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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Ron Celona says films like Uniquely Nasty, which document the persecution of LGBT Americans, are important—because you never know what the future may bring.

“Anything is possible when it comes to the presidential election and that turn of events,” says Celona, the artistic director of Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre. “In individual states, they’re still trying to overturn (laws protecting LGBT rights). There are still discriminatory things happening.”

This why Celona worked so hard to bring the film Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays to town, for two showings at CV Rep on Wednesday, Sept. 9. The 30-minute documentary, narrated and reported by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, tells three stories that show how the U.S. government persecuted and discriminated against LGBT Americans in the 20th century.

The screenings at CV Rep will be followed by panel discussions featuring locals George Zander, of Equality California; and Andy Linsky, a member of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board. They’ll be joined by Isikoff and Charles Francis, the president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. 

It’s the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., that catalyzed the making of the film, says Lisa Linsky, an attorney with McDermott Will and Emery, in New York City; she’ll be the moderator of Wednesday’s panel discussions. (Side note: She’s also a friend of Celona’s from high school; their recent re-connection, long story short, led to these Palm Springs screenings.) Linsky’s firm has been doing pro-bono work for the Mattachine Society—an “archive activism” organization focusing on LGBT history—for three years, obtaining historical government documents to tell forgotten and/or under-publicized stories about the U.S. government’s discriminatory treatment of LGBT citizens going back to the 1940s. Some of this research was used for an amicus brief that was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court as the nine justices considered the recent gay-marriage issue. As we all know, the court ruled 5-4 in June that marriage equality was the law of the land.

Back before that historic decision, in January, Linsky took part in a program that showed off some of her firm’s findings for the Mattachine Society. Isikoff was in the audience.

“He expressed fascination, and said he wanted to do a documentary about the work,” Linsky says. “Two weeks later, the documentary was green-lit by Yahoo.”

The documentary was posted on Yahoo News in June, shortly before the 5-4 decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case was announced. Linsky says the documentary has received well more than a million views thus far.

One story told in Uniquely Nasty focuses on Wyoming U.S. Sen. Lester Hunt. In 1953, Democratic senator’s son was arrested and accused of soliciting sex from an uncover male police officer. Republicans, including notorious red-scare Sen. Joseph McCarthy, threatened to publicize the arrest if Hunt didn’t decline to run for re-election and resign his seat. At first, Hunt refused the demands of his opposing senators—but he later became so distraught over the matter than he took his own life, on June 19, 1954.

Linsky says the goal of the documentary is to educate young people, and hold government accountable for its past wrongdoings.

“Our overarching objective is to inform people about this work (by the Mattachine Society), the nature of the work, and why it’s significant,” she says.

While the country seems to be definitively moving in a direction toward widespread LGBT acceptance, that does not mean there won’t be setbacks, especially when it comes to the actions of local, state and federal governments, Celona says—and that’s why it’s important to learn about the history told in Uniquely Nasty.

“How do we deal with what the future will bring?” he asked.

Screenings of Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays, followed by panel discussions, take place at Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. A public screening takes place at 6 p.m., with a by-invitation screening at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but seats are limited and will fill up. To RSVP, call 760-296-2966, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Watch the film at Yahoo News, or scroll down to the Media section below.

Published in Previews and Features

Palm Springs is well-known for its star-studded International Film Festival, held every January. However, the city also hosts a well-regarded annual LGBTQ film festival, known as Cinema Diverse—and it’s taking place at the Camelot Theatres Sept. 17-20.

Local comedian Shann Carr has been affiliated with the festival since its start, beginning as a volunteer eight years ago.

“Every city in America had an LGBTQ film festival, and Palm Springs is known for having its very own international film festival, and we were the only town without an LGBTQ film festival,” she said. “For a gay town, that’s pretty surprising.”

Through the years, Carr has seen trends in festival submissions come and go from year to year. For example, she said films on the subjects of gay marriage and equality are starting to wane.

“You watch the crest of what’s on the front-burner of our community at the given time. In the past couple of years, it’s been all gay marriage and babies,” she said. “… Now, it’s, ‘Enough about the weddings! Enough about gay rights!’ Right as we gained marriage equality, those submissions dropped right down. Television and film is how a lot of the world learned that gay people aren’t scary people. It really is about education.”

What’s a current trend in festival submissions?

“The transgender issue has now come up,” she said. “… I haven’t seen a lot of (the films focusing on transgender issues), but I know there are a handful of them, as well as some shorts. Last year, one of the most talked-about shorts was called Brace, and it was about a transgender man who was at a bar, and this guy started liking him, and they started liking each other—and then the other guy found out the man was transgender.”

Carr has seen the festival’s Opening Night centerpiece film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato.

“The opening film is amazing. It’s about a Russian gay man, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “He speaks with a thick Russian accent throughout the entire film, and so much amazing stuff comes out of it. It’s a story about a Russian filmmaker in the ’30s who comes through the United States and learns he can make a film for next to nothing in Mexico. He spends a visa period filming 200 miles of film and discovering his sexuality—and he’s a virgin at 33. There’s a bit of frontal nudity, and as a lesbian watching it, I thought, ‘Innocent, playful penis!’ It was a beautiful, interesting, artistic penis.”

Carr said there is something she wishes there was less of at the festival: the divide between the sexes. However, she conceded the divide is real.

“I didn’t want to see a men’s compilation and a women’s compilation,” she said. “As I took a handful of people into a screening … as soon as the guys got down to it for a sex scene, the women were like, ‘Do I have to watch this?’ The guys are all like, ‘LET’S GO! WOO HOO! … As much as I was trying to push them into that progress, they weren’t having it at all.”

Considering all the positive changes taking place in the LGBTQ community, I asked Carr whether an LGBTQ film festival will still be necessary and needed in a decade.

“I think so, because humans are like this, and animals are like this: They see their reflection, and they want to belong, be affirmed, be enlightened,” she said. “… It’s an explanation of the changes we’re seeing, but I don’t see us completely going to the cliff and falling over. Ethnic groups still want to see each other and congregate with each other.”

Cinema Diverse takes place from Thursday, Sept. 17, through Sunday, Sept. 20, primarily at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets range from $13 for individual screenings to $159 for an all-festival pass. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit cinemadiverse.org.

Published in Previews and Features

I watched Caitlyn Jenner’s extraordinary speech at the ESPY Awards with fascination. She was poised and passionate, funny and inspirational. It was a heckuva coming-out party. And she was a knockout! Say what you will, but girl definitely has found the right stylist.

Leading up to the awards show and now its aftermath, I’ve seen social media all atwitter questioning whether Caitlyn deserved an award for “courage.” Seems there are three camps on this. First, there are those who wholeheartedly endorse Caitlyn as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Prize. The second group honors the impact she will have, but are skeptical about and uncomfortable with the notion that she has done anything courageous. The third group is the usual assemblage of online haters who consider Caitlyn an abomination and an affront to all things American, Christian or civil.

I actually fall into a subsection of the first group (and I suspect I am not alone): We totally get the courage thing, but are a little sheepish about embracing anything that has had that much proximity to a Kardashian. You can’t help but think at first glance that this is just another cog in the grand publicity machine that has labored intensively to convince the world that this astonishingly talentless family has any real bearing on anything that would actually matter in life. It’s all about the ratings, kids. I get that.

So why is this such a cultural touchstone? Why am I rooting for her success and happiness so much? And why, as a gay man, am I completely caught up in her story?

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead,” she said while rocking that Versace dress with the Beladora emerald, pearl and diamond earrings. (I had to look that up. I’m not THAT gay.) “The reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

And there you have it. As a gay man who grew up at a time when being gay was considered shameful, I get it. And I maintain, to anyone who cares to ask, that any person who finally embraces his or her authentic self publicly is courageous as hell. Once you come out on the other side and express your personal truth, the journey toward self-esteem and self-acceptance is exhilarating and, dare I say, life-affirming.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class, progressive community, and yet when I realized I was different, my immediate instinct toward self-preservation was to hide, to avoid, to run away, to self-flagellate. It just seemed easier than admitting I wasn’t what society deemed to be normal. In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I always refer to that time as living inside of my own head. You can still function as a productive member of society. But, all the time, inside your brain, there’s a running mantra that convinces you that you are less than … that you will never have a normal life. Certainly the notion of marriage and social acceptance were completely out of the question. It just wasn’t going to happen. Ever. In fact, marriage and acceptance were things I would have to forgo, at least according to my annoying inner voice, if I decided I needed to go ahead with this gay thing.

At the end of the day, of course, that’s not the decision I needed to make. That decision was made for me when my DNA got all mixed together. The decision I needed to make was whether I was going to run away from my true self for my entire life, or whether I would ever come to the conclusion that, gay or not, I was a good person, a productive contributor to society, a faithful taxpayer, and perhaps, in someone’s eyes, a helluva catch.

You have to understand just how astonishing it is to see popular culture today so rife with positive gay imagery. I can’t even speak to how brutal it must’ve been in the pre-Stonewall days, but even after Stonewall, the only people on television that sort of “pinged” with recognition to me were the likes of Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly and Alan Sues on Laugh-In. I’m not sure I even knew why they seemed kindred to me, but bless their proudly nelly souls.

But I knew for damn sure that I better not act like any of them, lest I give away my deep, dark secret. I grew up during the Anita Bryant crusade against gays, at a time when there were propositions on ballots to ban gays from the teaching profession. We watched the Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags” signs pointlessly and malevolently become ubiquitous at celebrity and military funerals. The American Psychiatric Association didn’t declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973, for Pete’s sake.

We didn’t have Ellen. Or Neil Patrick Harris. Barney Frank was still in the closet. People were still “shocked” about Liberace and Rock Hudson. Of course, the AIDS pandemic made things even worse. Even if technically we no longer had a mental disorder, now we were insidious carriers of disease. Who, in their right mind, would want to announce they were “one of those people” at a time like that? Who, in fact, would “choose” to be gay when the whole world hated us?

In fact, plenty of people proudly declared themselves “one of those people.” They openly embraced their gayness, homosexuality, queerness, faggotry. And they fought. For civil rights. For human rights. For equality. For the simple decency of government funding to help eradicate (or at least even begin to understand) a horrifyingly complex and deadly disease.

I honor those who came before. At the risk of sounding like the stodgy old fart I’m quickly becoming, I’m not sure that the lion’s share of 20-somethings blithely coming out into a far more accepting world today appropriately acknowledge their forebears. And really, can you blame them? They’re busy being twenty-something and fabulous. Isn’t that something of a victory in and of itself?

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality is something few of us could ever have dreamt possible when we were scared little different kids. It opens another road to legitimacy that was previously blocked. If I can marry whomever I love, then that means the world doesn’t see my love as an aberration.

Of course, there will always be hate, based on gender. Race. Religion. Orientation. Age. Weight. If you are “other than normal” in any of these categories, there’s certain to be a whole subgroup of people who want to negate you on the basis of religious freedom or some other euphemism of intolerance.

Now Caitlyn has brought gender identity to the table in the fiercest freaking manner possible. And OK, she has power and privilege and wealth and stylists. But she didn’t have to become the poster child for the transgender movement. Ellen didn’t have to become “America’s Lesbian.” Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons could have easily kept their mouths shut and enjoyed lucrative careers without casting agents (most of them gay themselves) snarkily decreeing that openly gay actors can’t play “straight” roles. They did something brave. And thankfully, repercussions have been few.

Caitlyn decided at an age when most people begin to collect their Social Security that it was time to start her life over again. This time, authentically. She knew she would be stalked by paparazzi. She knew she would be ridiculed by the intellectually challenged. She knew even that she would disappoint those who hold up the decathlon-winning Bruce Jenner as the quintessence of male achievement in the 20th century.

But, you see, for years, she was only disappointing herself. As was I. As were any of us who tried to “pass” or wish it away or sublimate our genuine needs and desires by working or eating or drinking or drugging too much. That’s a lack of courage.

I see it so clearly now, after kicking down the closet doors at a riper old age than most, only to discover that my sexuality didn’t matter one iota to the people who loved me. And then, the greatest revelation: Anyone who judged me because of a flaw only they perceived was not worth my time or energy or love. And they probably never were. Now, living in Palm Springs, the epicenter of LGBT self-actualization, with amazing, passionate, accomplished, witty, smart, fun, extraordinary friends and acquaintances who also happen to be gay, I can’t imagine what I was so scared about.

Yet bigotry is not over as too many recent examples remind us. The sweeping “religious freedom” movement. The anti-LGBT pandering by the clown-car of candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The voting down in the U.S. Senate of a measure to ban LGBT discrimination in schools. In schools! It goes on and on. But, optimistically, we may be witnessing the last gasps of an out-of-date prevailing belief system.

Caitlyn’s bravery flies in the face of every zealot who will try to deny us humanity. She will have incalculable impact for countless young (or maybe even not so young) transgender people around the world. She didn’t have to do this so publicly. Her pain was long and deep and profound and personal. It’s easy to get lost in that and just make misery and self-loathing your reality.

To my mind, it takes courage to thrust away long-festering mental shackles and just, finally, be real. I think all of us who got to the other side after a lifetime of inner antagonism are, in fact, nothing short of truly courageous.

When all of the Kardashian-level hysteria dies down, Caitlyn will just educate by example. A life well lived is the best revenge, as they say. I hope she avoids the gravitational pull of Access Hollywood-type hype and sensationalism once the initial curiosity abates. That would be an even more courageous thing. Just go and be.

But for now, she deserves her victory lap. She triumphed over fear. And if you’ll pardon the inevitable gay Wizard of Oz reference: Not unlike the Cowardly Lion, she had courage inside of her all along.

Published in Community Voices

On Valentine’s Day, I did something that, at one time, I never thought I’d be able to do: I married my boyfriend.

When I first started dating the man who is now my husband, some 12-plus years ago, same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the United States. My, how times have changed: As of this writing, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states, as well as the District of Columbia—and even the staunchest same-sex-marriage opponents concede it’s probably only a matter of time before it’s legal throughout the United States.

The rate at which same-sex marriage has become accepted and legal has been simply stunning; after all, it has been less than 11 years since it first became legal anywhere in the U.S. (in Massachusetts). And look where we are now.

Unfortunately, legal change on other important social issues has not been so swift. This brings us to a recent Independent story, by Sacramento-based writer Melinda Welsh, on the right-to-die movement. (It's the cover story in our March print edition; you can also read more from Anita Rufus on the local angle here.)

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act was approved by voters in 1994 (and it went into effect after an injunction was lifted in 1997)—yet today, physician-assisted death is legal only in three states, period. This is despite the fact that 70 percent of Americans say physicians should be able to “end (a critically ill) patient’s life by some painless means” if the patient so desires, according to a 2014 Gallup Poll.

However, the legal tide may be about to change, thanks in part to Brittany Maynard. Last year, the California resident was forced to move to Oregon in order to die with dignity after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She made her situation very public—and got a lot of attention in the process, before passing away on Nov. 1, 2014, at the age of 29.

In the wake of Maynard’s crusade, progressive lawmakers around the country are reintroducing death-with-dignity legislation. Welsh’s story looks at the situation in California. It’s a fantastic piece; you really should check it out, if you haven't already.

As always, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts; my email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Editor's Note

California author Armistead Maupin has returned with the ninth and final volume in his much-loved Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Maupin, who has long refused to be pigeonholed as a “gay writer,” writes about contemporary San Francisco and the love lives of both gays and straights in an era confronted with a dramatic reassessment of the ways in which people choose to love.

In this standalone novel, Anna, a 92-year-old transgender pioneer, realizes her last days are filling with small surrenders: “You could see them as a loss, or you could see them as simplification.” And she feels compelled to attend to unfinished business in her childhood hometown of Winnemucca, Nev. “It’s something old people do. … Old ghosts.”

Inspired by Christine Jorgensen, once George Jorgensen, a real-life former Army private who scandalized the nation in the early 1950s with a sex change, Maupin’s protagonist followed suit in the ’60s and became an activist who inspired others who struggle with sexual identity. Born Andy Ramsey, son of a Winnemucca madam, Anna Madrigal has transformed herself into a gentrified landlady, a citizen at the vital heart of her city, San Francisco, rescuer of stray cats and other wanderers, and a revered symbol for the LGBT community.

She also struggles with the knowledge that she, herself, has been a bigot. Decades ago, she’d thrown verbal poison at a Basque teenager who’d made advances to her when she was still a boy. In a moving interior metamorphosis at the climax of this novel, one that resonates with her earlier physical changes, Anna finally comes to terms with her confusion as a young man who was afraid of departing from the norm, while hiding a deep desire for lingerie and painted toenails. Owning her humanity in all its complexity, she returns to the gravesite of the young Basque boy in search of forgiveness.

The book is a fitting end to the Tales of the City and shines with Maupin’s uncanny ability to reveal people and their innermost secrets to themselves.

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

The Days of Anna Madrigal

By Armistead Maupin

HarperCollins

288 pages, $26.99

Published in Literature

It’s a typical October Friday lunch hour at the American Legion’s Owen Coffman Post 519, located on Belardo Road in downtown Palm Springs.

The mostly older, mostly male crowd is enjoying tasty dishes such as burgers, sand dabs and deliciously crispy fish-and-chips, while sipping on drinks from the inexpensive yet fully stocked bar.

I’m here with my good friend Jim McDivitt; this is the second time I’ve had lunch with him at the American Legion hall. McDivitt—some of his friends, myself included, lovingly call him McDiva—first invited my partner and me to lunch at the hall over the summer. He thought the place and its people would make for a good story.

He tells me why he joined this post of the American Legion.

“The food and drinks are cheap,” McDivitt says, laughing. “I’d been going as a guest of a friend, and I finally joined because I felt stupid not paying the $55 membership fee.”

The topics of conversation on this day at this table include a great deal found on a washer and drier set at Revivals, old telephone party lines, and a recent fall from which one of the attendees was recovering.

The Owen Coffman post looks, feels and sounds exactly like you’d expect any American Legion post across the country to look, feel and sound like—except for one difference.

About half of the veterans in attendance are gay.


McDivitt introduces me to Pete Pilittere, the post commander, who gives me a tour of the hall. (Both are pictured to the right.)

About 1,200 members—including Sons of the Legion (for relatives of veterans), Women’s Auxiliary and Legion Riders members (a motorcycle/charity group)—belong to the post, Pilittere says, as he shows me around. First, he explains the “table set for one,” which can be found at every American Legion post. (See a photo at the bottom of this story.) Every element of the small table—from the color of the tablecloth to the pile of salt on the plate—represents the various sacrifices a soldier and his loved ones make when that soldier goes off to war. For example, an explanation of the chair reads: The chair is empty. They are not here.

Outside, a “fallen heroes” plaque honors the local residents who gave—and, sadly, continue to give—their lives in combat. Earl Coffman, the son of the founder of the Desert Inn Hotel, was a World War I veteran who started this post. His son Owen was killed during World War II while he flew a B-17 bomber over England. This building, housing the post that bears Owen’s name, was dedicated in 1948.

We take the stairs onto the stage, and Pilittere explains something else that sets this post apart: its history. We’re looking at a booth where luminaries like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Jack Benny did radio broadcasts in the 1950s. The post’s members are working on restoring the booth to its vintage appearance, Pilittere says.

He then takes me into the back area, where a newly renovated smaller room—complete with its own bar—is ready for use. Pilittere would like you to know this room and the rest of the hall is available for rent; after all, rental fees, along with the bar take, donations and other income—keep the post afloat.

But the post, first and foremost, is there for its members.

I ask Pilittere, a Navy and Vietnam veteran who’s in his second one-year term as the post commander, about the members. Is he concerned that the member base is aging, and therefore unsustainable in the long term?

“We’re doing our best trying to get young guys in, who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says, adding that the post has been offering a dues-free first year of membership to veterans of these 21st-century wars.

Have there been any takers? “A couple,” Pilittere says, adding that some posts have blinked out of existence due to declining membership. “This post, though, I’m not concerned about. We’ve got enough things in place right now.”

Then there’s the fact that so many members of the post are gay. Pilittere, who is straight, estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the members are gay. McDivitt puts that number closer to 50 percent. One of the longtime lunch servers put the number higher than 50 percent when asked.

Pilittere says he served with men he knew were gay. I asked him if he cared.

“No,” he says. “I was born pretty progressive. On an aircraft carrier, if you have 4,000 people, how many people are going to be gay? What are the odds?”

I mention “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the thankfully now-vanquished policy that allowed the military to get rid of men and women who were openly LGBT, or who were simply exposed as LGBT.

“That was bullshit, by the way,” Pilittere says.

I asked him if anyone involved with the post has had an issue with the fact that so many members are gay. Not really, he says.

“Look, this is Palm Springs,” Pilittere says. “Here, it’s accepted. It’s a way of life in Palm Springs.

“If you can’t accept it, you’d better get out of town.”


Today, the military is much more accepting of gay and lesbian service members, thanks in part to the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

However, most members of the Owen Coffman Post 519 served—and have lived much of their lives—at a time when being openly gay was very much taboo.

Post member Robert Rogers, 81 (right), was one of the lucky ones: He says his sexuality did not cause him any problems when he was in the military

“I was out when I was 3 1/2 years old,” he smiles.

He was drafted and served in the Navy in San Diego from 1956 to 1958.

“I was a corpsman”—in other words, a medical specialist, Rogers tells me on the Owen Coffman Post’s patio, several days after McDivitt introduced me to him at lunch. “They put me in as a corpsman because I was an art major and I taught art, and they said, ‘That’s where you belong.’ Well, I found out real quick that I didn’t want to be in medical.”

Rogers, a former florist who lived much of his life in Oroville, Calif., and still spends four months per year there, says he knew there were “a lot” of other gay men in the Navy from the moment he started boot camp. The topic of homosexuality once came up with a commanding officer when Rogers went to ask for a liberty pass.

“He said, ‘I don’t care if they’re cherries or not, as long as they do their job,’ Rogers remembers.

McDivitt, 74 and turning 75 in November—he calls his upcoming birthday his “diamond jubilee”—was not so lucky. He joined the military after his parents found out he was gay; he was doing poorly in school, so it was inevitable that he’d eventually get drafted anyway, he says. He jokes that he enlisted the Air Force because of that military branch’s superior fashion sense.

“I like blue better than Army drab,” he quips, before clarifying that he actually joined the Air Force because he thought the odds were better that he’d get a desk job.

He became a Morse intercept operator from 1961 to 1963, and was stationed in Scotland, where he listened to Soviet communications. He had top-secret clearance—but that meant the government was keeping tabs on him, too.

“Little did I know they would read my mail,” McDivitt says.

He had mentioned in a letter that he found a fellow serviceman attractive. He was honorably discharged due to the “inability to adjust to military life.”

McDivitt is publically and happily open about his life, his military service and his sexuality—but not all of his and Rogers’ fellow American Legion members feel the same way. I tried to talk to several other gay post members for this story, and they either flat-out refused, or never returned my calls or emails.

Upon reflection, this isn’t so surprising. After all, many of them spent their entire military careers, and much of their lives, unable to talk about being gay without fear of repercussions—so why would they want to talk now?


One thing is clear: The members of the Owen Coffman Post 519—gay and straight—love the hall because it gives them a space where they can be comfortable and enjoy the company of people who have been through similar experiences.

“It’s a place for veterans to meet and talk with their families and guests. It’s a place to relax,” says Pilittere. “They can come in and have a great lunch, or Friday night dinner with entertainment, or Sunday brunch.”

Pilittere says Sunday brunches often have 150 or so attendees, and that lunches—offered Monday through Saturday—can attract 20 to 30 people in the depths of summer, and 100-plus people during the season.

Rogers emphasized the word “acceptance” regarding the Palm Springs American Legion post.

“It’s the atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance all of us, no matter what we do or where we live,” he says.

While McDivitt—only half-joking, perhaps—says he joined the post for the cheap food and drinks, he’s a regular at the post because of the camaraderie.

“(We) get together and tell war stories,” he says. “Most people join for the social aspect and to be with people of like kind.”

Does McDivitt know of any men who met and fell in love at the hall? Alas, he says he does not—although it would not surprise him if it had happened.

“Palm Springs is unique in so many ways,” he laughs.

For more information on the American Legion Owen Coffman Post 519, visit www.americanlegionpalmsprings.org.

Published in Features

Well-Strung is a classical quartet known for two things: what the group calls “popsical” music—they combine pop music with a classical sound.

Second, they’re known for being, well, gorgeous. See for yourself when they play at the Fifth Annual Center Stage event, benefitting the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, on Friday, Nov. 7.

First violinist Edmund Bagnell explained where the idea for the group came from.

“Christopher Marchant (second violinist) was working in Provincetown, Mass., a few summers ago, doing a different show, and he would busk, which is playing violin on the street,” Bagnell said during a recent phone interview. “Our manager saw him performing, and together they came up with the idea of putting together a string quartet.

“It evolved from there. I would say what we do has changed a bit in the past three years we’ve been together.”

They quickly rose in popularity in both the mainstream and LGBT music scenes and found themselves playing in venues such as The Art House in Provincetown, 54 Below in New York, the House of Blues in New Orleans, and even the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

While the Well-Strung website refers to the group as a “boy band” (in tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course), each of the members has an impressive history in music or musical theater. Some highlights: Bagnell appeared in a national tour of Sweeney Todd. Marchant has a bachelor’s degree in music ministry. Daniel Shevlin (cello) appeared in an off-Broadway production of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, and in touring productions of Rent and Cabaret. Trevor Wadleigh (viola) was the principal violist of the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, and the Nova Philharmonic.

While all of the members are established classical musicians, they enjoy combining traditional classical music with pop music.

“We’re coming to this event with a new show we call Popsical,” Bagnell said. “… That’s mostly what we’re doing these days—weaving in and out of classical and pop in new and interesting ways. As far as string quartets playing pop music, there’s been a tradition of that going on for a while, but I think we’re the only group that actually sings and plays at the same time.”

What do they play during their live show? They put their own unique interpretation on the music of Mozart and Vivaldi, and throw in some Adele, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, for starters.

Bagnell said it’s hard for him to pick a favorite song to play live. “It kind of evolves. Right now, we’re doing a Beethoven string quartet, which is really fun to play live, and a big challenge. I really find it fun to perform it.”

While the melding of classical music with pop might turn off classical purists, the quartet knows how to entertain an audience.

“I feel pretty lucky in being able to say that we always have a really warm reception,” Bagnell said. “That’s wherever we go, from Provincetown to someplace like a suburb in Chicago. I’m always amazed at how willing people are to what we’re presenting. It’s very nice.”

Of course, the members of Well-Strung have had some memorable performances during which they had to improvise. Bagnell recalled one such experience (although he refused to reveal where and when it happened).

“There was an issue with the sound system. We ended up having to do an acoustic show,” he said. “I’d have to say that it was a very special show. The audience got really, really quiet, and there was something really cool about it. ‘We don’t have mics? Here we go—we’re going to sing it out for you.’ It was really cool.”

Bagnell said the group is ambitious and ready to taste mainstream success.

“We have one album already, but the immediate goal is a second album within the next six months,” he said. “Certainly, signing with a record label would be amazing, and we’d also like to start writing our own music. … Right now, everything we’re doing is covers. We’re very proud of our covers, but we’d also like to have our own stuff.”

Well-Strung will perform, as will comedian Kate Clinton, at the Fifth Annual Center Stage, a benefit for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. It starts at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7, at the Riviera Resort and Spa, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets start at $175. For tickets or more information, call 760-416-7790, or visit thecenterps.org.

Published in Previews

The LGBT Community Center of the Desert held its annual donor-appreciation party on Thursday, May 15—and the event’s star attraction was the organization’s brand-new executive director, Mike Thompson.

He hadn’t even started his job yet—in fact, his first day on the job is slated to be Monday, June 2—but Center supporters were excited to meet the man who they hope will fill a staff-leadership void that’s existed since the previous executive director, Gary Costa, stepped down some time ago.

Thompson’s qualifications are impressive. He spent about a year and a half with GLAAD, as the chief operating officer and the acting president. He was the executive director of Equality Utah for almost four years, and he spent a short stint as the director of development for the AIDS Project Los Angeles. The University of Oklahoma graduate and member of the Cherokee Nation also served as the executive director of a school in Tulsa, Okla., for five years.

On the day after the Center’s party, Thompson spoke to the Independent for about a half-hour. Here’s an edited version of that interview.

What are your thoughts on where the Center is now, and where do you want to take things?

I couldn’t be more proud of the work that is happening here. To listen to Dr. Jill (Gover, the Center’s director of counseling, at the donor-appreciation party) and her comments about our mental-health program, and the opportunities for expansion with the school system—that’s impressive. (So is) the (pending) certification that would allow us to be the only place in the state serving this population with that certification. I think that is a hallmark in our work, as is our (NestEggg) Food Bank program. There are a lot of great things happening here.

As far as what I want to do, that’s yet to be determined. I can say broadly that the creation of community at the very core is what I am most interested in. The “how” and the “why” are yet to be determined, and I think that yet to be determined piece is going to be informed by the community. I am meeting with the board of directors tomorrow. … I want to understand from them: What is your vision? What is in your heart for this organization? And then I want to ask the community the same thing. While we offer some amazing programs, I want to know: What are the needs out there that might not be being met? I don’t want to assume that, and say, “Here’s what we do.” I want to say, “What is it that we can do?” … If we are to create a Center that is truly the community’s center, the community needs to feel engaged and (like) a part of that. … That’s generally how I do things. I’m much more collaborative, in partnership. I am not afraid to be a leader; I’m not afraid to be the decider, but the way I make decisions is based on collaborative input, and I think it’s important to decide that out of the gate.

It was fairly apparent last night that men far outnumber women when it comes to the Center. (This is a problem shared by many other Palm Springs-area LGBT organizations, too.) One person my partner I talked to last night was, frankly, upset that the new executive director was not a woman. Another criticism is that the Center does not seem to be successfully attracting a younger crowd; there’s definitely an older skew. You talk about building community; what, if anything, do you want to do to try to bring in more women, and bring in more young people?

I am aware of exactly those two things; (the male skew) was something I actually brought up to the board (during the interview process), and it’s top of mind for them. I am not sorry that I am a man, but I understand that perception. That (issue of men outnumbering women) has been ongoing in “the movement”; that is a very common concern, and I am aware of that. So rather than me saying, “These are the things we are going to do to attract more women and more young people,” I am going to go back to these community conversations and assessments—this survey I want to do in the community—and say, “Women, what is meaningful to you? How is it that we better engage you?” … Those who want to remain critics will be critics; those who are interested in facilitating change will be part of creating that change. … I want to find a way to engage every member of our community, including women, including younger people. We say that we celebrate diversity, so we need to make sure that our programming and every door that we open welcomes everyone to participate.

There’s been a lot of turmoil at the Center in terms of staffing changes. Developing a staff and creating some stability is going to be a direct job of yours as the executive director. Tell me your plans.

I think my track record as a manager is that (I) create an environment for people to feel valued and significant in their work and in their workplace. That’s really an extension of what I want to do, or a category of what I want to do, within the community: Within the staff, (I want to make) sure people are valued and that they feel significant, and that they understand what their expectations are, and that they’re held to those. One of the things I’ve had to learn as a manager is that not everyone works the way I do: I want a lot of freedom. I want to move about; you just tell me what’s expected, and let me go do it. But I understand some people work the way I do, and some people need a lot more clarity and tighter parameters.

One of the things that was talked about a lot last night: Everyone wants to create a Center that truly is a community center. At this event last year, plans for a new building were announced, and that seems to have been premature. Tell me what you have in mind to make it so the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, as a physical location, becomes that welcoming space that everyone wants it to be.

I am not quite sure that I’m understanding your question. Is it about the physical space, or is it about being welcoming within whatever space we’re in?

Both. Obviously, you can’t separate those two …

(Are you asking) if a new space is a priority?

Well, let’s make that a question: Is a new physical space a priority?

You know, I don’t know. (Laughs.) I haven’t walked down and even set up my desk yet. … I am not prepared to have a conversation about that.

Maybe I should let you actually start the job first. (Laughs.)

I do understand the value of the space that we create for people. Whether that is in this space or in a different space, it’s like: Are we being good stewards of the space that we have today, and are we creating the type of space that has that community feel to it? That’s why, even though the staff has been reduced to what it is, thank God we’ve got great volunteers who are at that front desk every hour that we are open, so (people) are being welcomed from the moment they walk in the door. THAT is a way that we can do our jobs (of making people feel welcomed). … (I want to make sure) that every person who walks through that door has a personal experience with someone who represents the Center. … I think that’s more important than whatever space we do that in. At some point, we will have a space that might not be this one, because to grow into the program that I think we can be in the desert community, it will require a space beyond these walls. But I don’t know when that may be.

Tell me about the pluses or minuses of running an LGBT-centered organization in the Coachella Valley, compared to some place like, say, Salt Lake City, or Los Angeles. What unique challenges do you think you’ll face while dealing with this strange valley?

Well, I don’t know that I have any preconceived ideas. How I enter into an organization and I enter into a community is (with) a blank space, and I take the experiences that I have and let them inform my perceptions. … I think I have a general idea of saying, “We are the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, that happens to be in Palm Springs.” I understand that while the (Palm Springs) City Council and mayor proclaimed yesterday to be LGBT Community Center of the Desert Day, those same attitudes might not exist in every other community in the valley. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t project onto these other communities the values of Palm Springs, and that we don’t let our work in the other parts of the valley … be seen through the lens of what happens in Palm Springs.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I don’t think so, other than saying how incredibly excited I am not only about the job, but integrating myself into this community, and calling it home—even more so after last night. I’ve been busy wrapping up my consultant practice; I’ve been busy packing … but last night, when I stepped down those stairs after I spoke … people were so welcoming. I thought, “Wow. I feel like I’m already a part of this.”

Published in Local Issues

Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents?

Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.”

Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid.

Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community, he successfully argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1976. 

Assuming these are both honorable men who want to serve their community, why would age even be a factor? Do older residents only want to see people their own age elected?

Here’s what I’m wondering: Is it time for the younger generations to take over? Remember that old saying, “Never trust anyone over 30”?

Although Hines is well beyond millennial age, a recent poll by Pew Research Center sheds some light on the ongoing conflicts between the generations. 

“Millennials,” defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33 by Pew, have very different views of traditional cultural norms and institutions. The underlying struggle to redefine our society is taking place throughout the country at all levels.

A recent column in The New York Times by Charles M. Blow, discussing the Pew findings, got me thinking. Yes, there is value in the wisdom we hope to have developed over many years of experience, but there is also value in accepting that society’s norms have already changed in important ways, and public policies must adjust to reflect those changes.

For example, 69 percent of millennials believe that marijuana use should be made legal, while only 32 percent of the so-called “silent generation” (those 68 and older) support legalization (although even that number has almost doubled since 2002). On the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, 68 percent of millennials support such rights, compared to only 38 percent of the silent generation.

Millennials also largely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (68 percent), and that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and eventually apply to become citizens (55 percent). 

In the Coachella Valley, particularly the western and central parts, we tend to think of the local population as made up of many retirees. However, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), in 2011, only about 30 percent of valley residents were 55 or older.

Does that mean almost 70 percent of our residents are not having their interests represented when elected officials are from older generations?  Not necessarily. For example, in Rancho Mirage, more than half of the population is 60 or older. Yet, it is worth considering that elected officials are supposed to not only manage current realities, but plan for the future viability of their communities. That may require attitudes and philosophies that encompass the cultural changes we are already experiencing.

Local officials have to consider policy approaches that are necessary for their communities to be seen as welcoming to younger generations. At the national level, “the young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era,” said Blow. So if Rancho Mirage is largely made up of older people, does that mean their City Council representatives should disdain appealing to younger people? Not if they want their city to survive.

When I first moved to the Coachella Valley in 1985, I remember thinking that all the service employees who worked in local cities—waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining golf courses, working in sales, etc.—could not possibly afford to live in the cities where they were employed, and thus had less invested in making those cities sustainable. I remember when, in 1988, Indian Wells, which then boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state, sought an exemption from having affordable housing built within their city’s borders. Thankfully, they lost that battle, thanks to a veto by the then-Republican governor.

The Pew poll showed that millennials are more racially diverse and less disapproving of government services. They are experiencing higher student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income. However, they are the future, and we need to incorporate their attitudes and needs if we hope to sustain our communities.

So, the question remains: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Should age trump “ambition”? When Hobart was younger, wasn’t he ambitious?

As Blow puts it: “One might argue that millennials simply haven’t lived long enough to hit the triggers that might engender more conservatism … but it could just as well be that this group of young people is fundamentally different.” 

Is it perhaps time that older folks recognize that younger generations have something to offer as a balance, with a new approach to “the way we’ve always done it.” Our future will be as different from today as today is from the “traditional values” of a mere 50 years ago—a time that some in the older generation still cling to as what should be “normal.” Without that balance, and those new ways of looking at our culture and our institutions, we are only stalling the inevitable.

Maybe it’s time for older folks, myself included, to just get out of the way. Those with experience should teach, mentor and advise—but let younger generations lead.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

My intention has always been to write about issues by introducing neighbors who are making a difference in our community, while hopefully informing readers about something they may not already know.

Once in a while, however, I feel the need to sound off on something about which I am outraged—something that affects all of us.

When I studied the Constitution in law school, I was particularly impressed by the guarantee of equal rights, an aspiration our nation has consistently pursued, and a cause in which I have been involved since “the good old days.”

You remember those times, don’t you? The days when if an unmarried woman got pregnant, she had to get married, and the days when child or spousal abuse was something that happened behind closed doors. It was a time when women didn’t even get close to the glass ceiling, and when blatant discrimination in the name of traditional norms was allowed and even encouraged. It was a time when husbands and wives knew their proper, God-given roles in a marriage, and when marriage could only be between two people of the opposite sex. 

The good old days.

We now live in a time when we have witnessed amazing social and cultural movements challenging those old norms—as we begin to recognize that the good old days weren’t so good for everyone.

By law, by court decisions, and by changed hearts and minds, we now accept the concept of equal voting rights, nondiscrimination in public accommodations, equal pay for equal work, and inter-racial marriage. We also accept that private consensual sexual behavior is just that—private.   

So how are we modeling our heightened sensibility about equality? 

In Uganda and Nigeria, American conservative Christian activists assisted those governments in drafting laws that criminalize homosexual behavior—with life imprisonment as a possible punishment. (They finally dropped the death penalty!) Public brutality against homosexuals has been the result.

In Russia, the Olympic Games were overshadowed by that country’s recent law that criminalizes spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” and prohibits adoptions by gay individuals, all in the name of supposedly protecting Russian children.  

Even here in the Coachella Valley, we have “dirty tricks” politics that negatively characterized a candidate for the Rancho Mirage City Council due to his sexual orientation.   

The Legislature in our neighboring state, Arizona, passed a law that would allow, on the basis of religious freedom, businesses to deny services to people who happen to be gay. The cake-icer at the local supermarket could refuse to decorate a cake with “Happy Anniversary Larry and Joe.”

Which “religious freedoms” would be deemed acceptable? Would that law cover a Muslim car dealer who wants to refuse service to Jews? Or a Christian computer salesperson who wants to discriminate against atheists? If Arizona’s law prevailed, would there be a test when you walk through the door of a public establishment to determine whether you’re gay?  

In the United States, marriage laws are made by the states—but federal courts are increasingly overruling state laws prohibiting gay marriage, largely based on the precedent of the Supreme Court decision in Windsor last year. That decision said that the federal government cannot deny equal treatment of legal marriages, regardless of the gender of the spouses.

The decision struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress, and ostensibly invalidated numerous state laws that specifically deny legal status for gay married couples, even if they have been legally married in another state.

Gay marriage is currently legally recognized in 17 states and the District of Columbia.  Courts in Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas have already acted to strike down anti-gay-marriage laws; some of those cases are being appealed. 

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr. 

The arc toward justice on marriage equality is bending quickly—but not everywhere, and now marriage equality, and other forms of equality, are being fought using claims of religious liberty.

What about the rights of private business owners? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that a business cannot refuse service on the basis of “arbitrary” conditions like race, color, religion, or national origin. Arbitrary standards are based on individual judgment or preference. 

We allow businesses to post signs saying, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” but only if based on objective standards—for example, if a customer’s presence may detract from the “safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons.”

Objective standards can be equally applied—a bar refusing to sell a drink to an obviously drunk person, or a fancy restaurant refusing to admit someone wearing shorts and no shoes. 

Arizona lawmakers wanted to justify an arbitrary standard on the basis of the religious convictions of the business owner or employee. Sexual orientation is an arbitrary condition, no different from where someone was born, or their race. We should not be passing laws that enshrine arbitrary discrimination, no matter the justification. 

As for gay marriage, before long, the U.S Supreme Court will have to revisit the issue and give a definitive ruling that once and for all sets policies for the nation as a whole, a position they avoided in Windsor

We all know people like the La Quinta resident (a service provider who shall remain nameless) who says, “I’m not opposed to how anyone wants to live, but do they have to whine about it all the time? Life isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair when my spouse died young and left me to raise two young children alone. But I didn’t whine about it—I just got on with my life.”

I have a gay son who was in a 20-year gay relationship that ended badly; a female cousin who has been in a 30-year lesbian relationship that is thriving; and lots of local friends and neighbors who are living together, married or not, gay and heterosexual, who just want the arc of justice, for themselves and their friends and neighbors, to bend a little more quickly. They just want to get on with it—live their lives, raise their children, participate in their communities, and have the dignity and equality each and every one of us deserves.

How long are we willing to wait on behalf of some of our brothers, sisters, children and neighbors for justice to prevail? 

I am not gay. I am just outraged.  

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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