CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue.

Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence.

On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds.

On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay.

On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender.

On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died.

Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community. According to FBI data, nearly 21 percent of all hate crimes reported in the U.S. have been due to the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation. However, our major LGBT organizations historically have not taken a significant stand on the controversial issue of gun violence.

But on June 12, 2016, 49 individuals died because of their sexual orientation, or because of their support of the LGBT community, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. This was a pivotal moment: A community has had enough—a community that is well-organized due to decades of fighting for civil and human rights. Our right to live without fear of dying at the hands of gun violence is now being fully embraced and is considered of paramount importance. Make no mistake: These are not special rights. These are not gay rights. These are human rights—and now this is our fight.

On Saturday, June 18, Equality California (EQCA) launched its new #SafeAndEqual campaign, not only to raise awareness that gun violence is an LGBT issue, but to declare that gun safety is an LGBT right and now a major policy priority. EQCA has signed on to numerous statewide bills and is proud to join other organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, on federal efforts that will prohibit military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; close gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes on background checks; and strengthen background checks and waiting periods to keep guns out of dangerous hands. EQCA will bring the full force of our lobbying efforts to pass them.

This is deeply personal. Pulse nightclub could easily have been Hunters or Chill Bar on Arenas, or Micky’s in West Hollywood. Those 49 people are sons and daughters, siblings, parents and young people with what should have been very bright futures. Most of them were LGBT people. They could have been me and you and 47 people we know here in the Coachella Valley. It’s difficult to remember in such an affirming community as Palm Springs, but the more visible we are as an LGBT community, the more vulnerable to violence and hatred we become.

As EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur, said: “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue, because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, and members of communities of color suffer the highest rates of gun violence. In the weeks and months ahead, Equality California will relentlessly work in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, and mobilize our 800,000 members and the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community—and everyone—safe.”

We all cope with tragedies differently. After the Orlando shooting, some of us attended vigils that doubled as rallies. Many of us were angry or sad. Many of us cried … a lot. I am a person of faith, and I’ve prayed for those who have passed and hold them in my thoughts every day. However, my tears and prayers alone will not change the culture in which we live. They will not bring 49 dear souls back to us. They will not remove killing machines from the hands of dangerous people.

However, 800,000 Californians, organized in lockstep with millions of others across this country pushing for real reform, will make a difference. It will require all of us to do our part and work together, but we can and will become #SafeAndEqual. I encourage you to start by adding your name at eqca.org/safe.

Darrell L. Tucci is a Palm Springs resident and a board member of Equality California.

Published in Community Voices

Just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and started firing at the 320 or so people who were still in the club after the bartenders announced last call. In the three terrible hours that followed, at least 50 people lost their lives.

The country woke up to this horrifying news on Sunday morning, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert quickly assembled a vigil to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. 

Mike Thompson, the LGBT Center’s chief executive officer, explained how the vigil came together.

“It was really kind of a matter of minutes,” Thompson told the Independent. “A few people already coordinated some activities, so it was immediately getting together with them and organizing the community organizers. It was great to have something to rally around, and the support has been tremendous.”

Thompson said that he had not spoken with anyone at The Center, Orlando’s LGBT community center, but he said he was heartened to see how many similar vigils and events had been scheduled in solidarity with Orlando.

“I’m on a list with a bunch of other community centers, and it’s been phenomenal to see the kind of support that’s being shown. There are 152 events scheduled over the next couple of days in 32 states, including San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Mexico City. In a 12-hour period of time, what’s been able to come together when communities mobilize—it’s pretty fantastic.”

He said it was important for the vigil to be held on Arenas—the epicenter of gay nightlife in the Coachella Valley.

“Because this event in Orlando happened in a gay bar, and we had our own tragedy with George Zander on Arenas back in November, it was important for us as a community to gather on this street and show our solidarity in our community. This is significant on so many levels for this community.”

Richard Noble, who walked across America with the rainbow flag to promote LGBT civil rights, was present holding a sign that said “Enough Gun Violence.”

Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016, Christopher Durbin, said he felt sadness, followed by anger, when he heard about what is now the deadliest mass shooting ever in the United States.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’ve had many incidents like these of gun violence in the past, and nothing is being done. Maybe with the largest and most severe one in American history, something will be done.”

Durbin said the vigil offered inspiration on what was otherwise a dark day.

“I am so filled with pride and joy right now. This incredible turnout happened in a matter of a few hours,” he said. “It is heartwarming to see, and it is incredible to see what can be done so quickly in our beautiful town of Palm Springs.”

Just before the vigil started, the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus gave a beautiful performance of “God Bless America,” which resulted in some people choking back tears during the moment of silence that Thompson led, shortly before Congressman Raul Ruiz started to speak.

Ruiz spoke at length about the need for better gun-control laws.

“This is a time where we reaffirm our commitment to defeat terrorism around the international community,” Ruiz told the audience to applause.

At that moment, a man screamed, “Raul! What are you going to tell the NRA when you get back to Washington?”

Ruiz’s response: “I’m going to tell them to stop their bullshit!” he said to thunderous applause.

Ruiz ended his speech on a high note.

“I want to say that I stand with you; I mourn with you; and I dream of an equal America that demonstrates its greatness through the equality of its values, and I will always march with you,” Ruiz said.

When Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon spoke, he emphasized that safety was a priority.

“I want to assure you as your mayor that the city of Palm Springs and your Palm Springs City Council recognizes public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of our city and our City Council,” Moon said.

Moon added a call for solidarity.

“We must put a stop to this violence and tragic loss of life,” he said. “We must continue to work together, to support one another, and not give up the fight for equality for every person in the United States—regardless of their gender, their gender identity, their age, their religion or their sexual orientation. Let’s keep fighting until we win this battle.”

The first of three religious leaders to speak was Rabbi David Lazar, of Temple Isaiah.

“Look where you are standing, because you’re standing on holy ground,” Lazar told the crowd. “We are sanctifying this ground, this street, this row of clubs by being here and saying and doing and just being here. We’re sanctifying this ground. A place where other people come to be together to hold hands and celebrate—that place was defiled. While we can’t go to Orlando right now to do what we’re doing, we symbolically do it here.”

Imam Reymundo Nour from the Islamic Society of Palm Springs spoke out in support of the LGBT community.

“The Islamic Society of Palm Springs wants you to know that we stand with other Islamic organizations, civic leaders, human rights organizations, the clergy and the LGBT community,” Nour said. “We stand together in condemning this senseless act of violence.” 

Imam Nour reminded attendees what happened to the Islamic Society of Palm Springs back in December—an attack which made national headlines.

“Recently, in December, our mosque was firebombed by an individual who had similar hate sentiments,” he said. “The LGBT community stood behind us, so we’re here to stand behind you today. We pray for the victims and their loved ones, and we urge the residents of our valley, we urge the citizens of our nation, to stand with them in their time of need as they stood with us in ours and consistently stand with us in our time of need against bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.”

Kevin Johnson, of Bloom in the Desert Ministries, referenced the jigsaw-puzzle pattern on the stole he was wearing.

“It is a time for drawing together, and we are doing that,” he said. “It is also a time when we are called to action. The ordination stole I am wearing right now is rainbow-colored puzzle pieces. I wear it because it represents the intersection of oppressions … in the LGBT community. Let’s eliminate the lines, but until that can happen, but like jigsaw puzzles, our communities are connected to one another, and we can live, support, and work for one another.”

Johnson said it was important to speak out against violence and included the old ACT UP slogan, “Silence = Death.”

“Thoughts and prayers are fine, but they are not enough,” Johnson said. “Ending this madness will take votes, and I encourage everyone of good faith to cast votes to elect leaders and pass laws to bring sensible gun laws into our communities.”

Lisa Middleton, a transgender woman who is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission and former board member at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, choked up when she first started speaking.

“We remember Harvey Milk; we remember Matthew Shepard; and we remember Brandon Teena,” Middleton said. “We did not need another reminder, but now we have Orlando.

“I have news for the haters: You are going to lose! There are more of us than there are of them. We are stronger than they are; we are better organized; and we have a pulse. It is time that people like Omar Mateen cannot get an AR-15. It is past time for that to happen. We know the club he went to; we know why he went to that club; we know who he targeted; and we know who he was after. He’s not going to win. They have tried to stop us before, put us in jail for who we loved, fired us when we came out, tried to stop us from getting married—and it didn’t work out too well for them. We are stronger; we are together; and this is our town and our country. It is our time! We’re going to stand together. We will stand strong, and ladies and gentlemen, we shall overcome!”

Published in Local Issues

I admit that when I first heard about Stephan Anspichler’s March to Equality project, I didn’t quite get it.

The March to Equality is billed as “the most expansive march in history supporting LGBT equality,” and consists of people from around the world uploading their “steps”—pictures of feet, videos of “journeys,” or evidence of actual marches—via social media (using the #marchtoequality hashtag) and Marchtoequality.org. The goal: To gather 2.5 million steps by the 50th anniversary of Stonewall riots on June 28, 2019.

As of this writing, Marchtoequality.org reports that 985,000-plus steps have been made. While the March to Equality boasts an impressive slate of “global ambassadors” such as former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean and actor Alan Cumming, there’s no fundraising aspect—and no other discernable point, other than to “support full LGBT equality.”

However, when I recently chatted with Anspichler—a film and TV producer who now lives in Palm Springs part-time—he helped me finally get what the March to Equality is about.

It’s all about storytelling.

“We knew that we would celebrate Stonewall and the 50th anniversary,” Anspichler said. “We wanted to find the right way to tell the story.”

Anspichler said he’s always been drawn to different forms of storytelling, so it was not a stretch when he and his colleagues decided to tell the story of the fight for equality via the Internet and social media.

“For me, it was pretty much the same as doing a movie, but the medium being used is just different,” he said. “It was a really amazing experience to see that it is possible to tell such a story in a much different way.”

March to Equality kicked off during the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly in September 2015.

“We wanted to really build awareness for all those world leaders who were gathering at the United Nations and tell them, ‘Hey, we are here, and here is this movement,’” Anspichler said.

As one example of the type of stories he wants to see from the March to Equality, Anspichler cited the fact that many people—including a large number of Americans—don’t yet have equality in the workplace.

“We want to engage people to tell us and to show us (what it’s like to be) LGBT in the work place. We want to start conversations online,” he said. “We want to really strengthen awareness —through social media and with the people who are already marching with us—that there is a force against (workplace discrimination).”

Anspichler made a home in the Coachella Valley last summer for personal reasons, he said, but he said he soon learned that the Palm Springs area was also a great place for his work on the March for Equality.

“The Coachella Valley is one of the most interesting places to actually talk about such a project, because … the LGBT community is like nowhere else,” he said. “It’s a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The acceptance level here is amazingly high compared to other places. People immediately understood.”

Anspichler said that as the 50th anniversary of Stonewall draws closer, he hopes the March to Equality will also include high-profile events—a concert, for example. But in the meantime, he wants people to keep contributing steps and telling their stories.

“We have a very major goal: By June 2019, we want to have circled the globe entirely in footsteps,” he said. “With all the different struggles that we have around the globe in regard to LGBT-related topics … my biggest hope and wish is that other people in other countries learn from what has happened in the United States, and that this movement would actually be accessible in other countries.

I asked Anspichler what he’d tell locals to encourage them to participate in the March to Equality.

“I would tell them to be proud of the community in the Coachella Valley, because there’s nothing like it … in regards to acceptance and how people are being treated by each other,” he said. “The Coachella Valley should be proud of that and show it to the world as an example of how the world could be a better place.”

For more information or to participate, visit marchtoequality.org.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: I enjoyed reading the letter about lip liner some years back from the lovely Mexican lesbian.

I have met several guys from Mexico who came to the U.S. so they could come out of the closet. Nothing warms my middle-age gay heart more than when a nice Mexican young man says, “Hola, papi!” However, when they go home to Mexico to visit their mamasitas, they go back into the closet.

I’ve read in the news that things are getting better for my fellow homos in Mexico. Are more macho muchachos “out” in Mexico these days?

Grateful White Queen

Dear Gabacha: Life for mariposas in Mexico has gotten much better since the days when the Aztecs would kill gay men by pulling their entrails through their culos. Just last month, the Mexican Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Jalisco, stereotypically the most macho state in la república. (The rest of us mexicanos always knew those charros from Los Altos were on the down-low, anyway.)

On the other mano, the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City’s 2008 report on LGBT discrimination noted that a Mexican governmental survey found that 48.4 percent of households said they wouldn’t allow a gay person to live there, and that more than 90 percent of LGBT folks had experienced discrimination on account of their sexuality.

In other words, Mexico is about as tolerant of gay folks as Ted Cruz—but far better-looking.

Dear Mexican: How come Mexicans lower their pickup trucks and put those tiny wheels on that stick out beyond the fender? In doing so, they essentially ruin a perfectly good truck by turning it into nothing more than a low-riding car.

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen any other ethnic group do this to their trucks as regularly as Mexicans. What gives?

Juan Confused Coloradan

Dear Pocho: Mexicans lower their cars; gabacho bros raise their Dodge Rams and F250s as high as possible. Such suspension choices are metaphors for our respective razas—Mexicans are close to Mother Earth, while gabas will forever remain uppity pendejos.

Dear Mexican: I work with Mexicans on a golf course. We eat lunch together, and I love tortillas. I even learned how to make a spoon out of a tortilla.

These guys know nothing about la cocina, so when I ask them how to make the red sauce in which the meat is cooked, they give me the furrowed-brow look. I cook a lot at my house; I’m sure some of them think this gringo is a homo. Where can I find a recipe for this red sauce?

My 18th Hole is You-Know-Where

Dear Gabacho: Not enough info here. What kind of salsa roja was it—from chile de arbol? Japones? Chipotle? Piquín? Chiltepín? Or was it a guisado? A mole? Maybe a thick consommé?

There are as many Mexican salsas as there are narcos in the Mexican government, so get back at me with the details. But don’t say that hombres can’t cook; just take it from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who said last year, “If (Donald) Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant would shut down.” So can someone shove a cold burrito in Trump’s face already?

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Alfa Cologne is an under-the-radar gem in the Coachella Valley music scene—perhaps because all that Alfa Cologne does was, at first, not meant to be taken that seriously, nor did he intend to become a musician.

It just sort of happened.

During a recent interview, when I asked about the moniker “Alfa Cologne,” he joked with me and said: “If you want to interview him, I can arrange it. He’s a good guy.” He also talked about his love for music videos and mentioned skipping school to watch Daft Punk videos when they were due to premiere; eventually, he began making music videos of his own. Originally from Algeria, Alfa Cologne spent some of his childhood in Paris before moving to the Coachella Valley.

The music of Alfa Cologne is quirky—but in a fun, good way.

“I just disconnect myself from the musician part of it and go to a filmmaker part,” Alfa Cologne said after I asked him about his musical ideas. “Initially, I just wanted to be a filmmaker. I disconnect myself from making music and make the video for whatever song. The idea was to advertise my music-video skills.”

Part of the joke behind Alfa Cologne’s story is that he’s doing what he does to promote a fictional cologne line.

“That’s Alfa Cologne,” he said. “I’ve been playing music and attempting to write songs since high school in 2004 or 2005. I didn’t start writing songs until 2007 or 2008, when I started the whole persona. The original idea came from a character. When I started writing songs, I thought, ‘I could use that character, just singing songs and trying to sell cologne on top of it.’ I based it on one of my favorite perfume creators and stylists. He was born in the same town … as Yves Saint Laurent, in Oran, Algeria. I feel like Alfa Cologne has taken that spirit of that perfume-creator.”

Filmmaking has long been a love of his.

“As a child, I always loved commercials and music videos. I used to spend hours watching VHS tapes of music videos,” he said. “I would always just sit down and watch commercials. When my mother would take me to the market in Paris, my mom told me I was embarrassing her, because we were walking through the aisles, and I was singing the jingles of each product we would pass by. I also loved cameras. I would say being an artist to me is like being gay: It’s something that was in me that wanted to come out, and it did. I enjoy it, and I embrace it where I used to feel bad about it.

“I took a class at College of the Desert where I watched Federico Fellini films, who I always loved when I was a kid. … Fellini was like someone who was just talking to me and telling me to make films.”

What music videos and artists caught his attention?

“Michael Jackson was one of them. I really liked Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ which was also written by Prince originally. I also liked Queen’s ‘A Kind of Magic.’ When you watch that video when you’re a kid, you’re just blown away. I also liked bunch of videos by Michel Gondry, who did videos for the White Stripes, Björk, Daft Punk and Beck. Those videos sort of shaped my personality.”

He spent part of his childhood in the midst of a civil war in Algeria. However, Alfa Cologne said he didn’t feel like it left much of a mark on him.

“There were all these things that came with it, and I just got used to it,” he said of the civil war. “I think as a child, you don’t really pay attention to those things. But with the civil war, I wasn’t allowed to talk about my family. My family leaned more toward French culture, and Algeria used to be a French colony before they kicked the French out, and it became its own place, and they had a big hatred of the French. It was interesting, but nothing really bad. There were a couple instances where a bomb would explode, but it was fine, and it never really affected me.”

Alfa Cologne recently began recording his fifth music album.

“I started writing it based on my perspective of living through various different times, and for this one, it was me writing songs through people who were interacting with me,” he said. “I rarely write songs about what I’m feeling; I guess I just compare what people are throwing at me. For my album Ghost, it was about haters. … I was writing songs through them. I think that while that was happening, that was the energy around me, and for an artist to capture that, it’s raw. I think we have things around us, and if we capture that energy, it makes an album sound good.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/alfacologne.

Paulina Angel is an LGBT-equality activist who lives in Indio. She’s also a singer-songwriter who has been performing since the age of 5. However, she took a lengthy break from live performance—but returned to the stage for the first time in many years at Chill Bar for the George and Chris Zander Benefit Concert, organized by the Independent, on Nov. 17. For more information, check out www.facebook.com/paulinaangelmusicofficial.

What was the first concert you attended?

Cover Girls (at the Date Festival in 1989).

What was the first album you owned?

The Beatles 1967-1970.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Charli XCX, 10,000 Maniacs, Jenny Lewis, and Saint Etienne.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Rap.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

10,000 Maniacs.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

The Partridge Family.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Coachella.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“There in the park, where we used to play, Angels of stone, they would always pray,” “Angels of Stone,” by John and Mary.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

10,000 Maniacs, I was about ready to commit suicide when I was 14, but what stopped me was their cover of Roxy Music’s 1982 classic “More Than This.” Since then, their music has held a special place in my heart.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

To Paul McCartney: Can you produce me?

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“More Than This” by 10,000 Maniacs.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Love Among the Ruins, 10,000 Maniacs.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Take It Away,” Paul McCartney. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

Lee Balan is well-known as the town crier, of sorts, for the area’s arts. He gathers information about receptions, events, performances and exhibits throughout the Coachella Valley and High Desert, and sends it to anyone who wants it.

However, many people don’t know about Balan’s talents as a visual artist. Some of his newer works will be on exhibit at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in a Gay Pride-themed show, starting with a reception on Friday, Nov. 6.

Before moving to the desert from the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago, Balan frequently integrated his art with his other professional responsibilities. For example, Balan, as the director of a San Francisco mental-health program called The Clubhouse, demonstrated how creative efforts can be effective tools when working with the mentally ill.

Some might consider Balan’s current arts emphasis—the digital manipulation of visual images—quite different from the assemblages and sculptures he created during his time in the Bay Area. However, that assessment is inaccurate: His work consistently shows his ability to reinterpret, rethink and ultimately give new meaning to an existing object or picture. Balan notes that he began exploring digital art back in the 1980s with what is now considered a computer relic: a Commodore Amiga.

The works being exhibited at Woodman/Shimko reflect Balan’s expert application of Photoshop tools. Balan begins with an isolated individual image; he then creates layers by melding and superimposing images to create a total composition.

In this show, the only work in which he does not layer various images is “Freedom.” Here, a woman in white rides atop a black-and-white horse. The entire background is black. However, Balan does two things to make this image complex and dynamic. The first involves his angling of the horse and rider: Using a technique developed by Asian artists and later explored by the French Impressionists, Balan positions the horse and rider at an angle, creating both depth and motion. Second is the addition of a colored banner. Against the stark black-and-white composition, the multicolored flag breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be an overly stark and possibly boring image.

Layering and not-so-delicate shading are at the core of “Guardians” (first below). Below Buddha’s eyes, a Christ-like figure presides over a forward-facing nude angel, seated with his arms wrapped around his knees. Behind the central figure’s right and left are two additional angels: one profiled, but facing outward; the second is farther back in space, perhaps disappearing into the distance. The mood of “Guardians” is unsettling and eerie. The potentially peaceful nature suggested by the Christ figure and Buddha’s eyes is disrupted by the positioning of the angels, the electric colors and the shading.

Balan uses layering to play with one’s experience of space and time in “The Park” (second below) using a technique reminiscent of that of Peter Milton. However, Balan—unlike Milton—includes greens, oranges and yellows, creating depth that is more explicit than implicit. Thanks to the layering, the positioning of the picture’s elements appears to be changing. The composition is populated with trees that might appear in a classic drypoint or etching; Balan then embeds various figures—primarily young, attractive men. In the center of the composition, floating amidst the trees, is a Ferris wheel.

In addition to his work as a visual artist, Lee Balan is a poet and author who maintains an active blog. The artist welcomes comments on his poetry, short stories and essays at leebalanarts.wordpress.com.

The opening for Lee Balan’s Gay Pride-themed exhibit takes place from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6, at Woodman/Shimko Gallery, 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, and the exhibit will remain on display through Thursday, Nov. 19. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1067997383218435.

Published in Visual Arts

Palm Springs is home to a higher-than-normal percentage of HIV-positive residents—and a new documentary tells the stories of some of these people living with HIV.

Desert Migration will be screened at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5 at the Camelot Theatres by the Palm Springs International Film Society.

During the 80 minutes of Desert Migration, the various subjects share their morning routines, along with bits and pieces of their stories. One of the more interesting subjects is Doc, a tattooed, pierced, muscular man who likes to do yoga in the nude, and who explains that he’s not a conventional gay man. Another subject, Will, is shown walking through his apartment and sitting in a chair reading a Bible. He explains that he’s overweight, that his penis size is inadequate, that he has poor posture, and that he is HIV positive—but it’s the sores on his back, a result of being HIV-positive, that keep him from having sexual encounters.

During a recent phone interview, director Daniel Cardone explained how the film came to be.

“I never really had a particular interest in documentaries,” Cardone said. “(I had) a general interest in film and different kinds of storytelling—so anything that would tell the story in the best way. It’s almost like the subject creates the form as to how the story is told. I thought my path was going to be in narrative filmmaking … .

“I worked with my producer, Marc Smolowitz, a couple of years prior doing a short documentary piece about living with HIV in San Francisco. I thought it might be possible to use that short piece in a longer-form feature, and that’s why I chose to do this film the way that I did it. There are no direct interviews where people talk directly into the camera, or any of those things you traditionally see in a documentary. That was me inspired by fictional narrative, but instead, I was inserting something as narrative while using a true subject. It was a hybrid between a narrative film and documentary. … I invented it as I went along, and that was the exciting part about it.”

Cardone said he’s seen the struggles that many of his friends endured due to being HIV-positive.

“Living in Palm Springs and in my own backyard, I realized that many of my friends were people who … lived through the plague years,” he said. “They lost all their friends, their whole social life, and their whole way of living was gone: They lost their jobs, houses and their health. Fortunately, everyone shown in the film managed to regain some ground to a certain degree. I was very much interested in the psychological ramifications of that.

“There have been a few films about HIV showing the terrible years and losing a lot of people in the Castro District, and How to Survive a Plague, which shows ACT UP trying to advocate to save people’s lives. I wanted to go beyond that and look at: Where are we now? And where are we now with the people who lived through all that? I wanted to dive into those aspects, especially the psychological aspect and the ongoing trauma, and how they live day after day after day, and what the medications they’re taking do their system. That was particularly important. No one really knows for sure what it’s doing to their systems.”

The issues with medications are addressed; many people don’t realize how damaging many HIV medications can be. Another topic: why some muscular HIV-positive men are maniacal about their upkeep.

“One thing about gay men is many of them are body-conscious. Another issue is when you’ve gone through HIV, and your body is wasting away,” Cordone said. “All these people you see in the film at the gym working out at some point were wasting away. They were alarmingly thin. There is one particular man in the film, Steve, who is mentioned going on steroid therapy, which promotes muscle mass and prevents his muscles from fading away. On top of that, it really does build up muscle tone—and that relates to a comment that was also made about HIV-positive men having the best bodies.”

Cardone said he wasn’t prepared for how the film changed his own perspective.

“On an intellectual level, I was sort of prepared for it, and I knew what was going to come up. You know what you’re going to find on an intellectual level,” he said. “But what surprises you is the emotional impact that it has on you. … Hearing their stories in emotional ways was really overwhelming at times. You’re sitting there re-living someone’s life with them, and they’re being completely honest and open. It’s made me a more open and emotional person and helped me put my own life into perspective—and to be grateful. Just getting into that emotional heart of the matter took me by surprise and was a really good thing about making the film.”

I wanted to hear more about some of these men’s stories—especially about a man named Ted, who mentioned he read And the Band Played On and remembered his encounter with “patient zero.” Cardone said it was hard to figure out what to use and what not to use.

“Everyone brought something to the table and was really unique in a way,” he said. “There’s a lot more to Ted … that unfortunately didn’t make it into the film. It’s where he’s been and the things he’s been through. The same with Will, the gentleman with the sores on his back, and how he feels as a result of having his skin break out like that. There’s so much there, and everyone had a complex story. The hard part was trying to fit it all into the film, because there were so many wonderful moments from everyone—joy and sadness, and everything in between. It was hard to find a balance to fit everything into the movie without shortchanging anyone, and I hope we were successful.”

The Desert AIDS Project is shown in the documentary providing health-care services to some of the subjects. Cardone said the DAP is truly unique, and no program like it exists anywhere else in the country.

“I think what they’re doing overall is extremely positive,” Cardone said. “There is nowhere else that offers what they do. No organization is perfect, but what they do for people, and how they have helped people to transform their lives, is truly magnificent. People couldn’t get access to that health care if they were living in other areas in America, and that’s sort of been the attraction for people to come to the desert. They do a lot of fundraising and raising awareness, and making sure that people with HIV who do live here don’t feel like pariahs and don’t feel like there’s no support. The dental, the checkups, the housing—there’s so many things they offer. The healthcare when you have HIV is a big deal.”

Desert Migration will be screened at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Camelot Theatres. 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $15; the proceeds will benefit the Palm Springs International Film Society and the Desert AIDS Project. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit www.psfilmfest.org. For more information on the film, visit www.facebook.com/DesertMigration.

Published in Previews and Features

It’s 5:35 a.m. on Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs.

The short block of Arenas between Indian Canyon Drive and Calle Encilia—home primarily to gay bars and other LGBT-targeted businesses—is bustling with activity every afternoon and night. But at this hour, things are fairly calm. And just a little bit eerie.

A beer truck is parked between two bars, and the driver is unloading a pallet of beer and soda to wheel down the sidewalk to the Circle K. A leafblower can be heard in the distance. Even though Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt has been closed for hours, and won’t be open for hours, its outdoor music system is on—and the Village People’s “Go West” is blaring among the empty buildings.

In 25 minutes, this section of Arenas Road will formally begin its day. That’s when Score the Game Bar, at 301 E. Arenas Road, will open its doors.

According to California law, bars can’t serve liquor between 2 and 6 a.m.; the other hours of the day are fair game. Of course, most bars don’t open until much later than 6 a.m.; in fact, Score is the only bar in downtown Palm Springs to begin serving at the earliest possible hour.

That’s why I am here. I’ve been to Score many times—but never at opening time. I want to see it’s like.

Inside Score, Joe the bartender is busy getting ready for the day. I’m standing outside watching the goings-on when a young man approaches me. He’s an actor-singer-dancer, he says, and he’s trying to get down to Sunny Dunes Road, but a cab dropped him off here instead. He wants to use my phone to call another cab, you see.

He never blinks as he speaks to me.

I ask Joe, now in the process of bringing the patio bar stools outside, if he can tell me the number of a taxi company. He does, and I call for a cab.

As a man in a wheelchair rolls by, the actor-singer-dancer thanks me and asks for my card. Maybe he can write a review for my newspaper, he says. Against my better judgment, I give him one.

The actor-singer-dancer then asks if I know anybody in the local gay-porn industry. He’s interested in doing some porn, he says: “Amateur, like in my room, or whatever.” I tell him I do not.


It’s 5:54 a.m. “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band is playing inside Score.

I’m watching the clock above the bar, emblazoned with the O’Doul’s logo. It says 6:09. It’s 15 minutes fast.

Tommy, our photographer, comes in from the patio to tell me the taxi has just arrived to pick up the actor-singer-dancer. About 60 seconds later, however, the actor-singer-dancer walks into Score. He asks Joe if he can speak to the manager. His car was stolen, you see, and he doesn’t have any cash to give the taxi. However, he has a credit card.

The actor-singer-dancer then waves a tattered piece of paper up in the air. Apparently, he doesn’t actually have a credit card; he has the number for a credit card written on the piece of paper. Joe politely tells him he can’t help, because Score doesn’t take credit cards.

I figure my phone number is now on the taxi company’s do-not-pick-up list.


It’s 5:59 a.m. A woman wearing a Dodgers shirt walks in and greets Tommy and me.

“Nice hats!” she says. Tommy and I are both wearing Dodgers hats. I soon learn the woman’s name is Mary Beth.

Joe goes over and turns on the neon “Open” sign. At 6 a.m. on the dot, he delivers a drink to Mary Beth. She never tells him what drink she wants. Joe just knows.

Another customer—a middle-age man wearing some sort of work-identification card on a lanyard around his neck—walks in. He hears me talking to Joe, and retreats to the corner of the front patio. I presume he overheard I am a reporter, and he doesn’t want to talk.

Joe then comes up to Tommy and me, and asks if we want anything. I wasn’t intending on having a drink at this time of day, but, well, when in Rome …

I order a Bloody Mary, not too spicy. Tommy orders a Corona with lime and salt.

As we order, Mel, the owner of Score, emerges from the back, holding a cup of coffee. He nods at me, and Mary Beth politely shouts a hello. Across the bar, they briefly chat about a small earthquake that happened earlier that morning.

As Joe—Mel calls him “Ponytail”—delivers our drinks, I ask him about his time at Score. He’s worked there for three years, he says, and he opens Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I ask him if he likes it.

“I love it,” he says. “You can start the day off at the bar any way you want. Everything’s fresh and new.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Joe’s a morning person.

“Even when I am not working, I get up at 4 or 4:30,” Joe says. “It’s easy to get stuff done.”

What kind of customers does he serve at this time of day? “It’s a wide range,” he says. “There are third-shifters. People who start work at 7. Some people just come in and drink coffee. There are a few who just start drinking (alcohol) in the morning and drink all day. Those are always fun.”

Does he ever have any problems with customers or passers-by?

“Usually not in the morning,” he says. “It’s the afternoon and evenings when shenanigans take place.”

I take a sip of my Bloody Mary. It’s fantastic.


It’s 6:11 a.m. I ask Mary Beth if I can ask her a few questions, and she happily agrees. Turns out she’s the morning bartender at Hair of the Dog, located several blocks away on Palm Canyon Drive. She opens that bar at 7 a.m., when it becomes the second bar to open in downtown Palm Springs.

Why does she come to Score? “I like everybody who works here. I like the owner,” she says.

She pauses for a moment. “I do get tired of looking at all the madness on the corner.”

She’s talking about the chaos that surrounds the Circle K, located at the corner of Arenas and Calle Encilia. (On the day before, a homeless man had been stabbed in front of the Circle K, allegedly by another homeless person. The incident is fresh in everybody’s minds.)

Mary Beth notes that most of the homeless folks in downtown Palm Springs aren’t bad people, and that many of them are older. The ones who do bother her are the “people who have been up all night, doing their stuff.”

When they’re around, she sometimes refuses to open the door at Hair at the Dog until they go away, she tells me.


It’s 6:25 p.m. I ask Mel the owner what makes Score special.

“It’s like Cheers on TV,” he says. “Everybody knows everybody’s name.”

Why does Score open at 6 a.m. every morning?

“When I bought it, it was called the Elbo Room,” Mel says. That was nine years ago. “It had people waiting at the door at 6 o’clock every morning. The Elbo Room was a straight bar. Well, they called it a straight bar.”

Mel didn’t change the formula when he turned the Elbo Room into Score. Does he do well, business-wise, this early in the morning?

“Not as well as I used to,” he says. I ask why he thinks that is. “Not as many people are working night shifts,” he says, adding that more young people are starting to call Palm Springs home—and young people don’t get up so early.

Mel then points to a picture of him, taken when he himself was a young person, hanging on the wall. He was a Merchant Marine, he says. He’s smiling.


It’s 6:32 a.m. Mel, Tommy and I have gone outside on the patio to watch the sunrise.

I spot the actor-singer-dancer just down the street, in front of Gay Mart USA. He’s talking to the man in the wheelchair who rolled by earlier. After the two have a brief discussion, the actor-singer-dancer gets behind the man in the wheelchair and begins to push him down the sidewalk. One can only guess where they’re going.

When I bemoan the fact that I am not usually up at this ungodly hour, Mel tells me he’s at the bar first thing every morning.

“People ask me what I do, and I tell them I clean the toilets and count the money,” he says with a smile.

I take the last sip of my Bloody Mary. Unlike Mel, I am not a morning person. It’s time for me to go home. 

Published in Features

In 2011, Palm Springs’ Golden Rainbow Senior Center expanded its mission to serve all members of the LGBT Community in the Coachella Valley—and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert was born.

The Center has come a long way since then, with the addition of new programs, including low-cost counseling. In an era when many LGBT centers around the country are struggling, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s membership is growing—and now The Center is getting ready to move into a brand-new building of its own.

In November, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert will release details about the new space to the public. Mike Thompson, The Center’s chief executive officer, offered the Independent some information about the new building, and talked about why The Center needs a new, expanded space.

“The Center has a big vision to truly be a community center for LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley,” Thompson said. “We’ve already outgrown the space we’re in, if you look at the programmatic space in this location. We’re operating out of 3,200 square feet, and our biggest demand is for our largest community room, so we have people shuffling in and out of there several times a week. Our counseling clinic, where we’ve had 1,700 counseling appointments in the past fiscal year, is operating by doing office shares of three spaces. We’re constrained by the amount of space we have.”

The Center is currently located at 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 201, in a strip mall. The Center’s new building is located at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Thompson said the move should happen sometime in 2016, but declined to offer a specific date.

“Thanks to the generous contributions of John McDonald and Rob Wright, who have purchased the building at 1301 N. Palm Canyon, that building will become the new home of the LGBT Community Center,” Thompson said. “When that move happens, we will immediately have 5,600 square feet of programmatic space. That’s 2,400 square feet more space than we currently have. We will have five individual therapist offices. We’ll immediately be able to increase the capacity in our mental-health clinic, as well as be able to increase the capacity of the programs we offer.”

The Center plans to take advantage of the much-needed space to add programming. The new facility will also be able to accommodate larger groups and more community organizations.

“We recently did a community survey back in the spring, and as we begin to move into the new space, we’ll be evaluating what we can add to our own programming,” Thompson said. “… The first Wednesday of the month is the Eisenhower Medical Center Men’s Health Discussion, which is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. We had to end a few minutes before 7, because there’s a Narcotics Anonymous group that goes in. We had 50 people trying to come out of that room, and 50 people trying to get into it, because that’s the only space that can accommodate groups of that size.

“In the new space, we’ll have four community rooms that are the same size, if not larger. We’ll be able to house more community programs besides our own—and that’s what I’m excited about. When people think about a community center, I want them to think, ‘That’s our home too.’”

The Center also has plans to rent out office space to other local LGBT-related groups.

The need for a new building for The Center precedes Thompson’s arrival in June 2014. In fact, The Center’s previous executive director prematurely announced plans to move into another space a couple of years ago. That premature announcement may help explain why Thompson is being cautious with details.

“I know that there was talk about a building before I got here, and that didn’t happen,” Thompson said. “Fortunately, John McDonald and Rob Wright came to us and said, ‘We support The Center’s vision, and we want to help you into a new space.’ So when you have longtime donors who are generously stepping forward to do that, it creates opportunity that we may not have been ready for otherwise.”

Thompson said the focus for The Center will continue to be providing resources to people within the LGBT community—not just in Palm Springs at the new building, but throughout the Coachella Valley.

“I think the longer-term benefits are that people have a community center they’re proud of with a very visible and desirable location,” Thompson said. “Then they can see this organization is making an investment in this community, and we have resources. Regardless of where our four walls are located, it’s very important for us to be out in the community doing the work.

“We had a presence at a community center in Mecca, and I know we have one coming up in Desert Hot Springs. We need to be out and let people know that we are a resource for LGBT people throughout the Coachella Valley, whether they can make it here or not. We have to be careful. While we might be proud of a building, the work of The Center goes beyond that address.”

Brian Blueskye is a volunteer at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

Published in Features

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