CVIndependent

Fri04262019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

’Tis the season … when all sorts of great things are happening in the Coachella Valley.

First, looking backward: I want to thank all of the participants in and attendees of the various October events in which the Independent played a part. Our Three-Year Anniversary Event on Friday, Oct. 16, was well-attended and well-reviewed, and our second series of concerts at Chill Bar, benefiting the Community Food Bank at the Center, featured great music and happy attendees every Thursday.

The Independent is also proud to have been a sponsor of a number of fine October events that benefited great causes, including the Equality Awards (Oct. 10), the Desert AIDS Walk (Oct. 17), and the Casual Concours car show (Oct. 24). This weekend, we’re sponsors of the LGBT Center of the Desert’s Center Stage event (Oct. 30) and Palm Springs Leather Pride (Oct. 29-Nov. 1).

Whew. No wonder we’re tired!

Now, looking forward: Come by our booth and say hello at Greater Palm Springs Pride! We’ll be there from start to finish on Saturday, Nov. 7, and Sunday, Nov. 8. (More on Pride below.) We’re also elated to be a sponsor of the Desert AIDS Project’s Dancing With the Desert Stars show, happening on Friday, Nov. 13.

Now, looking forward even further: Depending on when you’re reading this, we are either about to wrap up final-round voting in our Best of Coachella Valley poll, or we just did wrap it up. (If it’s not yet 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 2, it’s the former … so get thee to here and vote, if you haven’t already!) We’ll be releasing the winners’ list at CVIndependent.com on Wednesday, Nov. 25, and in our December print edition. Also, keep an eye out for details on our second annual Best of Coachella Valley party and awards show!

If you’re bored in the valley this time of year … something’s wrong with you.


Pride and the Power of Place

Not too long ago, there were few places in this country that gays and lesbians could call their own.

In the first half of the last century, it was taboo to be out and proud. Men seeking other men had to hide—in plain sight—clues in their clothing to signal to other men in the know.

As gay men and lesbians slowly began to come out, make their presence known and fight for their rights, places such as gay bars and community centers began to pop up. In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, these places were epicenters of the urban LGBT world—places where members of the LGBT community could come, meet each other and feel safe.

In the last 20 years, however, the rise of the Internet and the increasing acceptance of gay men and lesbians into mainstream society have meant these places are no longer as necessary as they once were. Men seeking other men today don’t need to go to a gay bar to meet a potential date. There’s no longer the need for an LGBT community center to promote meetings and gatherings when that can be done easily and efficiently with an online Meetup listing.

As a result, many of these once-vital places are blinking out of existence. Google “gay bars closing,” and you’ll find numerous stories about decreasing numbers of LGBT bars in cities across the country. In many communities, LGBT centers are struggling or closing their doors—for example, Wingspan, the LGBT community center in Tucson, Ariz., faded away last year.

While it’s hard to find LGBT-centered places in the central and eastern Coachella Valley (trust us; we tried … if you know about any such places, please let us know about them), such is not the case in Palm Springs. Thanks to a large population of gay men with time and money, gay bars are thriving. The LGBT Community Center of the Desert is growing.

As Greater Palm Springs Pride approaches—itself bucking the trend by growing larger than ever in its last two years—we’ve decided to pay tribute to the continuing importance of LGBT places in the western Coachella Valley, with two stories: a piece on the aforementioned LGBT Community Center of the Desert and its plans to expand into a new building; and a slice-of-life story on what you’ll find at Arenas Road’s Score Bar when it opens at 6 a.m.—the earliest opening time of any bar in downtown Palm Springs. (These stories serve as our cover package in our November issue, by the way.)

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated; my email address is here.

Published in Editor's Note

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

Well-Strung is a classical quartet known for two things: what the group calls “popsical” music—they combine pop music with a classical sound.

Second, they’re known for being, well, gorgeous. See for yourself when they play at the Fifth Annual Center Stage event, benefitting the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, on Friday, Nov. 7.

First violinist Edmund Bagnell explained where the idea for the group came from.

“Christopher Marchant (second violinist) was working in Provincetown, Mass., a few summers ago, doing a different show, and he would busk, which is playing violin on the street,” Bagnell said during a recent phone interview. “Our manager saw him performing, and together they came up with the idea of putting together a string quartet.

“It evolved from there. I would say what we do has changed a bit in the past three years we’ve been together.”

They quickly rose in popularity in both the mainstream and LGBT music scenes and found themselves playing in venues such as The Art House in Provincetown, 54 Below in New York, the House of Blues in New Orleans, and even the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

While the Well-Strung website refers to the group as a “boy band” (in tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course), each of the members has an impressive history in music or musical theater. Some highlights: Bagnell appeared in a national tour of Sweeney Todd. Marchant has a bachelor’s degree in music ministry. Daniel Shevlin (cello) appeared in an off-Broadway production of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, and in touring productions of Rent and Cabaret. Trevor Wadleigh (viola) was the principal violist of the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, and the Nova Philharmonic.

While all of the members are established classical musicians, they enjoy combining traditional classical music with pop music.

“We’re coming to this event with a new show we call Popsical,” Bagnell said. “… That’s mostly what we’re doing these days—weaving in and out of classical and pop in new and interesting ways. As far as string quartets playing pop music, there’s been a tradition of that going on for a while, but I think we’re the only group that actually sings and plays at the same time.”

What do they play during their live show? They put their own unique interpretation on the music of Mozart and Vivaldi, and throw in some Adele, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, for starters.

Bagnell said it’s hard for him to pick a favorite song to play live. “It kind of evolves. Right now, we’re doing a Beethoven string quartet, which is really fun to play live, and a big challenge. I really find it fun to perform it.”

While the melding of classical music with pop might turn off classical purists, the quartet knows how to entertain an audience.

“I feel pretty lucky in being able to say that we always have a really warm reception,” Bagnell said. “That’s wherever we go, from Provincetown to someplace like a suburb in Chicago. I’m always amazed at how willing people are to what we’re presenting. It’s very nice.”

Of course, the members of Well-Strung have had some memorable performances during which they had to improvise. Bagnell recalled one such experience (although he refused to reveal where and when it happened).

“There was an issue with the sound system. We ended up having to do an acoustic show,” he said. “I’d have to say that it was a very special show. The audience got really, really quiet, and there was something really cool about it. ‘We don’t have mics? Here we go—we’re going to sing it out for you.’ It was really cool.”

Bagnell said the group is ambitious and ready to taste mainstream success.

“We have one album already, but the immediate goal is a second album within the next six months,” he said. “Certainly, signing with a record label would be amazing, and we’d also like to start writing our own music. … Right now, everything we’re doing is covers. We’re very proud of our covers, but we’d also like to have our own stuff.”

Well-Strung will perform, as will comedian Kate Clinton, at the Fifth Annual Center Stage, a benefit for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. It starts at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7, at the Riviera Resort and Spa, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets start at $175. For tickets or more information, call 760-416-7790, or visit thecenterps.org.

Published in Previews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything else you want to share?

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

Published in Local Issues

SAGEWorks has begun!

The LGBT Community Center of the Desert, aka The Center, is currently serving unemployed and underemployed LGBT adults 40 years old and up with computer training and job-skills classes. The course helps participants build the requisite skills to perform the basic tasks of a job search, and to expand computer knowledge and job skills.

SAGEWorks is being led by Bobbie McClain, a graduate of the first SAGEWorks, Palm Springs program in 2012. She credits the connections she made and the support she received at SAGEWorks with helping her find teaching positions both in the Coachella Valley and in Berkeley, Calif. She is particularly grateful for the opportunity to coordinate SAGEWorks, Palm Springs, in her new position at The Center.

"Losing a job, or being unemployed for a year or more, can be quite devastating, emotionally and financially," says McClain. "It was a lifesaver for me to find the SAGEWorks program and to meet others like me who needed to find work. Receiving updated training to expand on what we already know as older, experienced workers and having knowledgeable speakers who unselfishly donate time to train SAGEWorks students on how to interview, how to look for jobs in the new world of job searches, and how to locate needed resources to find employers who recognize the value of older workers was invaluable. I am grateful to my teachers and fellow students who supported me and gave me courage through a tough time."

SAGEWorks is offered at The Center three times each year: in the fall, winter and spring. Each session meets for eight weeks, with many guest lecturers from local agencies and businesses, offering students opportunities to meet with local employers.

SAGEWorks students will be offering two special presentations to the public, on Wednesday, April 30 and May 7. Lisa Middleton, the interim director of The Center will be speaking on "Transgender in the Workplace," and Lorraine D'Alessio and Thomas Joy of the D'Alessio Law Group will be speaking on "Working Legally in the United States."  These lectures will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. with a suggested donation of $10. Participants must register through SAGEWorks to attend either of these events.

If you are interested in joining the next SAGEWorks class, please contact The Center at (760) 416-7790 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Community Voices

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