them to make sure it’s going to be something that everybody’s proud of.”

Neal expressed no regrets about tearing the building down.

“We pulled the demolition permits and demolished the building,” he said. “The rest of the residences on the site will also be demolished.”

But for the preservationists the residence that mattered was the Michels-Carey house. “I was on the phone to Fenton at 10:30 a.m. that Friday,” said Steiner. “They never mentioned the demolition. At 5 p.m. the house was gone.”

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Pride Health Challenge Update http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/pride-health-challenge-update/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/pride-health-challenge-update/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 19:18:46 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61200

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Homophobia in sports http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/28/homophobia-in-sports/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/28/homophobia-in-sports/#respond Thu, 28 May 2015 16:45:11 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=60716

Photo: San Diego American Flag Football League

The first worldwide study shows homophobia in sports is still a major issue but San Diego continues to offer welcoming sporting leagues for the LGBT community

For anyone who has played a team sport, it should come as no surprise that sports are not always welcoming to the LGBT community.

However, although it’s widely known that there has been a level of homophobia in the sports community for decades, the issue is typically ignored and often unreported. It’s also common for many gay athletes to hide their sexuality from coaches and teammates to avoid conflicts.

Erik Denison, who is a member of Australia’s first gay rugby team, decided to conduct a study to find out the extent of homophobia in sports after discovering a lack of data on the topic. Out on the Fields, which is co-authored by Denison and Alistair Kitchen, was released earlier this month. It takes an in-depth look at the issues of homophobia in sports and shines a spotlight on some startling statistics.

“The research that has been done showed homophobia in sport was a major issue but it was often dismissed by sporting organizations as too small in scale or too limited in scope,” said Denison, study coordinator and lead author of Out on the Fields. “By conducting a massive, international study we were able to clearly understand the problem and also identify the areas that needed the most attention.”

Out on the Fields surveyed 9,494 people, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals. Half of the participants were under the age of 30 and among the six English-speaking countries surveyed; the majority were from either Australia or the United States.

As expected, 80 percent of athletes, both gay and straight, have either experienced or witnessed homophobia at some point in their athletic career. The study found that the most common form of harassment were verbal slurs, which 89 percent of gay participants who had personally experienced homophobia reported. Bullying (35 percent), verbal threats (29 percent) and physical assault (19 percent) were also common among gay men.

While lesbians also reported experiencing all of the above, the occurrences were less common. Fifty-three percent of lesbians compared to 50 percent of gay men had personally experienced homophobia in sports. Lesbians reported verbal slurs being most common (82 percent), followed by bullying (20 percent), verbal threats (19 percent) and physical assault (8 percent).

“We were shocked and alarmed by the extent of homophobia that was discovered in sport,” said Denison. “This study was conducted to the highest possible standards of research possible and overseen by seven internationally respected experts so we know the findings are a pretty good indication we have a major problem.”

As a result of homophobia, 83 percent of gay men and 63 percent of lesbians reported hiding their sexuality in youth sports out of fear of rejection from teammates. Sadly, 78 percent of survey participants felt that youth sports weren’t a safe environment for LGB people.

“There was a unanimous view across all genders and sexualities and in all countries that youth team sport remains unsafe and unwelcoming to LGB people,” emphasized Denison. “This is a major concern. It would seem that young people are coming out of the closet more than ever before but they continue to face discrimination.”

The study also found that gay males under the age of 22 (62 percent) were more likely to report experiencing homophobia than older gay men (53 percent). This problem is especially rampant in school gym classes.

In addition to athletes, the study also looked at the experiences of gay spectators at sporting events. More than three-quarters of the people surveyed felt that openly gay spectators wouldn’t be very safe at a sporting event and 41 percent named the spectator stands as the most likely sporting environment for homophobia to occur.

Photo: America’s Finest City Softball League

“As a father I was really disappointed to hear how widespread homophobia is in some parts of sport, especially the PE classes and spectator stands where so many kids learn how to behave,” said John Eales, an international rugby legend and longtime advocate for ending homophobia in sports, in a press release. “I’m hoping the Out on the Fields research shines a light on the issue and helps raise awareness of the problem among coaches, athletes and parents because no child should feel unsafe or bullied while they’re playing sport.”

Unfortunately, staying in the closet is common among many athletes, from youths to professionals. For example, despite soccer being one of the most popular sports among gay men, the 2014 FIFA World Cup’s 736 participants surprisingly included no openly gay athletes.

“I was disappointed the study found so many people continue to experience and also fear discrimination but I hope this will start to motivate change at all levels,” said LA Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers, who is one of the world’s only current, openly gay male professional athletes, via press release. “National and international sports governing bodies, including FIFA, need to make committed and determined efforts to ensure LGBTI people feel welcome.”

Thankfully for San Diegans, there are lots of welcoming sporting leagues that are specifically tailored to helping members of the LGBT community feel welcome. From soccer to softball, there are LGBT-based teams for practically every sport in San Diego.

“San Diego is extraordinarily welcoming to LGBT athletes who wish to compete, regardless of their skill level,” Roman Jimenez, open division commissioner of the America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL), said. “In intramural or social leagues outside of the LGBT spectrum, however, it can be a different story but isn’t always.”

For instance, Jimenez noted that there are several softball teams in the league who also participate in non-LGBT leagues and feel welcomed by their competitors and spectators. However, not all leagues are as welcoming of LGBT athletes.

“Many players who play in our softball league have to come to us from some other so-called straight leagues where they’ve felt uncomfortable, unwelcome and even unsafe when their teammates found out they were gay,” Jimenez said.

The AFCSL was created specifically to give LGBT athletes a safe, welcoming environment to play sports. Since its beginning in 1981, the league has grown to include more than 600 players with more than 95 percent of participants being part of the LGBT community.

Other LGBT-friendly teams in San Diego include the San Diego Sparks Soccer Club and the San Diego American Flag Football League (SDAFFL).

The San Diego American Flag Football League joined the San Diego gay sports scene in 2004 and has rapidly grown to include 280 players among 16 to 18 teams. Although the majority of players are gay, the league accepts both gay and straight men and women.

“Though we were founded as a gay league, we take a lot of pride in the fact that 20 percent of our players are straight,” said Steve Cramsie, a SDAFFL board member. “We’re there to be friends, teammates, play a sport, hang out afterwards and have a good tie. Because of this, I am proud to say that homophobia has never really been an issue with the SDAFFL.”

Another safe sporting environment is the San Diego Sparks, which as the only openly gay men’s team in the San Diego County Soccer League plays against many straight teams. The team, which began in 1986, accepts players at all levels of experience and welcomes both gay and straight men to join.

“It’s my hope that one day leagues like the AFCSL aren’t necessary,” said Jimenez. “We started 34 years ago because we wanted to be a safe space for LGBT athletes to come together in sport and competition. Thirty four years ago, we were necessary because often the last place you would want to be as an LGBT person was next to a straight guy holding a bat.”

“I look forward to the day where we are safe everywhere and welcomed everywhere,” Jimenez continued. “This study tells me that while admirable, my hope of leagues like ours being unnecessary is a long, long way off. But that’s OK. We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to continue to provide a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT athletes to play ball.”

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Find your park http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/14/find-your-park/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/14/find-your-park/#respond Thu, 14 May 2015 15:40:36 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=60258

Ahead of its centennial in 2016 the National Park Service is finding new ways to connect with the LGBT community.

Set up in 1916, the National Park Service is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior and is led by a director nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The current National Park Service director is Jonathan B. Jarvis. Confirmed as the 18th director in 2009, Jarvis oversees an agency whose mission is to preserve America’s most treasured landscapes and cultural icons.

The National Park Service is a huge enterprise consisting of 407 sites covering 84 million acres of land and attracting more than 275 million visitors a year.

San Diego County is home to three national parks: the Cabrillo National Monument with its historic lighthouse and expansive views, the tidepool at the same Cabrillo site and Torrey Pines State Beach.

The National Park Service employs more than 27,000 people; men and women who share a common trait – a passion for caring for the nation’s special places and sharing their stories.

Fully committed to equal opportunity the National Park Service prides itself on “… utilizing the potential that embracing diversity brings and is determined to become a model of inclusion and diversity.”

San Diego LGBT Weekly reached out to the National Park Service to learn of the Service’s involvement with the LGBT community and to talk to some of the Service’s LGBT rangers. We were fortunate to able to connect with Park Rangers Kate Kuykendall and Michael Liang who are both members of the LGBT community.

Kate Kuykendall is the public information officer for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and currently lives in the Southern California area with her wife and three kids.

Michael Liang

Michael Liang is an advocate for increasing digital and visual literacy in the National Park Service. He has worked as an interpretive park ranger and visual information specialist, developing publications, multimedia projects and web and social media campaigns.

Both rangers have ‘found their park’ by connecting the LGBT community with the National Park Service and want to inspire others to do so as well.

“I love changing people’s perception about L.A. and also about national parks,” said Kuykendall. “When people think of L.A., they often think of traffic and smog. They’re shocked to learn that there’s a national park right in L.A.’s backyard and that the Santa Monica Mountains offer such an escape so close to the city. So I love challenging the stereotypes about L.A., particularly because I’m a native San Diegan and I grew up with all those stereotypes myself!”

Kate Kuykendall

California has 26 national parks and 279 state parks. Explaining the difference between these two designations Liang said it was all about who funds and manages these parks. The national parks are funded by Congress whereas the state parks are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. “Bottom line,” said Liang “is that while the management and regulations may differ slightly between the two organizations, both represent a commitment to the public to protect and provide access to special and historically significant places.”

The National Park Service is proud of the fact that it celebrates diversity through the sites that it protects, public programming and internal employee initiatives. Explained Liang, “As a publicly funded federal agency, it is so important to have a system of national parks that represent the diversity of America. The story of our country is continually evolving, and additions like César E. Chávez National Monument and Manzanar National Historic Site help us share a more complete telling of the nation’s history.”

In 2014, the National Park Service announced a new theme study to identify sites of national significance related to LGBT history. Finding places that qualify for the National Register of Historic Places or as National Historic Landmarks is the first step toward having national parks that tell the LGBT community’s most important stories.

Kuykendall believes that the places and stories we honor should reflect the full diversity of our history. “I’m really excited about the LGBT Heritage Initiative,” said Kuykendall. “This initiative will chronicle the LGBT struggle for civil rights. New York’s Stonewall Inn, regarded by many as the birthplace of the modern LGBT civil rights movement, is already a national historic landmark, but there are many other significant places that need to be identified and commemorated as part of our nation’s history.”

Liang added that many parks have started creating public programs related to LGBT history, like the “Annual Reminder Days” at Independence National Historical Park or oral histories at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. “You might also see park rangers marching in Pride parades across the country,” said Liang, “like Bozeman, Montana, for Yellowstone employees.”

2016 is a year of special significance to the National Park Service as it celebrates its centennial. In March the National Park Service launched Find Your Park, a public awareness and education campaign celebrating the milestone centennial anniversary and setting the stage for the next 100 years. First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Laura Bush will serve as honorary co-chairs to promote the celebration of the 2016 centennial and to encourage people to connect with their favorite parks and public lands.

Both Kuykendall and Liang are excited at the prospect of marking this important milestone. “We definitely want to commemorate 100 years of what many consider ‘America’s best idea,’” said Kuykendall. “But we also want to look forward to the next 100 years. For that reason, the focus of centennial activities will be connecting with our next generation of park visitors and supporters. In addition to park-specific events, our friends at the National Park Foundation are launching a public awareness campaign to re-introduce national parks to the American public.”

Find Your Park invites the public to see that a national park is more than just a place – it can be a feeling, a state of mind, or a sense of American pride. Beyond vast landscapes, the campaign highlights historical, urban and cultural parks, as well as National Park Service programs that protect, preserve and share nature, culture and history in communities nationwide. Further, Find Your Park encourages people to find their own personal connections within the network of national parks and public lands.

“For me, the heart of the campaign doesn’t come from a federal agency, but from our visitors,” said Liang. “You’ll be invited to share your stories on FindYourPark.com, which is like a giant national and multimedia guestbook. I love any opportunity to hear the public share their favorite experiences and tell us what is most significant to them about their national parks.”

The National Park system is indeed a national treasure and now more than ever it is a chance for Southern California residents to discover “their park” and enjoy the many benefits the park system has to offer. “As a native Southern Californian, I have to admit that I had no idea about national parks growing up, which is a shame because our area is blessed with so many wonderful places,” said Kuykendall. “San Diego of course has Cabrillo National Monument. For folks looking for a fun road trip, Joshua Tree National Park is a truly amazing place to visit. My family and I camped there last year for Easter and had a fun Easter egg hunt among the boulders and Joshua trees. And of course I’m pretty partial to my park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which has 500 miles of trails and some fascinating history for movie buffs.”

As an organization that embraces diversity and equal opportunity, the National Park Service welcomes members of the LGBT community. “This is a fantastic organization for LGBT employees and in my short career, I’ve never had any problems being an out and openly gay employee (and it helps that we now have federal benefits for same-sex couples, too),” said Liang. “At my previous National Park job in Philadelphia, I could actually stand at my desk and wave to five other gay or lesbian employees. So I think that people are pleasantly surprised to see how well-represented the LGBT community is within the agency, at many different types of parks and within various levels of management.”


Kuykendall agrees that the National Park Service is a great place to work. “Especially for anyone looking for a little adventure and a chance to learn more about our country,” Kuykendall adds. “My wife is also a park ranger and we’re part of the National Park Service family just like everyone else!”

• For more information on Find Your Park visit findyourpark.com

• For information on LGBT contributions to the workforce of the National Park Service visit www.nps.gov/diversity/lgbt.html

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Rev. Troy Perry and Phill Wilson to be honored at Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/14/rev-troy-perry-and-phill-wilson-to-be-honored-at-harvey-milk-diversity-breakfast/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/14/rev-troy-perry-and-phill-wilson-to-be-honored-at-harvey-milk-diversity-breakfast/#respond Thu, 14 May 2015 15:29:34 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=60257

Rev. Troy Perry

Longtime community leaders will receive lifetime achievement awards.

The planning committee for San Diego’s seventh annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast may have a disagreement with one of their honorees.

Phill Wilson, the president and chief executive officer of the Black AIDS Institute who is being honored with the Harvey Milk Lifetime Achievement Award, doesn’t believe his work has been exceptional.

Attendees at the event will also likely disagree after they hear Wilson speak at the event, scheduled for Thursday, May 21 at the San Diego Bayfront Hilton.

“For various reasons, I am being retrospective of my life and conscious of my own mortality,” Wilson said. “I am honored and humbled to be in the company of Rev. Perry, Nicole (Murray Ramirez, one of the event’s founders) and the memory of Harvey, it’s also always with a sense of queasiness about being worthy of honor or recognition.

“I don’t think what I do, or have done, is exceptional. I’ve been part of a community that has been under attack. This is what I should be doing as an openly gay black man living with AIDS in the 21st century,” Wilson said. “We should be fighting for a better world; fighting for a more inclusive world – one that doesn’t simply tolerate us, but acknowledges us as integral and recognizes our gifts are extremely valuable. That’s the world we should be fighting for. That’s the price of the ticket.”

Milk, who had moved from New York to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him one of the first openly gay candidates to be elected to public office in the U.S. His life was cut short when he was assassinated, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, Nov. 27, 1978 after only 11 months in office. He was 48 years old.

“Harvey’s story was instrumental in my coming out story,” Wilson said. “I came out in 1980, and one of the first gay people that I read about was Harvey. He became even more important when I moved to California in 1982.

“When Prop. 64 happened (a 1986 ballot measure which proposed a quarantine of all people with HIV), we all looked at Prop. 6 (the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay and lesbians from working in California public schools) and the role he played (Milk was one of the campaign’s most visible and effective spokespersons). We modeled our work on that work,” Wilson said. “For me, it was not as much that he was elected, the power of Harvey’s story to me was much more connected to the sense of responsibility; the understanding that if change is going to happen, we’re the ones who are going to have to make it happen.”

Perry learned some additional lessons from working on the Briggs Initiative with Milk.

“He would go into Orange County and places no one else wanted to go. He always tried,” Perry said. “I think he was also a bit of a loner in some ways. With Briggs, he would say, ‘I’ll do everything I can do. I don’t need to be on the committee to do it.’ And he always followed up.”

Phill Wilson

“I learned about being strategic and understanding, very early on, that we needed to reach out beyond our comfort zones,” Wilson said. “Those lessons manifested in my life; in never waiting for someone else to do what I could do; to leading where you can lead. Harvey was instrumental to me in that way, and Troy and Nicole have been as well. They have clearly lived the values of walking in your truth and trying to make a difference.”

San Diego’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, one of the largest celebrations in the nation honoring the slain civil rights leader, was launched seven years ago by Nicole Murray Ramirez, Robert Gleason and the San Diego LGBT Community Center. The event regularly draws more than 1,000 San Diegans to honor and celebrate the life and work of Harvey Milk.

“The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast is a great opportunity for our community and our partners to come together to honor the legacy of Harvey Milk and to recommit ourselves to the social justice work that remains to be done,” said Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, chief executive officer of The San Diego LGBT Community Center. “It allows us to take a few moments to reflect on recent victories, challenges and to celebrate those in our community who have been inspired by Harvey Milk, and who have helped turn some of his dreams into realities.”

This year’s event will also feature a performance by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir San Diego, also known as the MLK Choir.

“We are deeply honored to have the opportunity to recognize Rev. Troy Perry and Phill Wilson for their many contributions to the LGBT community, as well as people of color, faith and HIV/AIDS communities,” Jacobs said. “For decades, Troy and Phill have committed themselves to lives of service, and these awards are a simple, but sincere way, for us to recognize and show our respect for their courage, vision and dedication.”

Rev. Perry is the founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). What began in 1968 as a service for 12 people in his Southern California living room has grown over the past 47 years to a church with a membership numbering over 43,000. He first met Milk at his camera shop in the Castro.

“I met Harvey after he ran the first time. He didn’t win the first time, but you could tell he was going to be somebody important; that drive, that ambition was there,” Perry said. “When he was elected, I flew up to San Francisco and was there for his swearing in.”

Perry was finishing a speaking engagement in Canada when word came of Milk’s assassination.

“I thought they must have been kidding, but then I started to believe it could be true. I was trying to find an American radio station, and then I called back down to my office. They said, ‘Troy, we’ve been trying to reach you.’ I knew then that it was true. I flew back to L.A., got a change of clothes and got on another plan and flew up to San Francisco. It was so sad,” Perry said. “To this day, I always remember Harvey. He was our first martyr. It’s such a shame. There was such promise there. It’s so sad to me that he didn’t live to see all that’s transpired.”

Perry has played an important role in the progress that has transpired. Never content to limit his voice to the pulpit, he – along with Morris Kight and Bob Humphries – founded Christopher Street West, the Los Angeles LGBT Pride Parade. Perry was the first openly gay person to serve on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

Rev. Perry was invited to the White House by the administration of President Jimmy Carter to discuss gay and lesbian civil rights, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton as an official delegate to the White House Conference on Hate Crimes and the White House Conference on AIDS. President Barack Obama invited him to the White House in 2009 for a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Dr. Delores Jacobs

He has long been a champion for marriage equality, not only performing ceremonies as clergy, but taking the fight to the courts. In 2003, he and his spouse, Philip DeBlieck were married in Canada. In 2004, they filed suit against the State of California seeking recognition of their marriage. On June 16, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in their favor, helping launch the 2008 “summer of love” where same-sex couples could marry in California before being halted by the passage of Proposition 8.

He is also the author of The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay, Don’t Be Afraid Anymore and 10 Spiritual Truths for Gays and Lesbians* (*and everyone else!).

Wilson began his activism in earnest in the early 1980s when he and his partner, Chris Brownlie, were both diagnosed with HIV.

He was a co-founder of the National Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum and the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention. He was involved in the founding of the Chris Brownlie Hospice, named for his late partner, as well as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the National Minority AIDS Council, the Los Angeles County Gay Men of Color Consortium and the CAEAR Coalition.

Wilson launched the Black AIDS Institute in 1999, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black people, to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities. Prior to that, he served as the AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles; the Director of Policy and Planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA); and co-chaired the Los Angeles County HIV Health Commission. He has been an appointee to the HRSA AIDS Advisory Committee, and served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

He has also served as the coordinator of the International Community Treatment and Science Workshop at the International AIDS Conferences in Geneva, Durban, Barcelona, Bangkok, Toronto and Washington, DC.

Wilson was a member of the US delegation to the 1994 World AIDS Summit in Paris, and has worked extensively on HIV/AIDS policy, research, prevention, and treatment issues in more than a dozen different countries.

While Wilson may be circumspect about his own contributions, he does acknowledge that his work has been done in exceptional times. And that the legacy of Harvey Milk continues to play a role in his activism.

“Yes, the 35 years that I’ve been involved, it’s all been during exceptional times,” Wilson said. “The challenges and threats to the communities – and I use communities – the LGBT community, the HIV/AIDS community, the black community, the black LGBT community – all of these groups are unique and separate and they all have this intersectionality of what we have in common. We have collectively been under attack, but we have persevered and been victorious. We have survived and thrived. And, along the way, we have contributed to a better understanding of humanity.”

Wilson looks forward to the San Diego event, and believes such celebrations are important in the movement.

“I do think it is important to look back and to be reminded of the fight and the trajectory that we’re on,” he said. “Commemorating these days provides us with an opportunity to constantly assess, validate and verify where we are; to seek out the North Star that guides us and figure out where we need to go. I hope these events inspire folks to walk in their own truth and to raise their hands when the call goes out to them. We only move forward when folks step up and do the work.

Harvey Milk, March 7, 1978 | Photo: Daniel Nicoletta

“What I hope the legacy of my work, and definitely of Harvey Milk’s work, is that anyone can do this,” Wilson said. “Harvey was just a schmuck who stood up when someone needed to stand up. I’m just a schmuck who has stood up. Anyone can do this work. Everyone is obligated to do what they can. As Martin Luther King said, ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

Perseverance is a key element of what Perry recalls as part of Milk’s legacy. And it’s also what he hopes will be part of his.

“Well, he had to run three times to get there, but he kept at it,” Perry said. “I’ve seen people who’ve come and left, but he tried so hard to win that office and he finally did.

“I always hope that people will say Troy Perry was fearless and faithful. He did all he could in his life to make things better. I never wanted to be a shooting star, I wanted to run the race,” he said. “I have wanted to make sure that we have every right that every other American has. I’ve worked with politicians and with religious leaders and I always tell them, ‘I want all the rights that our Constitution has for all Americans. I don’t want any more, but I’ll be damned if I’ll accept anything less.’”

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2015 Pride Health Challenge launches: Meet the contestants http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/2015-pride-health-challenge-launches-meet-the-contestants/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/2015-pride-health-challenge-launches-meet-the-contestants/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 17:55:46 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/2015-pride-health-challenge-launches-contestants-announced2015-pride-health-challenge-launches-meet-the-contestants/

pride prīd/

noun: A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired

verb: To be especially proud of a particular quality or skill

The inaugural 2015 Pride Health Challenge is about transformation; helping six members of our community achieve their personal goals to lead a healthier lifestyle and improve their lives. Personal achievement of a difficult or challenging goal is one of the most satisfying elements of a life well lived. The lucky Pride Six are about to embark on a journey that will transform not only their bodies, but how they think about and relate to food, as well as how they incorporate movement to achieve the healthy lifestyle they desire.

San Diego LGBT Weekly, in conjunction with Metabolic Direct, developed the Pride Health Challenge to motivate community members to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Whether it is weight loss, increased activity, or simply achieving a better understanding of how food and the body relate, the Pride Health Challenge contestants will be proud of their results. So how does it work?

For the next 60 days the Pride Six will be changing their lifestyle. No pre-packaged foods, no unrealistic exercise goals, no weight loss gimmicks, just simple lifestyle changes, motivational coaching and nutritional supplements, to help the Pride Six achieve their health goals. It’s that simple.

The Pride Six will be assigned a coach to help them achieve their specific goals. Anyone who has played sports, or been mentored at a job, knows the importance of having someone who is in your corner to help you achieve a desired result. Vincent Ferrucci, a Metabolic success story himself, will be providing one-on-one motivational coaching to the Pride Six. Through a phone consultation or Skype session supplemented with texts, Vincent will be the good fairy in their ear; a person that can help identify those issues that may be hindering a contestant in achieving their health goals. Other coaches will also check in with the Pride Six during their journey.

The Pride Six will also get a meal plan designed by registered dieticians, herbal support to aid in controlling appetite, boosting their metabolism and burning fat, as well as nutritional supplements including protein bars and shakes. All provided by Metabolic Direct.

The Pride Six are all motivated to make a transformation in their health by San Diego Pride. The contestants represent the diversity of our community; male, female, transgender, younger and older. What is striking is that the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle transcends all groups. We hope that you will relate to one of the Pride Six. As you watch their transformation, we hope you will be motivated to make lifestyle changes or tweaks in your health program. Be your best this Pride!

July 9, the winner of the Pride Health Challenge will be awarded a prize package worth $1,750 plus bragging rights for the next year. So let’s meet our Pride Six:


Marcel Hetu

Marcel Hetu

Marcel is a study in contradictions, a successful PhD at the University of California San Diego and a DJ for events like the Bill Hardt Zoo Party.

“I want to participate in the 2015 Pride Health Challenge to show my friends, family and community a fresh and healthy Marcel. I will be defending my dissertation on May 1, starting a new job, and want a fresh start to focus on my health.”


Sharell Gooding

Sharell Gooding

Sharell works with young children but playing with them has not helped her maintain a healthy weight. She has tried all of the diet fads; limiting carbs, sugars, sodium and fat intake, but nothing has worked.

“I want to make my mother and my girlfriend proud of me. Most of all, I want to make myself proud. I want to feel healthy, strong, confident, and not hide in my skin anymore.”


Kurt Cunningham

Kurt Cunningham

Kurt has been a fixture in the San Diego LGBT community for decades. While Kurt has had his share of physical and mental health challenges, he is ready for a new healthy lifestyle to go with his new positive outlook.

“I have a new career, a car, life is great, except I am the heaviest I have ever been, I breathe heavy going up stairs, my clothes don’t fit. It’s time to take control of one final thing in my life; my weight.”


A.T. Furuya

A.T. Furuya

A.T. is a transgender-genderqueer student, who is on a tight budget and eats unhealthy food on the go due to his busy schedule.

“It has been difficult trying to balance the changes with my increased appetite and energy on testosterone. Going to gyms can create anxiety for trans folks because of discrimination and bigotry, so trying to be healthy is a real struggle. I hope to inspire other trans folks to live a healthier life.”


Jenny Perillo

Jenny Perillo

Jenny is an Indiana transplant who recently moved to San Diego this January. She is on a mission to be the best version of herself and feel great in her own skin.

“I have come so far already and now I want to see how far I can go! I left my family, job and friends to move to California and change my life. I will succeed and I will inspire!”


Ildifonso Carillo

Ildifonso Carrillo

Ildifonso has been struggling with his weight since he was a young boy and was teased because of his size.

“I grew up being teased with the song “The Fat Boys Are Back”. Here I am 40 years later still struggling with self-image and obesity issues. I am ready to make a change.”

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Medical marijuana in San Diego http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/medical-marijuana-in-san-diego/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/medical-marijuana-in-san-diego/#respond Thu, 16 Apr 2015 16:45:36 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/medical-marijuana-in-san-diego/

LGBT Weekly reviews the impact of the City’s new ordinances

Nineteen years after California voters approved Prop. 215, which made medical marijuana legal in the state, San Diego’s first permitted medical marijuana dispensary opened March 18, 2015.

While both the City and County fought against medical marijuana dispensaries for years, they finally came to an agreement and A Green Alternative became the first of several legal pot shops to open over the next few months in San Diego. Marijuana dispensaries have also been approved for locations in Point Loma and Clairemont.

There are strict and specific rules for these City-approved shops, including they must be non-profit and they must be located more than 1,000 feet from schools, churches and playgrounds, and more than 100 feet from a residential zone.

“The development of these ordinances was critical to ensure safe access for patients who depend on this medicine and to better address community character and public safety concerns of neighbors. The City Council must closely monitor the impacts of the ordinances now that they are implemented, and we can modify them should conditions necessitate,” said San Diego Councilmember Todd Gloria.

Many supporters of medical marijuana hope that these new stores will help to make the acquisition of the drug easier and safer. It will also help to close any illegal pot shops in the city.

While many cities in California offer medical marijuana dispensaries, San Diego is the first city in the county to do so. A legal pot shop in unincorporated San Diego County opened last summer near El Cajon after receiving approval from the County.

Legalizing marijuana has become a growing trend across America in the past few years. Not only have 23 states voted to allow the sale of medical marijuana but four states – Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon – now allow the sale of recreational pot too.


Dr. Tom Horvath, founder of Practical Recovery and president of SMART Recovery, believes that the controversy surrounding medical marijuana and marijuana legislation will continue to be a hot topic in the near future.

“Public opinion on this issue appears headed in the direction of increased access to marijuana,” Horvath said. “Fortunately, relative to many prescription medications and to most drugs of abuse, marijuana is a relatively benign substance.”

Despite marijuana’s generally harmless side effects, Horvath is concerned that it will be over-prescribed.

“Many who could respond to anxiety in other ways will use marijuana rather than exert other more strenuous efforts to change,” Horvath said. “However, many of these individuals are already using marijuana.”

“The harms being done by marijuana are probably already being done, but access will allow new gains for individuals who can benefit from marijuana but are deterred by current laws from obtaining it,” Horvath continued.

The current non-profit restriction concerns Horvath the most about all the regulations in San Diego.

“I suspect we will have for-profit groups masquerading as non-profits,” Horvath said. “I would prefer allowing both kinds of organizations with their differing advantages and disadvantages to compete in the marketplace.”

Timely Holistic Care, a mobile medical marijuana dispensary, recently opened March 13. Despite being in business for such a short time, they’ve already seen their number of clients rapidly rise, particularly in Hillcrest, North Park and other communities with large LGBT populations.

photo: lostcoastoutpost.com

As a patient collective, Timely Holistic Care doesn’t sell its medication but is donation-based instead and works with patients to meet their budgets.

“As a true collective, we strive to never refuse a patient medication for lack of funds,” said Elizabeth Wilhelm, vice president and co-owner of Timely Holistic Care.

Wilhelm credits supporters, like artist Cathy Lee, activist and creator of YouTube’s The Healthy Cannabist Sally Hall and many other LGBT people, for being such strong voices and spreading the word about medical marijuana. They’re also willing to return the support.

“We loudly and proudly support the LGBT community as allies,” Wilhelm said. “We will always advocate for what is best for our patients and our community.”

Since they are a delivery service and not a brick and mortar location, Timely Holistic Care is not under the same laws as storefronts.

“We operate in strict compliance with all laws so as long as we keep abreast of any new legislation directly related to delivery services, we will be fine,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm is hopeful that this is the beginning of a “realistic, somewhat reasonable legislation” that will help to serve more patients.

In addition to running the business, Wilhelm is also a medical marijuana patient. She uses it to manage her Bi Polar II as well as depression and anxiety.

“Cannabis has allowed me to reduce the number of pharmaceuticals I once took from 17 to 4,” Wilhelm said. “I am hopeful that I will eventually be pharma-free.”

Corina Young, who underwent two back surgeries in 2011, experienced a similar desire to manage her pain without prescription medication.

After an assortment of prescription painkillers failed to ease her discomfort and even sent her to the emergency room with gastrointestinal bleeding, Young battled severe depression and contemplated suicide. Then she was introduced to medical marijuana.

“I learned as a child from Nancy Reagan’s, ‘Just Say No’ campaign that drugs in any form are very bad,” said Young. “With extensive education and an open mind I was able to utilize the benefits of medical marijuana to save my life. There is a zero death rate for medical marijuana users reported by the CDC, ever. Unfortunately tens of thousands die from pharmaceutical/street related drug use every year and it’s on the rise.”

Young feels that there is much more that the City could do to make medical marijuana more easily accessible to those who need it. She criticized the “unrealistic guidelines” and “ridiculously expensive” costs that make it difficult for medical marijuana stores to get a license.

“I can truly say that medical marijuana saved my life,” Young said. “I am no longer embarrassed to share the fact that I use medical marijuana. I am the proof of its healing properties. I can only hope it can come out of the shadows, past and present prejudice, and offer relief to those like me who truly need it.”

Other medical marijuana patients feel the same way.

Deborah Cadigan-Little started using medical marijuana over 20 years ago to help treat anxiety and depression but has found that it eases the pain of many other ailments. Not only is she a cancer survivor but she has also had HIV for 21 years. The medical marijuana brings her relief without the negative side effects of traditional pharmaceutical drugs.

Despite the opening of legal marijuana dispensaries in San Diego, Cadigan-Little still has difficulty obtaining the drug.

“From what I’m seeing at this point, the people who need it the most are going to have the hardest time accessing it,” Cadigan-Little said.

Living in Ramona, Cadigan-Little has nowhere to legally buy marijuana in the area so she grows her own. In 2011, her property was raided and she spent the next two years fighting the charges in the court system until she was finally acquitted. She would like to see medical marijuana be made readily available to anyone who needs it in the future.

With new medical marijuana shops scheduled to open this year throughout San Diego, Cadigan-Little and other medical marijuana users may get their wish soon.

For more information on medical marijuana, including the latest news and laws, visit

www.sandiegocannabisclubs.com/news and sandiego.gov

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Xeriscaping is here to stay http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/xeriscaping-is-here-to-stay/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/xeriscaping-is-here-to-stay/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 17:00:07 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/xeriscaping-is-here-to-stay/

It’s no secret that San Diego and the rest of California are in the midst of a drought. Turn on the television or read the newspaper and you will see a reminder of the worsening drought conditions on a regular basis.

For the fourth consecutive year, California has experienced lower than average rainfall and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is also below average, making the already troublesome drought conditions more precarious.

Many water saving regulations are already in place, including only watering your lawns on certain days and only during specific hours. Due to the drought, many San Diego homeowners have already made the switch from traditional gardening to xeriscaping in an effort to limit water usage.

So San Diego LGBT Weekly took to the The Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA) Directory and asked two professional landscapers, Joel Berlin of AnandaScapes and Randy Laurie of Laurie’s Landscaping, to share their tips on transitioning from standard landscaping to xeriscaping.

What is xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping, which is a form of landscaping that uses plants that require minimal water, has rapidly gained in popularity over the past few years. Berlin noted that the popularity of xeriscaping at AnandaScapes has doubled in the last year.

“With the drought conditions in Southern California continuing, more and more xeriscaping is being done not only on single family homes, but also on condominiums, apartment buildings, commercial properties and even in our parks and roadsides,” confirmed Laurie.

Xeriscaping uses native plants that require little to no water. To add variety to the Southern California plants, nurseries import plants from Australia, which has a similar ecosystem.

The benefits of xeriscaping

There are many ecological and aesthetic benefits to xeriscaping.

“The main benefit of xeriscaping is to conserve water by reducing the irrigation needs of the landscaping,” said Laurie. “Grass lawns are usually the largest water guzzlers.”

Although some people may have trouble imagining their homes without a grassy lawn, xeriscaping can produce equally beautiful outdoor areas. You can even put in synthetic turf if you need the green look of grass.

Other xeriscaping options include combinations of drought-tolerant plants, gravel, flagstone, mulches and small boulders. By using low-water landscaping, homeowners can save up to two-thirds the amount of water that traditional gardening requires.

“Xeriscaping does not mean a cactus garden,” emphasized Berlin. “It means using California native plants that are naturally geared for low water ecological systems. These systems include the Coastal Sage, the Chaparral, the Inland Foothills, the Low Desert and the High Desert.”

Another benefit to creating a xeriscaped garden is less maintenance. Unlike traditional gardens and lawns that require weekly or biweekly upkeep, most xeriscaping requires minimal touch-ups every two to three months. This makes it ideal for people who weren’t born with a green thumb or who don’t have time to maintain landscaping.

“It will help if you pick plants that will grow to the proper size for the space and placement and if you stay away from some grasses and plants that need to be cut back at certain times of the year,” said Laurie. “Rocks and gravel can add a lot to the overall look and require no maintenance.”

The drawbacks to xeriscaping (and how to get around them)

As with almost anything, there are a few drawbacks to xeriscaping but there are also ways to turn the negatives into positives.

The upfront cost of redesigning landscaping can be a deterrent for some homeowners. However, the overall costs saved on yearly maintenance on a xeriscaped yard can help to justify the initial price tag.

Some critics also dislike thorny plants, such as cacti or agave, and fear that they could harm children or animals. However, there are plenty of drought-tolerant plant alternatives that do not have thorns and gardeners can plan their landscaping according to their family’s needs.

There’s also a learning curve with some of the plants, especially since they aren’t as widely known with traditional gardeners. Learning when and how to trim the plants to keep them from growing out of control is crucial, as is understanding that some of the plants go dormant during certain times of the year.

“But we are developing new varieties that are more compact and hardy with longer blooming periods and variety in color,” said Berlin. “These tamer varieties are becoming more suited for the common residential garden.”

How to get started with xeriscaping

If you’re ready to take the plunge and give xeriscaping a try, here are some suggestions on how to get started.

First, you can select a small area of your yard to begin xeriscaping and test the waters. Laurie recommends the strip between the sidewalk and the street or a plant bed or two. Ask for suggestions of water-conserving plants, such as shrubs and succulents, from your local plant nursery or get a consultation from a landscape designer.

“Play with how (the plants) go together. Take a small area and give it a try,” said Berlin. “If your plants are flourishing after one year, then expand on your concept.”

Another easy way to get started and make a big difference on water usage is to install a synthetic turf lawn.

“Most people are quite surprised to see how real a good synthetic turf looks and feels now,” said Laurie.

It’s always a good idea to do your research before starting a major project, like xeriscaping. Find examples of yards that you like in your community or search books, magazines and the Internet for more design ideas.

“A well planned xeriscaped yard not only saves water but brings in wildlife, such as hummingbirds and butterflies,” said Berlin.

More information on conserving water

Nov. 1, 2014, the City of San Diego enacted the Drought Alert mandatory water use restrictions. The current restrictions state that odd-number addresses water only on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; even-number addresses water only on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays and apartments, condos and businesses water only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

From Nov. 1-May 31, watering with a standard sprinkling system must take place between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. for only seven minutes. From June 1-Oct. 31, it must be between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Other restrictions include shutting off ornamental fountains and only washing cars during the above mentioned hours. Check the Web site below for updates on water restrictions.

City of San Diego Waste No Water

Information and Resources:



3813 Ray St.

San Diego, CA 92104

(619) 701-9875



3942 Boundary St.

San Diego, CA 92104



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A decade of changing lives: The Center’s Latin@ Services hits its stride http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/a-decade-of-changing-lives-the-centers-latin-services-hits-its-stride/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/a-decade-of-changing-lives-the-centers-latin-services-hits-its-stride/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2015 16:45:04 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/a-decade-of-changing-lives-the-centers-latin-services-hits-its-stride/

Latin@ Services celebrated their 10 year anniversary this last October, Todd Gloria (pictured at podium) emceed and Latin@ Services was renamed to the Nicole Murray Ramirez Latin@ Services. | photo: The Center


When The San Diego LGBT Community Center launched its Latin@ Services program in the fall of 2004, it was the first such program at an LGBT community center anywhere in the county.

Since then, the program has continued to make history, serving thousands of LGBT Latino/as, as well as their families, through a diverse array of programs, support groups and special events, all provided in a culturally and linguistically competent manner.

“More than half of our community is made up of people of color, and within that, the largest group is Latino,” said Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, chief executive officer of The Center. “It was deeply important to us to be able to successfully create a safe space and a set of culturally competent and affirming services and programs. I think we’ve done that by honoring and respecting people where they are, and by celebrating the culture and heritage that tie people together. All our programs are special, but this one has been particularly important in truly serving the diversity that is our full, vibrant San Diego LGBT community.”

“This program was created to address the unique needs of our San Diego queer community – a rich mix of culture, heritage, identity and gender expression – with compassion and competence,” said Andrea Villa, who has been involved with the program since its inception, when she was a member of The Center’s board of directors. “Border cities are, of themselves, unique environments that give rise to distinct experiences and expression, from language to family life to art and more. The Latin@ Services program was started to acknowledge the unique San Diego environment, focusing on the Latino/a queer experience and to provide support.”

Dr. Delores A. Jacobs

“As the only Latino services program offered by any LGBT community center anywhere in the nation, The Center has created a safe, welcoming and culturally and linguistically appropriate space that allows our community members to accept and embrace all of who they are, including their culture, traditions, language, spirituality and sexual and gender identities,” said Richard Valdez, co-chair of The Center’s board of directors.

Latin@ Services offers a warm and friendly drop-in space – named for local activist Nicole Murray Ramirez at the program’s 10th anniversary celebration – with resources available in Spanish, discussion groups led by Spanish speakers, client advocacy and case management, transgender support services, HIV and STD prevention and education programs, other health education and referrals, social activities and individual and family crisis interventions. All services are offered to individuals and families in a linguistically and culturally affirming manner.

Valdez notes that this program is particularly vital in a community like San Diego. “Given the very large Latino population in San Diego County and the cultural and linguistic needs of our Latino LGBT community members, a strong Latin@ Services program is extremely important in San Diego to reach and serve such a large portion of our population.”

Carolina Ramos, the former director of the Latin@ Services program and now The Center’s director of training and its chief diversity officer, has been with the program from the beginning, providing her with a unique perspective on the growth of the programming, and a sense of the distance some families have traveled in accepting their LGBT sons and daughters.

“There is so much stigma surrounding coming out, and such a struggle to find acceptance of sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s why it’s so important to have a space that is safe, where you can be true to who you are in the culture and language that you are accustomed to,” Ramos said. “There is also stigma around HIV/AIDS and our job is to normalize conversations around sex and testing, and to provide information in a language they can understand. Community connection is so important, and so needed, and we provide that here.”

Andrea Villa

Ricardo Gallego, director of Latin@ Services, has also been with the program since its formation. He has seen, first-hand, the need for services “explicitly directed at the Latino/a community.”

“Our services are tailor-made for individuals and families, making sure that authentic cultural, linguistic and historical sensitivities are respected – and all with a human, caring touch. Nowhere else in San Diego County are you going to find a more culturally sensitive and authentic approach to the Latino/a LGBT community and their families,” Gallego said. “We are succeeding in integrating Latino/a issues with LGBT issues. Latinos/as are more comfortable reaching out to The LGBT Center – we not only speak their language, but also share their cultures, their perspectives and their concerns.”

Villa said the importance of that shared experience cannot be understated.

“We already know, as LGBT people in a hetero-normative society, how important it is to have a space where we can be ourselves without needing to translate into a dominant cultural expression, where we can be known without a need to censor ourselves or our experience,” she said. “Latin@ Services makes that possible for the queer Latino/a within the larger LGBT community. In addition to the services and programs in place at Latin@ Services, I think its very existence meets that fundamental need for expression and being truly seen.

“There isn’t anything else like it in San Diego – a place where the queer Latino community can go to be heard, seen and supported in everything to health care advocacy to coming out to one’s family to education and advocacy for the transgender Latino community, and more – all in a welcoming space where neither language nor experience requires translation,” she said.

Carolina Ramos

Everyone connected with the program mentioned the importance of “familia,” both in the focus on the families of LGBT people, and specifically the program’s much-heralded educational video, Mi Familia.

“I was extremely honored to have been the chair of the board of directors when The Center’s Latin@ Services Program was opened ten years ago. Being the first Latino chair of the board, and having grown up in San Diego in a Latino family which has always strongly embraced our cultural identity and traditions, I am very well aware of the need for services for our LGBT Latino community,” Valdez said. “I was fortunate to have a family who embraced and supported me after coming out as a gay man. I know the importance of that familial acceptance, particularly in a culture that places so much importance on “la familia.” I am so happy that The Center is that warm, welcoming and affirming place where my Latino brothers and sisters can visit to get the support that they need.”

“For me, personally, the establishment of the Mi Familia program and especially the father’s discussion group are deeply moving accomplishments,” Villa said. “My own father passed away when I was in my late teens and I wish there had been something similar for our family. I’m so grateful that it’s here now, though, and that in some small way Mi Familia is making it possible for families to grow together with the tools for understanding, support and love.”

Ramos, too, noted the impact of the Mi Familia video as one of the most significant accomplishments of Latin@ Services in the past decade.

“It is one of the things I’m most proud of – that we created this documentary that helps other families deal with the challenges of embracing their LGBT loved ones through other people’s stories,” she said. “We – and many others – have been able to use the video as a tool to educate Latino communities about how they can embrace their loved ones, without feeling guilty about their spiritual practices or what society or the church says.”

Rich Valdez

Ramos noted that not only has the video been utilized on the local level, including 150 copies given to counselors at San Diego city schools, but also on a national and international level, with screenings in Chicago, New York, Chile and Peru, just to name a few.

“We are trying to do away with the stigma of embracing your LGB or T kids,” Ramos said. “The more we work with the parents, the less risk our LGBT youth face, and parents don’t lose years and years with their kids, or aren’t going to throw their kids out of the house.”

As an example, Ramos shared a story of a mother who took 10 years to fully accept her daughter’s sexuality. “Her journey took 10 years, but she got there. And now, that same parent – at her beauty shop – starts to educate others in her community when she hears discriminatory language. She now has the language to stop those kinds of conversations and to advocate for her daughter; ‘You’re talking about my daughter and I don’t like it.’ That is incredible courage, and it has really been a privilege to see these families who have really struggled with their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but to get to the level of acceptance to come out about having a kid who’s gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.”

The stories of family acceptance are inspiring, and are often a result of the work of Latin@ Services; many LGBT Latinos still struggle with isolation and the stigma of being gay and/or living with HIV/AIDS.

“We are able to work with our clients who have been living with HIV and AIDS for a long time,” Ramos said. She said she and Gallego have worked closely with these individuals, especially toward the end of their lives, to make them as comfortable as possible. “We try to make their transitions as peaceful as possible. We visit them in hospice or at the hospital. They trust us, and they know we’ll take care of everything. This is also the sense of familia.

“People trust us,” Ramos said, “and that’s why we’ve been so successful over the past 10 years. No one is providing what we provide.”

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Steve Snyder-Hill: Changing hearts and minds through people’s stories http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/19/steve-snyder-hill-changing-hearts-and-minds-through-peoples-stories/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/19/steve-snyder-hill-changing-hearts-and-minds-through-peoples-stories/#respond Thu, 19 Mar 2015 21:08:06 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/19/steve-snyder-hill-changing-hearts-and-minds-through-peoples-stories/

Steve Snyder-Hill joined the military in 1988 and served nearly three years on active duty in Germany and fought in the first Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait before receiving an honorable discharge in 1996. He re-enlisted in 2001 and was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn in 2010.

Snyder-Hill endured years of service under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and in September 2014 published his account of what it was like serving under DADT. His book, Soldier of Change, is the first memoir published by a military person serving under that policy.

After DADT was repealed in September 2011 Snyder-Hill famously submitted a video question to a Republican primary debate asking what Republicans thought about the repeal and their plans, if any, to extend spousal benefits to legally married gay and lesbian soldiers. His video was booed by the audience on national television.

Since that moment Snyder-Hill has been on a journey not only chronicling his experiences as a gay man in the services but becoming an LGBT activist, travelling the country with his husband Josh giving interviews with major news networks, speaking at universities, community centers and Pride parades becoming a true champion of LGBT equality.

Snyder-Hill will be in San Diego March 26-29 for the fourth annual OutServe-SLDN San Diego Leadership Conference where he is one of the keynote speakers.

Prior to the conference San Diego LGBT Weekly managed to catch up with Snyder-Hill to talk to him about his journey and what the future held.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: Steve, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You had a long and distinguished career in the military. How did you cope with keeping your private life secret during all those years?

Steve Snyder-Hill: One of the things I talk about in my book is that this is not just my story; it is all of our story. That fits in with this answer so well. We train ourselves to be professional liars. We worry about what everyone else will think of our answer before we speak. This is the way we have lived our lives out of survival. Being in the military was the same thing. I could have lost my job, so I had to do it out of necessity. Early in my career I couldn’t even admit to myself I was gay or face it; so in a lot of ways that point of my life was easier. It was when I came back in, that was the hardest time of my life. Josh and I had to say goodbye before going to war hiding underneath an escalator crying so no one would see us. But times are changing. People are coming out and telling their stories, athletes, actors, teachers; telling your story is the most powerful thing you can do!

How did your partner, now husband, Josh cope with the stress of being forced to live a lie?

In a lot of ways Josh is a soldier too. He had to serve just as much as I did as a spouse waiting at home for me. But not having support is so much harder for an LGBT spouse than it was for our straight counterparts. When we were hiding under that escalator, I looked out and saw the wives hugging and exchanging numbers and becoming friends and building a support system. I looked at Josh and he was alone. Josh’s name was Jessica while I was deployed; I had to turn my cell phone volume down so no one could hear him when I talked. That is just really rough. I think the hardest moment was our first Yellow Ribbon event. Josh came with my parents and said he was my brother. He told me later he wanted so badly to cry, and sat there and battled in his mind how it would look and told me it was the hardest thing he ever had to do to fight those tears back.

In September 2011, when you submitted that now famous question to the Republican primary debate, what prompted you to do that? What were your thoughts on the reaction you received? Was it at this point that you realized quite how much work still needed to be done?

Wow this is a question that I could probably write another book about! Actually my book Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement answers ‘what prompted me.’ But in a nutshell, the book is mostly about my journey of acceptance for myself. People don’t realize that when they pick it up. But by living through my eyes and seeing how hard it was to admit to myself I was gay, and then learn to accept it, and then actually having the courage for loving myself for who I was; that was quite a journey. I want to be able to take the reader through that journey as if they were experiencing it themselves. So for the why, well that answers it. For 26 years I fought for everyone else’s freedom except mine.

After I had gone through these experiences I talk about in my book that led up to the debate, one of the pivotal things that happened was they could not come up with a date for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Now get this, because they didn’t want to affect the morale of people actually out there serving. How do you think that made me feel, or any of the 14,000 servicemembers who lost their job because they were gay? That was such a powerful statement that made me think people are not even thinking about us making up names, hiding under escalators, lying just to serve the country we love. I thought someone needed to stand up and ask that question that night.

The reaction: This will surprise most people. Yes, being booed on national TV when you are actually fighting a war sucked. But that isn’t what killed me. What gutted me inside was that Rick Santorum in one second on national TV reduced my entire 26 honorable, decorated military service career to sex. And even though it wasn’t a lot of people who booed, I watched as that entire audience stood up and gave him a standing ovation. That hurt so bad. I have always been a good soldier, never gotten into trouble, always do the right thing. I pass PT, I qualify at the range, I never miss a day at drill and I have fought in two wars. I have given 26 years of my life to my country and he took it all away and reduced it to sex. I wasn’t asking to have sex in the military. I was asking not to be kicked out because I am gay. I don’t want to be treated any differently. I want the same conduct standards.

So, how much needs to be done? Well, I look at it this way. We have accelerated tolerance and acceptance to lightning speed over the last few years. What is our secret gay agenda? What is our formula for this huge monumental shift in public opinion? It is that we are being honest; we are telling our stories. We are human beings, we have emotions and feelings and we can be hurt. We can be tough as nails, we can fight in war. We can be football players, we can be actors. We come in every race, size, gender and people are seeing that through our stories. This is how we have accelerated acceptance. We are changing hearts and minds through our stories.

Why do you think it took so long to repeal DADT?

It took so long because people used the same fear tactics to keep it out of conversation for years. If I hear “Unit Cohesion” one more time. Let me tell you a story about that. I have many great friends that are in the Army. I have lied to them for years. I dodged Facebook requests, and made up excuses for not friending them. Later talking to them after the fact, I realized that being closeted and awkward for all those years destroyed my cohesion with them. They thought I didn’t like them. They could tell I was avoiding them and shutting them out. After DADT, it is so much the opposite now. We are much closer. We would take a bullet for each other, there is no more lying. I am so protective over my soldiers and we are really like a family now. Being able to be who you are is so powerful and makes you such a better person!

Steve Snyder-Hill with husband Josh

Someone had Rick Santorum on TV and was asking him about unit cohesion, and why he opposed DADT. They gave him a quote about unit cohesion and asked him if it sounded about right (in response to my question). He verified that it was correct. Then the anchor from Fox news informed him that was a quote (“The army is not a sociological laboratory. Experimenting with policy, especially in a time of war, would pose a danger to efficiency, discipline and morale and would result in ultimate defeat.”) from Col. Eugene Householder about racial integration in the military from World War II. That is why it took so long to repeal DADT, because hate is hate. But people can disguise it very cleverly with fancy words. But eventually it will come out for what it is. And that has happened. The military hasn’t blown up since DADT repeal, it became stronger and more diverse.

When did you decide to write Soldier of Change, and what was your motivation for writing the book?

I had to meet with an Army PAO after the debate. We were supposed to spend an hour or two together so he could coach me, or let me know how to engage the media. I started telling him stories that I discuss in the book; hiding pictures in my own house, making up fake names for Josh, etc. About half way through the day he told me that he had to confess his 21-year-old son came out to him not too long ago. He said listening to these stories make me feel like I understand my son better, because I grew up macho. I stopped him and said your son grew up and society taught him the same stuff about gay people that society taught you. Your son has to unlearn all that, before he can even start to understand himself, I said. So now you know your son better. He looked at me and smiled and said you should write a book! So there you go! Actually at the end of the day, he said Capt. Hill, you could let all this fizzle out and it would go away. He said and it will go away, or he said, you could tell your story. He paused and I waited to hear what came next. He said I think it would be a tragedy for you not to tell your story. It is a powerful story; it is a good Army story. It shows why DADT was a bad policy.

My motivation is to help people understand themselves better, to help a parent feel more connected to their gay child. I want people to identify with this story and relate it to their own. The No. 1 comment I have gotten, is people always say, I could have written this story, word for word; I connected with what you were saying. That makes me so proud. This story is not about me, it is not for making money or fame; I could care less about that. It is about humans connecting with humans and understanding each other better.

What advice would you give a young gay or lesbian person wanting to join the services?

The military was one of the best choices I have ever made in my career. It is a professional organization and has taught me a lot. It has provided for me, and gotten me through rough times. It is a privilege, and an honor to wear the uniform, no matter what race we are, religion, sexual orientation or gender. It is a privilege because we are fighting for people without a voice and making sure that every human being has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No job in the world can beat that!

Advice? Be yourself and never change yourself for anyone else! Be proud of who you are, and don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself or others.

What is your view on open transgender service and how long do you think it will be before it will be permitted?

People are scared of what they do not know. I am not transgender. I could not tell you in a million years what it is like for them or the struggle they have. Our own gay community has been slow to accept and advocate for the trans community. I think it is because by nature if we cannot feel it, if we haven’t experienced it, then we don’t understand it. But the solution is simple. Ask yourself what you would expect from the world we live in. If you were black and someone else was not, would you want them not to accept you because they didn’t understand what it was like to be black; would you want them to fear you and make you drink from separate fountains? For gay people who don’t make an attempt to walk in a trans person’s shoes, shame on us. We are constantly asking people to accept us and understand the struggle we have. Are we all not different? I think when people look at it like that we won’t fear trans people. We will understand their struggle is real.

I just listened to a good trans friend of mine who was terrified to use a restroom. He honestly didn’t feel comfortable in either of them. How crazy is that? Do we care about the gender of the person in the restroom that we go into? We fear what we don’t understand. I have no right to tell someone else how to feel about themselves, or how to live their lives any more than anyone has that right to do to me. I am so proud of anyone who can be honest and true to themselves, gay, straight, trans – I don’t care you just need to be you!

As far as the military, we will evolve. Women just started serving in combat MOS’s. So we took a long time to decide that someone’s ability to do their job in the military doesn’t depend on their genitals. So by that same logic, trans people are linguists, they are special forces, they are forward observers, they are jag officers. They have a lot of talent that we are losing because they are not allowed. Eventually history corrects itself. How will they achieve that? Telling their story.

As an LGBT activist, what projects are you involved in today?

Josh and I are very active in Ohio. In our own state we have more protection on a military base in Ohio as a married couple than we have in our own home. We are working to change that. We are very active travelling and speaking. That is where I feel we have made the most progress. We took 25 couples to the Supreme Court before Doma and got them married on the steps of the Supreme Court. We are telling our story. When a security guard came over at the Supreme Court and said I can’t let you guys up there as a group, but by God nothing can stop each one of you going up as a couple on your own. Wow, the power of that. Who knows, maybe one of those justices was looking out the window that day. Never underestimate the power of telling your story.

How do you feel about being a keynote speaker at the upcoming Outserve-SLDN Leadership Conference?

I am very excited. The first thing I write in my book is I owe everything to my LGBT brothers and sisters who have served in silence for too long. And I do feel that way! I am excited because SLDN spearheaded our lawsuit against the DOD, and there is so much work to be done. After DADT everyone just got complacent. Our trans community is crying out for protection, and for someone to pick up the torch where we left off after DADT and OutServe-SLDN should take that charge!

Finally, if there is one message you could give our readers what would that be?

Always trust the power of your voice!

Steve, thank you so much for your time.

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Time to get away http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/time-to-get-away/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/time-to-get-away/#respond Thu, 05 Mar 2015 19:00:45 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/time-to-get-away/


While we’re lucky enough to live in such a beautiful tourist destination as San Diego, sometimes a slight change of pace is needed. Thankfully, there are multiple hot spots that are perfect for a three-day weekend getaway within a short drive or flight from San Diego.

If big cities top your list of must-sees, check out the bustling nightlife of Las Vegas, the fascinating culture of San Francisco or the Hollywood glamour of Los Angeles. If you prefer a more mellow vacation, consider taking a tour of the wine country of Napa Valley and Sonoma, soak up the desert sun in Palm Springs or venture down south to Baja California.

Here’s a brief overview of the highlights of each vacation destination:

Los Angeles

Looking for a weekend full of diverse activities? Hit the freeway and head north to Los Angeles.

“Los Angeles offers dozens of tourist attractions with appeal across a broad range of tastes,” said Tim Heffley of LAtourist. “The mixture of cultures and lifestyles here inspires a vacation environment where anyone can feel comfortable.”

Heffley recommends making West Hollywood your home base for the weekend. Not only is it the self-proclaimed gay center of Los Angeles, but it’s also conveniently located near popular tourist attractions, such as Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills and the Getty Center.

If you’re interested in seeing a lot of the well-known sights of Hollywood, consider booking a tour.

“You can cover more territory than you probably would on your own, and L.A. traffic is so much more pleasant when someone else is driving,” Heffley suggested.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Other popular Los Angeles based activities include spending the day at Universal Studios or visiting the beach and amusement park at Santa Monica.

Palm Springs

Soak up the sun in the beautiful desert oasis of Palm Springs, located just a two-hour drive northeast of San Diego. Palm Springs offers a range of activities, from relaxing poolside at one of the many resorts to exploring the vibrant downtown district’s restaurants, shops and museums. The city is also known for its modernism architecture and offers several architecture tours.

Palm Springs’ 350 days of sunshine leaves plenty of time for great outdoor activities as well, especially in the cooler months. Try hiking in Palm and Andreas Canyons but be sure to bring lots of water, a cell phone and hiking shoes and avoid hiking during peak temperatures.

“(The trails) are very close to downtown Palm Springs but you feel like you’re back in the day when our tribe, the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians, lived there,” said Mary Jo Ginther of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.

For an easier way to enjoy the views, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tram, to the top of the mountain at 8,500 feet.

Visit during one of Palm Springs’ many events throughout the year, such as the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals or the Palm Springs International Film Festival, for a unique trip.


Immerse yourself in a whole new culture with an exotic trip south-of-the-border to Baja. This Mexican neighbor of San Diego is known for its natural beauty, history, food, wineries and more.

“As soon as you cross that border, there is a magical relief in your soul,” said Holly Darrah of Down South Tours. “There is a sense of freedom and being far away from everything: work, worries, life. And the great thing is you’re still close enough to not have to travel forever or by plane.”

Spend the day at the beach in Rosarito and check out Papas n Beer, the largest beach nightclub on the West Coast. Or visit the wineries in the countryside of Valle de Guadalupe.

Not sure what you want to see in Baja? Down South Tours offers a variety of tours and takes care of all the planning and transportation.

Despite the buzz that traveling to Mexico isn’t safe, Darrah stressed that it isn’t the case.

“Contrary to popular belief, Mexico is statistically safer than you think,” Darrah said. “Please do an Internet search on it and read for yourself. Don’t let it hinder your travels.”

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is home to more than 400 wineries, making it the ideal location for wine aficionados. Although the area is perhaps best known for its award-winning wineries, the area also features more than 125 restaurants with a total of 11 Michelin Stars and many relaxing spas.

“For a true wine country experience, visitors need to experience the Napa Valley,” said Angela Jackson of Visit Napa Valley, who recommends allowing for a minimum of one hour at each winery and limiting your stops to four to five wineries per day.

Be sure to take the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery in Napa Valley in between winery stops. There are a variety of outdoor activities available, including golfing, hiking and biking. The Napa Valley Vine Trail, which is currently under construction and is opening up in segments, will eventually stretch 47 miles from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal to the city of Calistoga. A 12.5 mile stretch between Napa and Yountville opens this year.

Santa Monica Harbor

Other popular things to do in Napa Valley include hot air balloon rides and the Napa Valley Wine Train.


Located 45 minutes north of San Francisco, Sonoma borders Napa and offers more than 400 wineries as well as numerous outdoor activities, such as zip lining, hiking and paddling a canoe down the Russian River.

Treat yourself to a day of wine tasting in laidback Sonoma, where many of the tasting rooms offer free tastings and you can often chat directly with the winemaker.

Since Sonoma County borders the Pacific Ocean, be sure to visit the coast and admire the remarkable views of the water off Highway 1. Then travel inland to Guerneville, which is known as the West Coast’s “favorite gay and lesbian playground,” according to Sonomacounty.com’s Web site.

San Francisco

Whether you’re planning your first visit to San Francisco or your tenth, you’ll be sure to enjoy a fun-filled weekend of exciting activities, spectacular dining and incredible shopping. As the fourth-most populous city in California, San Francisco is home to a plethora of must-see tourist destinations.

From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, San Francisco’s landmarks are known worldwide. Visit the Haight-Ashbury district for a trip back in time to the groovy Summer of Love or check out the Painted Ladies Victorian homes in Alamo Square. Other popular sights include Chinatown, Alcatraz Island, Ghirardelli Square and Coit Tower.

Don’t forget to catch a ride on the cable cars, which continue to travel San Francisco’s hilly streets on a daily basis.

A cable car ascending Hyde Street in San Francisco with Alcatraz on the bay behind

Las Vegas

It’s no secret that Las Vegas is the city to visit for a one-of-a-kind weekend. After all, it’s nicknamed “Sin City” for a reason. But Vegas has more to offer visitors than just casinos, alcohol and adult entertainment.

Las Vegas features a nearly impossible to compete with assortment of shows and concerts, practically guaranteeing that you’ll find something that’s right up your alley. In addition to the seven Cirque du Soleil shows that make their home on the Strip, there are also magicians, comedians and showgirls.

While Las Vegas has been an LGBT-friendly city for years, it became even more so when Nevada legalized gay marriage in 2014. Perhaps your weekend trip will include a trip down the aisle of one of the many wedding chapels.

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Driving Rose Trellis http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/driving-rose-trellis/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/driving-rose-trellis/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 18:59:42 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/03/05/driving-rose-trellis/

On the road to Hawthorne, Nev.

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Rose Trellis is one of the most creative, talented and outrageously funny people I know; imagine if Jim Henson and Phyllis Diller’s love child ran off and joined the circus. We were roommates in the ’80s, living in Phoenix. I was a long-haired rock n roll musician and she was a clown/puppeteer/drag queen. I chased my dreams to Los Angeles eventually and she followed hers to Las Vegas. Last I heard she was working the Boylesque shows at the Silver Slipper with Kenny Kerr. I heard she had a problem with meth, too. Then we lost touch – she fell off the planet. That was 25 years ago.

Back in the day, before moving to L.A., I was an aspiring keyboardist sleeping on a gal pal’s couch. Her name was Gaye. Rose had a friend named Joel and, through a series of events, the two met. At first, Gaye thought Joel was gay because he was Rose’s close friend, but he wasn’t. Long story short, Gaye and Joel were married, moved to Henderson, Nev., and raised two wonderful children. Gaye and I through the years often pondered what happened to Rose. “Should we hire a private detective and find her?” Gaye wondered. Then Facebook was invented; Rose was alive and well and living in Seattle. We reunited in Las Vegas in 2009, renewed our friendship and have remained close ever since.

Neon Museum, Las Vegas

Gaye and Joel, recent empty nesters, thought they’d “adopt” Rose, provide a temporary home and help prepare her for retirement. Joel thinks there’s a chance Rose could land a job as a teacher’s assistant. The move was supposed to occur during the spring or summer, but Rose was fired on Christmas from the designer botanical company where she’d worked for eight years – think hostile work environment, think retaliation, and plans changed. (“I’d sue the bastards,” I said. “I’m not like that,” Rose replied). Rose, age 53, without a driver’s license, needed to pack up and move. Me, with nothing better to do and always ready for an adventure, said, “I’ll drive.” And drive I did. More than 1,200 miles over 18 hours in three days. Piloting a 16-foot long truck from Seattle to Las Vegas. The things we do for friends.

The day of departure began with frost on the windshield and blustery foreboding clouds. A winter storm was rolling in and we had to make tracks if we wanted to stay ahead of the impending maelstrom. My intent was to get as far south and east as possible the first day, and our destination was seven and a half hours away in Klamath Falls, Ore. There’s a six mile stretch of road through the Willamette Pass Summit that worried me. A potentially dangerous stretch of slushy roads and icy patches we had to traverse before darkness fell and temperatures dropped. We merged onto Interstate 5 South at sunrise. A rainbow, a potent omen, peeked over our shoulder.

We only stopped as needed to refuel and stretch our legs and those of our companion, an adorable 8-year-old Maltese/wheaten terrier mix; perched with his paws on the dash, his nose in the windshield, alert for anything coming down the road. “Bare was a man magnet” Rose reminisced. “They’d say, ‘Oh, your dog is so cute’, and I’d say, ‘Yes he is, and his name is Bare. As in naked.’”

We slogged past the damp gloomy fields and vineyards of the Willamette Valley in our bright yellow truck. Low lying clouds obscured the bases of distant mountains; the lofty summits appeared to float in air. We bid farewell to the interstate highway in Eugene and followed a twisting two-lane road that paralleled the roiling Willamette River through the Cascade Mountains. The lush temperate rainforest was a canopy of moss covered trees towering over a floor of dense leafy ferns. “We’re not stopping”, I said whenever Rose marveled at the beauty of the lush greenery. She has a decorative attraction to, and an artistic flair for, rocks and branches, as evidenced by the buckets of rocks and chunks of logs packed in the back of the truck, along with the suit cases of clown clothes, wigs and drag apparel.

Light persistent rain was falling as we topped the worrisome summit, following in the wake of a logging truck. The windshield wipers struggled to remove the muddy smear of the 18-wheeler’s grimy plume. We left the rain and worry behind as we descended from the mountains onto the high desert plains, and checked into our motel two hours later. One day down, two more to go, I thought as I cracked open a beer and settled into bed.

We left early the next morning after downing cups of coffee and exchanging pleasantries (“You snore,” she said. “You giggle in your sleep,” I replied), and meandered through a cold drizzle along country roads. The sodden fields of Oregon gave way to the fields of California, which yielded to pine forests and rugged crags, which ceded to a vast long valley and a view of distant golden hills. The drizzle relinquished to overcast skies.

Shoe Tree, Susanville, Calif.

We had outrun the storm. The urgent need to press forward was replaced by a more relaxed driving style. If it wasn’t the dead of winter, we would have enjoyed a side trip to gaze into the crystalline depths of nearby Crater Lake, or to marvel at Lava Bed National Monument’s numerous caves, grottos and domes. Instead, we stopped to take pictures of the “shoe tree” Rose espied on the side of the road near Susanville, Calif., where hundreds of pairs of shoes dangled from the branches of a tall juniper.

Nevada greeted us with rugged landscapes of stark stunning deserts stitched together by an endless ribbon of unbending roadway. Convoluted sun-dappled hills, wrenched by a violent geology, calico-colored and gleaming in the crisp clean air, rolled by and faded in the rear view mirror. Horizons like long awaited opportunities stretched before us in every direction, as vast as the promise of tomorrow.

Rose, slight and wiry, wearing thick bifocals and sporting short greying hair, spoke a lot about opportunity and the future. She said the move was “spiritual”. She, although grateful for the chance Gaye and Joel offered, was frightened of what would happen in “the next phase” of her life. But what a life it’s been! The hours on the road were long, but rarely boring. Rose would regale with stories of past loves (“Turns out I was the only guy in town my boyfriend wasn’t sleeping with”); of celebrities met (“I was Cher’s errand boy. I would fetch whatever she needed. And she was only there to introduce a DJ!”); of awkward moments backstage (“Carol Channing shook the hand of this one celebrity impersonator and asked, “And who are you, dear?”, not realizing the celebrity the performer was impersonating was her!”); of trouble with the law (“I was picked up on an outstanding warrant and managed to get the bag of meth out of my wallet and eat it before the cop found it. I was in jail for 72-hours and didn’t sleep a wink, wired to the tits, staying to myself and watching brutal fist fights”); of her greatest fear (“I haven’t used meth in a long time, but some friends are still using and I can’t be around them. That’s a huge temptation”).

The fading rays of the setting sun were reflected on the calm waters of Walker Lake as we approached our destination, Hawthorne, Nev., a small town on the edge of a large army depot in the middle of nowhere. Better days hadn’t been seen in these parts for quite a while.

Dawn the final day was a blaze of color, like pink cotton candy stretched across a periwinkle sky. We skirted the edge of the Great Basin awed by the ancient valleys, ridges and dry lake beds created over eons by slow inevitable change. The historic mining town of Tonopah was where we stopped at the Clown Motel for photos and T-shirts. The motel stands adjacent to an old cemetery and is rumored to be haunted. We lunched at KC’s Outpost eatery and saloon in Beatty, Nev., an oasis of deliciousness in a wasteland of truck stop and greasy diner food.

A few hours later, I backed the truck into the driveway of Rose and Bare’s new home and shut off the engine. Gaye greeted us with open arms, a warm smile, and frosty cold bottles of beer. We chatted for a while, then Rose began sorting through the numerous boxes and packing crates, separating what was needed now from what could be placed in storage, or donated to Goodwill. She was imperturbable, pre-occupied and focused on the task at hand with single-minded intent. Observing her efforts I couldn’t help but think our trip may have ended, but her journey had just begun.

The next day, I checked into an off-strip hotel/casino after unloading a portion of Rose’s belongings into one of the ubiquitous rental self-storage units, and handing over the big yellow truck’s keys to a sales associate who hinted her underwear matched her fuchsia lipstick. I needed a couple of days to unwind before heading home; time to work out the kinks from the road and jot down a few notes. Refreshed by a good night’s sleep, and encouraged by a friend’s recommendation, I enjoyed a guided tour of the Neon Museum. The dramatically lit collection of rusted and broken signs, and the glorious neon of a few restored beauties, is best viewed at night.

I met Rose and Gaye for dinner on my last night in town. We rendezvoused at Sporting Life Bar; a gastropub voted one of Las Vegas’ Best New Restaurants in 2014. Our friend Chef Daniel Dalton III, formerly the sous chef at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro, has elevated simple bar food to an entirely new plane. For example, Chef Dan told me it takes more than 20 hours (!) to prepare the chicken wings. “They begin with 12-15 hours in a green salt cure, then 11-15 hours of slow roasting in duck fat…” We also won the animal-themed trivia contest and claimed our prize; a $50 bar tab. A wonderful evening to celebrate the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another.

I’m thankful for sharing a sometimes outrageous history with Rose (“Do you remember the time when the traveling circus broke down and camped in our front yard?” Rose asked. “How can I forget having a living breathing bear cub in the house,” I responded), and I can’t wait to discover the adventures awaiting us. We hugged and kissed in the gentle mist-filled night the way long-time friends do as we said our goodbyes. “Are you crying?” Rose asked. “Don’t be silly,” I said smiling, dabbing away a tear. “It’s only the rain in my eyes.”

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The truth about Truvada http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/19/the-truth-about-truvada/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/19/the-truth-about-truvada/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:43:18 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=56564

The use of Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has become the topic of conversation for sexually active people in the LGBT community and beyond. The drug when taken appropriately can prevent the contraction of HIV even when a person may have been exposed to the virus. San Diego LGBT Weekly wanted to get accurate answers to the questions being asked about Truvada in the bedrooms, barrooms and ballrooms in San Diego. We interviewed the medical director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Dr. Adam Zweig, to get the truth about Truvada. This is a must-read for anyone who is sexually active.

Stampp Corbin: Dr. Zweig, what is your educational background?

Dr. Adam Zweig

Dr. Adam Zweig: I’m a Harvard University undergraduate, and then I attended USCD for medical school. I did my residency in Phoenix at the VA hospital and worked for the past 22 years at Scripps Clinic where I performed HIV medicine for the group. I opened this new medical center in September, mainly because I wanted to move into the community.

Can you give me an overview about Truvada?

Truvada is a medication that’s one pill that actually has two medications in it. One is called tenofovir, and the other is called emtricitabine. It’s a medication that has actually been around for years as a treatment for patients with HIV infections. A study came out a few years ago which looked at using this one pill – Truvada, as a way to prevent contracting HIV in patients who were at risk.

In the study, the medication was relatively successful at preventing HIV acquisition. In 2012,the FDA approved the use of this medication for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)… allowing us to prescribe it to an individual who we feel is at high risk for contracting HIV. The CDC (The Centers for Disease Control) defines five groups of patients that we as providers should consider using pre-exposure prophylaxis.

So that would include gay men and intravenous drug users?

This can be varied obviously depending on each individual’s interpretation but it is usually gay men who had unprotected anal intercourse in the past six months or an STD in the past six months.

Both tops and bottoms?

Yes. No. 2 is injection recreational drug users as you mentioned. No. 3 is sex trade workers. No. 4 is the discordant couple … meaning an HIV negative individual who has a positive partner. No. 5 is a heterosexual person who is sexually active with somebody that he or she thinks may be bisexual or an injection drug user. Those are the five groups who should consider using PrEP.

Let’s talk about the efficacy of the drug. I’ve read everything from 92-95 percent effectiveness. Is Truvada as effective as a condom? Is it better than a condom? Should it be used in conjunction with a condom?

In the trial which was named iPrex, the efficacy was actually 42 percent in the treatment arm. That means in the patients who were receiving Truvada there was a 42 percent reduction in HIV acquisition compared to the people receiving a placebo. The issue is that not all patients in the treatment arm were actually taking the pill. When blood tests were done to see if there was actually any medication in the blood stream of those patents who were supposed to be taking (Truvada), then in the people who had medication in their system the efficacy rate increased to 72 percent. By extrapolation, it was determined that with the people who took the drug properly that the efficacy rate was actually 92-95 percent.

So what you’re saying is people were not completely adhering to the drug regimen?

That’s correct.

So through extrapolation we get to the 92 to 95 percent efficacy as the best estimate of the drug’s effectiveness?

That’s right. So the estimate was that if an individual at risk for HIV acquisition took this medicine every day and did not miss a dose then it would be about 92 to 95 percent.

If (Truvada) is 92-95 percent effective that’s not as good as a condom, right? A condom is 99 percent effective, right?

Current estimates are 90 to 95 percent in reducing HIV transmission, if used consistently.

Can I go and have unprotected sex or is Truvada a treatment that is to protect me from the 1 percent chance that the condom fails?

Here is the way I present it to my patients and I think the way the FDA (Federal Drug Administration), the CDC and the medical community want it to be used. We don’t want Truvada to be used in place of condoms. Truvada or pre-exposure prophylaxis is one tool that we use to reduce the risk of HIV acquisition in somebody who is at risk. It doesn’t mean either or. I want an individual who is sexually active to enjoy their sexual activity and yet not place themselves or others at risk. So what I tell people is that if they are not in a monogamous relationship to use condoms as much as possible. We all know that using condoms every time is not likely to happen. Things happen, condoms break, you might get tipsy and forget to use it if you are out at a club or you may find yourself in a situation when a condom just isn’t available. If somebody is taking Truvada then they have back up. It’s not going to be that much of an issue.

So based on that scenario, why wouldn’t I do PEP instead? Meaning post-exposure prophylaxis – taking a regimen of drugs immediately after exposure?

It’s certainly a possibility but post-exposure prophylaxis is a little difficult because in order to be effective you have to see your doctor or go to the emergency room and be placed on anti-retroviral therapy of three medications within 72 hours of exposure.

So with the post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) regimen, how long does that have to go?

Usually you use it for 30 days. So if somebody has a high risk exposure we do an HIV test at the time of the exposure, place the patient on medications for 30 days; then, if the next HIV antibody test is negative, we can usually stop the medication.

OK, so the post exposure scenario is 30 days, three pills a day.

Not three pills … three medications a day.

Three medications a day for 30 days and then you make a determination of whether you are or, hopefully, you’re not HIV positive at the end of that result. I want the reader to understand the difference. What I’ve read is that PrEP is something that I’m going to be taking as a daily regimen for as long as I’m sexually active.

For as long as you’re sexually active, it would be a daily regimen for as long as you are at risk. For instance if somebody is in a confirmed monogamous relationship there would be no need for somebody to take a … you’re smiling.

I don’t know of any confirmed monogamous relationships … and I’m not talking just about in the LGBT community. No one knows what their partner is doing.

That’s a decision you have to make yourself. There are a lot of gay couples that are monogamous. They feel that they are monogamous with each other. If you feel you are not at risk, then you would not need to take an expensive medication that has potential side effects. Of course nobody is going to know for sure.

And that’s an issue …

Absolutely, and that’s for an individual to decide; how much they feel they can trust their partner.

Let’s say that I do decide to take Truvada. If I take it right now, walk out of here, have safe sex and the condom breaks, am I protected?

No. The way this medication works is it needs time to be absorbed and get to adequate serum levels, and then get into the cells where it works. In order for (Truvada) to be effective, it would take at least four days or so for the medication to provide protection.

OK, three to four days?

Most likely, yes. I would tell a patient they are probably not going to be protected until they have taken the drug for at least a week. Once again, I would still like them to employ safe sexual practices as much as possible. I wouldn’t want them to say, “OK, I’ve been on Truvada a week now I can bareback as much as I want.”

We are getting to the ultimate question, if I am using condoms should I go on a Truvada regimen to protect me against the 1 percent likelihood that the condom is not going to be effective?

The way I would look at it, and some people may disagree, is that if you are an individual who is sexually active and you use condoms every time you are sexually active – we are talking about anal sex here; I don’t think anybody expects oral sex to be performed with a condom. If you use a condom and your partner uses a condom every single time I don’t think that individual needs to use PrEP. If the condom breaks then we can use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with that individual. I am more worried about a person who is not using a condom every time. That’s the person that I would consider a candidate for pre- exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

You know the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have been suggesting PrEP for sexually active gay men. Why so much controversy? Do you think the treatment will lead to more risky behavior, as some AIDS organizations suggest?

There are probably two potential issues with PrEP. No. 1 is what you just mentioned; will prescribing this medication increase the frequency of risky sexual behavior in patients who take it? That is the first controversy. The second issue is with compliance. If I prescribe this medication and somebody takes it irregularly, then ends up getting HIV and continues to take the medication irregularly, then I am worried about the possibility of resistant HIV developing. The person may be able to spread this resistant virus to other people. So those are the two issues. Will prescribing PrEP increase the frequency of risky sexual behavior and thereby the frequency of STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, hepatitis B and hepatitis C? Will non-compliant patients increase the possibility of developing a (Truvada) resistant virus?

In terms of an increase in risky behavior, those exact same things were said about the birth control pill, that women were going to become more promiscuous, that the birth control pill doesn’t protect against STDs. So why is it that PrEP is getting all of this controversy around the issue when it’s the same issue when you tell a woman to go on a birth control pill?

I think that is a valid point, but I also do think that there is a difference in the population that we are talking about in terms of heterosexual women and gay men.

In terms of contraction of STDs?

Well, I would probably think there is a difference, and I don’t want to be inflammatory about this; the number of sexual partners would be different between those two groups. That being said, you are exactly right, it did not happen in women, it may not happen in men. In gay men I think there is a concern which certainly hasn’t been proven yet. There are a couple of studies that seem to show that the rate of risky sexual behavior did not go up when people thought that they were on Truvada. However, there was also a study that came out from Kaiser Permanente in Northern California a few months ago that showed the rate of condom-less sex increased by 45 percent in men that were on Truvada. So we have some conflicting data.


I think there will probably be two groups of gay men. One group who are really worried about contracting HIV and other STDs, who will not increase their risky sexual behavior. And then a group of gay men who will probably look to the medicine to give them a way out from having to use condoms; in that group it may increase the rate of risky sexual behavior. I don’t have any numbers to back me up. I’m in no way trying to be judgmental. Certainly, someone practicing condom-less sex should get regular STD screening.

What’s more concerning is what you said about potentially producing an HIV strain resistant to Truvada. Can you be a little bit more specific about what you are saying?

We know in people who have chronic HIV infection that the more non-compliant the patient is, the more likely they will develop a resistant viral strain.

But Truvada is really is for people who are HIV negative?

Truvada if used alone. We use Truvada all the time in people who are HIV positive but we use it along with another medication.

Right. So I’m HIV negative, I go on Truvada, I use condoms sometimes, I don’t use condoms other times. How does that affect this resistant strain?

If you are HIV negative taking Truvada incorrectly, it is not going to do anything with the HIV strains out there because you don’t have HIV. What we are worried about is the person who is not taking the medication correctly, who might take it for two days then not take it for five days who is HIV negative and then acquires HIV.

Because they have don’t have enough Truvada in their system, it creates a strain that’s resistant?

It may. If the patient does not know they have become HIV positive and they continue to take the medicine inconsistently, we worry about that HIV strain becoming resistant. In the clinical trials resistance was rare, but as this drug is rolled out to more and more people, there are concerns about the development of a resistant virus.

So Truvada is not a planned activity? I’m going to a circuit party for four days and I know I’m going to be in a hyper-charged sexual environment. I shouldn’t say, “Oh I’m going to take Truvada for five days before I go; I’m going to take it the whole time I’m there and then when I come home I am going to go off of it.”

Right. So, once again, as a member of the medical community, that is worrisome. Most of the time sexual activity is notoriously unpredictable – it can happen at any time therefore if you not taking this medication every day you may not be protected

What I am asking about is planned sexual activity. I know I’m going to a hyper-charged sexual environment; I start (Truvada) the week before I go, come back and stop, because I don’t live in a hyper-charged sexual environment.

I don’t know if there are any studies that have looked at it like that. I imagine that strategy would work, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work if you take it far enough in advance and you stop it at least after your risky exposure is over. It probably would work. But once again, what I am worried about is exposures during unplanned sexual activity, so that would be the issue.

OK. I have decided that I’m going to go on Truvada (PrEP). What are the side effects?

The good thing about this medicine is that the short-term side effects are pretty minimal. A small percentage of people get some gastro-intestinal disturbance… nausea or vomiting. It usually gets better after a week or two, but other than that it’s extremely well tolerated. The problems are long-term toxicity, which once again are relatively rare, but there are definitely some people who can get kidney dysfunction or bone loss due to long-term use of Truvada.

Which is true of diabetic drugs.

Correct. But there is no drug to treat anything that does not have potential side effects. When somebody comes in to see me I have to weigh the benefits versus the risk. And the side effects are part of the risks.

This is the first drug that is a true prophylactic. I’m going to go on this drug regimen to prevent something I do not have.

That’s right. It’s a preventative medicine; you are not treating a disease. A patient may be on it long-term, especially if their risk for acquisition is present for a while. The two major risks are, as I mentioned, kidney dysfunction and No. 2 is bone loss leading to osteoporosis. The good thing is in most young men the risk for kidney dysfunction and the risk for osteoporosis is very low.

This is a major decision. We were just talking about long-term toxicity but we don’t have studies that have looked at it for that long.

Well we do. We’ve used the components of Truvada for HIV infection for years. These drugs have been available for at least 13 years.

So you’re saying the maximum would be the toxicity you would experience with an HIV cocktail that has been in use for many years?


So it could be less toxicity because you are only taking the one drug?

Correct. We are talking about healthy people. A lot of patients that are HIV positive have other health issues.

Do you consider Truvada the best way to prevent contracting HIV in today’s environment?

I consider it one way of preventing that. One of the tools we should be using together to prevent HIV infection. If I was at risk for HIV, in one of those five risk categories that we talked about, would I take Truvada? The answer is yes. I would also, once again, try to use condoms as much as I could. Second, I would try to do my best at choosing my partners … I want to say responsibly … but that is kind of a charged word.

That is a charged word. So let’s try this; I’m going to be your 20-year-old son. “Dad, I just heard about this drug Truvada and you know I’m gay. You’re a doctor Dad, what do you think I should do?”

I would say, son, I do think that you should use Truvada. Do you have multiple sexual partners? Even one sexual partner who you aren’t completely sure is monogamous with you, then I think you will have great benefit from taking Truvada. I want you to take it every day. And I want you, as much as you can, to use a condom when you are sexually active.


And if that doesn’t happen all the time you are still a good person. I’m not going to judge you and you have to do what’s right for you. You are a smart person. I think those are the best ways that you can protect not only yourself but your partner or partners.

I think that really sums it up. Thank you very much Dr. Zweig for the interview and your services to the LGBT community.


Truvada: How to get a prescription?

If you are a sexually active gay male, or a member of one of the five groups recommended to take Truvada or PrEP, and want to take the drug as an additional level of protection against contracting HIV, here is the process:

Contact your primary care physician

Your primary care physician has the ability to prescribe you Truvada. Unfortunately, many physicians are not educated about the drug and its benefits to HIV- patients. If your doctor is not familiar with Truvada or refuses to prescribe the drug, ask for a referral to an HIV specialist within your provider network, or seek out an HIV specialist on your own within your provider network. The HIV specialist should provide you with the requested prescription.

How can I drive my physician to make a referral to an HIV specialist if he does not want to prescribe Truvada or PrEP?

If your doctor is giving you trouble about making a referral, you are probably with the wrong doctor. Your doctor should be cognizant of the fact that you believe you are at risk for contracting HIV and should honor your request for a referral to an HIV specialist. If not, it may be time to change doctors.

I don’t feel comfortable discussing my desire to take Truvada with my primary care doctor, is there another option?

Yes. You can make an appointment with another doctor that specializes in HIV medicine or at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. However, if the appointment is not in your provider network or requires a referral from your primary care physician, you may need to cover the cost of the doctor visit out of pocket. Dependent upon your insurance plan you may not be able to see a physician out of network at all. Before making an appointment, verify that your insurance company will pay for the visit, or if not, what that potential out of pocket expense will be.

Call the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to make an appointment to get a prescription or contact The San Diego LGBT Center or Family Health Centers of San Diego for additional HIV prevention resources.

Once I get a prescription for Truvada, does every pharmacy carry the drug?

Yes. However, pharmacies that specialize in HIV care will most likely have the staff available to help you navigate the special programs available to cover co-pays and minimize the cost to you. For example, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Hillcrest helps people understand their insurance options. There are also other pharmacies specializing in HIV healthcare and prescriptions in the city.


Truvada: How to pay for your prescription?

Once a person decides to take a regimen of Truvada, the next questions are often how much does it cost and how will I pay for it? San Diego LGBT Weekly interviewed Brandon Patchett, pharmacist at AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Hillcrest to get answers to these common questions. Please read all of the answers; the net message is the drug can be very affordable for the average person with insurance and for those who take advantage of the programs offered to help pay for the drug.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: I‘ve read that most insurance companies cover the drug including Medicaid, is that true?

Brandon Patchett: Since Truvada is a widely used medication used to treat HIV, all insurance companies have it included in their medication formulary and it is covered. In some cases, special paperwork or authorization may be needed for the drug to be used as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Brandon, how much is the net cost for Truvada? Meaning what will the average person pay per month?

The universally recognized price for Truvada is $1,539.90 for 30 tablets. A client with insurance would pay a fraction of this cost, some who qualify for manufacturer programs may pay next to nothing. A cash paying client without insurance coverage would pay a price for Truvada somewhere close to this figure. The final out of pocket cost is variable from pharmacy to pharmacy depending on the actual acquisition cost the pharmacy has negotiated with its individual drug wholesaler.

What about the copay for those with insurance, is it really expensive?

With insurance coverage, the majority of the cost of Truvada is covered by the insurance plan. The client is responsible for a copayment that is different from plan to plan. Truvada is often in a higher copay tier since it is classified as a

specialty medication so check with your insurance plan before filling your prescription.

What is required to qualify for the manufacturer of Truvada, Gilead Sciences, Copay Coupon Program that covers a person’s co-pay? Are you saying that under the program a person taking Truvada can pay nothing?

Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of Truvada, offers a Copay Coupon Card that will provide up to $300 of coverage for insurance copayments. Any routine copayment that is $300 or less, will be covered in full by the Copay Coupon Card, leaving $0.00 out of pocket cost. To qualify for the Copay Coupon Program, you must have insurance coverage to help with your prescription costs and it cannot be a government provided insurance plan. Individuals with Medicare, Medi-Cal, or Tricare prescription coverage (among others) are not eligible for the Copay Coupon.

What about those who do not have insurance, how do they pay for Truvada? Gilead Sciences provides a Truvada for PrEP Medication Assistance program that may provide medication to an uninsured client at no cost. There are specific qualifications for this program that can be found at http://www.gilead.com/responsibility/us-patient-access

If a client does not have insurance and does not qualify for PrEP Medication Assistance, the client must pay the full cash price for Truvada.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation offers a free service to help people figure out how to pay for Truvada, correct?

The pharmacists at AHF help with any insurance authorizations that may be required for Truvada coverage, and help to identify and enroll clients into the proper copay assistance programs to minimize out of pocket costs.

So anyone can get their prescription filled at AIDS Healthcare Foundation?

AIDS Healthcare Foundation is a not for profit entity and 96 cents of every dollar earned goes back to support HIV treatment and programs throughout the world. Anyone may get their prescriptions filled at AHF and by doing so you are helping to support the HIV community and treatment programs all over the world.



AIDS Healthcare Foundation

3940 4th Ave., Ste.140




The San Diego LGBT Community Center

3909 Centre St.




Family Health Centers of San Diego

3544 30th St.





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Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Honors will recognize three for lifetime achievement http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/bayard-rustin-civil-rights-honors-will-recognize-three-for-lifetime-achievement/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/bayard-rustin-civil-rights-honors-will-recognize-three-for-lifetime-achievement/#respond Thu, 05 Feb 2015 16:02:18 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/bayard-rustin-civil-rights-honors-will-recognize-three-for-lifetime-achievement/

Bayard Rustin

“This isn’t about ‘they’ or ‘them,’” Dr. Delores A. Jacobs said. “This is ‘us.’”

“Us” is the essence of the Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Honors, which will recognize Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, Stan Lewis and Phyllis Jackson with Lifetime Achievement Awards. The event will take place Friday, Feb. 27 from 6-8 p.m. at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, 3909 Centre St.

A celebration of the contributions of noted civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who was one of the visionary leaders in the African American civil rights movement and a gay man, this event “helps us recognize the long history and the contemporary reality of the struggle for equal rights – for the black community, for our LGBT community,” said Jacobs, chief executive officer of The Center. “It acknowledges, in a meaningful way, the true diversity of our communities.”

The event is sponsored by The Center’s Nicole Murray Ramirez Latino Services, the GLBT Historic Task Force, the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation and the Imperial Court de San Diego. The evening will feature a soul food buffet, with the $10 suggested donation benefitting the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir, the Bayard Rustin U.S. Postage Stamp Campaign and The Center. Local activists La Rue Fields, Christopher Wilson, Tanisha Conwright and John Gwynn will also be recognized for their contributions to civil rights.

Rustin was a longtime leader in the anti-war and civil rights movement, though much of his work was done behind the scenes, in part due to his early affiliation with the Communist Party USA and his 1953 arrest for “homosexual activity.” He was involved with the leading progressive organizations and activities of his time – the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Freedom Rides, the War Resisters League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute. He was instrumental in bringing the principles of non-violence to the civil rights movement, and was the chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Weeks before the march, Sen. Strom Thurmond derided Rustin as a “Communist, draft-dodger and homosexual,” as part of his efforts to disparage the mission of the march itself.

Because of this, Rustin rarely served as the public face of the movement, and his contributions have largely gone unheralded. This event aims to change that.

“We seem to be losing the knowledge of some of our heroes. This man put together the March on Washington, he mentored and was a top advisor to Martin Luther King. He is truly a hero for all people,” said Nicole Murray Ramirez, one of the founders of the Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Honors event. “Not until the movie (Milk) came out was Harvey Milk widely embraced as a hero. I believe our community is thirsty and hungry for true role models. Bayard Rustin, who is just as important, or more so, than Harvey Milk, and yet no one knows who he is. That troubles me.

In front of 170 W 130 St., March on Washington, (l to r) Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson | PHOTO: O. FERNANDEZ

“And with the encouragement and advice of Stampp Corbin, who has been a lifelong advocate for Bayard Rustin’s legacy and who was one of the honorees last year, I created this event because there was nothing about him in our community. This is an opportunity to educate people – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh, I never knew about him.’ This was our chance to change that,” Murray Ramirez said. “Bayard Rustin helped build the American civil rights movement, and that has been the model for so many others – Latinos, women, the LGBT community. We have to embrace that history and his legacy.”

Murray Ramirez and Carolina Alcoser Ramos are credited with launching this event, along with a committee of local activists. They have another goal as well. After a successful campaign to encourage the U.S. Postal Service to issue a Harvey Milk stamp, Murray Ramirez is now actively engaged in a similar effort to achieve a Bayard Rustin stamp, with support from the International Imperial Court System and The Task Force, among others.

Ramos, The Center’s director of training and chief diversity officer, agreed. “This will educate those who don’t know who he (Rustin) is, and don’t know what a big role he played in the civil rights movement. We need to honor his contributions and the accomplishments of black gay men and women in the civil rights movement. A lot of people helped make that history, but were put behind the scenes because of their sexual orientation,” Ramos said. “And it’s important for us to have these awards so we can honor our own San Diegans in the LGBT African American community.”

The Lifetime Achievement honorees come from all walks of life, but have each contributed to both the LGBT and African American communities.

“Dr. Shirley Weber has taken courageous stands for our community,” Murray Ramirez said. “She is a true role model in fighting for equality for all people. She’s an incredible ally, and believes that everyone should have equality, no matter your race or your sexual orientation. She has taken stands for us that cost her votes – that’s not a politician, that’s a true public servant.

“Stan (Lewis) and Phyllis (Jackson) have devoted decades to the struggle of our communities and it is important that we honor them and that others can learn their stories as well.”

“I am really, really honored to be receiving the Bayard Rustin Award, especially alongside honorees Stan Lewis and Phyllis Jackson,” Assemblywoman Weber said. “We’ve been fighting these battles together for a long time.

Dr. Shirley Weber

“It’s been part of my life’s work on issues affecting the African American community to take stock of who our allies are,” Weber said. “The men and women of the LGBT community turn out to be among our strongest allies in the fight against injustice. They get it. The folks who chase gay folks down the street are the same folks who chased my daddy down the street. To me, injustice is injustice is injustice.”

The Honorees

Dr. Shirley Weber

Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber was elected in 2012 to represent California’s 79th Assembly District, which includes Chula Vista, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City and San Diego.

Weber chairs the Assembly Committee on Budget, Assembly Select Committee on Higher Education in San Diego County; and the Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate. She also serves on the Assembly Committees on Education, Higher Education and Appropriations.

Born to sharecroppers from Hope, Ark., she has lived in California since the age of three. Her parents, in particular her father, valued education and supported their daughter’s academic aspirations. She attended UCLA, where she received her BA, MA and Ph.D. by the age of 26. Prior to receiving her doctorate, she became a professor at San Diego State University at the age of 23. Dr. Weber also taught at California State University at Los Angeles and Los Angeles City College before coming to San Diego State University.

Weber has lived in the 79th Assembly District for over 30 years. Deeply committed to community service, she served on the boards of the NAACP, the YWCA, the YMCA Scholarship Committee, Battered Women Services, United Way and the San Diego Consortium. She eventually made a successful run for a seat on the board of the San Diego Unified School District. As a trustee and subsequent school board president, she became known for her advocacy for closing the achievement gap and setting a higher standard of excellence for all children.

Stan Lewis

Her Select Committee on Campus Climate has been exploring some of the racial incidents on state university campuses, the responses from university officials and possible policy changes to make the campuses safer and more welcoming for all students.

Assemblywoman Weber is the mother of a daughter and son, and has two grandchildren. She is the widow of the late Honorable Daniel Weber, a California state judge.

Stan Lewis

Stan Lewis, who arrived in San Diego in 1979, has a long and diverse history of public service. He currently serves as a trustee of the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, and is a former co-chair of the San Diego Pride board of directors. Lewis also previously served as vice president of the San Diego Democratic Club, president of Dignity/San Diego and as a member of the Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board to the San Diego chief of police.

A governmental relations and health care consultant, he has served as a member of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s program committee, and is a former gubernatorial appointee to the California State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and was the governmental affairs representative for the largest city employees union.

Lewis was previously chief of staff to former San Diego City Councilmember Valerie Stallings and a consultant to the City of San Diego Public Facility and Recreation Committee, and has worked in HIV/AIDS services as well.

Lewis completed his bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and received his master’s degree in international business from Bernard Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the father of two grown daughters, and lives with his spouse, Mossie, in Encanto.

Phyllis Jackson

Phyllis Jackson

Phyllis Jackson moved to San Diego in 1977 for love, but when the relationship ended, she stayed to work with the community. Currently, the residential services coordinator with The Association for Community Housing Solutions (TACHS), Jackson has spent more than 25 years working in the fields of substance abuse and HIV/AIDS services.

“There were a lot of people dying [in the early years],” Jackson said. “I was doing HIV 101 in the institutions and the jails and within the drug treatment programs and then so many people were dying. I wanted to get out of HIV because it was just so overwhelming and just focus on recovery and substance abuse. And then in recovery and substance abuse there were so many people dying from HIV. So I couldn’t get away from it.”

Initially her HIV/AIDS work focused on prevention, but as she watched the African American community increasingly devastated by substance abuse and HIV, she began to focus on the African American and LGBT communities.

“It was just painful,” she said. “Every time I would go to a conference I’d hear statistics about African Americans in prison, substance abuse, HIV, and I wanted to do my part. The focus was white, gay men even though African Americans were dying. I had a cousin who died of HIV back in 1980 and a lot of people that I know passed away from HIV so it has been my mission to work particularly with African Americans and inside the LGBT community. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Jackson has served on the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Board, the San Diego City Manager’s Clean Syringe Task Force, the AIDS Walk board of directors, the HIV & AIDS Women’s Conference board of directors, and on the board of directors of CRASH, Inc., among many others.

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Cupid Ain’t Stupid 2015 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/cupid-aint-stupid-2015/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/cupid-aint-stupid-2015/#respond Thu, 05 Feb 2015 16:02:16 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/02/05/cupid-aint-stupid-2015/

Skip the clichés this Valentine’s Day – because flowers and candy send the very special message that you have zero time to be considerate – and swap them for more creative and sentimental surprises. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way with these small-but-meaningful gifts given with love.

Kiss Pillows and Paintings

Contemporary artist Olesya Robison gives puckery pouts the glam-rock treatment in her Kiss collection, featuring oil-on-canvas conversation starters and in-your-face throw pillows with just the right amount of pop. The former – officially titled “Candy Crush Kiss” – features 24k gold flakes imported from France and genuine Swiss Swarovski crystals, while the latter gives your urban space a splash of champagne wishes and caviar dreams via one sultry smooch. $65-$1,000; olyrobison.com

The Gay Gospel

Twenty-something singles don’t have to spend another lonely Valentine’s Day down in the dumps when they can curl up with a confidence-boosting book. Author Justin Luke Zirilli’s The Gay Gospel levels the playing field for today’s young gay men with his no-nonsense but oft-hysterical advice on everything from sex and dating to family and finances. Couples, too, can enjoy this quick guide to love, relationships and everything in between that Broadway star Billy Porter calls “deftly concise, incredibly lean, yet amazingly practical.” From $6.95; justinlukenyc.com

360 Mini Massager

Instead of outsourcing your lover’s spa-quality shiatsu session, get hands-on at home this year with Moji’s 360 Mini Massager – the perfect palm-sized device to help put a little passion back in the bedroom. Equipped with seven rotating steel spheres to help ease the tension out of the toughest spots, this flexible massager features an adjustable clasp for a contoured fit so the two of you can take turns getting knotty – er, naughty – all night. $29.95 ; gomoji.com


If your babe is focused on staying buff (lucky you!), Nip+Man male grooming products will help him stay studly and cuddly while enhancing that bangin’ bod. More than just a skin care line for men, this range of products – billed as incorporating a “number of plastic surgery alternatives” – are designed to emphasize natural contours and improve skin texture. Lineup includes the usual suspects like facial wash and after-shave lotion, but there also are more manly additions like Pec Fix, Bicep Fix and Ab Fix, the names of which alone will make you want to rip off his clothes. $60.84; GNC.com

Bits of Love Jewelry

If you’re not quite ready to take the legal plunge with your main squeeze, Bits of Love jewelry can help you effectively express your four-letter affection without signing an anxiety-inducing lifelong contract. Each solid-sterling silver ring is handcrafted in the United States, and a portion of sales benefit Street Poets Inc., a poetry initiative for at-risk youth that believes in the power of words to transform. $95; bitsoflovestyle.com

Perfect Reject Plush Sculptures

There’s a certain beauty in our own flaws – and those of our better halves – and that concept has never been captured more poignantly than by Perfect Reject, plush sculptures that aptly celebrate difference and diversity in a tattered-and-torn collection of misfit dolls. With an emphasis on tolerance and compassion, these handcrafted keepsakes are as unique as the love between you and your S.O., and each one is a testament to the resilience and imperfection of your individual relationship. Available in a wide array of animals and pop-culture icons, there’s a Perfect Reject to fit every personality. $150-$375; perfectreject.com


Help your partner preserve his or her selfies, ‘usies’ and other photos while protecting their digital lifeblood with a custom case from Casetify. You’ll create functional sentiment – to complement an iPhone, iPod, iPad or Android devices – by pulling pics from Facebook and Instagram to build a collage of images in a selection of patterns, including a heart. Because each case is made-to-order, allow ample time to receive it before the big day. From $29.95; casetify.com

Brickell Men’s Products

Give your sweetie the gift of smooth, caressable skin – all over his beautiful body – with the full line of natural grooming products from Brickell. For V-Day, pick up the giftable-from-the-getco Men’s Starter Kit, which includes travel-size favorites including scented or unscented face wash, shave cream, aftershave, moisturizer, hand balm and bar soap. $45; brickellmensproducts.com

Whiskey Explorers Club

Does your squeeze have an affinity for high-end hooch? Send your message of love by the bottle with the Whiskey Explorers Club, a one-time or quarterly gift set that packs a powerful punch. Each For Whiskey Lovers shipment contains four 50ml flights of premium whiskey labeled with a generic code. To find out what brand of whiskey they’re tasting, your too-cute connoisseur can turn the experience into an interactive game where they’ll provide tasting notes and ratings while enjoying a rousing edition of My Whiskey IQ. From $75; forwhiskeylovers.com

Heart Swatch

Let your honey know that your love will stand the test of time with Unlock My Heart, the newest addition to the expansive heart-themed collection from Swatch. A portable lock of love and presented in a special box to make sure your romance never misses a beat, this latest addition is inspired by the love padlocks representing happy relationships that notably adorn bridges throughout Europe. $70; swatch.com

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world, including CNN.com, The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Instinct magazine, and Out.com, among many others. He lives in Manhattan with his husband and their cuddle-buddy furbaby. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.

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Twinkle, twinkle, little star: http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/24/twinkle-twinkle-little-star/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/24/twinkle-twinkle-little-star/#respond Sun, 25 Jan 2015 02:15:01 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55733

Seriously, what is it about porn that turns people off? I’ve never understood so I suspect I’ll never understand others’ aversions to it.

And what a pity.

If only because as a result of porn, there have been some very, very good documentaries about the subject. Wrangler: Portrait of An Icon (2008), was a critical smash that traces the life of John Robert Stillman (aka Jack Wrangler) to his rise to the top of the gay adult entertainment industry, his transition to straight porn, and his equally wild success, his relationship with Margaret Whiting, a woman 22 years his elder and his last transition to theater, the history of which is still being written.

That Man: Peter Berlin (2005) was also a critical success and has been a collector’s item for years. The full-length feature documentary traces the life of the iconic German (born Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene) who upended San Francisco conventions, what few existed, with his provocative dress and his unapologetic sexual identity. He was to the San Francisco cruising scene what Don Johnson was once to pink and teal – Its staple and spokesman.

But, as good as they were, and they were very, very good, those documentaries chronicled previous epochs of which so few knew about.

Then, when a young man from Nebraska named Ryan Sullivan was contracted by the bareback adult studio, Treasure Island Media, to chronicle the daily goings-on of life in and around the studios, did the adult documentary suddenly ignite into flames again. Ryan Sullivan’s Island (2008) garnered numerous awards at film festivals around the world that proved thoughtful, artistic, intelligent documentaries and gay porn may or may not necessarily be prurient but they didn’t have to be sensationalistic either.

Now there’s Twink (2014). Written, starring, directed and produced by the 24-year-old self-described “underground filmmaker” Wade Radford of England, Twink , billed as a ‘mockumentary,’ is one of the smartest, most incisive documentaries, not just on the crass commercial exploitation of gay porn – really? – but of the economic cesspool many young people find themselves in today and how they cope with the less pleasant realities of life (read: one of the most difficult economic markets to come of age in a very, very long time.)

But in this absolutely addictive 66 minutes of film, Radford touches on those themes – exploitation, distorted concepts of love and acceptance, self-worth – that are tailor-made for the millennials. Gay adult Industry observer Tim Evanson notes, “Twinks especially are considered a throw-away commodity in gay adult film. Muscular bears and bodybuilders don’t have to worry so much about age and weight, but the skinny twink’s shelf-life in adult film is a year or two at best. Any adult film provider will tell you that the films and scenes which sell best are those which feature immature-looking, skinny, well-hung young men age 18 to 25. The more brutal and extreme the sex they engage in, the more the scene or film will sell. And since there are always 3,000 or 4,000 more young men turning 18 ever year, clamoring to get their chance at adult stardom, studios have no incentive to treat their stars well. It’s a chew-’em-up, spit-’em-out business.”

There are no statistics on just how many socioeconomically-challenged youth have previously had gay porn experience any more than there are on just how many socioeconomically-privileged youth have performed in gay porn. But the ones, who tipped the edge, who didn’t quite find the pot-o-gold at the end of the rainbow are the themes that Radford massages in ways that are both subtle, obvious and, at times, excessive and that makes Twink watchable in ways that are alternately hypnotic and repulsive.

San Diego LGBT Weekly spoke with the young, British filmmaker to find out what drives him to speak about this throw-a-way culture.

LGBT Weekly: From the outside looking in, it looks like a couple of good friends having fun making movies, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?

Wade Radford: Surprisingly, I make LGBT films, but I’m not generally a fan of LGBT art house or Indie! I seem to have an odd attraction to exploitation/grindhouse that usually is enjoyed by heterosexual men! If I had to pick an LGBT film, and as I say, I rarely watch them, My Own Private Idaho would get my vote. I liked Gus Van Sant’s style with that one and, of course, River Phoenix was iconic.

You display a viciously comical sense of humor. I’m specifically thinking of the point, about 15 minutes into the picture, where you are setting up the audience for the. Was that what your experience was like?

I have never starred in pornography even though that does seem to be widely assumed. I suppose when you’re in films called Boys Behind Bars and Twink you get the reputation. Love it! I made Twink purely for the education of 18-year-old-boys who can now be porn stars from their bedrooms!

Well, you have insights that speak specifically to the realities of life for many twink stars. Where do you draw upon those insights if you’ve never actually done gay porn?

Look at the LGBT community. The dream … The uneducated dream of boys who’ve never been told any better! I have friends who are in porn and that’s fine and I don’t take issue with it. I take issue with the exploitation of boys who do not know the commitment to such ‘art’, the commitment they will carry with them forever. I resent and condemn the big companies who clearly exploit for major bucks (e.g. Helix Studios, BoyCrush, AsiaBoys, French Twinks, etc.) Young men who have no clue! I condemn the [ads] by pornography Twitter accounts and Web sites that are aimed at seriously young, just-turned 18-year-old boys, enticing them with the promise of getting paid to fuck! Porn is a business and that’s fine. I know many happy bods working in porn who get paid fairly and who are looked after. But, come on. These 18-year-olds are just little babes. They don’t know of the options out there. They only know what they’re told: they’re thin, blonde meat! My story, Twinks, shows the retirement of a used and not-so-sexy boy whose done by the time he’s approaching his mid-20s … what ever shall he do next I wonder?

In your picture, your character, Kayden Daydream, has become an alcoholic who passes his time in a marijuana-induced haze, living in a bitter fog. Is that what you’ve seen happen to your friends who’ve done twink porn?

Some, yes. But as an actor and writer, I like to think I can place myself in the shoes of ‘that person.’ Look around the Internet. It’s just full of those whose self-esteem has been slammed, fed the dope and worse, are now daddy’s bitches. I repeat what I’ve said: Pornography is a business. I do not take issue with porn. I take issue with the exploitation of another man’s wallet! Yes, I do believe when pornography ends and you’re moneyless and wondering what you’ll do next, that probably could leave you bitter and depressed. To your question, yes I’ve seen/met those people. It’s all such fun when the world admires you, wants you, needs you. But we all have our day, don’t we? My clear message is not that you shouldn’t do porn. My one and only message is: Is it right for you? What options do you have? Can you carry it with you forever?

Another message – one that is certainly not original in the context of a documentary – but that comports with the themes of Twink is this idea of exploitation. You deftly weave the two together. Can you talk about the exploitation of these young kids vs. the exploitation of the documentarian filming you?

Reality television! Don’t we just love it? We see it all the time, as soon as you enter the singing competition, the reality challenge, filmed 24 hours a day or a fly on the wall! That shits even gonna make you or break you! Yet again the performance you give to the cameras you’ve got to live with it! Even on our mainstream TV channels we’ve seen it destroy lives and do they care? Of course they don’t! By the time Kayden had worked through the interview he knew what he’d done and now all that was to do was to finish it off in the most shocking style imaginable! The documentarian once again was only there for his own pocket. He cared not for Kayden/Quinn or his story. He wanted a fast buck, a controversial TV interview to air and a ladder for climbing his own way up to the top, exploiting and crushing his young subject. Quinn knew this throughout Twink. The cameras, the media, the papers, the radio. They’re all there to earn. It does not matter what it does to the animals taking part!

How does Quinn/Kayden’s relationship change with the documentarian throughout Twink?

I think at first Quinn’s intentions were honest – to tell his story – and he then started getting more and more pissed off as the documentarian who becomes pushy and shows the exploitative colors he really possessed. I then think Quinn sharply took a quick revert back to his Kayden persona and thought: “I’ve had enough. If this ass wants a show, I’ll give him a show!

He tries repeatedly to seduce the documentarian. Is that what he’s doing – Quinn/Kayden – or is he simply giving people what he thinks they want?

I think by that point he’s using it as the only power he knows. Or used to know. It’s all a part of the show. His intentions at first were good and then it took a damaging turn back to ‘Kayden’s final show’ if you will!?

So let’s talk about that final scene. Was that, in your eyes, the only logical conclusion for what should happen to Kayden/Quinn?

No, of course not! If I had my time again, would I have done the same ending? I don’t think so! With a lot of our films being ad-libbed, things happen that, at the time they seem awesome. The effect would still have been strong, but the way in which, I think I’d have attempted something a bit different. But hey, some people will love it and others won’t. I’ve heard varied opinions.

What might you have done?

I don’t want to give out spoilers for the ending, so I’m not sure how best to answer this. Let’s just say the outcome would have been the same, but I think something more subtle yet with the same sort of powerful emotions you saw.

What sort of reaction are you expecting from the gay adult community if/when they should happen upon Twink? What conversations would you like to see taking place?

The gay adult scene can do with it, make of it, or think of it what they like! I made it mainly for impressionable teenagers; some would argue it may not be suitable for teens to be watching. I beg to differ. I see Twink as an educational film above all else. Some may think I’m barking for thinking of it that way, but hey hum! From Twink and in general we need to give young gay men a chance, a chance to be educated, know what they’re in for, to make damn sure these companies are being responsible for the lives and welfare of their employees and that a young gay man can see both sides of the coin and ask: Is this my life? If it is, good luck, good health and good wishes. If not? Go and do something else with your life that will exude your well-being and make use of all of your talents! Everyone has a choice. I am neither for nor against. I’m simply stating one must make informed, educated decisions.

Twink was released for general consumption Nov. 18. To purchase a copy, click here.

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Celebrating 50 years of the International Imperial Court System http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/celebrating-50-years-of-the-international-imperial-court-system/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/celebrating-50-years-of-the-international-imperial-court-system/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 23:00:07 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/celebrating-50-years-of-the-international-imperial-court-system/

Fifty years ago, World War II veteran Jose Julio Sarria was crowned Empress I of San Francisco, thus planting the seed of the International Imperial Court System that grew into a royal oak tree, with branches extending through Canada, the United States and Mexico. The International Imperial Court System currently has chapters in over 68 cities within North America and Mexico. Four years earlier, Sarria became the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in 1961. Sarria, who died in 2013 at the age of 90, is considered a true gay icon and pioneer.

Former Speaker, John A. Perez of the California Assembly noted that Sarria had impact beyond California; his influence was global: “Jose Sarria was a monumental figure in the LGBT Community whose contributions to our movement cannot be overstated. His trailblazing run for public office as an openly gay man laid the groundwork for LGBT Californians to run for public office proudly and openly. But Jose’s refusal to be silenced or shamed back into the closet, in an era where LGBT people were routinely discriminated against, was the greatest contribution to our movement. Jose’s courageous personal example of living life openly, with pride and dignity, gave so many others the courage and confidence they needed to do the same.”

One of Sarria’s major legacies was his founding of the International Imperial Court System of the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico, which many consider the LGBT Shriners or Elks of North America. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial Court and every chapter is marking this occasion of their Royal Golden Jubilee. Next month, a gala dinner will be held in the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Empress I Tawny Tan and Emperor I Omar

In 1971, gay and lesbians in San Diego started organizing a local Imperial Court chapter and in 1973, San Diego’s first emperor and empress were elected: current #1 5th Avenue owner, Omar Lowry and then entertainer, Tawny Tann, who died of AIDS in the 1980s. The first Coronation Ball was held at what is now the Holiday Inn at the downtown Embarcadero, with over 800 people in attendance at what was the first homosexual public event ever held in a hotel. Emperor I Omar and Empress I Tawny then established and invested their court chapter members. A tradition that will continue decades later Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Lafayette Hotel with the election and crowning of the 43rd monarchs of San Diego.

The Imperial Court de San Diego, is the community’s oldest non-profit organization, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the last four decades, that have benefited almost every LGBT organization and cause as well as many non-profits outside of the community. “The Imperial Court de San Diego was responsible for raising and providing the seed money for our LGBT Community Center, Pride and many other organizations in the 1970s,” stated City Councilman Todd Gloria.

The reigning Emperor XLII Robert Rodriguez and Empress XLII Pearl, their court members and the board of directors have raised over $100,000 this past year which has benefited the San Diego community. There are currently three candidates running to be San Diego’s next royal monarchs.

Empress Pearl XLII and Emperor Robert XLII

“The Imperial Court de San Diego has for decades provided burial service for AIDS clients, food and groceries to families and school supplies for children to name but a few of their ongoing contributions,” stated Carolina Ramos, director of Community Programs at The LGBT Center. In 1979, one of the first GLBT student scholarships in California was established by the Imperial Court de San Diego, which is now called “The Harvey Milk/Nicole Murray Ramirez GLBT Scholarship Program”

In 2007, Jose Julio Sarria retired and named City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez as successor and head of the International Court System. Sarria crowned Ramirez as Queen Mother I of the Americas at a royal gala in Seattle, Wash.

Under Nicole’s current nine year leadership of the organization’s governing board, (the Imperial Court Council) over $125,000 has been contributed to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Court organized and led a successful five year campaign for the first Harvey Milk U.S. postage stamp and established the first international GLBT student scholarship program, which currently has $62,000 in its fund.

Her Most Imperial Majesty, The Queen Mother I of the Americas Empress Nicole the Great

The International Court Chapters will be gathering in Portland, Ore. in October for a royal state dinner concluding the 2015 Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The entire community is invited to attend the San Diego Court’s 43rd annual “Military Ball” to congratulate the current monarchs on a most successful and productive reign.

San Diego will be hosting a two day meeting of the International Court Council, with members coming from throughout North America and Mexico. The VIP/dinner tickets to San Diego’s 43rd annual Coronation Gala Jan. 31 have sold out, however, general admission tickets are still available ($50 advance purchase or $75 at the door) for the 7 p.m. event.

For additional information, please call 619-254-6372 or visit imperialcourtsandiego.com

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TAX TIME! http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/tax-time/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/tax-time/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:58:05 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/22/tax-time/

The first time I did taxes for Greg and Linda, I was blindsided. They were married the summer before they became my clients. Both of them had only ever received refunds on their tax returns. And this year, they owed money to Uncle Sam. A lot, too. I, like my new clients, hadn’t really internalized my understanding of how marriage really impacts people’s taxes. I was caught off guard, to say the least.

Fast-forward 10 years later to now, and we are on the verge of nationwide marriage equality. Over this time, it has been exciting to see the progress we as a community of LGBT people have made. It has also been challenging to inform LGBT people of their tax-related rights and responsibilities along the way.

A single person is a single person, and the tax code doesn’t care if you are LGBT or not. All single status filers follow the same set of rules and, in general, are accustomed to those rules so there are few surprises that are unique to LGBT people. One interesting area that is unique, however, is the tax treatment of medical expenses for transgender folks. In its 2010 case, O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and in some cases breast augmentation/deconstruction are, “legitimate and often medically necessary treatments for transgender people,” and are as such, deductible medical expenses.

And, whether single or not, fertility treatments that women undergo in order to have a baby may also be deductible as medical expenses. For those who adopt, there is also a tax credit of up to $13,190 per child for adoptions finalized in 2014.

When you add another person to the mix, the tax code gets a little trickier and sometimes downright unfair. As of the issuance of Revenue Ruling 2013-17, in response to Edith Windsor’s U.S. Supreme Court victory against the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS expanded its definition of marriage for all federal tax purposes to include same-sex couples who were married in any affirming jurisdiction. So, two men who marry in California are married for federal tax purposes. Two women who marry in Iowa? Them, too. This status applies regardless of where these couples live. If they live in a marriage equality state, they use a married filing status (separate or joint) on both their federal and state returns. If they live in a non-affirming state, they file as married on their federal return and use a single status on their state return. Here in California, if two men or two women marry, then their taxes are exactly the same as mom and dad’s taxes, with all of the benefits and surprises of filing as married.

When the person you add to the mix is a registered domestic partner (RDP) or a civil union partner, then for federal purposes you are single. Revenue Ruling 2013-17 spells out clearly that RDPs are not spouses for federal income tax purposes. In California, however, RDP couples file taxes with a married status; joint or separate. So, for a California RDP couple, each person files a single-status federal return, and a married-status state return. And, to make life more interesting, as California is a community property state, California RDP couples who must file a single status on their federal return, must also properly allocate items of community property and income. For couples where one partner earns substantially more than the other, filing as RDPs can result in a pleasant surprise at tax time.

While I would never give a same-sex couple the advice to either marry or not marry based solely on the tax impact, I always advise them to ask questions and understand what marriage (or not) will mean for them.

Dave Yoshida

So, what’s the big deal, then, as we move toward marriage equality, for same-sex couples who want to tie the knot? Won’t they continue to get refunds like they always have? Not necessarily. This is where the tax code gets ugly: the so-called “marriage penalty.” The marriage penalty also doesn’t care if you are LGBT or not. Here’s an example that might help clarify things:

For 2014, the 25 percent federal income tax bracket goes up to about $89,000 for a single person. Let’s say you and I get married. We each have $85,000 of taxable income per year. On a single return, we would each max out our taxes at 25 percent. If we marry, however, and regardless of whether or not we are LGBT and in a same-sex marriage, our 25 percent bracket tops out at $148,500. So, on about 22K worth of our joint earnings we are paying taxes at a higher rate. That’s one example of the marriage penalty.

At higher levels of income, there is the “Additional Medicare Tax” which is a tax to help fund the Affordable Care Act. For a single taxpayer, this tax of 0.9 percent will apply on earned income above $200,000 for the year. While you might expect a married couple to earn up to $400,000 before this tax kicks in, you would be incorrect. For a married couple, the tax applies to earned income above $250,000, definitely a marriage penalty.

In the case of Greg and Linda, the clients who were shocked when they owed taxes, their owing tax was a payroll withholding issue. If you and I marry and we each make $100,000, my payroll system does not calculate your wages when determining the amount of taxes to keep from each check. Similarly, your payroll system doesn’t know what I make each paycheck. Since the percentage of tax increases as income does, tax on $200,000 is more than double the tax on $100,000, so we won’t have had enough tax taken out of our checks.

The tax code is confusing at best. It’s no wonder that people who get married end up with surprises. But if you think about it, we have all grown up in a world without the assumption that we boys will meet Mr. Right, (or that we girls will meet Ms. Right), get married, and file taxes as a married couple. It’s still a brand new concept for us. The stuff that trips up our non-LGBT brothers and sisters is even less familiar territory to us. Imagine a transgender person asking, “Are my hormone treatments deductible?” when society still tells this person to hide. If somebody can’t come out, they won’t ask LGBT-specific tax questions.

It is quite important, then, to find a tax professional who is beyond just tolerant of your status as an LGBT individual. I’d suggest you ask about their experience over the last several years with same-sex married and RDP couples. I don’t believe you need a gay tax guy, for example, but I do think it’s very important that you feel comfortable discussing very intimate personal details with the person you choose.

We tax professionals often know more about our clients than most of their friends and family members. It’s important that you sense a high level of trust and respect for who you are as a person.

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Are you ready to get fit and fabulous for 2015? http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/08/are-you-ready-to-get-fit-and-fabulous-for-2015/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/08/are-you-ready-to-get-fit-and-fabulous-for-2015/#respond Thu, 08 Jan 2015 23:07:22 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/08/are-you-ready-to-get-fit-and-fabulous-for-2015/

Now that the holiday season is behind us, it’s time to get focused on creating the best version of you in 2015. Jump on the New Year bandwagon and make a commitment to yourself to not only get in shape this year but to make this resolution last throughout the year.

In order to find out the best ways to make this goal a reality, a few of Hillcrest’s top personal trainers shared their tips for staying fit in 2015 with San Diego LGBT Weekly. There’s no need to panic. It may be easier than you think!

There are a variety of ways to work out and many gym options in Hillcrest and the surrounding areas, including Function First, CrossFit Hillcrest and Fix Body Group. While each gym offers fitness and physical training, they each also specialize in certain areas. Hopefully one of these gyms will be the right match for you!

Function First

Named as the best gym in San Diego’s “Best of” awards in three of the last four years, Mission Hills’ Function First offers an assortment of classes and training sessions.

Two of the most popular workout options at Function First are the corrective exercise programs, which are internationally recognized and meant for helping people with either chronic or moderate pain, and semi-private personal training.

“The semi private training is exceptionally popular and allows many people access to our high level trainers who might not normally be able to afford them,” said Anthony Carey, the CEO and founder of Function First.

Carey, who was named the Professional Fitness Magazine’s 2009 Personal Trainer of the Year, opened the gym in 1994. He credits the quality of the staff for the gyms’ success over the years.

At Function First, the trainers try to help the client discover why they want to reach certain fitness goals.

“Someone doesn’t set a goal of losing 10 pounds just to lose 10 pounds,” said Carey. “By dipping just a little deeper, you can find it is usually tied to something much more important and personal.”

CrossFit Hillcrest

Mike Stoll, owner of CrossFit Hillcrest and a certified trainer, believes that CrossFit has one of the fastest results of any form of exercise.

Stoll discovered CrossFit in 2010 through some Navy Seals while stationed overseas in Bahrain. He began training with them and was amazed at how quickly he saw results. In six months, he went from one of the slowest players on his rugby team to the second fastest.

“I’ve been working out my whole life and I never did anything that worked as rapidly as CrossFit,” said Stoll.

CrossFit differs from other workouts because of the high level of intensity of the workouts. Most workouts take between 30 minutes and one hour and involve a variety of moves, including Olympic lifts, gymnastics and anaerobic cardiovascular training.

CrossFit Hillcrest, which opened in 2013, offers classes six days a week for people at least 18 years of age. Each class is open to all skill levels and the instructor tailors the workout to each person’s ability.

“Honestly the people who are in the worst shape get the best results after,” said Stoll. “I can take someone who is in awful shape and in three months CrossFit can have a huge impact on their health and fitness.”

Starting in January, CrossFit Hillcrest will begin a new class for people 55 years of age and up that will focus on strength and agility.

“It’s amazing how many people, as they get older, fall into the trap of believing that they’re not capable of doing the things that they were capable of when they were younger,” said Stoll. “It’s something that society has dumped on us, this image of the frail elderly person, but I’ve seen amazing results from the over 70 crowd.”

Fix Body Group

While Hillcrest’s Fix Body Group offers a range of health and fitness activities, including buddy training, outdoor group workouts and corrective exercise training, their most popular workout service is private one-on-one personal training.

CJ Marsh brought 11 years of personal training experience to Fix Body Group when he joined the gym in July to begin the personal training department.

“Our trainers work with some of the most elite athletes and Olympians,” said Marsh. “If they trust their fitness, conditioning and performance goals to us, we feel like anyone can.”

Before getting started with training at Fix Body Group, everyone undergoes a comprehensive initial assessment, which measures your blood pressure, heart rate and other important health information. Then the trainer works with you to create a fitness plan.

“It’s almost impossible to get where you’re going without a plan,” said Marsh. “Especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve been there, or if you’ve never been there.

“(Also), it tends to be helpful to seek out professional assistance, someone to guide you and motivate you to keep on the path to success; for some it’s just a matter of having someone hold you accountable,” Marsh continued.


In addition to the fitness department, Fix Body Group also offers chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage and other services to keep your body in top shape.

Stay motivated

Now that you’re aware of some of the workout options available in the Hillcrest area, let’s talk ways to stay motivated and turn your New Year’s work out resolution into a yearlong activity.

The trainers agree that setting an incentive is a great way to go. Make a promise to yourself that if you reach your goal, you can get a special treat. On the flip side, you can also create a punishment for skipping classes.

“You can’t say, ‘if I don’t stick to my New Year’s resolution then I’ll give someone a dollar,’” said Stoll. “That’s not enough of an incentive. But if you say you’re going to give someone a hundred dollars, it can help you stick to your goals.”

CrossFit Hillcrest is even offering their own incentive to new clients who sign up during the first week of January. Anyone who signs up for their Fundamentals class, which is required before joining the regular classes, and sticks with the gym for three months will receive a $50 refund and anyone who lasts six months will get $100 back in their pocket.

Forming a sense of community at the gym can also help people stick to their fitness goals. By taking the time to meet your fellow gym members, working out can turn into a social event as well as help to hold you accountable to your commitment to staying in shape.

“What gets people to come back over and over again is that their friends are here,” said Stoll. “We encourage new members to do really well and stick with it. There’s a lot of community support with CrossFit.”

Starting slow and creating small goals works well for beginners as well.

“People do best by beginning with a few small changes that can be expanded upon over time,” said Carey. “It is helpful to experience some success and build momentum. Trying to totally revamp your health all at once is a recipe for overwhelm and frustration. Both can lead to total abandonment of fitness goals.”

It’s also important to continue to re-evaluate your fitness goals throughout the year.

“What someone wants on Jan. 1, most likely will be very different from what they would want June 1, or on Sept. 1, and so on,” said Marsh. “Because of that we continue to re-evaluate each individual and set goals with them that relate not only specifically to them, but to exactly where their body is at in the process.”

While exercising is important to maintaining a healthy body, what you eat and put into your body is equally important. Revamping your diet in the New Year will greatly improve your overall health and will make achieving the body of your dreams much easier.

“Science tells us that if we are not putting quality fuel into our body and the right amount of that fuel, our health will suffer the most,” said Carey. “Having said that, optimal health comes from quality nutrition and quality movement combined with adequate rest and restoration.”

Function First

3974 Dove Street

San Diego, CA 92103

619-285-9218, functionfirst.com

CrossFit Hillcrest

3746 Sixth Ave.

San Diego, CA 92103

858-859-2809, crossfithillcrest.com

Fix Body Group

1010 University Avenue C201

San Diego, CA 92103

619-295-9791, fixbodygroup.com

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Immigration in America: Coming out of the shadows — a personal journey http://lgbtweekly.com/2014/12/24/immigration-in-america-coming-out-of-the-shadows-a-personal-journey/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2014/12/24/immigration-in-america-coming-out-of-the-shadows-a-personal-journey/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:09:03 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2014/12/24/immigration-in-america-coming-out-of-the-shadows-a-personal-journey/

Allan Spyere with Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

A couple weeks ago President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. During his speech he said, “You can come out of the shadows”. So here I am. I am coming out of the shadows to share with you my experience, my reasons, my struggles and my journey.

In my opinion, there is a misconception that all undocumented immigrants are uneducated and have nothing to offer but are here for a free ride. I strongly disagree. There are a large number of people that are here following their dreams, trying to better themselves and also trying to better this country. I was so glad to see the cover of Time magazine in June 2012 when Jose Antonio Vargas shared his story Inside the world of the illegal immigrant. He was not only brave but accurate when he said, “… and we are, at heart, Americans.” That’s exactly how I feel and here is my story.

Life in Brazil

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My childhood was turbulent at times but I was always surrounded by a very loving family. I was raised Catholic and ended up getting married to my high school sweetheart when I was 18. In 1993, I started college in Brazil pursuing my Bachelors in Pharmacy. That’s where my passion for science started.

Coming to America

To make a long story short I took a sabbatical and came to Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UCSD for six months for an internship. By the end of my internship I was asked if I would consider applying for graduate school at Scripps and that was something I never dreamed could happen to me. I went back to Brazil and graduated with my Bachelors in Pharmacy in 1998. Shortly after I applied to UCSD and a Brazilian grant to pay for graduate school. I thought it was a pretty long shot with a very slim chance of happening but in mid-1998 I got my acceptance letter from Scripps and my grant from Brazil. At that point I was faced with probably one of the biggest decisions in my life. The thought that kept going through my mind was if I don’t take this chance I will always wonder what would’ve happened. In August 1998 I moved to San Diego under a J-1 Visa to attend school at UCSD. I saw this as such a great opportunity to better myself and achieve something so far from the reality I grew up around.

Coming out

After a year in San Diego, things changed and my wife and I decided to get a divorce and she moved back to Brazil shortly after. I met my first boyfriend and I was finally comfortable in my own skin. It finally felt right what I knew all along. I guess being away from my family and safe from any judgment from them gave me the ability to explore and discover the real me.

Breaking the law

Allan Spyere at the Harvey Milk Stamp unveiling ceremony at the White House, May 2014

In 2004 I graduated from UCSD with my Masters in Oceanography and with that came the end of my J-1 Visa and once again I was faced with another difficult decision. At that time I was in a long term relationship and returning to Brazil was out of the picture. With a J-1 Visa you are required to return to your home country for at least two years before you can apply for any adjustment of status to stay in the U.S.

Here is when I broke the law. I left the U.S. and re-entered as a tourist for a maximum of six months to buy myself some time until I could figure out what to do. And that was the end of the story. I over-stayed my visa and after six years in San Diego, all my life was here, my friends were here and everything I knew and was comfortable with was here. This was my home. And although I had all that education and training I was not able to use it at all. I chose love over my career. I chose love over my family. The longer I stayed, the more I fell in love with the people, community and America in general. In 2007 I married my first husband and that was something I also never thought I would ever experience. During that time we explored our possibilities and because of DOMA we did not qualify for any immigration benefits. I became more and more involved with the LGBT community, gay rights and civil rights in general and that’s when it became clear to me that here is where I was meant to be. I did belong here. I later divorced my first husband and met my current husband.

Getting caught

In February 2012, I was pulled over when I was driving home. I was drinking earlier but I stopped and waited three hours until I felt I was OK to drive. Dumb decision. Because of a bad license plate light I became a target. I was taken to jail that night and consequently interrogated by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and because of my immigration status ICE placed a “hold” on me and would not allow SDPD to release me. I was transferred to the George Bailey Detention Facility and stayed there for two weeks. Keep in mind that this was not an immigration jail. I was in there with criminals. This is something I will never forget.

Those two weeks were probably the worst in my life and at the same time the best. When you have nothing else to do but think about your life, your decisions, your mistakes and you realize how some really small things in life are taken for granted, like your freedom and safety; things really come to you at a different perspective. I was pretty much sure this was my one way ticket back to Brazil. But the one thing I got out of my time of reflection was that all this were consequences of my actions and decisions. Did I deserve to be there? Did I break the law? Were those my choices? Could I have done things differently? And the answer to all those were yes. During those two weeks my boyfriend Chris was working tirelessly to get me out of jail. He hired Ginger Jacobs, an excellent immigration attorney and based on prosecutorial discretion, ICE decided that I was not a threat and they released me.

DOMA’s repeal

After DOMA’s repeal in 2013 we were finally able to get married and start working on my immigration case. We had to first file for a waiver of the two year home requirement based on hardship to my husband in which we lost and had to appeal and then finally won. My application for a green card is now pending before USCIS and now a year later and after thousands of dollars in fees I am finally one step closer to becoming legal. Have I paid the price for breaking the law? Have I been held accountable for it? I think so. Would I have done things differently? Probably yes. Do I have any regrets? No. I believe that I am who I am today because of my journey. Was this a bumpy road? Hell, yes. But I have met wonderful friends, family and lovers. They have all shaped me to be the better person I am today. And for them I am grateful and thankful. For the ones that kicked me when I was down, I am also thankful. Like Tim Cook said, “You have given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path and to rise above adversity and bigotry. And also given me the skin of a rhinoceros.”

The future

I was really touched during the president’s speech because I could relate to it. I could relate to people that came here to better themselves; I could relate to people that work hard and don’t take anything from the government; I could relate to not being able to say goodbye to my grandparents when they passed away last year; I could relate to living in fear of losing all you have and all you know and I could relate to people that are trying to make a difference by creating businesses and helping others.

Allan Spyere at the Harvey Milk Stamp unveiling ceremony at the White House, May 2014

His speech also reminded me of what was so amazing about America. The land of possibilities, where you can achieve and become anything you set your mind to. The land of freedom where you can fight for what you believe is right. Where you can speak your mind freely and express yourself and your love for someone freely.

I have been very lucky and privileged to live here for 17 years and to have fully experienced my life in America from the George Bailey Detention Facility to the White House. I am excited to see what’s next and I can’t wait to be able to use my education and experience to help others. And, above all, to no longer live in fear.

I hope one day to become a proud American. Thanks America for making my dreams possible.

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