CVIndependent

Wed11222017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

The year was 2008. The economy was imploding; Coldplay’s Viva la Vida was the No. 1 album in the world; and United States voters elected a guy named Barack Obama as president.

Meanwhile, here in the Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs Cultural Center held the first Cinema Diverse, the valley’s LGBT film festival.

The 10th anniversary edition of the festival takes place Sept. 21-24.

Michael Green is the festival director and the executive director of the Cultural Center. He talked about the process he goes through to select films for the festival.

“I work with all the independent film distributors who specialize in LGBT films, as well as others,” he said. “I pretty much screen films year-around. Films also come in to us from directors, many we have worked with before. We don’t show anything that is out commercially.”

Palm Springs’ proximity to Hollywood is a boon to Cinema Diverse.

“It’s wonderful,” Green said. “The beauty of being so close is (many of) the filmmakers come out to the festival. We have been so fortunate the past few years, where we have up to 80 percent representation … by someone involved in the film itself.”

This is the 10th Cinema Diverse—and Green has made big plans to celebrate the milestone. The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is going to be the opening-night movie on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Tales of the City scribe Armistead Maupin himself will be in attendance. Copies of his new memoir will also be available, before the official release date in October.

“Luckily, Armistead loves Palm Springs, and his schedule worked out so he can come here to be a part of the festival,” Green said. “We are working with (Palm Springs store) Just Fabulous to help out, where people can purchase his new book and have it signed.”

Beyond opening night, Cinema Diverse will have many highlights, Green said.

“We are going to have a couple of special 10th anniversary screenings from Here Media,” he said. “Sheltered is one of the first movies produced by Here Media 10 years ago. This is only available in this festival—no others. Here Media is one the festival’s sponsors, so we are hoping to have not just the director, but the cast, too, on Saturday (Sept. 23).

“We are also going to be having a documentary called Laughing Matters … The Men,” featuring various gay comedians—which was filmed at Palm Springs Pride. “Not only is this a 10th anniversary screening, but the director, Andrea Meyerson, has a new short named One Way Street, which will also be screening at the festival. We love to do a lot of shorts at Cinema Diverse.”

The festival is also expanding to a second weekend, sort of: While Cinema Diverse will take place at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will host the Best of Fest on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.

“Last year, we expanded what we were doing (by hosting films at the Desert Cinema, the former IMAX theater) in Cathedral City,” Green said. “This year, Cathedral City asked us to return. We asked the Mary Pickford, and they were very interested. We also decided this year to move this part of the festival to the week after, so it wouldn’t pull away from the festival consistency. The Best of Fest will show the best films and help accommodate film-goers who may have missed the first showings during the festival.”

Cinema Diverse includes every genre of LGBT-related films one can imagine. However, Green admitted a fondness for the festival’s slate of documentaries.

“This year, we have most of our documentaries focusing on the LGBTQ communities in various places around the world,” Green said. “Films from Iraq, Iran, Russia or South Africa work as a reminder that we are so fortunate to live in our bubble of Palm Springs. It’s a reminder how dangerous the rest of the world is, and how there is still so much work to be done to make the world a safe place.”

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. The Best of Fest takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30, at the Mary Pickford Theatre, 36850 Pickfair St., in Cathedral City. Pass prices vary; individual screenings are $13.25. For more information, visit cinemadiverse.org.

Published in Previews and Features

(Reuters)—A U.S. appeals court, for the first time ever, ruled earlier this week that federal civil rights law protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago represents a major legal victory for the gay rights movement.

In its 8-3 decision, the court bucked decades of rulings that gay people are not protected by the milestone civil rights law, because they are not specifically mentioned in it.

“For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority. “We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

The ruling also allows a lawsuit to go forward in Indiana, where plaintiff Kimberly Hively said she lost her community college teaching job because she is lesbian.

“I have been saying all this time that what happened to me wasn’t right and was illegal,” Hively said in a statement released by the gay rights legal organization Lambda Legal, which represents her.

In its decision to reinstate Hively’s 2014 lawsuit, which was thrown out at the local level in Indiana, the Court of Appeals ruled that protections against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect people from job discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

In so doing, the full appeals court overruled a decision by a smaller panel of its judges to uphold the district court’s decision in the college’s favor.

To reach its conclusion, the court examined 20 years of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court on issues related to gay rights, including the high court’s 2015 ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry, Wood wrote.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the question of whether the Civil Rights Act protects gays and lesbians, she wrote.

The three dissenting judges said the majority had inappropriately used its own power to change the civil rights law, which does not explicitly protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, and which for decades has been interpreted as excluding that protection.

“Today the court jettisons the prevailing interpretation and installs the polar opposite,” Judge Diane Sykes wrote in dissent.

In her lawsuit, Hively said that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend passed her over for a permanent position and refused to renew her contract as an adjunct professor after school administrators learned she is a lesbian.

On Tuesday, Ivy Tech spokesman Jeff Fanter said the college had not done that.

“Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types,” Fanter said in a statement emailed to Reuters. “Sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies.”

The college would not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, Fanter said, but instead would argue in District Court that it had not discriminated against Hively as the lawsuit goes forward.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; writing by Sharon Bernstein; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)

Published in National/International

When children turn 18 and age out of the foster-care system, they face a difficult transition into adulthood: Not only do some of these young people lack a family; they also lack the skills to live on their own.

For LGBT youth in foster care, it’s even harder. That’s where Sanctuary Palm Springs comes in: Sanctuary is working toward providing a home with support services to LGBT youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who leave the foster-care system.

Sanctuary was founded by David Rothmiller and LD Thompson. Rothmiller explained how they started down the path of creating Sanctuary.

“Originally, it was the desire to be a parent,” Rothmiller said. “… My spouse, LD, and I had begun with the intentions of starting a family. We were licensed (for foster children) in Washington state, and that system made us wait for two years for a placement in our own home. People asked me why that was the case, and I have no answers. The system is so broken. While that happened, we looked where else we could participate. We were told by someone about group care.”

Rothmiller mentioned that many LGBT individuals lose their families when they come out.

“LD was kicked out of his home at 17 and found family again in the LGBT community,” Rothmiller said. “That’s our model: They might have lost their family, but there’s a family already there that waits for them.”

Rothmiller explained the challenges LGBT youth face in the foster-care system.

“Depending on how long they’ve been in foster care, there is enormous psychological damage that we have to sort out,” Rothmiller said. “The reason (many of them) are in foster care is because they were gay to begin with. … Some of these Christian families kick their kids out because they find out they’re gay. In foster care, kids are afraid to come out, because many of the foster families are well-meaning Christian families, and it doesn’t fit their culture. If the kids come out or are found out to be gay, the foster parent can make a seven-day call to get them out. We’ve seen that happen many times. There’s no legal protection for them, and the more often a kid is bounced, the harder their life becomes. With each bounce, they lose six months of educational placement. LGBT kids are bounced more often.”

Originally, Rothmiller and Thompson planned for Sanctuary to provide a home for LGBT foster kids in the system. However, Riverside County put numerous hurdles in front of them.

“Riverside County’s foster care is currently under investigation,” Rothmiller said. “They are so messed up and can’t even maintain the claims of abuse and investigate them properly.”

Eventually, they decided to open a home for LGBT foster kids who were entering adulthood—to help with a problem that’s recently received state and federal attention.

“Sixty percent of kids leaving foster care at 18 would fall into the category of incarcerated, homeless, on the street, doing drugs, doing prostitution or dead,” Rothmiller said. “The state realized they were failing these kids. That’s why they created the new program, and that’s how we’re funded. It’s through San Bernardino (County), because Riverside (missed) the calendar date to be able to license homes such as ours. San Bernardino licensed us to operate in Riverside County.”

As of this writing, Sanctuary is open, but there are no residents yet, as Rothmiller, Thompson and their staff jump through hoops with licensing and getting the Palm Springs home up to code.

“LB and I are the founders of the program, but we don’t have any letters after our names. We had to bring in skilled professionals to have on our team,” Rothmiller said. “Even with that power behind us, these bureaucrats are like, ‘You need to do this, that and the other thing.’ In each case, our program manager had to tell them how to license us.

“On the positive side, the community has been very supportive. Our fundraising has been impressive for a start-up … and our staff is all-volunteer. Everyone who has donated their time or money, or comes to work with us, feels emotionally connected. People are seeing this as something they can do locally to stop that negativity toward LGBT rights and equality.”

Sanctuary will help teach youth the skills they will need in adulthood, and hopefully even inspire careers.

“Our independent living program is designed to teach them cooking skills, car skills, job-interview skills and being part of a larger system,” Rothmiller said. “Most of these kids coming into the program probably won’t even have a driver’s license, because no one cared enough to get them through that process. All of these things you have to know as an adult have been withheld from them.

“If a kid wants to learn culinary skills, there are chefs from restaurants all over town who have offered to be mentors. Pick anything a kid wants to learn—there are people in this community who want to share that with them.”

Rothmiller said Sanctuary has already helped one particular young man who aged out of the system and contacted them for help.

“He said, ‘I really want to come live at Sanctuary. I’m in foster care. I turned 18; I was kicked out of Safehouse, and I’m living in a men’s shelter in Indio and getting up at 5 in the morning to take a bus from Indio to Palm Springs High School, where I’m a senior,’” Rothmiller recalled. “I said, ‘Are you gay?’ and he said he wasn’t. I told him we will not discriminate against anyone, but that we were designed for the LGBT community. We met; we had a fundraiser coming up. He’s a great kid, and we wanted to do something for him. He came and helped the staff from Lulu do the catering. He fit in perfectly, and when we got up to do the remarks, I told his story and why the program matters so much. It was very emotional, and we said, ‘We need to find a home for him.’

“Fast forward to today. He lives with this kind man, and he has become family. We graduated him; he works at a deli; he goes to College of the Desert. That’s the potential we have. So many in the gay population thought we missed the boat to be parents, but there is more that we have to offer, and we want people in the community to know that it isn’t too late to (be a) parent or grandparent. We see ourselves as having that ability to facilitate.”

For more information or to offer assistance, visit www.sanctuarypalmsprings.org.

Published in Local Issues

A great theater experience allows us to see our human selves reflected back—in a way that moves, informs and enables us to relate to the realities of the lives of others.

When I was 17, my father threw me out because I had stayed out all night. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant out of wedlock and contemplated suicide. I remember despondently standing in front of a bathroom mirror, ready to slit my wrists, and suddenly saying out loud to my reflection, “If it’s that bad, it can only get better.”

And it did.

Those feelings were overwhelmingly brought back when I attended the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production of Push, written by George Cameron Grant, and directed by Cathedral City resident Jeanette Knight. The play was this season’s Youth Outreach Production. I first experienced this CV Rep program last year, when the focus was on female bullying.

The theater buses in students from throughout the area to see a one-act play about issues to which they can personally relate. After the production, the audience discusses the play’s themes with the actors and the director, to explore their own reactions and experiences. It’s more than a learning experience: For some students, it’s the first time they have attended dramatic theater and realized its ability to impact an audience.

Push revolves around a young man who comes out as gay to his parents and faces immediate rejection by his stern father. After the boy is thrown out, he subsequently suffers another rejection—by the boy he has fallen in love with—and commits suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. The play follows the anguish suffered by his sister, who runs away from home and is discovered at the same train station, contemplating ending her own life. As she struggles with her own feelings, she questions whether her brother made a choice, or whether he was “pushed” by others to feel he had no other options.

The performers in Push were almost all students, some of whom have never acted before. Their ability to inhabit the roles and then discuss with the audience the impact of those roles as it relates to their own lives and experiences was not only educational, but also very moving.

Ron Celona, the founding artistic director of CV Rep, participated in the after-play discussion. He noted that the 1,400-plus students who had seen Push were not so focused in the after-play discussions on the bullying and rejection of the boy’s sexuality; instead, their focus was on the suicide, an issue they and their friends had already encountered, either personally or through troubled acquaintances.

Jeanette Knight, originally from Michigan, has been in the desert since 1997.

“My mother dragged me to dance classes, and I now thank her every day for it,” she says. “I stayed with dance, and that’s how I got into acting.”

Knight began doing musical theater, and “I fell in love with the whole theater crowd.” She completed a degree in theater at UNLV, but says, “I’ve learned so much more from doing it outside of college.”

Knight’s local experience includes working at McCallum Theater as the education program manager, running the Beaumont Actors Studio, teaching acting and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and teaching classes in improv at CV Rep. “I’ve learned so much about acting by teaching it,” she says.

When Ron Celona approached Knight about directing Push, she jumped at the chance. “I really like doing this kind of theater,” she says. “We can’t sweep these issues under the carpet. The kids who come to see these shows are our future.”

There are two local efforts devoted to assisting young people who feel unsafe or who are aware of someone else who feels threatened or hopeless: Sprigeo is an anonymous reporting and investigation service to deal with bullying, harassment or intimidation in or out of school, with which the Palm Springs Unified School District is affiliated. SafeHouse of the Desert helps teens in crisis; those who feel threatened can go to any Sunline bus stop or McDonald’s and get free transportation to SafeHouse.

My parents finally allowed me to return home, but only if I gave my child up for adoption. In those days, there was no real way a teenage unwed mother could make it, so I lived with the hope that my son had indeed been able to live a better life than I could have given him. My first-born son and I were happily reunited after over 40 years. He is a gay man.

At the end of Push, when the sister decides her life is worth living, and her father apologizes for having rejected his son and contributing to his death, I was overcome with tears. All I could think was: I am so thankful that something inside of me knew it would get better, and that my son was adopted into a family where he was loved and accepted.

CV Rep is truly making a difference. In Jeanette Knight’s words: “It’s rewarding to have a hand in art not just for art’s sake, but to be a part of theater that can help make the world a better place.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue.

Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence.

On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds.

On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay.

On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender.

On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died.

Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community. According to FBI data, nearly 21 percent of all hate crimes reported in the U.S. have been due to the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation. However, our major LGBT organizations historically have not taken a significant stand on the controversial issue of gun violence.

But on June 12, 2016, 49 individuals died because of their sexual orientation, or because of their support of the LGBT community, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. This was a pivotal moment: A community has had enough—a community that is well-organized due to decades of fighting for civil and human rights. Our right to live without fear of dying at the hands of gun violence is now being fully embraced and is considered of paramount importance. Make no mistake: These are not special rights. These are not gay rights. These are human rights—and now this is our fight.

On Saturday, June 18, Equality California (EQCA) launched its new #SafeAndEqual campaign, not only to raise awareness that gun violence is an LGBT issue, but to declare that gun safety is an LGBT right and now a major policy priority. EQCA has signed on to numerous statewide bills and is proud to join other organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, on federal efforts that will prohibit military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; close gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes on background checks; and strengthen background checks and waiting periods to keep guns out of dangerous hands. EQCA will bring the full force of our lobbying efforts to pass them.

This is deeply personal. Pulse nightclub could easily have been Hunters or Chill Bar on Arenas, or Micky’s in West Hollywood. Those 49 people are sons and daughters, siblings, parents and young people with what should have been very bright futures. Most of them were LGBT people. They could have been me and you and 47 people we know here in the Coachella Valley. It’s difficult to remember in such an affirming community as Palm Springs, but the more visible we are as an LGBT community, the more vulnerable to violence and hatred we become.

As EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur, said: “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue, because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, and members of communities of color suffer the highest rates of gun violence. In the weeks and months ahead, Equality California will relentlessly work in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, and mobilize our 800,000 members and the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community—and everyone—safe.”

We all cope with tragedies differently. After the Orlando shooting, some of us attended vigils that doubled as rallies. Many of us were angry or sad. Many of us cried … a lot. I am a person of faith, and I’ve prayed for those who have passed and hold them in my thoughts every day. However, my tears and prayers alone will not change the culture in which we live. They will not bring 49 dear souls back to us. They will not remove killing machines from the hands of dangerous people.

However, 800,000 Californians, organized in lockstep with millions of others across this country pushing for real reform, will make a difference. It will require all of us to do our part and work together, but we can and will become #SafeAndEqual. I encourage you to start by adding your name at eqca.org/safe.

Darrell L. Tucci is a Palm Springs resident and a board member of Equality California.

Published in Community Voices

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

I admit that when I first heard about Stephan Anspichler’s March to Equality project, I didn’t quite get it.

The March to Equality is billed as “the most expansive march in history supporting LGBT equality,” and consists of people from around the world uploading their “steps”—pictures of feet, videos of “journeys,” or evidence of actual marches—via social media (using the #marchtoequality hashtag) and Marchtoequality.org. The goal: To gather 2.5 million steps by the 50th anniversary of Stonewall riots on June 28, 2019.

As of this writing, Marchtoequality.org reports that 985,000-plus steps have been made. While the March to Equality boasts an impressive slate of “global ambassadors” such as former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean and actor Alan Cumming, there’s no fundraising aspect—and no other discernable point, other than to “support full LGBT equality.”

However, when I recently chatted with Anspichler—a film and TV producer who now lives in Palm Springs part-time—he helped me finally get what the March to Equality is about.

It’s all about storytelling.

“We knew that we would celebrate Stonewall and the 50th anniversary,” Anspichler said. “We wanted to find the right way to tell the story.”

Anspichler said he’s always been drawn to different forms of storytelling, so it was not a stretch when he and his colleagues decided to tell the story of the fight for equality via the Internet and social media.

“For me, it was pretty much the same as doing a movie, but the medium being used is just different,” he said. “It was a really amazing experience to see that it is possible to tell such a story in a much different way.”

March to Equality kicked off during the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly in September 2015.

“We wanted to really build awareness for all those world leaders who were gathering at the United Nations and tell them, ‘Hey, we are here, and here is this movement,’” Anspichler said.

As one example of the type of stories he wants to see from the March to Equality, Anspichler cited the fact that many people—including a large number of Americans—don’t yet have equality in the workplace.

“We want to engage people to tell us and to show us (what it’s like to be) LGBT in the work place. We want to start conversations online,” he said. “We want to really strengthen awareness —through social media and with the people who are already marching with us—that there is a force against (workplace discrimination).”

Anspichler made a home in the Coachella Valley last summer for personal reasons, he said, but he said he soon learned that the Palm Springs area was also a great place for his work on the March for Equality.

“The Coachella Valley is one of the most interesting places to actually talk about such a project, because … the LGBT community is like nowhere else,” he said. “It’s a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The acceptance level here is amazingly high compared to other places. People immediately understood.”

Anspichler said that as the 50th anniversary of Stonewall draws closer, he hopes the March to Equality will also include high-profile events—a concert, for example. But in the meantime, he wants people to keep contributing steps and telling their stories.

“We have a very major goal: By June 2019, we want to have circled the globe entirely in footsteps,” he said. “With all the different struggles that we have around the globe in regard to LGBT-related topics … my biggest hope and wish is that other people in other countries learn from what has happened in the United States, and that this movement would actually be accessible in other countries.

I asked Anspichler what he’d tell locals to encourage them to participate in the March to Equality.

“I would tell them to be proud of the community in the Coachella Valley, because there’s nothing like it … in regards to acceptance and how people are being treated by each other,” he said. “The Coachella Valley should be proud of that and show it to the world as an example of how the world could be a better place.”

For more information or to participate, visit marchtoequality.org.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: I enjoyed reading the letter about lip liner some years back from the lovely Mexican lesbian.

I have met several guys from Mexico who came to the U.S. so they could come out of the closet. Nothing warms my middle-age gay heart more than when a nice Mexican young man says, “Hola, papi!” However, when they go home to Mexico to visit their mamasitas, they go back into the closet.

I’ve read in the news that things are getting better for my fellow homos in Mexico. Are more macho muchachos “out” in Mexico these days?

Grateful White Queen

Dear Gabacha: Life for mariposas in Mexico has gotten much better since the days when the Aztecs would kill gay men by pulling their entrails through their culos. Just last month, the Mexican Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Jalisco, stereotypically the most macho state in la república. (The rest of us mexicanos always knew those charros from Los Altos were on the down-low, anyway.)

On the other mano, the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City’s 2008 report on LGBT discrimination noted that a Mexican governmental survey found that 48.4 percent of households said they wouldn’t allow a gay person to live there, and that more than 90 percent of LGBT folks had experienced discrimination on account of their sexuality.

In other words, Mexico is about as tolerant of gay folks as Ted Cruz—but far better-looking.

Dear Mexican: How come Mexicans lower their pickup trucks and put those tiny wheels on that stick out beyond the fender? In doing so, they essentially ruin a perfectly good truck by turning it into nothing more than a low-riding car.

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen any other ethnic group do this to their trucks as regularly as Mexicans. What gives?

Juan Confused Coloradan

Dear Pocho: Mexicans lower their cars; gabacho bros raise their Dodge Rams and F250s as high as possible. Such suspension choices are metaphors for our respective razas—Mexicans are close to Mother Earth, while gabas will forever remain uppity pendejos.

Dear Mexican: I work with Mexicans on a golf course. We eat lunch together, and I love tortillas. I even learned how to make a spoon out of a tortilla.

These guys know nothing about la cocina, so when I ask them how to make the red sauce in which the meat is cooked, they give me the furrowed-brow look. I cook a lot at my house; I’m sure some of them think this gringo is a homo. Where can I find a recipe for this red sauce?

My 18th Hole is You-Know-Where

Dear Gabacho: Not enough info here. What kind of salsa roja was it—from chile de arbol? Japones? Chipotle? Piquín? Chiltepín? Or was it a guisado? A mole? Maybe a thick consommé?

There are as many Mexican salsas as there are narcos in the Mexican government, so get back at me with the details. But don’t say that hombres can’t cook; just take it from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who said last year, “If (Donald) Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant would shut down.” So can someone shove a cold burrito in Trump’s face already?

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

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