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Palm Springs has long been the home of an active, visible, engaged and fairly organized gay male community.

As for lesbians … not so much.

Enter the Dyke March. Now in its second year, the Palm Springs Dyke March will begin with speakers and entertainment at 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at Frances Stevens Park, located at 555 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Around 5:30, the crowd will be led by a drum line down Palm Canyon Drive, through the Pride Festival and to the Arenas Road stage, where Kate Kendell, the leader of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, will speak. She’ll be followed onstage by amazing lesbian rocker Jennifer Corday.

Shann Carr, a local comedian and newish real-estate agent, is a member of the Dyke March’s steering community.

“The dyke march has a long, big, fat fucking history. It was started originally as a protest of invisibility,” Carr said. “It remains more of a protest movement than a pride march. I think no dyke march has ever gotten a permit before.”

While dyke marches have taken place in cities across the world for many decades, the Palm Springs Dyke March is a new thing. Carr said the fact that there is now a dyke march here shows that the local lesbian community is, thankfully, finally beginning to come together.

“Palm Springs’ lesbian community has never really escalated into a highly active social community,” Carr said. “But in the last couple of years, little pods of people are starting to gain momentum.”

As another example of this momentum, Carr pointed to the new and growing nonprofit The L-Fund, which offers financial assistance to local lesbians in need. President and founding member Barbara Carpenter will be one of the pre-march speakers at Francis Stevens Park, along with Gail Christian, one of the producers of the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival; and Janet Malachowsky, an associate vice president with The Relationship Group at Morgan Stanley, who not long ago served as the president of the board of the Desert Business Association, the valley’s LGBT business group. (Full disclosure: The author of this article is the current president of the DBA.)

Beyond the great speakers, what can Dyke March attendees expect?

“I suspect that at the rally site, it’ll be mostly lesbian,” Carr said. “That is who the march is named after—dykes, people who are proud dykes or lesbians who are not hung up on that word. That’s who will be there.”

That’s not to say that men and straight women won’t be welcome, Carr said. In fact, she said that she hopes men and straight women will show up in support. (Carr’s suggested chant for march supporters: “Go, dykes, go!”)

As the march heads through the Pride Festival and to the Arenas Road stage, the crowd will become much more diverse, and Carr said this is a very good thing.

“On Arenas, I hope everybody’s there, because Kate Kendell is such an amazing speaker,” Carr said.

After Kendell speaks and Jennifer Corday rocks, attendees can walk a couple hundred feet to the Hard Rock Hotel for the L-Fund Women’s Pride Dance, which will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight. DJ T-LA STORM will spin; tickets are $20 in advance at www.l-fund.org, or $30 at the door.

Carr—who said she’s always identified with the word “dyke”—said it’s fantastic that the local lesbian community is starting to make legitimate, tangible efforts to organize.

“In any community that is under-seen and, in our case, under-organized … it’s important to focus on what you want and how to get it,” she said.

For more information on the Palm Springs Dyke March, visit PSPride.org or www.facebook.com/psdykemarch.

Published in Local Fun

They call it “Queercore”—punk-rock music that takes on the issues of the LGBT community.

One of the best-known Queercore bands is Pansy Division—and on Sunday, Nov. 6, the band will play in downtown Palm Springs as part of Greater Palm Springs Pride.

After Pansy Division formed in San Francisco in 1991, the band was incorrectly billed as the first gay punk band. In reality, Queercore has been around since the early ’80s and included bands such as The Dicks, Fifth Column, Big Man, and The Apostles. During a recent phone interview, frontman Chris Freeman mentioned an encounter with another Queercore band that would eventually become an Alternative Tentacles labelmate.

“I was working at Wells Fargo when we had just started playing our first shows,” Freeman said. “I’d get packages from this girl who would come in; I thought this chick just rocked. I didn’t know who she was, but she just rocked. … One night, she came in and said, ‘Hey, what are you up to tonight?’ I didn’t know what to tell her, because we were playing a show. She said, ‘Oh, well, I have this band, and maybe you could come and see the show.’ I showed up to the club, and she walks in with her band, and I was like, ‘… What’s your band?’ She said ‘Tribe 8.’ What the fuck? … They were terrorizing. We became best buddies immediately.”

Freeman said he and his bandmates just wanted to have fun after starting Pansy Division.

“We thought, ‘Let’s just focus on San Francisco and the ACT UP community,’ which Jon (Ginoli) and I were pretty active in,” Freeman said, referring to the AIDS/HIV activist group. “We thought that we would try playing a style of music that had not gotten anywhere in our community—power pop and that sort of fun style of punk rock.

“Punk rock was really fun when it first started. Later, there were different factions and cities putting their take on it, and Southern California added to the violent side of punk rock. But when it first started, it was about, ‘Let’s go back to this fun part of rock ’n’ roll,’ which had been lost. … We thought if we’re going to promote being out and gay with punk rock, let’s do it as humor. That’s the best vehicle to get people to understand or accept something.”

Freeman and Ginoli soon realized they were taking part in what amounted to a social experiment.

“Jon and I were both over 30. We were told if we were over 30, we were never going to have a career in music,” Freeman said. “ … Here we are 25 years later, still doing it. During our first couple of shows in San Francisco, we were shaking in our boots, because we didn’t know how people would react to us.”

Pansy Division gained a fan with status in the punk community soon after the band began performing.

“Jello (Biafra) of Dead Kennedys was an early supporter. He would come to our shows, and he would go, ‘You guys, this is genius!’ He was always a big supporter of the gay community,” Freeman said. “He had told us that he was going to sign us and cleared the way for us to do ‘Smells Like Queer Spirit,’ because he was at this protest in Portland, and Nirvana was on the bill. He talked to them, saying, ‘I have this band called Pansy Division out of San Francisco, and I want to put out this 7-inch and do this twist on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ They said, ‘Yeah, go for it!’ But as it turned out, he didn’t have the money to put out the first single. Larry Livermore from Lookout Records was also watching us and had been a supporter. … We thought, ‘If Jello can’t do it, let’s go with Larry.’ Jello often regrets it, but he was still a champion for us and came to shows.

“When things went sour with Lookout and we got out of the contract around 2000, we went to (Biafra’s) Alternative Tentacles. It’s easy to do business with Jello and easy to work with him.”

Pansy Division found itself on tour with Green Day in 1994, right as Green Day’s album Dookie was taking off. It went on to sell 20 million copies.

“As we signed to Lookout, (Green Day) released Kerplunk,” Freeman said. “We thought, ‘That’s a statement! That’s a great record!’ It went on to sell 50,000 copies on Lookout, which was amazing for an underground band. They could see themselves going to a major label. They had seen our show, and we got the call from Tré (Cool) the drummer, asking, ‘Do you have a van? Can you tour?’ We were ready to go.”

Soon, Green Day’s audience swelled—and Pansy Division found itself playing in arenas, which led to a more mainstream audience.

“That was insane. Never once did Jon and I get used to it,” Freeman said. “We played these huge crowds. Also, we didn’t know what was going to happen to Green Day’s audience. All of a sudden, we’re playing to these 8-year-old kids coming to the shows, and we were up there signing about sucking cock. … None of it made any sense, and it just got weirder and weirder.”

Pansy Division has continued on, albeit with a more limited schedule since 2000 (although the band has been on the road a little bit more recently, due to the band’s brand-new release, Quite Contrary). These days, the members have full-time jobs and spouses—and the music industry has changed as well.

“In 2000, I was homeless. I was kicked out of my apartment because my landlord was gentrifying it,” Freeman said. “I didn’t have a job, because I did temp work in between tours, and the dot-com bust happened, and there were no temp jobs available. I ended up moving to Los Angeles, and we sort of had to regroup and figure out what we were going to do. Napster’s lawsuits coming from Metallica happened, and we had many discussions about, ‘Well, what is the future of music, then?’ At that point, we came to the conclusion that labels are going to go boutique in the future. Once something is on the Internet, no one is going to want to pay for it.”

Freeman performed at Palm Springs Pride with his other band, GayC/DC, last year.

“I didn’t know how open and receptive Palm Springs Pride would be to rock acts such as us,” Freeman said. “The roll of the dice with GayC/DC paid off last year. That was an amazing show. We got off the stage and were like, ‘That was great! We got such a great reception.’ We told the promoters, ‘Have us back! I have this other band called Pansy Division,’ and they were like, ‘PANSY DIVISION? CAN WE HAVE YOU NEXT YEAR?’ It worked out.”

Pansy Division will perform at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at the U.S. Bank Stage on Arenas Road during Greater Palm Springs Pride. Admission is free. For more information, visit pspride.org.

Published in Previews

Just in time for Greater Palm Springs Pride, downtown Palm Springs’ Ted Casablanca Gallery is presenting a show of never-before-displayed photographs by Michael Childers—taken in 1974 at a drag ball in a Los Angeles, and at a White Party in Palm Springs in 2002.

Childers is best known for his photographs capturing the personalities of celebrities, including Greta Garbo, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Warhol, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper, Joan Crawford and Grace Jones, to name just a few. His work has been featured in numerous galleries and museums throughout the world. However, this upcoming show reveals a different side of Childers’ personality.

Mentioning two of his favorite photographers, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, Childers said he thinks this Flaming Creatures series resonates with their work. Childers described working with famous people as more like a dream, while in the Flaming Creatures photographs, “the flavor of people—they’re not acting,” Childers said.

“These photographs are edgy and different. They’re of people who are gay, straight, lesbian, uni-gender; it’s the fun, outrageous things I like about it,” Childers said.

The 1974 drag ball photos were initially taken for a four-page spread in the Italian Vogue magazine, L’Uomo Vogue. However, the pictures have never been presented in a gallery or museum until now; the same goes for the photos from the 2002 White Party. It’s unlikely that this display at Ted Casablanca will be the photos’ last, however: The Palm Springs Art Museum’s The Galen in Palm Desert plans on including some of these pictures within the next couple of years in a show titled Gay Life in America.

Childers compared the two time periods. “1974 was sweet and charming,” he said, noting the poses and expressions in the photographs. “I love the originality of costumes in both periods, but the ’70s (costumes) were more unique.”

Many of the 1974 subjects were Hollywood people, including costume designers, models, makeup artists, photographers and art directors—in other words, people with a lot of fabulous theatrical flair. “Some were very stylish, and had great makeup, and they would parade out!” Childers said

At the 2002 White Party in the park, Childers had spotters bring people over to the background he’d set up. Some smiled and laughed, even though he asked them not to; perhaps the whole scene was too much fun. Still, Childers seized many natural poses within the context of the event. Childers describes the scene as being about “street art, and how people from the street express themselves. Where there’s more individuality and uniqueness, I feel like I’m a voyeur. As all photographers are, I’m a voyeur with a long lens.”

Childers said he’s been a friend of Ted Casablanca for 20 years, and Childers is thrilled about the show.

“Ted has enthusiasm as a Palm Springs booster,” Childers said. “He has a bold and refreshing choice of artists. It’s a terrific gallery.”

Casablanca—aka Bruce Bibby—said he’s had a desire to show Childers’ work for years.

“I’ve wanted to show his Warhol pieces for a while,” he says. “I actually have one. The drag ball pieces are also a favorite of mine. It was a Halloween drag ball, and he did what he usually doesn’t do: He let people have free rein—rebel photographer meets rebel guests with their moment to shine.

“It was Michael’s idea to show it for Gay Pride with the 2002 White Party (photos). I loved the idea!”

The Flaming Creatures exhibit will open with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at Ted Casablanca Gallery, located at 388 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-883-1625, or visit tedcasablanca.com.

Published in Visual Arts

One of my favorite idioms, often attributed to President John F. Kennedy, is: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

This phrase came to mind one recent morning when I woke up to an email from a manager at a local business. He had agreed to participate in an event with the Independent on the day before, but then changed his mind when he realized the event has an advertising element.

“We have never paid for advertising, and we never will,” the manager wrote.

That phrase, frankly, pissed me off. After all, advertising is what keeps the lights on here at the Independent, and it funds all of the journalism that we do here.

My response to him: “I’m a bit befuddled when you say (your business) ‘never will’ advertise. Seeing as I’ve put every dime (and then some) I have into creating a local business that tries to cover our valley in an ethical, honest, meaningful and substantial way, I’m confused as to why (your business) would categorically rule out supporting my business, when I’ve supported (your business) with my dollars plenty over the years.”

Of course, not all businesses can or should advertise with the Independent (or any other media source, for that matter), and a simple “no thanks” wouldn’t have bothered me in the least. What did bother me is the blanket statement; I read it as saying, more or less: We will never support your business under any circumstances.

On a personal level, I’ll most likely take my dollars elsewhere—to businesses that believe in and support what we do here at the Independent.

Because, well, a rising tide lifts all boats.


In other news, we’ve recently launched two brand-new columns.

In the Opinion section, veteran local writer and broadcaster Steve Kelly is now writing a sports column for us. You can read his inaugural piece, on College of the Desert’s athletic director, Gary Plunkett, here.

As for the Food and Drink section, give a hearty welcome to Kevin Carlow and his new cocktails column. His debut column, on the yumminess of mescal, can be found here.

Be sure to pick up the November 2016 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent; it’s hitting streets this week. Not only is it our annual special Pride Issue; it includes the program for the Independent’s Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, taking place Nov. 11-19.

Happy Pride; enjoy Craft Cocktail Week; and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Editor's Note

This weekend, downtown Palm Springs is being taken over by Pride.

It’s been an amazing couple of years for Greater Palm Springs Pride, and the LGBT community in general. The festival’s move from Palm Springs Stadium to downtown last year was a huge success. In fact, organizers say Palm Springs Pride is now the second-largest pride celebration in California, bested only by San Francisco Pride. After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality earlier this year, there is a lot to celebrate.

One of the most recognized symbols of the LGBT community is the rainbow flag. The flag was designed in 1978, with a lot of revisions since. Its colors represent the diversity of the LGBT Community, and it has been used for pride marches and equality-related protests.

For Palm Springs Pride this year, I thought I’d reach out to a handful of local LGBT community entertainers and leaders, and ask them one simple question: What comes to mind when you see a rainbow flag?

“The rainbow flag is a sense of pride, a sense of community, a sense of unity of where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Color Our World With Pride! Celebrate! Don’t be afraid to show some color.” —Bella da Ball

“When I see the rainbow flag, I am reminded of our community’s great diversity—diversity in our race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, religion and so on. We’re white, black, Latino, Asian and Native American. We’re men, women and transgender. We’re Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I’m reminded in bold, beautiful color that we are more than LGBT, but we represent everything between those letters.” —Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer, Desert AIDS Project

“Anal sex! No, I’m just kidding! My answer is simple: I always think of gay pride and community.” —Jersey Shore

“I remember marching with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus down Broadway. It was my first time since coming out late. It started to rain, and we had a giant rainbow flag. You can imagine what it looked like when over 100 guys tried to take cover under the flag and still walk down Broadway looking fierce!” —Jeffrey Norman, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, McCallum Theatre (and an Independent contributor)

“To me, the Rainbow Flag is a celebration of the uniqueness and beauty of both the LGBT individual and the collective community. Each color is spectacular on its own, yet when woven together in community, it’s even more majestic.” —Mike Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert

“When I see a rainbow flag, I think of unity, love, strength, a sense of belonging, and, of course, pride.” —Tommy Locust, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2014 and Chill’s house DJ (and an Independent contributor)

“People scramble to deem the flag irrelevant and (say) that this sort of demonstration of pride isn’t necessary, and many pretend that no one is struggling anymore. The history of the flag makes me feel grateful to be alive in a time where so much has changed for us and that an argument like that could even exist.” —Shann Carr

“Comfort, equality, progress. Lives were lost in order to have this flag erected. They are just colors to some, but for me, it’s so much more. I know if I see the pride flag displayed in businesses, I feel a comfort in knowing I can feel safe and will not be judged on my sexual preferences.” —Marina Mac

“To me, it means that the queer are here! On a serious note, the rainbow flag represents LGBT friendliness, and LGBT community is present and proud. Many places around the world, (LGBT people) can’t hang flags, and when one is present, it means that being gay is normal, OK. We are here, just like any other person.” —DJ Femme A

“I see pride, dignity, respect, hard work, love, compassion, diversity and equality. Over the years, the rainbow flag has been a symbol of pride in our community. It signifies the strength we have had to stay grounded! The colors are the diversity we enjoy, sharing equal respect for those who do not have the foresight into moving positively into the future.” —James Bork, Mr. Chill Leather 2016 and second runner-up, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016

Published in Features

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

Tens of thousands of people showed up for a revamped and relocated Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8 and 9.

After years at Palm Springs Stadium at Sunrise Park, the two-day festival was moved to downtown Palm Springs—specifically Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo and Amado roads, and Arenas Road between Palm Canyon and Calle Encilia. The better location, expanded festival hours and free admission meant a markedly larger crowd than in recent years.

The Independent was at the festival from start to finish (literally; we gave out some 1,900 papers at our booth during the festival's two days). Scroll down to see our photo gallery of snapshots from the 2014 Palm Springs Pride Festival.

Published in Snapshot

I first met Shawn Kendrick back in 2008. We were both working at the Stagecoach Festival for Borders Books and Music; he was a general manager at the now-defunct company.

He showed me a photo of his family: Shawn is white; his husband, Gerald Raye, is black; and they’re the parents of six children.

Just another American family.

I recently caught up with Shawn, Gerald and their children at their home in Murrieta, about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Palm Springs.

I arrived shortly after 3 p.m. on a weekday; the kids had just come home from school and were each given the opportunity to pick something out of the “treasure chest,” a box containing various toys. Raye explained that he’s a seasoned bargain shopper at Walgreens, so he knows how to stock up on items to give them.

The kids are 15, 13, 9, 7 and 5. Their oldest son is 20 and now lives on his own.

Shawn Kendrick and Gerald Raye met two decades ago.

“We met through a personal ad in the Los Angeles Times,” Kendrick said. “The Internet wasn’t like it is now, and there weren’t really all these sites they have now. I had just moved here from Missouri. I was tired of hanging out in bars, and I wanted to settle down a bit, so I put an ad in the paper.”

Raye said he still has the ad that Kendrick placed.

“It was funny how I responded,” Raye said. “I was at work with my best friend, and we used to look in the paper at the ads, circle them, read them out loud to each other, and make fun of them. For that whole week, one ad kept appearing—so I took it and called it. We talked on the phone for two to three months before we actually met each other because of my job at the time.”

As they got to know each other, they learned they were both interested in having children.

“I’ve always wanted children, because I’m an only child,” Raye said. “Starting from the time I was 10 years old, I always said I was going to adopt children. The relationship I had prior to Shawn—we were always going to do it, but every time we went to start, he got cold feet. When I got together with Shawn, we talked about having kids, and he told me that he wanted to have kids, too. On our first-year anniversary, he gave me a card, and it had the foster-care application in it.”

They were living in Long Beach at the time, and they began the licensing process and the training classes, dealing with an agency that mostly worked with gay couples.

“We didn’t know how to start the adoption process, so I thought it’d be good to become foster parents and see how that works out,” Kendrick said. “We became foster parents a few months after that. A lot of people think you can’t do it if you’re gay, (and did) especially 20 years ago. California’s laws have always been very liberal, and they don’t look it as gay or lesbian. … California always let unmarried people do it, and there was never a question.

“It was way easier than we thought. In fact, it was harder when we first went to get our car loan.”

Kendrick and Raye are not wealthy by any means. Kendrick works for Fresh and Easy; Raye stays at home with the children—all of which have special needs.

“People think we’re different, and we’re not,” Kendrick said. “We struggle with our finances; when we sit together at the end of the month and try to figure stuff out, most of our disagreements are over money. With that being said, (the government) doesn’t want that to be the reason you don’t adopt children. When you adopt through the county in California, they’re going to do some things to help you. The children are eligible for Medi-Cal until they’re 21. … You’re also going to get a stipend. You can’t live on that, and you can’t get rich from it, but it sure helps to keep them clothed. They’re also eligible for a college grant.”

All of those factors make it much easier for them to be good parents.

“It allows us to have Gerald stay home,” Kendrick said. “When you have special-needs kids, you have to have someone stay at home. You can’t just parcel them out all over the place. They need the direction you get by having a parent at home. With special-needs kids, we determined we were going to have to make some sacrifices, and one of us would have to stay home. ”

Being an interracial gay couple with children of various races hasn’t always been easy. Raye remembered one frightening instance when he was shopping with his son Anthony, and the fact that their skin colors are different became an issue.

“I was in the dollar store, and he was in the cart with me. I’m shopping the whole store, and as we’re getting ready to leave, security grabs me at the register, and has me with my hands up and pinned against the wall, asking me, ‘What are you doing with this child?’ I’m screaming, ‘Why would I shop in a store this whole time and pay for stuff if I was stealing a child?’ They asked Anthony, ‘Who is this man?’ and he said, ‘That’s my dad.’”

Kendrick said there have been times when they’ve received dirty looks or looks of scorn from people while out in public. However, they’ve also earned a lot of people’s respect.

“People see that (as a gay couple), you’re not having big sex parties, and you’re not having a huge Sunday brunch in your backyard … (and) they see that your kids are the same as everyone else. They see that your kids get in trouble just like all the other kids, that you do homework with them every night, that you go to the school activities—and they see that you’re more normal than they think. We have straight families in our neighborhood who will drop their kids over here and ask Gerald to watch them. We know a husband and wife who are both Marines, and they went away for the weekend and left their daughter with us.”

The subject of race is discussed openly in the Kendrick-Raye household. They teach their children about it and expose them to different cultures.

“We teach that there is no better race than any other race—and that we are one race, all together, in this house,” Raye said. “During Black History Month, we’re all at the parade, and we’re front and center. If there’s a Latin parade, we’re front and center. Our children come from all different backgrounds, and we’re going to know all of them. If there’s a powwow at the Pechanga Casino, let’s all go, because there could be Native American in our bloodline somewhere.”

Published in Features

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

The calendar says it’s November, so that means our second annual Pride Issue is hitting the streets.

In terms of circulation, revenue and quality, November is shaping up to be the best month the Independent has ever had, both online and in print. However, we still have work to do in our effort to give the Coachella Valley the best alternative publication/news organization it’s ever had—and we’re asking for your help.

The Independent has launched a crowd-funding effort to help us reach the next level. The funds we hope to raise via the campaign will help us expand our coverage and strengthen our distribution.

As for distribution, we’re currently in 365 or so locations across the region, from Desert Hot Springs, through Palm Springs, and all the way down to the Salton Sea; we’re even at Chiriaco Summit and in select locations in the Yucca Valley area. That’s pretty darned good, I’d say—but we can do better. We want to boost that number of locations to around 400, and we want to do better at our existing locations. Our crowd-funding effort, if successful, will help us purchase new wire indoor racks, and will allow us to refurbish, repair and perhaps replace some of our outdoor distribution boxes.

The vast majority of the funds we hope to raise will help us improve what we do best—journalism. We want to increase our arts and events coverage, for example. Right now, we’re doing a fine job of covering band/club/popular music and reviewing multi-week theatrical performances; our visual arts coverage is also among the valley’s best. However, many events outside of these categories have tended to fall through the cracks, so we want to hire more writers on a freelance basis to patch these figurative cracks.

On the food and drink side: Have you noticed that no publication in the valley does full, honest restaurant reviews—the kind in which restaurants are visited more than once by an unannounced reviewer who pays his or her own way? Next year, we hope to start doing at least two reviews per month.

Finally—and most importantly—we want to boost our news coverage. We are constantly getting great story tips and ideas here at the Independent, yet we often don’t have the writers and other resources to pursue them. We want to—no, we need to change that, especially since The Desert Sun and other traditional news sources are continuing to get hammered by layoffs and cutbacks.

The Indiegogo page can be found here. We sincerely appreciate your help.

Published in Editor's Note

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