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When residents of the Coachella Valley joined many, many thousands of visitors from around the globe last year to celebrate Greater Palm Springs Pride, the mood was decidedly mixed.

On one hand, the year 2015 had brought us arguably the greatest LGBT-rights legal victory ever: full marriage equality in all 50 states.

On the other hand, we were reeling from the news that just days before Pride—mere feet from the site of the Pride enclosure on Arenas Road—George Zander, a prominent LGBT-rights activist that so many of us knew and loved, had been gay-bashed along with his husband, Chris, after leaving Hunters Nightclub.

Fortunately, George’s prognosis was good, although he faced a lengthy and grueling rehabilitation process after injuries including a broken hip.

As 2016’s Greater Palm Springs Pride approaches, the mood of locals and visitors alike is decidedly less joyous than it was a year ago.

In the months since last year’s Pride, the LGBT community has found itself under attack. Horrifying new laws in some states are targeting the rights of transgender men and women to simply be able to go to the bathroom safely. The Republican presidential ticket has come out staunchly against the nationwide marriage equality we all celebrated so joyously when we gained the right a year and a half ago. And most horrifically of all, a shooter—perhaps conflicted by his own sexuality—killed 49 revelers, and injured dozens of more, late one June night at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

As for George Zander: Many of us gathered earlier this week in downtown Palm Springs for a candlelight vigil to mourn his passing last December. That good prognosis we all clung to with hope during last year’s Pride turned out to be woefully incorrect. 

As we get together for Greater Palm Springs Pride 2016, we’ll deal with all of the emotions of the last year—sadness, mourning, anger and, yes, joy, too—with the help of art, just as our fellow humans have done for millennia.

We’ll march. We’ll play and listen to music. We’ll dance. We’ll revel in art. We’ll act and become engrossed in story at the theater.

And we’ll hope that by the time Greater Palm Springs Pride 2017 rolls around, we’ll have a lot less to mourn—and a lot more to celebrate.

Published in Editor's Note

The profile of the Desert Winds Freedom Band, Palm Springs’ gay and gay-friendly concert band, has grown in recent years—and over Greater Palm Springs Pride, the 16-year-old group will be hosting musicians from around the world.

Hear the Desert Winds Freedom Band and friends—a whopping two 150-member concert bands, with an honors jazz band to boot—on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium.

Dean McDowell, the director of the Desert Winds Freedom Band, explained the group’s history during a recent phone interview.

“The Desert Winds Freedom Band was founded by Gary Moline, who is still on our board, back in 2001,” McDowell said. “He came from San Francisco, where the first gay and lesbian band was founded, and he was involved in that back with Harvey Milk and the gay-rights movement.

“When he came here … he decided it was time that Palm Springs had (an LGBT band), so he started one, and started out with 10 to 15 people. They kind of slowly grew and had to go through several different directors. They did share a lot of members from the Los Angeles band for a while.”

McDowell moved to the Coachella Valley from Ohio.

“As soon as I moved here, they heard I was a conductor—and they were looking for a conductor. This is my 10th season,” he said. “Since then, we’ve grown from 24 members to about 80 members.”

McDowell touted the band’s diversity.

“Even though it’s an LGBT band and was founded that way, we are the only concert-band volunteer group in the desert,” McDowell said. “We have a lot of straight people who are LGBT allies who want to be part of it and support the group; I would say about 12 percent is straight. We have men, women, straight, gay and the whole gamut. When I started, the average age was about 65 or 70, and now we have 25-year-olds all the way up to 86 years old. It’s a very wide and diverse organization.”

The Pride concert on Nov. 5 will feature more musicians than just the Desert Winds members. Make that a lot more musicians.

“The Desert Winds Freedom Band is hosting the national Lesbian and Gay Band Association conference—so this concert is a little different than our regular concerts,” he said. “There are over 400 musicians coming in from all over the world, with members from LGBT bands all across the United States.”

The program, however, will be California-themed.

“We play typical band music—everything from fun Broadway music to Mancini pieces—and it’s very diverse,” he said. “The theme of the conference is California Gold, so (the music) is all about California and by California composers. There will be a symphony piece all about the San Francisco earthquake, and another piece called the ‘Gold Rush Rag’ about the Gold Rush in California.”

The Pride concert kicks off Desert Winds’ 2016-2017 season. There will also be a holiday concert in December, a jazz-band Valentine’s Day concert and dance, and a spring concert in March. McDowell said the band has also been in demand for community events.

“We started some smaller ensembles we can pull together,” he said. “We’re playing for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s grand opening; we always play at the AIDS Walk. We’ll also be playing for the Tour of Palm Springs.

“We have our concerts a little earlier, around 2 or 4 p.m., so people can go to other events. For the concerts in February and March, we didn’t want to take away from people going to events at the McCallum or someplace else.”

McDowell admitted that he’s annoyed at how relatively unknown the Desert Winds Freedom Band is in the Coachella Valley.

“We do a lot of outreach,” he said. “A lot of people in this desert still haven’t heard of us, even though we’ve been around for years, and people still don’t know about us. It’s very frustrating. We’re not just a tiny community band playing for ourselves. We actually have, in the community-band realm, straight or gay, some of the largest supporting audiences. … A lot of them struggle to get 150 people to concerts, when we have between 300 and 450 at our concerts. We’re trying to grow. We’ve certainly grown from the days of 50 to 60 people showing up.”

The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s scholarship fund is just one example of how the band gives back to the community.

“We want to do more outreach to the schools, do more workshops and be able to give more scholarship money,” McDowell said. “… Two years ago, we only had enough money to give two scholarships. Now thanks to some giving sponsors, we’ve been able to up it to $3,000 worth of scholarships this year. We hate to see students apply and not get scholarships. Kids going on to music education are future music teachers and band directors, and it’s really important to us.

“I used to be a music teacher in Ohio. Keeping the lifeblood in our schools and producing music teachers is very important to me.”

The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s LGBA Conference Pride Concert takes place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium, 2401 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For more tickets or more information, visit www.desertwindsfb.org.

Published in Previews

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

As for lesbians … not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Previews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, well, a rising tide lifts all boats.


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

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

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

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

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

Published in Editor's Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features

Lee Balan is well-known as the town crier, of sorts, for the area’s arts. He gathers information about receptions, events, performances and exhibits throughout the Coachella Valley and High Desert, and sends it to anyone who wants it.

However, many people don’t know about Balan’s talents as a visual artist. Some of his newer works will be on exhibit at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in a Gay Pride-themed show, starting with a reception on Friday, Nov. 6.

Before moving to the desert from the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago, Balan frequently integrated his art with his other professional responsibilities. For example, Balan, as the director of a San Francisco mental-health program called The Clubhouse, demonstrated how creative efforts can be effective tools when working with the mentally ill.

Some might consider Balan’s current arts emphasis—the digital manipulation of visual images—quite different from the assemblages and sculptures he created during his time in the Bay Area. However, that assessment is inaccurate: His work consistently shows his ability to reinterpret, rethink and ultimately give new meaning to an existing object or picture. Balan notes that he began exploring digital art back in the 1980s with what is now considered a computer relic: a Commodore Amiga.

The works being exhibited at Woodman/Shimko reflect Balan’s expert application of Photoshop tools. Balan begins with an isolated individual image; he then creates layers by melding and superimposing images to create a total composition.

In this show, the only work in which he does not layer various images is “Freedom.” Here, a woman in white rides atop a black-and-white horse. The entire background is black. However, Balan does two things to make this image complex and dynamic. The first involves his angling of the horse and rider: Using a technique developed by Asian artists and later explored by the French Impressionists, Balan positions the horse and rider at an angle, creating both depth and motion. Second is the addition of a colored banner. Against the stark black-and-white composition, the multicolored flag breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be an overly stark and possibly boring image.

Layering and not-so-delicate shading are at the core of “Guardians” (first below). Below Buddha’s eyes, a Christ-like figure presides over a forward-facing nude angel, seated with his arms wrapped around his knees. Behind the central figure’s right and left are two additional angels: one profiled, but facing outward; the second is farther back in space, perhaps disappearing into the distance. The mood of “Guardians” is unsettling and eerie. The potentially peaceful nature suggested by the Christ figure and Buddha’s eyes is disrupted by the positioning of the angels, the electric colors and the shading.

Balan uses layering to play with one’s experience of space and time in “The Park” (second below) using a technique reminiscent of that of Peter Milton. However, Balan—unlike Milton—includes greens, oranges and yellows, creating depth that is more explicit than implicit. Thanks to the layering, the positioning of the picture’s elements appears to be changing. The composition is populated with trees that might appear in a classic drypoint or etching; Balan then embeds various figures—primarily young, attractive men. In the center of the composition, floating amidst the trees, is a Ferris wheel.

In addition to his work as a visual artist, Lee Balan is a poet and author who maintains an active blog. The artist welcomes comments on his poetry, short stories and essays at leebalanarts.wordpress.com.

The opening for Lee Balan’s Gay Pride-themed exhibit takes place from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6, at Woodman/Shimko Gallery, 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, and the exhibit will remain on display through Thursday, Nov. 19. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1067997383218435.

Published in Visual Arts

’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

In most ways, Aiden Stockman is a typical 18-year-old guy.

The Yucca Valley resident recently graduated from high school. He is just getting his driver’s license, and he’s debating what to do with his life.

However, attendees of Palm Springs Pride’s Harvey Milk Breakfast, held in downtown Palm Springs on May 22, know Aiden is far from typical: He and his mother, Kelli Drake, spoke at the event, and had many attendees in tears as they told Aiden’s story of struggle—and surprising acceptance—in Yucca Valley as a transgender youth.

Of course, transgender people are all over the news these days, thanks to the success of Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, the Golden Globe win for Jeffrey Tambor playing a transgender woman on the Amazon.com series Transparent, and, most notably, the journey of Caitlyn Jenner.

However, Aiden—who was born Victoria Stockman—was dealing with what’s called “gender dysphoria” well before anyone had heard of Laverne Cox, Transparent or Caitlyn Jenner. While his journey was far from easy—in fact, it almost cost Aiden his life—he said his Yucca Valley High School classmates were incredibly supportive when he finally told them he was transgender.

“Everybody at school was like, ‘OK, cool. That’s what you want to do?’ he said during a recent interview with his mother at the Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. “I got Homecoming Prince during my senior year, and I was on the wrestling team, so people didn’t really care. Your classmates vote for Homecoming Prince.

“I dealt with some pricks here and there. I was sitting at a table one time with friends at lunch, and all of a sudden, these guys threw a bunch of food at me. They called me a faggot, and I was like, ‘All right, whatever.’ Obviously, it hurt my feelings, and I just started to walk away. My friend Jared and my friend Kevin asked me what was wrong, and I told them; they went up and got up in their faces and yelled at them. My whole family and my cousins messaged them and got in their faces, too. The next day, they came up to me and said they were sorry.”

While some may find the support that Aiden received from classmates to be a welcome surprise, nobody should be surprised by a recent graduation honor his classmates bestowed upon him.

Aiden was voted “Most Changed Since Freshman Year.”


As she looked over photos of Aiden as a child, Kelli Drake noted that Aiden always showed off a masculine side.

“I think when me and Aiden’s stepdad got married, it was a fight, because we wanted him to wear a dress, and he was like, ‘I’m not wearing that!’” she said. “So we had to settle on a pair of brown skorts. He was mad that we even made him wear that.”

While Kelli Drake can laugh at memories like this now, Aiden’s childhood at times was downright painful. She talked about how Aiden spent almost an entire school year in and out of the Loma Linda University Medical Center, dealing with depression and behavioral issues. It was during this time she learned Aiden was binding his chest with an Ace bandage.

“We didn’t know he was doing that until we took him to Loma Linda, and they were doing admitting,” she said. “They do searches and go through all their stuff. The lady brought it out, and I asked, ‘What the hell is this, and where did it come from?’ We had no idea. It wasn’t until after that we saw what was going on.”

Aiden said he can remember when he decided he wanted to transition.

“It was probably during seventh-grade when I started going through puberty. It was kind of a wakeup call, and I was like, ‘This sucks!’” he said. “During my freshman year, I went to the hospital in Loma Linda, and I was there for a couple of months back and forth. … They just loaded me up on medication and were like, ‘OK, there you go. You’re fine.’

“I remember I came out to my mom as transgender during my sophomore year, and that’s when I started going to a psychologist, and I got the paper from the psychologist saying it was necessary for me to start hormone therapy, because I had gender dysphoria.”

At one point, Aiden tried to kill himself. “I remember my mom and my stepdad went somewhere, and my brother was home with me. I just took all of the pills. I was having a dysphoria kind of day. When my mom came home, I told her I took them all, and I felt bad I did it in front of my brother. I went to the hospital, and my mom stayed with me all night.”

Aiden and his mother have learned the hard way that insurance companies often don’t deal well with the issues transgender individuals face.

“We would call up the insurance company and get a representative over the phone and say, ‘OK, this is the deal: My son is transgender. We need to find an endocrinologist and hormone-replacement therapy,’” Kelli Drake said. “They would put me on hold and wind up e-mailing me this letter with a thousand different doctors on it—and they’re all doctors that are trying to get him pregnant. It was very hard to find doctors that dealt with this, and even the doctor we see in Redlands now, Dr. (Victor) Perkel—Aiden is the first transgender person he’s ever treated. He usually treats people for diabetes and stuff like that, not for this.”

However, Kelli Drake said Dr. Perkel has been supportive of Aiden’s needs as he goes through the physical transition from female to male.

“We made a few phone calls at first and made sure he knew why we were going there,” she said. “When we went there, we already had the letter from a therapist saying he had been through therapy and basically had his brain picked, and this is what he wants. Surprisingly, Dr. Perkel was fine with it and said, ‘Wow, this is great; of course I’ll do it.’ The first couple of months, we had to go down there because of the shots, and now we’re to the point where he writes a prescription and calls it in, and Aiden injects himself once a week. It’s a relief. We also had to get a letter from him because we found a plastic surgeon who does this kind of top surgery, and he basically wanted a letter from Dr. Perkel saying that Aiden understands the surgery is irreversible, just to cover his butt. (The plastic surgeon) got a letter in the mail a week later recommending the surgery, saying that it was medically necessary.”

Later this year, Aiden will have that chest surgery, or “top surgery,” as it’s called.

“I’m not nervous about it at all, and I’m really excited,” he said. “My cousin wanted to go to the U.S. Open of Surfing tournament this summer. I told him I’m not going, and he asked me why, and I said it was seeing guys with their shirts off, and I couldn’t take mine off. He didn’t know it, but last year, it sucked for me.”


Earlier this year, Aiden had his name and gender legally changed.

“It went through on March 23,” Aiden said. “The judge was all like, ‘Good morning,’ and I said, ‘Hey!’ He asked if I wanted the name change and the gender change, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘Congratulations! You’re a young man now.’ And I yelled, ‘SWEET!’

“We walked out of the courtroom, and my mom said, ‘You’re supposed to be polite and say, <em>Yes, your honor</em>.’ It was my moment for a second, and he got me happy.”

Despite some great moments, Aiden is still struggling with a lot of issues related to his transition.

“I want to join the Army or the Marines, but they said I couldn’t until I’ve fully transitioned,” he said. “They would call my phone, asking for Victoria Stockman, and I would answer like, ‘Yeah, this is her.’ I was thinking about going to college and getting my prerequisites done, but I don’t really know, honestly. I’ve just been hanging out.”

It’s all too common for transgender individuals to face challenges regarding unemployment. A 2013 report issued by the Human Rights Campaign showed transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed, and that four out of 10 transgender people who do have jobs are underemployed.

“I would try to get a job, but I would go into places, and my stuff wasn’t changed yet, and it says ‘Victoria Stockman’ on it,” Aiden said. “People would give me an application; I would fill it out, go back in, and they’d look at it and be like, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll call you.’ … It’s a cold shoulder. It sucks.”

However, Aiden has found comfort in sharing his story.

“Through the (Yucca Valley High) Gay Straight Alliance, Palm Springs Pride, and the Harvey Milk Breakfast, I’ve talked to a bunch of kids, and I’ve shared my doctor’s information,” he said. “If someone older than me could have explained it to me, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this myself.

“If they want information, I’m really open about it. I talk about everything, and if someone wants to know something, I tell them.”

Below: Aiden Stockman today, and pictures from his childhood. Aiden’s mother, Kelli Drake, said Aiden—formerly known as Victoria—showed a masculine side even as a toddler and a young child.

Published in Features

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

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

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

Published in Snapshot

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