CVIndependent

Wed09182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

On Sunday, Dec. 1, DiGS Bar (36737 Cathedral Canyon Drive, Cathedral City) will launch Super Fuzz, a day of celebration for bears, leather aficionados and everyone in between. From 7 to 11 p.m., Bobby California (real name: Bob Deck) will be spinning a variety of indie music, garage rock and alternative rock. For more info, visit digsbar.com, or find the bar on Facebook. Deck, 41, a Cathedral City resident and Kansas City, Mo., native who has called the Coachella Valley home for five years, recently answered The Lucky 13. Enjoy!

What was the first concert you attended?

Mötley Crüe.

What was the first album you owned?

Paul Stanley’s self-titled solo album.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Tame Impala, King Khan and the Shrines, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, MGMT, The Flaming Lips, Dungen, The Amazing, and Black Lips.

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

Miley Cyrus.

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

The Beatles, of course.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

1970s soft rock.

What’s your favorite music venue?

There’s a little pinball bar in Lawrence, Kan., called the Replay Lounge. My old band (The Hefners) used to play there a lot in the ’90s. I just attended its 20th-anniversary party last month.

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

I love the way that The Zombies’ “Care of Cell 44” starts: “Good morning to you; I hope you’re feeling better, baby.” It pops into my head almost every morning.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Kiss. I met them at a hotel restaurant when I was in grade school. They were out of makeup, but had their platform boots on. I went to their table and asked for autographs, but Paul Stanley was the only one who signed my paper placemat. That made me want to be in a band—I thought they were so cool! Years later, I taught myself to play drums and played in several garage-rock bands.

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

Otis Redding. He was killed in a plane crash three days after recording “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The whistling was just filler until he came up with the words for that part. I would ask him what lyrics he was planning to replace the whistling with.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Big Star, “The Ballad of El Goodo.”

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

The Millennium, Begin.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Pentecost Hotel” by Nirvana (the British band from the ’60s, not the grunge band from Seattle).

Published in The Lucky 13

Editor’s Note: A representative of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Awards approached the Independent about publishing this Q&A with Mariah Hanson, the founder of one of Palm Springs’ largest annual events: the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend, aka “The Dinah” (thedinah.com). The 2014 event takes place April 2-6.

Hanson is the recipient of the 2013 Athena Leadership Award, presented by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce. She—along with Carol Channing and Helene Galen—will be honored at the 2013 Athena Luncheon, at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Renaissance Palm Springs, 888 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, Tickets are $85, or $65 for chamber members. To register or get more information, visit www.pschamber.org.

How does it feel to be recognized and honored by the city of Palm Springs with an Athena Award?

I am beyond honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award. To be singled out alongside such other distinguished and esteemed honorees, not to mention (being in) such stellar company of women, is, on a personal level, quite an amazing prestige. Just as importantly for me, as an LGBT American to earn such distinction at the local government level from both the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Palm Springs itself is simply incredible.

Why do you think events like the Athena Awards, which honor women leaders, are important?

Contrary to the stereotypical stigma, women are strong and empowered leaders. Yet we are only recognized as such when we adopt a more-masculine persona in business. I personally believe when we, as women, feel confident enough to also bring our feminine attributes into business—such as kindness and compassion, and absolutely own these qualities—we conduct kinder and more-empowering business for all. So yes, awards such as the Athena Awards are extremely important. Overall, it encourages women to take charge, to lead and to blaze forward, in a way that leaves a wake of empowerment and inclusiveness for other women—and men as well!

You’re celebrating 24 years producing the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. What role has the city played in the overall success of the event?

Palm Springs has been an amazing partner throughout the 24 years I have been conducting business here. It’s a smart city, run by smart people, who “get it.”

As the saying goes: A rising tide lifts all boats, and Palm Springs appears to understand and fearlessly take that approach in its vision of the future. It is one of the many reasons it has once again reinvented itself and is now enjoying another exceptional renaissance. I honestly could not have found a better place to produce The Dinah than Palm Springs; and I am beyond grateful of the support and love the city and the community has given my event, my customers and me for almost a quarter-century now. It’s an amazing LGBT-supportive city, and this recognition shows just how truly hip and inclusive Palm Springs is. I look forward to The Dinah being here for another 24 years!

What was the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a woman in the course of these 24 years producing the Dinah?

Some men I have worked with over the years don’t take women as seriously as they should, but that’s an endemic problem between the sexes and not one that I have ever felt inhibited by. Personally, when faced with sexism, rather than fight it, I’m more inclined to simply take another approach. What’s important is achieving your goals. If you do that, you’ve successfully fought sexism. Many roads lead to Rome, and as long as you get there, all is well.

On a personal level, what does the Dinah represent for you? And what got you hooked to want to produce it for 24 years?

The Dinah is a celebration of living out loud, of being heard, of being seen. When you break it down, at a fundamental level, isn’t that what we all want? For five days, I have the esteemed opportunity to make that possible for a lot of women who may not enjoy that kind of freedom when they return home. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I like to think it is life-changing for them.

What is it about The Dinah that is a life-changing experience for women?

Imagine living in a more-remote part of the country where being out may not be considered socially acceptable. Fast-forward to arriving at The Dinah, where thousands of women are living out loud, without the fear of being judged or bullied. Not only that, but they’re also embraced by an entire city that sends an unspoken message of: You’re worth it! That’s life-changing. Imagine being an older lesbian who has had to keep her love for her partner “in the closet” for her entire lifetime and then attends The Dinah—or perhaps just one of our many events. She then gets a glimpse into this public celebration of our lives. She surely must think: All that work and efforts to attain our rights was worth it. Look at this joy!

What do you think mainstream perception of the event is? And is it important that mainstream people know about it?

I think mainstream society looks at this event like they do any other event that celebrates a specific culture. The LGBT community definitely has a culture, and we feel it is important to celebrate it through our pride events and events such as The Dinah. I think it is very important that mainstream society knows about our lives. The more society as a whole recognizes the fact that our lives are really not all that different than that of society at large, the sooner the LGBT issues of equality will be resolved favorably. It’s about putting a human face to our LGBT community to break stereotypes.

Do you think it is still important for the LGBT community to have events like the Dinah?

Events such as The Dinah offer a space in time to celebrate out loud. There is still a majority of gay women who live in hiding having to pretend to be someone else ... simply because their environment forces them to.

It’s hard for those of us who have the freedom to walk the streets holding hands and kissing our partner to fathom the fact that our lifestyle is not the same for a majority of others, but rather is the exception. We take for granted the fact that our reality is still a dream many wish would come true. The Dinah offers gay women from all over the world the opportunity to escape for five days from the rest of their 360-day life … and provides them the freedom to be who they are.

I believe it provides a glimpse of what life would be if everyone were accepting of each other, no matter what the size of their body, the color of their skin, and/or the tax bracket they belong to. Simply put, it is a testimony of how perfect the world would be if we could all be free to feel free!

What is your favorite job-related story?

I have so many. I liked it when the city made me deputy mayor for the day, and Tim Ellis asked me if I would sign off on his parking ticket. That was a no, apparently. Katy Perry was a career highlight to date. Meeting lesbians from small towns whose eyes are so big at the sights they see … always makes me smile.

Can you share a little-known fact about yourself?

I used to dress up as a cowboy when I was 5 and stand out in the middle of our neighborhood street and demand a quarter from cars driving by. Oh my God. I just realized something: I haven’t changed.

What can you tell us about The Dinah 2014?

The Dinah 2014 is going to be off the hook! I have a major act lined up that I am really excited about! We’re expecting another blockbuster this year.

Published in Community Voices

The 2013 Palm Springs Pride Festival, held at Sunrise Park on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3, drew tens of thousands of people over two days.

Temps in the low '80s greeted attendees, who perused booths offering everything from underwear to animal adoptions to newspapers (including more than 1,600 copies of the Coachella Valley Independent), and enjoyed performers ranging from Richard Simmons to Berlin.

When we had more than one person manning our booth, Independent editor Jimmy Boegle wandered through the festival to take some pictures of the goings-on. Check out the photo gallery below.

Published in Snapshot

In late 2002, I was talking to the publisher of the Tucson Weekly about the editor’s job. I was working for what was then a corporate sister paper, Las Vegas CityLife.. The Tucson publisher, Tom, had apparently heard from my Las Vegas publisher that I was seeing someone—but Tom didn’t know the details.

“So, I understand you have a girlfriend in Las Vegas,” Tom said.

I suddenly faced a split-second decision—the kind of awkward and potentially damaging decision that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face from time to time.

“Actually, I have a boyfriend in Vegas,” I replied.

Thankfully, everything worked out: I got the job (and would happily keep it for nearly a decade), and the boyfriend and I recently celebrated 11 years together. But far too often, things don’t work out when LGBT folks have to make the split-second decision whether to come out—even today, in 2013.

This brings us to this month’s fantastic cover story, which we posted online last Friday (Oct. 25).

Over the last few months, Brian Blueskye and I have been looking for older LGBT locals to profile for this Pride-themed story package. We wanted to honor generations of LGBT folks who—simply by living their lives—fought for equality and fairness, therefore paving the way for legal marriage, for federal benefits, and for people like me to feel comfortable telling the truth during a job interview.

Although we quite didn’t achieve the ethnic diversity for which we were hoping, I think you’ll agree that Brian did an amazing job of telling the stories of these normal, yet somehow also extraordinary, men and women.

• On another note: I want to personally thank everyone who played a part in the li’l party we threw on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

OK, so the party wasn’t so little. In fact, hundreds of Independent readers, contributors, advertisers and (what I hope will be) future advertisers came out to celebrate both our one-year anniversary online, and our move to a monthly print schedule.

Thanks to Brook and the folks at Clinic Bar and Lounge (where you can find me nursing a Maker’s and Coke several days a week), who made everyone who showed up comfortable and happy; Alex Harrington, aka All Night Shoes, who turned in an amazing DJ set (including a by-request Patsy Cline remix that blew my mind); The Vibe, whose appearance was something of a surprise, albeit a most welcome one; and Ryan “Motel” Campbell (with support from as Debra Ann Mumm and the rest of the Venus Studios folks), who created a stunning mural before our very eyes.

Most of all, I want to thank you, our readers—whether you were able to attend the party or not. Without you, the Independent is just a bunch of pixels or ink on newsprint. You’re what gives our new and growing publication life. Thanks for picking us up each month, and for pointing your browser to CVIndependent.com. Thanks for following us on Facebook, Twitter and even Google Plus. Thanks for frequenting our advertisers—and thanks for telling your friends about us.

Enjoy our special 2013 Pride Issue, hitting streets this week, and already posted online here at CVIndependent.com. And if you’re at Palm Springs Pride this weekend, please stop by our booth and say hello!

Published in Editor's Note

Page 4 of 5