CVIndependent

Mon08192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A sold-out crowd of more than 100 people enjoyed nine fantastic cocktails—all made with Ketel One Botanical vodka—at the Third Annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Moxie Palm Springs.

Carlos Argumedo, of Farm, was declared the champion of the event, earning an amazing 92 points (out of 100 possible) on the judges’ scoresheets. The tally was close—three points separated first place from fourth place. Argumedo follows in the footsteps of 2018 winner Hunter Broggi, of Lulu California Bistro (who also participated in this year’s event), and 2016 winner Sherman Chan, of Trio Restaurant.

Trio’s Garrett Spicher was the Audience Choice winner.

Nine bartenders competed in the event, which sold out for the first time in its three-year history. Each competitor made tastes of their drinks for each attendee, before making full drinks for the judges: Ketel One’s Leslie Barclay; Brad Fuhr, of media sponsors Gay Desert Guide and KGAY 106.5 FM; and representatives of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week’s beneficiaries: the Desert AIDS Project’s Darrell Tucci, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Alexis Ortega.

The championship is the highlight of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, a production of the Coachella Valley Independent. During the week, which continues through Saturday, Feb. 2, participating restaurants create a special drink for the week, or highlight an existing drink from their menus, and donate at least $2 from each drink sold during the week to the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. A complete list of drinks and participants can be found at PSCraftCocktails.com.

Below is a collection of photos from the event, taken by the Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

When most residents of the Coachella Valley go to the polls on Nov. 6, for the first time, they will be able to either cast a vote directly impacting future access to important health care services, or elect a representative to champion their specific community needs.

Some voters living in the current, long-established Desert Healthcare District (DHCD)—which begins in Palm Springs and extends east to Palm Desert’s Cook Street—will be casting votes to elect representatives in two newly formed districts: District 2, primarily covering Desert Hot Springs; and District 4, mostly made up of Cathedral City.

At the DHCD board’s public session on June 26, a final zoning map was adopted that defines the boundaries of the five new districts created within the current DHCD. Previously, the five-member board was elected at large by the entire district; two of five seats are up for election this year.

The move to district-based elections should mean better representation for minority populations; one of the most outspoken advocates for this is Alexis Ortega, the director of community outreach for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

“Cathedral City has pockets where … some 70 percent of the folks living in that one area are Latino,” Ortega said in a phone interview. “So, when you have districts (created) where the minority group becomes the majority in that neighborhood, like what we’ve been advocating for in the DHCD districting process, there’s the potential to strengthen that (minority) voting block and get their preferred candidate elected.”

As for Coachella Valley residents living east of Cook Street: They will be casting their votes on whether the DHCD and its important healthcare support services will be expanded into their communities, beginning in 2019.

“As we know, there’s a great disparity between services provided to residents of the east valley as opposed to the west—whether it’s the number of providers or the number of resources and things like that,” said Dr. Les Zendle, president of the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation board of directors, during a phone interview. “But with our ‘One Coachella Valley’ approach, we really believe that—just like with transportation or other issues that can’t be handled by one city at a time, or half the valley at a time—(we’ll be able) to take a collective look at health care.”

Assuming that the majority of the valley’s east side voters approve the DHCD expansion in November, the DHCD will need to start the process of again redistricting and then electing representatives to those new districts—a process that will take place through 2022.

“This November, there will be the first two elections in the new districts, so it will be interesting to see who pops up to the forefront (to run),” Ortega said. “Moving forward, the biggest thing will be informing folks of the importance of the role that the DHCD plays in setting their health-care priorities and in funding for our region. Also, in November, folks in the (proposed) annexed areas will be voting to approve the expansion of the DHCD into their communities, so our role at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert will be to make folks aware of everything that’s happening and how it affects our community, and how our center works with LGBT folks of color to make sure that their needs are met.”

Zendle said he and his fellow board members have a lot of work to do.

“We will certainly continue to do what we have always done, which is trying to educate the public about what the Desert Healthcare District and its foundation does,” he said. “To be frank with you, it’s something not a lot of people in the community are familiar with. I think that the political people and the stakeholders who receive our funding are aware of it, but the general community isn’t necessarily aware of what we are.”

The DHCD provides support to a variety of organizations (such as Find Food Bank, Volunteers in Medicine, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, etc.) that provide health and wellness services to residents.

How can a valley resident within one of the new districts become a candidate for a board seat? “Basically, a person has to be a registered voter in the district or the zone in which they want to run,” Zendle said. “They have to get the forms and a handbook and instructions on how to get on the ballot and conduct their campaign. They can pick up these materials either here at our DHCD offices in Palm Springs or through the County Registrar’s Office.” Candidates must also pay $1,150; the nomination period runs through Aug. 10.

As complex, problematic and underappreciated as the DHCD seems to be, its potential to provide valuable services to all communities is evident.

“I currently live in Palm Springs,” Ortega said, “so I’m a Palm Springs resident who wants to see Palm Springs represented (on the DHCD board), but I also understand that maybe Palm Springs has been a bit over-represented on the DHCD board. So, how can we bring in other voices that may stem from communities that are more heavily majority-minority, and how can we make sure that those voices are included? I think this (district-creation effort) has been a good first step, but the process is imperfect. No one is ever going to be completely happy, but I think it’s a good first step.”

For more information on the DHCD’s new districts and proposed expansion, visit www.dhcd.org.

Published in Local Issues

Juan-Manuel Alonso is a familiar figure at Palm Springs art events. He is tall and handsome, usually with shoulder-length silver hair and a beard. He dresses colorfully and is quick with an interesting story or witty remark.

I spent some time with him recently observing his newest creation: a new outdoor mural at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs.

Juan was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1952. Although his family moved to New York City in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution, he retains vivid memories of his childhood in Cuba: The colors, sounds and tastes of those early years are evident in his paintings today. (He pointed out that the memories may only be a personal mythology, but that doesn’t take away from their relevance and power to inspire him.) Alonso was particularly drawn to the Afro-Cuban music and religious ceremonies in his neighborhood. His mother said that whenever she wanted to find him, she would just listen for the drums and follow the sound: Juan would always be there, dancing.

Alonso talked about growing up in New York City. He loved going by himself to Radio City Music Hall, and designing dresses made out of Play-Doh for his toy soldiers. He attended Erasmus Hall High School and later the City College of New York. He decided he wanted to be a fashion designer.

“The arts have always been something I enjoy,” he said.

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology under Donald Claflin, designer for Tiffany and Co., Alonso worked for Nino Cerruti and Willi Smith, and had an exclusive contract to design his own label for Bergdorf Goodman. He also did freelance design work in San Francisco for several years while under contract to Bergdorf since he was not allowed to work anywhere else in New York.

Alonso started painting in 1995. Around that time, he moved to Miami to care for his parents. He opened his own showroom for art, upholstery and fashion in Bal Harbour—but after a couple of years, he was forced to give it up for health reasons. The workload and stress of designing six collections a year proved to be too much.

When his parents passed away, he decided to move to Palm Springs and concentrate on his painting. It's a decision he said he has never regretted.

“Art opened my eyes, to be aware of the incredible energy that flourishes here,” Alonso said. “It has improved my health, and I have become very creative and developed my own style.”

Alonso has had numerous shows and successes in the area, but is not currently associated with a local gallery. This past December, he broke into the red-hot Miami art market with an exhibition at Art Basel. He will be spending the summer in Santa Fe, N.M.

“My inspiration comes from the memories of where I was born,” Alonso said. “I’m also very inspired by the period of time from 1890 to 1930 when the world was revolutionized and brought into the modern era. I’m inspired by Josephine Baker”—the African-American dancer who became wildly famous after dancing in Paris in 1925. “She was so liberated and had a vision of the future that is still to be realized.

“In my own work, I want to have a subconscious message—something of freedom, a message of liberation. I paint lips as hearts, because finally, they are doing no evil to each other. It’s about love and openness. It’s a very strong message. I’m sending out positivity to counter all the negativity.”

Alonso recently dealt with another serious health crisis, and during his recovery, he was inspired to give something back to the community. He said he approached the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, and asked if he could donate a mural in a restroom there to commemorate the upcoming 30th anniversary of Keith Haring's mural in the men’s restroom of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City. The Center responded that they wanted to commission an exterior mural on the staircase leading to the third-floor Center.

I’ve been watching the progress of this large-scale painting and am deeply touched by both the subject matter and Alonso’s message of positivity. For those of us who survived the AIDS crisis, it is especially poignant.

The mural covers the two curved walls of the staircases. Between the first and second floor is Alonso’s depiction of what Palm Springs means to him. There are mountains and a deep blue sky, as well as the bell tower of Desert Regional Medical Center rising above palm trees and buildings, complete with swimming pools. One can also spot the tram and multitudes of windows painted in the colors of the rainbow flag. Everything is rendered in a joyful and whimsical style.

As one ascends the stairs, the wall between the second and third floors reveals five life-size dancers floating in the same deep-blue sky, one for each of the letters L, B, G, T and Q.

“These dancers represent all of those who are only with us in spirit now,” Alonso said.

The wall rises up to an open ceiling where the blue of the paint exactly matches the sky above. The dancers are surrounded by doves of peace—and they look like they could float upward to dance across the real sky. It’s a reminder that although many loved ones might no longer be in our physical presence, our memories keep them alive, and they are still watching over us.

For more information, visit www.alonso-art.com.

Published in Visual Arts

A chicken and an egg are in bed next to each other; both are smoking cigarettes. The egg turns to the chicken and says, “So, we now know the answer to that question.”

I have tons of these. But if you would prefer comedy that’s actually, well, funny, consider the Out for Laughs comedy series, coming to the Camelot Theatres each Thursday in February.

Shann Carr, a self-appointed “gay man’s lesbian” (and, full disclosure, a friend of the Independent), is co-producing the series. Each show will have a headliner, multiple entertainers and a different beneficiary.

“I have been doing a series of shows for over 30 years called ‘Out for Laughs,’” Carr told me during our recent chat. “Sometimes I do videos or film; this year in Palm Springs, I am doing a short run of live shows. Every week, there will be at least four acts. Most times, it’s three comedians and a magician. (Co-producer) Max Mitchell and I will host, and the magician (McHugh and Co.) will come and help with the transitions.”

Palm Springs is an easy place to hold these LGBT-themed shows, since Carr has lived in the city for 20 years. How did she wind up living in Palm Springs?

“I have been an out comedian since I was 19,” she said. “Palm Springs was that place in a gay bubble and has that resort mentality. And where else could a lesbian like me afford a house with a pool? It’s a great place! My house is making (me) money, and even (my) dog is doing commercials. Everyone is working!”

Carr said it was important to her for the series of shows to give back to the community.

“Pretty much everything I do, I give something to charity. It’s just a part of how I am made,” she said. “I have worked with these charities in some way, and I just try to spread the support around. … As a gay comic, I do not experience great amounts of wealth, but (the series) does my heart good. Fifteen percent of each ticket will go to the selected charity for the night.”

As for those headliners and charities:

• On Feb. 1, the headliner is groundbreaking trans comedian Ian Harvie; his show will benefit the Transgender Community Coalition. He has opened for Margaret Cho, has a one-hour special called May the Best Cock Win and has been on the award-winning show Transparent.

• Feb. 8 brings Alec Mapa; his show is benefiting Sanctuary Palm Springs. Called “hilarious” by Ellen Degeneres, Mapa recently was featured in his own Showtime special, focusing on the adoption travails that he and his husband have endured. Mapa gets around: He’s been part of RuPaul’s Drag Race, A Very Sordid Wedding and all sorts of other movies and television shows, including two Logo specials.

• Erin Foley will perform on the day after Valentine’s Day, Feb. 15; her show will benefit the Joy Silver campaign for the District 28 State Senate seat. Foley has been on Conan and her own Comedy Central special; she hosts the podcast Sports Without Balls, which has helped make her one of the most sought-after women in comedy.

• Concluding the series on Feb. 22 will be Jimmy James; his show benefits the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. He is an award-winning vocal impressionist with an amazing voice. He does Judy, Cher, Adele, Barbra, Elvis and so many others. He even does a duet … but it’s just him, doing two voices.

“It always freaks people out when I do it,” James told me during a recent phone interview. “Cher is one of my favorites; she changes the molecular structure of the room.”

James has a long history of performing in Palm Springs, he said.

“There are other places you can go that have so many tribute artists, impersonators and performers that I just don’t feel special,” he said. “I used to come to (Arenas Road bar) Streetbar on the last Tuesdays of the month to practice and see what worked and what didn’t. There was no judgment for me. It gave me the chance to develop so many things like Lana Del Rey and Adele. There’s a lot of vetting I have to do for each show. I love new artists and their music, but I work out of the Great American Songbook, too.

“This February will mark 35 years of performing. I started when I was 2,” James continued with a chuckle. “I have learned what my audiences want. … There is even an audience who doesn’t know I do this; they know me for my hit (song) ‘Fashionista,’ which is being played all the time, everywhere.”

The Out for Laughs comedy series takes place every Thursday in February at 7 p.m. at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets for each show are $25 in advance, or $30 at the door. For tickets or more information, visit out4laughs.eventbrite.com.

Published in Comedy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with members of the military, but the problem extends well beyond soldiers and veterans: According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, more than 7 million Americans currently suffer from PTSD.

Dr. Jill Gover, of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs, explained the difference between general trauma and PTSD.

“A lot of people experience trauma,” Gover said. “It doesn’t mean they have PTSD. Most of us associate PTSD with war. War is such a huge, catastrophic event that is outside the general course of human experience. That’s one of the definitions that distinguish that kind of trauma as post-traumatic stress. Most of the time, it’s associated with war, extreme abuse or torture. The other large category (consists of) people who’ve been sexually or physically abused, especially as children.

Mac McClelland is a journalist who went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. After the assignment ended, she was diagnosed with PTSD, and later went on to write a book titled Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story.

“I noticed I had symptoms while I was still there,” McClelland said. “… When I was having symptoms, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this is post-traumatic stress disorder’—I was freaking out. When I got back to San Francisco, I was there for a day before I saw my therapist, and she was the one who said I had symptoms of PTSD. It was very obvious and clear that something was terribly wrong.”

McClelland said she never thought her profession would expose her to PTSD.

“Like most people, I associated PTSD as being related to combat veterans,” McClelland said. “… I didn’t know hardly anything, which I think is true for a lot of people, but I think awareness is better now. I thought it wasn’t even possible for people to have PTSD other than combat veterans, when, in fact, rape victims, sexual-assault survivors and abuse survivors are a way bigger population of people with PTSD than combat veterans are. It’s just not in our cultural knowledge or understanding.”

McClelland said she took a holistic approach to her treatment.

“I was going to a lot of therapy. I was seeing a somatic therapist, which focuses on a lot of sensations in your body,” she said. “I went to that for years, and I still see a therapist who does that. I never took any pharmaceuticals. For me, that was really helpful. I also do yoga, and there’s a lot of research that yoga is very useful in treating PTSD. (I’ve taken) kind of a holistic approach and changed what my life looks like, which not everyone has the option to do. I make a lot more time and space for self-care, which I’m very lucky to be able to do.”

Gover said one of the most effective treatments for PTSD is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “EMDR is a psychotherapy for PTSD. EMDR can help (patients) process upsetting memories, thoughts and feelings related to the trauma. By processing these experiences, (patients) can get relief from PTSD symptoms.”

Gover used plumbing to make an analogy. “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is like Drano: It just flushes that memory. That’s the easiest way I can explain it. Looking at the clinical trials that the Veterans Administration has done with it, it’s very effective.”

Gover said there is no typical recovery process or timeline for PTSD.

“It really depends on what the trauma was,” Gover said. “You might have somebody who had a very horrific one-time sexual abuse experience as a child, and afterward, there were PTSD symptoms. But let’s say that person came from a healthy and intact family system, and the child was relatively healthy, and nothing else about the personality development was disturbed in any way. That would likely take a lot less time to heal from than, say, a child of the same age who came from a very dysfunctional family where there’s substance abuse, and then was repeatedly raped in a family system for years. That healing of PTSD would take much longer. It depends on who the individual is—the resiliency, the environment to support them, and how intense the occurrence and frequency is.”

McClelland said she urges anyone with trauma-related issues to seek help.

“I went to see a professional on day one. It made all the difference,” McClelland said. “Otherwise, I’d be flailing and struggling the whole time. I’d definitely advocate seeing a professional, especially someone who has a trauma-specialty background. I live in a really small town in Oregon, and we have amazing trauma-focused therapists here … but not all therapists specialize in trauma; it is a specialty. But therapy is expensive, and not everyone can access it.”

Gover said there are definite risks when PTSD goes untreated. “Somebody with PTSD who doesn’t have it treated is more likely to have problems later on in their relationships; problems professionally focusing on work and employment; and problems with substance abuse.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good resources available locally for those suffering from PTSD or trauma-related problems.

“There’s a good amount of therapists in the Coachella Valley who have expertise in treating trauma,” Gover said. “We’re very fortunate that the Riverside County Public Health department has evidence-based, trauma-informed therapy available. … Of course, we have the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, which has clinicians trained in trauma-informed therapy. (Many) of the therapists in private practice in this area have some training in PTSD. I would recommend any therapist with a specialty in treating trauma.”

For more information on the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Scott Hines Mental Health Clinic, call 760-416-7899, ext. 1, or visit thecenterps.org/index.php/services/mental-health-clinic.

Published in Features

Five of the Coachella Valley's top bartenders met Thursday night, Nov. 17, at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel to battle for the first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship.

The event was one of the highlights of the Coachella Valley Independent's first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which ends tonight (Saturday, Nov. 19). 

One week before the event, the five contestants met at the Purple Palm for a draw to determine the order in which they would compete, and which of the five sponsor liquors they would use. The sponsor—Pacific Wine and Spirits of California—is donating $500 to each of Cocktail Week's charity beneficiaries: The LGBT Community Center of the Desert's Community Food Bank, and the Desert AIDS Project's Food Pantry.

Fernando Gonzalez of Cuistot Restaurant (using Nolet's Silver Dry Gin), Kevin Helvie of Chill Bar Palm Springs and Scorpion Room (using Crown Royal Vanilla), Sherman Chan of TRIO Restaurant (using Bulleit Bourbon), Michael Phillips of FIX a Dessert House (using Ketel One Oranj) and Joey Tapia of The New York Company Restaurant (using Captain Morgan White Rum) made tastes of their drinks for all attendees, who then each turned in a ballot with their favorite cocktail circled. Then the competition began in earnest, with each bartender mixing full-size drinks for each judge live while bantering with host Shann Carr.

The judges were Jonathan Heath of F10 Creative, Darrell Tucci of the Desert AIDS Project, Mike Thompson of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, and Brad Fuhr of Gay Desert Guide.

After all of the drinks were made and tasted, and the results tabulated, Shann Carr announced the winners: Joey Tapia of the New York Company Restaurant won the Audience Choice Award, while Trio's Sherman Chan won the Championship.

Below is a gallery of photos by Independent photographer Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

In 2013, Steve Grand maxed out his finances to make a video for his song “All-American Boy.”

He uploaded it to YouTube—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Grand will perform at Center Stage, a benefit for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Riviera Resort and Spa.

During a recent phone interview, he discussed what he originally planned to do with “All-American Boy.” (Scroll down to watch the video.)

“I had something very specific in mind that I wanted to accomplish,” Grand said. “I wanted to tell a story of love between two men. I wanted the backdrop of it to be very earthy, traditional, American and safe. I also wanted to contrast that with the idea that people have or had in their heads that homosexuality is something that wasn’t part of the American dream. I wanted to bring that to light with art in a compelling way.”

Grand has been mislabeled as the first gay mainstream country artist. For one thing, Grand was not the first—and he doesn’t label himself as a country artist.

“I don’t spend time thinking about that, because the reality is that I am a singer. I’m also a gay man, and I just do what I do,” Grand said. “People call it whatever they want to call it. It’s something I really try to micromanage. There are a lot of things I don’t have control over. … I never said I was a country artist and never wanted to be labeled as one. People heard my song and heard whatever they heard, and it got picked up by the media. Even though I ask not to be, I’m still pegged as a country artist.

“As far as the LGBT thing goes, I’m proud to be part of the LGBT community, and I’m a proud gay man. It’s an important part of my life. It was something I knew from a young age and tried to fight it because it was against the world I grew up in. It became an important part of my identity, because it’s something I had to fight for.”

Grand said all people can relate to his music.

“One of the things I stand for the most as an artist is to show people that no matter what your sexual orientation or gender is, where you come from, or your skin color, we experience things as humans,” he said. “We begin to lose our humanity when we box people off. … We need to focus on our common bonds like love and loss. These are human experiences that apply to every group.”

Grand said he’s proud of all he’s accomplished thus far in his young life.

“I didn’t really have the help that (some) people have when they’re first starting, and I think that now with all I know, if I was back in 2013, I would have handled the aftermath of that differently,” he said. “I am proud that I was a 23-year-old young man with no experience in this—with just heart and passion and a work ethic—who was able to create something from very little. I draw back from that when I’m at low points and remind myself that I created all of this from something that was conceived in my head, and I brought it to life with my talents and by reaching out to people who thought I’d do a good job. I’m also really proud that my Kickstarter campaign to finance my first album raised over $300,000.”

Grand is always working to make himself a better musician, he said.

“I am staying busier than ever, even though I’m kind of leaving smaller imprints on the Internet world than I have in the past,” he said. “It’s all work behind the scenes right now and staying busy every day and working on transforming my live show now that I’ve gotten to know my audience so much better. I want to be a more versatile live performer. … I want to build a live show that reflects more of my musical talents. I’m working on my next record, with a couple of side projects keeping me busy. I work all day pretty much every day.”

Looking back, Grand said there is one moment as a live performer he will never forget.

“The one that comes to mind is when I first played Market Days in 2013,” he said, referring to the iconic LGBT street festival in Chicago. “My video had just come out a month before and was still very fresh. There were so many people—the most people I had ever been in front of, and I saw so many people with their cameras up. Not even a month before, I was playing to the most empty room at the place I used to play at in Chicago, for $100 a night for two hours. Now all these people were there, and I had this captive audience who was there to see me. … That was a special moment for me. I felt very powerful and triumphant. ”

Steve Grand will perform at the Seventh Annual Center Stage, a benefit for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert; comedian Kate Clinton is the host. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28, at the Riviera Resort and Spa, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets start at $195. For tickets or more information, call 760-416-7790, or visit thecenterps.org.

Published in Previews

I never thought I’d hear the leader of the free world extolling the virtues of the gay nightclub.

Yet there he was, President Barack Obama, doing just that, on Sunday, June 12, as we all reeled in shock at the news that an idiot had just killed 49 men and women at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live,” Obama said. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

Wow,” I thought to myself when I heard the president’s remarks. “He really gets it.”

Visions nightclub in Reno, Nev., was my place of solidarity and empowerment at a time when I really needed it. It was in the late ’90s; I had just graduated from college and moved back to my hometown after breaking up with my fiancée. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was gay—a fact that would not sit well with many of my friends who, like me, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon).

I was not out to anyone but a handful of friends. Heck, I was barely out to myself. But every Saturday night, those friends and I could be found at Visions, chatting, flirting and accepting ourselves. Inside this gay nightclub, I was authentic—and I was safe.

I’ve come a long way in the two decades or so since then. So, too, has society. However, for me and many, many others—both gay and straight—bars and nightclubs are still places to come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

The Independent and Brian Blueskye organized nine concerts last year to both promote local musicians and raise money for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Food Bank. We also assembled a fundraising concert to help out Chris and George Zander after they were senselessly attacked. My softball team and I have hosted two “Thirst for Life” fundraisers on behalf of the Desert AIDS Project.

All of those took place at Chill Bar Palm Springs and the Scorpion Room nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

As always, thanks for reading the Independent. Be sure to pick up the July 2016 print edition, hitting streets this week across the Coachella Valley.

Published in Editor's Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruiz ended his speech on a high note.

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

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

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

Moon added a call for solidarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features

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