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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

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

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