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Some 75 attendees enjoyed fantastic cocktails, noshed on delicious food and learned a lot about mixology at the second annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Restaurant on Thursday, Jan. 25.

The five competing bartenders were given the task of making a special, brand new drink with the sponsor liquor, Crown Royal Bourbon Mash Blended Canadian Whisky. First, they had to make one-ounce sips for attendees, and then they had to make five full-sized drinks from the judges and the host, Jimmy Boegle, of the Coachella Valley Independent.

Hunter Broggi, a relative desert newcomer who works as a restaurant manager at Lulu California Bistro, was named this year’s champion thanks to his drink, Lulu’s Smokin’ Crown, beating a talented field that included Rob Nightingale, of Moxie Palm Springs; Bryan Palmer, of the Purple Palm; and last season’s champion, Sherman Chan, of TRIO Restaurant.

Rob Learned, of Giuseppes Palm Springs, was voted the Audience Favorite.

The judges—Leslie Barclay, of Southern Glazer/Pacific Wine and Spirits Of California; Brad Fuhr, of Gay Desert Guide; Chris Reutz, of the Desert AIDS Project; and Mike Thompson, of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert—gave high marks to all of the bartenders’ creations.

The event was sponsored by the Purple Palm Restaurant, Crown Royal Bourbon Mash Blended Canadian Whisky and Gay Desert Guide. The event’s beneficiaries are the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week continues at 12 bars and restaurants across the valley through Saturday, Jan. 27.

Scroll down to see some photos from the event, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

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

When it comes to conservation, energy and many other issues, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a lot of hat and not much cattle. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., recently offered some insights into what his father’s natural-resources policies might look like.

While speaking at June a media summit organized by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Fort Collins, Colo., Trump Jr., an avid hunter and angler, defended keeping federal lands managed by the government and open to the public. He also reiterated his father’s strong support for U.S. energy development, proposed corporate sponsorships in national parks, questioned humans’ role in climate change, and criticized Hillary Clinton for “pandering” to hunters with “phoniness.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, spoke for Clinton’s campaign at the summit a day later, providing plenty of contrast between the presidential candidates.

Trump Jr. has served as an adviser to his father on natural-resources issues and has even joked with family that, should his father win, he’d like to be secretary of the interior, overseeing national parks and millions of acres of federal public lands. In Fort Collins, he said he’s not “the policy guy,” but repeated his frequent pledge to be a “loud voice” for preserving public lands access for sportsmen.

Trump Jr. also mocked some gun-control measures, such as ammunition limits, boasting, “I have a thousand rounds of ammunition in my vehicle almost at all times because it’s called two bricks of .22 … You know, I’ll blow … through that with my kids on a weekend.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate, partly distinguished himself among other GOP candidates during primary season—not that that was a problem for the New York real-estate developer—by balking at the transfer of federal public lands to states or counties. While Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others expressed support for public-land transfers, kowtowing to some Western conservatives, Trump rejected the idea. Speaking to Field & Stream in January, Trump said: “I don’t like the idea, because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Trump Jr. reaffirmed that stance—but also supported more input for states as long as those efforts don’t jeopardize public access.

Trump, however, did attack the Bureau of Land Management and its “draconian rule,” writing in an op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal, also in January: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians.”

Rep. Thompson called Trump’s somewhat muddled stance of federal land management a “dangerous position to take,” saying Clinton unequivocally opposes public-land transfers. As far as Clinton’s sporting cred, Thompson said the Democratic candidate doesn’t pretend to be a hook-and-bullet enthusiast, but “she gets it” when it comes to access issues.

During a campaign loud with proclamations yet nearly vacant of substantive policies, the most in-depth view into Trump’s resource agenda came during his May speech at a North Dakota petroleum conference. Trump pledged to “save the coal industry,” approve the Keystone XL gas pipeline, roll back federal controls limiting energy development on some public lands, and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris global climate agreement. A Republican National Committee spokesman recently said more details on Trump’s energy and environmental policies should be coming soon. His son reiterated the campaign’s “very pro-U.S. energy” position, although he did say agencies should have some role in regulating energy development on public lands, referring to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed fracking rule that was recently rejected by a federal judge.

On climate change, Trump Jr. said U.S. and global policies shouldn’t penalize industries, and while acknowledging the strong scientific consensus on climate change and its causes, he added that humans’ and industries’ roles in global warming have “yet to be shown to me.”

Trump Jr. also offered mild support for the Endangered Species Act, saying it had achieved some successes, but argued the law has served as a “Trojan horse” to entirely prohibit development in some cases. He also suggested national-parks management and budgets could benefit from increased corporate partnerships. Trump’s son declared his own affinity for the backcountry and described national parks as being “a little bit too ‘tourist-ized’ for myself,” but he said, “I think there are ways you can do (corporate sponsorship) in a way that is beneficial” without installing flashing logos on natural features or commercializing the parks.

Clinton has shared several detailed policies on the environment and energy so far, including a white paper on land management and conservation that lays out support for a national park management fund and increased renewable energy development on public lands. Those proposals signal Clinton will “double down” on protecting public lands and preserving access, Thompson said.

Thompson also lauded Clinton for taking “a risky public position” on energy development—referring to her previous statement that she will put lots of coal mines “out of business”—and said “she hasn’t backed away from it. She understands there are better ways to generate the energy resources that we need.”

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features

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

As Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2015, Clifton Tatum has made waves that extend well beyond the leather world.

The eighth-place finisher at the International Mr. Leather competition has been on magazine covers. He's been in an advertisement promoting Palm Springs. And he's raised a whole lot of money for charities that help out LGBT youth.

In fact, he's raised $17,000—with $7,400 of it being raised at his Heartthrobs Auction, which took place at Copa on Sunday night, July 5.

Seven local luminaries (and their accompanying goodie baskets, which ranged in value from $500 to more than $3,000) were auctioned off for a date to the highest bidder: Jeff Hocker, Mike Cohan, Mike Thompson, Dimitri Halkidis, Will Dean, David White and Jill Langham.

Five charities will benefit from the hard work of Tatum and his auction participants: The Trevor Project, For the Children, the LGBT Center of the Desert, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Sanctuary Palm Springs.

Below is a gallery of photos of the event, from Tommy Locust Photography.

Published in Snapshot

Everybody knew the U.S. Supreme Court would be ruling on the gay-marriage question sometime in late June.

However, nobody was sure what the decision would be—and nobody was sure when it would be announced.

Of course, now we all know: On Friday, June 26, in a narrow 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for states to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. The ruling means that, effectively, same-sex marriage is now legal in 50 states.

How fitting it was that the ruling was announced on June 26—the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2013, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and legalized (for the second time) same-sex marriage in California by effectively throwing out Proposition 8. It's also the same day that in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. 

On Friday night, hundreds of people showed up at Francis Stevens Park in downtown Palm Springs for a rally that had been planned for weeks—albeit with the date TBA—by the LGBT Center of the Desert. Below is a gallery of photos from the momentous celebration.

Photos by Tommy Hamilton/Tommy Locust photography.

Published in Snapshot

The 2014 holiday season has officially arrived, and while many of us are busily planning schedules around parties and shopping, more and more of our neighbors are facing formidable food and resource shortages.

“Over the last 24 months, we’ve seen the monthly average number of people served meals in our region increase from 80,000 per month to 90,000-plus,” said Chantel Schuering, community relations director for the FIND Food Bank. “We get those numbers directly from each organization that partners with FIND to acquire food resources, and then we aggregate them here.”

Those partner organizations include almost all of the agencies who provide meals on a regular basis to those in need of food assistance. One such partner is The Well in the Desert, based in Palm Springs.

“I wish we had fewer customers, but we don’t, unfortunately,” remarked Arlene Rosenthal, president of the board at The Well. “And around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get a lot of people who don’t use our services regularly, but at the holidays, find it difficult to provide totally for themselves.”

While the realities of life can be discouraging this time of year—especially to those working to lessen the impact of hunger on a daily basis—the holidays can be a time of happiness and encouragement as well.

“We usually get about 1,500 people on Christmas Day, and these are a combination of the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes and the homeless,” Rosenthal said. “We open the doors at noon, and we have hundreds of people waiting to attend. They walk down this aisle formed by volunteers on each side who are shaking hands and high-fivin’ with the kids and seniors and the homeless. I’ve seen people in tears. It just brings out the best in everybody, and it’s become my favorite event.”

At Martha’s Village and Kitchen in Indio, the demand for holiday assistance increases as well.

“We certainly do see a huge, huge increase of folks coming on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Since they don’t have families or others to go to, they utilize our services,” said K. Magdalena Andrasevits, the president and CEO. “That’s why it’s so important that the community comes together, as they always have. So I always say thank you, thank you, thank you to the community for helping us to do what we can to help our neighbors in need.”

However, Andrasevits points out that hunger and a need for help aren’t just seasonal issues. “I probably echo every other service provider when I say that the need isn’t just at the holiday season; it is year-round.”

For Mike Thompson, executive director of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs (which also operates the NestEggg Food Bank), one focus of his organization’s holiday assistance is on people’s emotional and psychological needs.

“What I would like to call attention to is our mental-health program, and specifically, our low-to-no-cost counseling services for older adults,” Thompson said. “The holiday season can be stressful times for those living alone who might feel isolated, so we’d like to highlight this counseling program and make sure that people understand this help is available.”

Thompson also mentioned specific holiday-time events that are being held by The Center. “We’ve got a ‘Paws and Claus’ event where people can bring their pet to see Santa Claus, and that takes place (in December). These events are designed to bring people together.”

How tough is it for assistance organizations to attract needed funds today?

“You know nonprofits are always in need of funding support, whether that be in-kind donations, volunteer time or financial resources,” Thompson said. “As people begin to think about their end-of-the-year tax-giving, we like to remind them that The Center is here, and remind them of the programs we have here that benefit the valley’s LGBT community, and ask that they consider supporting us.”

We asked Schuering of FIND how concerned she and her colleagues are about the increasing demand for services.

“It’s a constant state of concern,” she said. “But when you feed 90,000-plus people a month, no single donation will make or break your effort. When demand goes up, as we’ve seen recently, we’re always trying to connect people with other resources so that food doesn’t have to be the thing they give up in their lives. We do a lot of work connecting people with the food-stamp program, for instance. Some of the crazy rumors people hear are just horrible, and it’s enough to keep them from applying for funds that are set aside for them to use for food.”

In closing, Schuering offered this sobering holiday thought. “Every month, there are tens of thousands of Coachella Valley residents going hungry. Every month. We only have 440,000 residents year-around, so if 90,000 of them are hungry every month, that’s one out of every five of our neighbors. Those are numbers that you cannot ignore.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO HELP:

FIND Food Bank: 760-775-3663; www.findfoodbank.org

The Well in the Desert: 760-327-8577; www.wellinthedesert.org

Martha’s Village and Kitchen: 760-347-4741; marthasvillage.org

LGBT Community Center of the Desert: 760-416-7790; www.thecenterps.org

Published in Local Issues

The LGBT Community Center of the Desert held its annual donor-appreciation party on Thursday, May 15—and the event’s star attraction was the organization’s brand-new executive director, Mike Thompson.

He hadn’t even started his job yet—in fact, his first day on the job is slated to be Monday, June 2—but Center supporters were excited to meet the man who they hope will fill a staff-leadership void that’s existed since the previous executive director, Gary Costa, stepped down some time ago.

Thompson’s qualifications are impressive. He spent about a year and a half with GLAAD, as the chief operating officer and the acting president. He was the executive director of Equality Utah for almost four years, and he spent a short stint as the director of development for the AIDS Project Los Angeles. The University of Oklahoma graduate and member of the Cherokee Nation also served as the executive director of a school in Tulsa, Okla., for five years.

On the day after the Center’s party, Thompson spoke to the Independent for about a half-hour. Here’s an edited version of that interview.

What are your thoughts on where the Center is now, and where do you want to take things?

I couldn’t be more proud of the work that is happening here. To listen to Dr. Jill (Gover, the Center’s director of counseling, at the donor-appreciation party) and her comments about our mental-health program, and the opportunities for expansion with the school system—that’s impressive. (So is) the (pending) certification that would allow us to be the only place in the state serving this population with that certification. I think that is a hallmark in our work, as is our (NestEggg) Food Bank program. There are a lot of great things happening here.

As far as what I want to do, that’s yet to be determined. I can say broadly that the creation of community at the very core is what I am most interested in. The “how” and the “why” are yet to be determined, and I think that yet to be determined piece is going to be informed by the community. I am meeting with the board of directors tomorrow. … I want to understand from them: What is your vision? What is in your heart for this organization? And then I want to ask the community the same thing. While we offer some amazing programs, I want to know: What are the needs out there that might not be being met? I don’t want to assume that, and say, “Here’s what we do.” I want to say, “What is it that we can do?” … If we are to create a Center that is truly the community’s center, the community needs to feel engaged and (like) a part of that. … That’s generally how I do things. I’m much more collaborative, in partnership. I am not afraid to be a leader; I’m not afraid to be the decider, but the way I make decisions is based on collaborative input, and I think it’s important to decide that out of the gate.

It was fairly apparent last night that men far outnumber women when it comes to the Center. (This is a problem shared by many other Palm Springs-area LGBT organizations, too.) One person my partner I talked to last night was, frankly, upset that the new executive director was not a woman. Another criticism is that the Center does not seem to be successfully attracting a younger crowd; there’s definitely an older skew. You talk about building community; what, if anything, do you want to do to try to bring in more women, and bring in more young people?

I am aware of exactly those two things; (the male skew) was something I actually brought up to the board (during the interview process), and it’s top of mind for them. I am not sorry that I am a man, but I understand that perception. That (issue of men outnumbering women) has been ongoing in “the movement”; that is a very common concern, and I am aware of that. So rather than me saying, “These are the things we are going to do to attract more women and more young people,” I am going to go back to these community conversations and assessments—this survey I want to do in the community—and say, “Women, what is meaningful to you? How is it that we better engage you?” … Those who want to remain critics will be critics; those who are interested in facilitating change will be part of creating that change. … I want to find a way to engage every member of our community, including women, including younger people. We say that we celebrate diversity, so we need to make sure that our programming and every door that we open welcomes everyone to participate.

There’s been a lot of turmoil at the Center in terms of staffing changes. Developing a staff and creating some stability is going to be a direct job of yours as the executive director. Tell me your plans.

I think my track record as a manager is that (I) create an environment for people to feel valued and significant in their work and in their workplace. That’s really an extension of what I want to do, or a category of what I want to do, within the community: Within the staff, (I want to make) sure people are valued and that they feel significant, and that they understand what their expectations are, and that they’re held to those. One of the things I’ve had to learn as a manager is that not everyone works the way I do: I want a lot of freedom. I want to move about; you just tell me what’s expected, and let me go do it. But I understand some people work the way I do, and some people need a lot more clarity and tighter parameters.

One of the things that was talked about a lot last night: Everyone wants to create a Center that truly is a community center. At this event last year, plans for a new building were announced, and that seems to have been premature. Tell me what you have in mind to make it so the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, as a physical location, becomes that welcoming space that everyone wants it to be.

I am not quite sure that I’m understanding your question. Is it about the physical space, or is it about being welcoming within whatever space we’re in?

Both. Obviously, you can’t separate those two …

(Are you asking) if a new space is a priority?

Well, let’s make that a question: Is a new physical space a priority?

You know, I don’t know. (Laughs.) I haven’t walked down and even set up my desk yet. … I am not prepared to have a conversation about that.

Maybe I should let you actually start the job first. (Laughs.)

I do understand the value of the space that we create for people. Whether that is in this space or in a different space, it’s like: Are we being good stewards of the space that we have today, and are we creating the type of space that has that community feel to it? That’s why, even though the staff has been reduced to what it is, thank God we’ve got great volunteers who are at that front desk every hour that we are open, so (people) are being welcomed from the moment they walk in the door. THAT is a way that we can do our jobs (of making people feel welcomed). … (I want to make sure) that every person who walks through that door has a personal experience with someone who represents the Center. … I think that’s more important than whatever space we do that in. At some point, we will have a space that might not be this one, because to grow into the program that I think we can be in the desert community, it will require a space beyond these walls. But I don’t know when that may be.

Tell me about the pluses or minuses of running an LGBT-centered organization in the Coachella Valley, compared to some place like, say, Salt Lake City, or Los Angeles. What unique challenges do you think you’ll face while dealing with this strange valley?

Well, I don’t know that I have any preconceived ideas. How I enter into an organization and I enter into a community is (with) a blank space, and I take the experiences that I have and let them inform my perceptions. … I think I have a general idea of saying, “We are the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, that happens to be in Palm Springs.” I understand that while the (Palm Springs) City Council and mayor proclaimed yesterday to be LGBT Community Center of the Desert Day, those same attitudes might not exist in every other community in the valley. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t project onto these other communities the values of Palm Springs, and that we don’t let our work in the other parts of the valley … be seen through the lens of what happens in Palm Springs.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I don’t think so, other than saying how incredibly excited I am not only about the job, but integrating myself into this community, and calling it home—even more so after last night. I’ve been busy wrapping up my consultant practice; I’ve been busy packing … but last night, when I stepped down those stairs after I spoke … people were so welcoming. I thought, “Wow. I feel like I’m already a part of this.”

Published in Local Issues