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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It wouldn’t be election season without a bunch of big-money interests trying to tell you how to vote—and with hundreds of millions of dollars rolling into initiative campaigns over housing and health care, California hit a new record this year.

The $111 million campaign against Proposition 8 on kidney-dialysis clinics amounts to the most money poured into a single side of a ballot measure in the United States—at least since electronic record-keeping began in 2002, and possibly ever.

Here are three industries spending huge sums to influence your vote:

Landlords and real estate agents outraising rent-control advocates 3-to-1

Landlords are largely bankrolling the campaign against Proposition 10, which would allow local governments to expand rent control.

“They don’t want to see their property values decline; it’s that simple,” said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the No on Prop 10 campaign, which has raised $74.7 million.

Prop 10 would repeal a 1995 state law that forbids cities from applying rent control to single-family houses, or any type of home built after 1995; that 1995 law also allows landlords to raise apartment rent any time a tenant moves out. Instead, the ballot measure would give cities the option to expand rent control to cover more homes—making it harder for landlords to turn a profit.

“It’s about their future, their bottom line. That’s why they’re spending so much,” said Charly Norton, spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop 10 campaign, which has raised $25.9 million, mostly from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Supporters say Prop 10 is necessary, because homelessness is on the rise, and a growing share of Californians spend more than half their income on rent. Opponents say it will worsen the state’s housing shortage by discouraging developers from building more homes.

Donors against Prop 10 include corporate property owners like Blackstone, Essex and Equity Residential, as well as many individual landlords. The biggest donor is the California Association of Realtors, which has given $8 million to the campaign.

The Realtors' association also has poured $13.2 million into the campaign for Proposition 5, making it the sole funder of that push to change California’s property-tax law.

Californians now generally pay much higher property taxes if they buy a new home after selling a house they’ve owned for many years. That’s because property taxes are based on the sales price of a house, not how much it’s worth as it appreciates over time. This initiative would allow three categories of homeowners—those over 55, disabled or who lost their homes in natural disasters—to keep the property-tax levels of the home they sold if they buy a new home. Real estate agents say it would encourage older Californians to sell their homes, making more houses available in our tight market. (Experts disagree.) Of course, it also would boost their commissions.

“It will give a huge windfall to the real estate industry,” said Mike Roth, spokesman for the campaign against Prop 5, which has raised about $3.2 million, largely from public-employee unions that could see cuts if the government loses tax revenue.

Steve White, president of the California Association of Realtors, insisted it’s about “meeting a need. The unaffordability of housing in California … is largely dictated by lack of availability,” he said. “We have tens of thousands of homes that could be waiting for all those tens of thousands of younger families.”

Dialysis clinics outraising labor opponents 5-to-1

The most expensive fight on the California ballot this year is over Proposition 8, which would limit profits for dialysis companies. The businesses are fighting back, pouring $111 million into the campaign against Prop 8—most of it from two dialysis companies, DaVita and Fresenius.

“Prop 8 was designed to have a negative impact on dialysis clinics in California, and that’s why the groups that are opposed are fighting it so heavily,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No Prop 8 campaign.

She said the measure wouldn’t allow dialysis clinics to be reimbursed by insurance companies for many routine business expenses. Ultimately, that would cause companies to close clinics, Fairbanks said, giving patients fewer places to seek treatment.

Workers at dialysis clinics are not unionized. A labor group that represents other health-care workers has had its sights on organizing dialysis workers, and put Prop 8 on the ballot as part of a much larger feud within the industry.

“This record amount of (campaign) spending speaks to the priorities of the dialysis corporations, which is to protect their profits,” said Sean Wherley, spokesman Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers, the sponsor of Prop 8.

The Prop 8 campaign has raised $20.3 million, most of it from SEIU United Healthcare Workers. The union argues that dialysis clinic companies are netting huge profits while allowing shoddy health and safety conditions at some clinics. Limiting the companies’ profits to 15 percent, as Prop 8 calls for, would encourage the clinics to put more money into improving patient care, the union argues.

Ambulance companies outraising labor opponents more than 600-to-1

Colorado-based company American Medical Response put Proposition 11 on the ballot and contributed most of the $29.9 million raised to support it. The measure would allow private ambulance companies to require workers to remain on call during breaks, so they can respond to an emergency even if it comes while they’re eating lunch. That’s already the common practice, but this measure comes in response to a court ruling that security guards cannot be required to stay on call while they’re on breaks. Ambulance companies don’t want to be held to the same standard.

“If applied to the ambulance industry, it would have a significant public safety risk,” said Marie Brichetto, spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop 11 campaign.

Opponents—the emergency responders who work on ambulances—aren’t raising much money; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union contributed just $47,000 to oppose Prop 11.

“This is a classic ‘big corporation against its own employees,’” said Jason Brollini, president of the United EMS Workers union that is affiliated with AFSCME.

He contends the ambulance companies’ real motive with Prop 11 is to eliminate any liability they could face from employees who sue over not getting the extra pay they’re supposed to receive when their breaks are interrupted by an emergency call.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On Oct. 8, 2008, several elite leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—also known as the LDS or Mormon Church—went on the air and urged members in California to boost their involvement in defeating the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

The LDS Church was one of the last to join the Protect Marriage Coalition—mostly composed of conservative religious groups, including Catholics and Orthodox Jews—but they were certainly not the least. Elder M. Russell Ballard’s call to action was clear. “Many of you will text message, blog, make phone calls, walk your neighborhoods,” said the then-80-year-old on camera. “These methods of engaging will be major elements of informing people of the issues and of the coalition’s position.”

The Protect Marriage Coalition claimed victory on Election Day: Proposition 8 passed with 52.2 percent of the vote, and gay marriage in California was temporarily eliminated. According to some estimates, Mormons made up an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the early volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts. On Voting Day, there were 100,000 volunteers staffing get-out-the-vote efforts, a sizable portion of whom were LDS. Financial contributions from Mormons in and out of state made up as much as half of the nearly $40 million raised on behalf of the measure in a state where they account for 2 percent of the population.

A new book, Seeking the Promised Land, examines Mormon political behavior by looking, among several points of inquiry, into their responsiveness to church leaders. The authors are professors: Notre Dame’s David Campbell, J. Quin Monson of Brigham Young University—both of whom are Mormon—and John Green of the University of Akron, who is Protestant. Calls to action from LDS leadership are infrequent, so when the leaders speak uniformly with specific directions on political issues, the authors argue, most Mormons follow their leaders. Of course, Mormons are overwhelmingly aligned with the GOP, much like the African American vote is Democratic, which is not always the most desirable political situation to be in.

The Mormon vote, while thought to be a lost cause for Democrats, could just as easily be taken for granted by Republicans. The Mormon constituency, in other words, could easily find themselves overlooked and marginalized in the political sphere. Furthermore, Monson, of BYU, cautions that the imbalanced Mormon Republicanism “ought to be concerning, because (it) has potentially some negative consequences for the church as an institution.” If the church is perceived as partisan, missionaries proselytizing among non-Republicans could face a tarnished reputation among groups of possible converts.

Why are Mormons so overwhelmingly Republican? The short answer is that they, as voters, look to protect their traditional values, the authors argue. They are a communal and homogenous group that exhibits a high level of faith in their everyday lives—abstaining from alcohol, caffeine, etc.— making them distinctive. Their belief and culture are heavily focused on the family, and this can bleed over into politics with issues they see as “moral,” such as gay marriage and abortion.

This is not to say Mormons have always been predisposed toward the Republican Party. After Utah was granted statehood in 1896, Mormons were largely Democrats, because the Republicans of that era, in addition to being against slavery, were against polygamy. Mormons eventually became bipartisan; their values were not so at odds with the greater culture as a whole. The 1960s, however, brought with it a sexual revolution and significant cultural change that caused disruption. During this time, Monson says, “you see Mormons gravitating toward the Republican Party for the similar reasons that evangelicals did”: a defense of traditional values. The ensuing culture war pushed Mormon voters further to the right.

That rightward drift has continued. The authors found that young Mormons are more likely to be Republican than older ones. Mormons growing up in the ’80s and ’90s aged in a cultural environment where their faith and politics tightly aligned, something that their parents and grandparents wouldn’t have seen so definitively, Monson says.

Fealty to the GOP may not end any time soon. However, Mormons contradict their partisanship on certain key issues. “When LDS teachings are out of step with conservative orthodoxy,” the authors write, “Mormons generally follow their church over their party.” In 2013, for example, Dieter Uchtdorf, a member of the church’s governing First Presidency, was among other faith leaders who met with President Obama about immigration reform that would have created a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Obama’s policy, Uchtdorf said, “was totally in line with our values.”

What this means for the future of Mormons in American politics is not entirely clear. There seems to be no sign of strong Mormon Republicanism waning. But many Mormons are, above all, faithful to their church.

“When those messages from the church hierarchy are consistent and repeated over time,” Monson says, “the members respond.”

This story originally appeared in High Country News.

Seeking the Promised Land

By David E. Campbell, John C. Green and J. Quin Monson

Cambridge

312 pages, $26.99

Published in Literature

The words “world premiere,” when attached to the production of a play, present something of a conundrum.

On one hand, world premieres are exciting: Audiences get to see a brand-new work of art come alive before their very eyes. World premieres are also important: All new plays have to start off somewhere, and the companies brave enough to put them on deserve every theater-lover’s support.

On the other hand … world premieres tend to be unpolished at best, and complete messes at worst. After all, even the best plays are tweaked, reworked and rewritten many times before they become truly great.

Well, Poster Boys, enjoying its world premiere thanks to the LGBT-themed Desert Rose Playhouse, is far from a complete mess. The play by Dan Clancy has a great deal of potential, and Desert Rose’s production—aside from a few minor flubs—is done well.

Poster Boys tells the story of Ned Harris and Will Bennett, a gay Los Angeles “power couple.” It’s early 2009; Ned (Jason Hull) is a plastic surgeon, and Will (Craig Michaels) is an artist who works on advertising campaigns. We first meet this loving pair in their living room; another couple—Jeffrey (Ed Lefkowitz) and Telly (Ron Coronado)—is supposed to be stopping by. Ned and Will, generous donors to a variety of gay and progressive causes, presume Jeffrey and Telly want them to open their checkbook yet again.

Once Jeffrey and Telly arrive, we learn they’re seeking not a check, but a potential “poster couple” to represent the legal case being mounted against Proposition 8, the November 2008 ballot measure that took away the right for same-sex couples to marry in California. Because of the great reputation that Ned and Will have in the community, Jeffrey and Telly think they’re ideal candidates to become a poster couple. Ned and Will are convinced to take a meeting with one of the lead lawyers in the case, a lesbian named Cassandra (Candice Edsell), who we later learn has an undying love of the word “fuck.”

The possibility of being presented to the world as a model couple on behalf of an undeniably important cause both intrigues and concerns Ned and Will; they have a frank discussion about the matter after Jeffrey and Telly leave, during which their potential wedding vows come up. The couple seems happy and stable—far from perfect, yes, but loving and solid.

The next scene takes us to Will’s art studio, where’s he’s working on a painting for an ad campaign. His assistant has arranged for a young male model, Morgan (Alex Enriquez), to come by for a session. The interplay between Morgan and Will does not lead to sex—but it’s decidedly sexual.

Hmm. Maybe Ned and Will’s monogamous relationship isn’t so solid after all.

While the legal battle against Proposition 8 is a big part of the plot of Poster Boys, it isn’t what poster boys is about. Really, the play is about the challenges of modern long-term gay-male relationships, especially when the possibility of marriage is introduced into the equation. The merits of open relationships versus monogamous (or supposedly monogamous) relationships are discussed at length. And does marriage fit if a committed couple decides they are open (i.e., can have sex with other people)?

All of these important questions are tackled nicely by playwright Clancy, even though parts of the script could use work. Some of the dialogue is stilted, and there are a couple of plot holes. (In her initial meeting with Ned and Will, Cassandra never brings up monogamy. Isn’t that one of the first topics that would come up?) However, Clancy succeeds at creating central characters about whom we care, and the 85-minute production moves at a nice pace.

Some performances suffered through opening-night unevenness, but Jason Hull, as Ned, is splendid. His performance should get some Desert Theatre League award consideration; he is fantastic from start to finish, as Ned grows from a meek sort into a man who decides he needs to take control of his life. Candice Edsell also deserves special mention for bringing energy and a bit of comic relief to the show as the lovable “dyke” lawyer with a deadly handshake.

As usual, director Jim Strait and his husband, producer Paul Taylor, do a fantastic job of making sure all of the production’s details are top-notch. The two-part set—Will’s tiny studio is placed on the stage, while the furniture that becomes every other setting is on the floor level—works wonderfully, while the sound and lighting are flawless. OK, there is one flaw worth noting: There needs to be a curtain, or something, that fully blocks the backstage goings-on from the view of the audience. We were sitting on the left side facing the stage, and we were distracted by the sight of people moving around off stage, visible through a gap upstage left, multiple times.

Quibbles aside, this production of Poster Boys, while the script is still very much a work in progress, is enjoyable, provocative and important. Don’t let the words “world premiere” stop you from seeing this engaging show.

Poster Boys is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, April 20, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, at 69260 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $25 to $28; the show runs 85 minutes without an intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

My intention has always been to write about issues by introducing neighbors who are making a difference in our community, while hopefully informing readers about something they may not already know.

Once in a while, however, I feel the need to sound off on something about which I am outraged—something that affects all of us.

When I studied the Constitution in law school, I was particularly impressed by the guarantee of equal rights, an aspiration our nation has consistently pursued, and a cause in which I have been involved since “the good old days.”

You remember those times, don’t you? The days when if an unmarried woman got pregnant, she had to get married, and the days when child or spousal abuse was something that happened behind closed doors. It was a time when women didn’t even get close to the glass ceiling, and when blatant discrimination in the name of traditional norms was allowed and even encouraged. It was a time when husbands and wives knew their proper, God-given roles in a marriage, and when marriage could only be between two people of the opposite sex. 

The good old days.

We now live in a time when we have witnessed amazing social and cultural movements challenging those old norms—as we begin to recognize that the good old days weren’t so good for everyone.

By law, by court decisions, and by changed hearts and minds, we now accept the concept of equal voting rights, nondiscrimination in public accommodations, equal pay for equal work, and inter-racial marriage. We also accept that private consensual sexual behavior is just that—private.   

So how are we modeling our heightened sensibility about equality? 

In Uganda and Nigeria, American conservative Christian activists assisted those governments in drafting laws that criminalize homosexual behavior—with life imprisonment as a possible punishment. (They finally dropped the death penalty!) Public brutality against homosexuals has been the result.

In Russia, the Olympic Games were overshadowed by that country’s recent law that criminalizes spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” and prohibits adoptions by gay individuals, all in the name of supposedly protecting Russian children.  

Even here in the Coachella Valley, we have “dirty tricks” politics that negatively characterized a candidate for the Rancho Mirage City Council due to his sexual orientation.   

The Legislature in our neighboring state, Arizona, passed a law that would allow, on the basis of religious freedom, businesses to deny services to people who happen to be gay. The cake-icer at the local supermarket could refuse to decorate a cake with “Happy Anniversary Larry and Joe.”

Which “religious freedoms” would be deemed acceptable? Would that law cover a Muslim car dealer who wants to refuse service to Jews? Or a Christian computer salesperson who wants to discriminate against atheists? If Arizona’s law prevailed, would there be a test when you walk through the door of a public establishment to determine whether you’re gay?  

In the United States, marriage laws are made by the states—but federal courts are increasingly overruling state laws prohibiting gay marriage, largely based on the precedent of the Supreme Court decision in Windsor last year. That decision said that the federal government cannot deny equal treatment of legal marriages, regardless of the gender of the spouses.

The decision struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress, and ostensibly invalidated numerous state laws that specifically deny legal status for gay married couples, even if they have been legally married in another state.

Gay marriage is currently legally recognized in 17 states and the District of Columbia.  Courts in Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas have already acted to strike down anti-gay-marriage laws; some of those cases are being appealed. 

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr. 

The arc toward justice on marriage equality is bending quickly—but not everywhere, and now marriage equality, and other forms of equality, are being fought using claims of religious liberty.

What about the rights of private business owners? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that a business cannot refuse service on the basis of “arbitrary” conditions like race, color, religion, or national origin. Arbitrary standards are based on individual judgment or preference. 

We allow businesses to post signs saying, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” but only if based on objective standards—for example, if a customer’s presence may detract from the “safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons.”

Objective standards can be equally applied—a bar refusing to sell a drink to an obviously drunk person, or a fancy restaurant refusing to admit someone wearing shorts and no shoes. 

Arizona lawmakers wanted to justify an arbitrary standard on the basis of the religious convictions of the business owner or employee. Sexual orientation is an arbitrary condition, no different from where someone was born, or their race. We should not be passing laws that enshrine arbitrary discrimination, no matter the justification. 

As for gay marriage, before long, the U.S Supreme Court will have to revisit the issue and give a definitive ruling that once and for all sets policies for the nation as a whole, a position they avoided in Windsor

We all know people like the La Quinta resident (a service provider who shall remain nameless) who says, “I’m not opposed to how anyone wants to live, but do they have to whine about it all the time? Life isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair when my spouse died young and left me to raise two young children alone. But I didn’t whine about it—I just got on with my life.”

I have a gay son who was in a 20-year gay relationship that ended badly; a female cousin who has been in a 30-year lesbian relationship that is thriving; and lots of local friends and neighbors who are living together, married or not, gay and heterosexual, who just want the arc of justice, for themselves and their friends and neighbors, to bend a little more quickly. They just want to get on with it—live their lives, raise their children, participate in their communities, and have the dignity and equality each and every one of us deserves.

How long are we willing to wait on behalf of some of our brothers, sisters, children and neighbors for justice to prevail? 

I am not gay. I am just outraged.  

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Siouxzan Perry, a graphic designer and website developer, was the manager of Tura Satana, the lead actress in the 1965 B-Movie classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

“She passed away in 2011 on my birthday,” said Perry.

Perry was devastated by the loss of her client and close friend. At Perry’s home, Tura Satana is in every room in some way—paintings, photographs, film props, movie posters and even some of her personal items.

While Perry has always been open about the fact that she’s a lesbian, she was in no rush to date. She explained that past romances have included drama, ex-girlfriend issues, and other things she didn’t want to deal with.

Then Helen Macfarlane entered her life.

“I met Helen on Facebook through a friend. I do something called ‘LP of the day.’ I’ve been doing it for five years now: I put up an LP everyday that’s absolutely hideous, and I just let everybody go with it,” said Perry.

Macfarlane, a commissioned artist and language interpreter, felt immediately connected to Siouxzan after reading her Facebook page.

“We just started to have contact. I knew she was a real person, and it wasn’t a catfish situation,” said Macfarlane.

There was only one problem with their online romance: Macfarlane, a native of New Zealand, was living in Austria, and had been for 30 years.

Perry was hesitant at first to meet Macfarlane.

“Before I knew it, she came out to visit, and she fell in love with the desert—and with me! She went back, and it took about two years to make preparations to bring her here,” said Perry.

Then came June 2013, when U.S. Supreme Court rulings struck down much of the Defense of Marriage Act, and reversed Proposition 8 in California, again legalizing gay marriage here. Macfarlane was out of the country and in the process of returning to the United States when Perry called her with the news.

They decided it was time to make that leap themselves.

“We want to be married, not just because we love each other and we know that we want to be together, but also because it will help with Helen with getting her green card and getting sponsored so she can work here,” Perry said. “Right now, she’s here on a six-month visa, and everything is going through Austria. It’s a pain.”

They are having two weddings: They enjoyed a small ceremony on Dec. 26, and early in the new year, they will go all out with a Hawaiian-themed event, featuring Hawaiian food, Hawaiian music and tiki-related items.

Meanwhile, the gay-marriage rush has led to good times for local LGBT wedding planners and officiants.

Richard Cadieux of Palm Desert, known as the “Wedding Professor” (right), said that he couldn’t be happier with the boom in business. He said he’s performed more than 900 wedding ceremonies for couples both straight and LGBT over the past 13 years, and he’s enjoyed the increase in business since June.

“On Nov. 22, I did 27 (weddings) back to back in Palm Springs under the Marilyn statue,” said Cadieux. “In November, I did 47 total. In December, I did 18. Ever since July, my business went up 400 percent.”

Cadieux said many couples rushed to tie the knot before the year’s end.

“There’s a thrust of people who are beating the clock before Jan. 1 because of tax purposes—and there’s been pent-up excitement,” he said. “The first year, I know, is going to be the heaviest year; the second year will trail down, and the third year will tail off from there.”

Still, there is the potential for Palm Springs to become a gay-wedding hub, of sorts, Cadieux said.

“We hope as a tourist destination that people come from states where it’s too cold, even if (marriage there is) legal or not, and that we develop a tourist destination for weddings here,” said Cadieux.

Cadieux has noticed trends developing regarding LGBT wedding ceremonies—some of which have been surprising.

“The ones who are spending the most money are girls,” he said. “Recently, there were a couple of women from Long Beach who were taking over the Farrell Compound. It was probably a $40,000 wedding.”

The first wave of same-sex couples who are getting married has included many couples who are older and have been together longer—25 to 50 years or more, in many cases. The Rev. Lisa Phillian, of Rainbow Weddings—she prefers to be known as The Reverend Lisa—provided one example of an older couple she married earlier this year.

“There was a gentleman—his name was George,” she said. “… He came with his oxygen tank and his partner. We made a makeshift chapel in our living room and married them in front of it. A month after they were married, his husband, Kenny, called me and said George had died. I send out 150 Christmas cards each year, and six have called me this year to inform me that their partner has passed since their weddings.”

At the same time, The Reverend Lisa has witnessed more elaborate weddings that have included the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and hot-air balloon rides in Temecula—and there was even one on a helicopter pad at a Beverly Hills hotel.

“What we try to promote to our clients is romance,” she said. “Every couple I have ever married has said they’re just doing it for the taxes, and it’s a piece of paper. Out of 150 couples, at least 125 of them have stood and cried, so it’s not just a piece of paper.”

Both Richard Cadieux and The Reverend Lisa offered some advice to couples considering taking the leap.

“A wedding is more than just flowers, cake, a venue and a reception,” said The Reverend Lisa. “Hire a good planner, and allow your event to be pleasant. Your day should be special—whether it’s small or large. … The right planner makes a difference. Also, do it in reverence. We sometimes jump at something because we’re afraid it’s going to leave. (Gay marriage) is not leaving this time.”

Richard Cadieux emphasized the importance of the wedding’s attendees.

“Talk to your partner about the guest list,” said Cadieux. “Get realistic so that feelings don’t get hurt. … I knew Harvey Milk when I was living in San Francisco, and he said, ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’ My experience is when there are a number of straight guests who have never been to a same-sex wedding, they see who we are. … If (people getting married) can invite some people who have not seen love in a same-sex marriage, it will affect their consciousness, and we will gain our rights across the country faster.”

Below: The Reverend Lisa: “I send out 150 Christmas cards each year, and six have called me this year to inform me that their partner has passed since their weddings.” Photo by Jehd Tienzo.

Published in Local Issues

The LGBT community celebrated on June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on United States v. Windsor struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act—and Hollingsworth v. Perry overturned California’s Proposition 8 and therefore allowed LGBT couples here to get married.

These were historic decisions for LGBT Californians—but they’ve been a long time coming, and the fight for marriage equality continues in the majority of the United States.

On June 28, 1969, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, the fight for gay rights began in earnest when the Stonewall Inn was raided by police. As officers loaded some of the patrons into the patrol wagon, the crowd began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” When a scuffle between a woman in handcuffs and four police officers broke out, the crowd began to fight back. What’s believed to be the first gay pride march took place in New York City one year to the day later in 1970.

While LGBT activists took up a public fight, a lot of ordinary people who weren’t out of the closet were facing their own personal battles. A handful of these people in our LGBT community recently spoke to the Coachella Valley Independent about some of the hardships they faced, as well as some of the sacrifices they have made—and continue to make.

Ron Wallen

Ron Wallen, of Palm Springs, celebrated his 80th birthday in September. His husband and partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, passed away in 2011 after a battle with leukemia.

They met in New York City at a time when same-sex relationships were rare and not discussed openly.

“We were ‘properly introduced,’ which even then seemed quaint,” Wallen said. “My best friend had a boyfriend who was in charge of my coming out. I was not allowed to go with anybody he didn’t approve of. He introduced me to Tom. (Tom) was one of his previous one-nighters, and Tom was very curious of what being gay was, because it was bothering him at the time.”

Ron Wallen with a portrait of his late husband, Tom Carrollo.“We were introduced, and we ‘courted’ for 3 weeks. I thought he was a slouch, and he thought I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. At the end of the three weeks, we decided: Screw all those things—and that was it. We met every night in a park until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then I had to get up and go to work, and then go to school at night. I didn’t get much sleep.”

Wallen said there were places for the LGBT community to go back then—but there were potential consequences.

“There were bars that you could to go to,” Wallen said. “There were dance places where it was nothing more than the police coming to get their ‘stipend’ to keep the bar going. There would be cute little things like the lights would flicker, and then you had to run around and find the first girl you could find instead of dancing with a boy, or vice versa for the girls, or sit down very quickly at a table and stare. Even though they were coming in for their bribes, they still didn’t want to see things.”

During the early years of his relationship with Carrollo, Wallen was drafted into military service.

“They got me kicking and screaming, two years—and they got me for an extra week somehow,” he said. “They were backed up on paperwork.

“I was drafted in December 1956, and by that time, we had been together about three years. I had to write to him through friends. I was stationed in Germany and had to write him all kinds of coded things. I couldn’t pour out my love and all those things. I hated military service. Lots of people said, ‘Well, why in the hell are you going?’ My point was that if Joe Jones, who just married Marge Jones, has to go, then why in the hell shouldn’t I? Just because I got together with a boy instead of a girl, I just felt that it wouldn’t have been right to bug out on (the basis) of being gay—which, of course, was quite easily done back then.”

While Wallen was in the military, Carrollo was settling in California; that’s where they both wanted to be, Wallen explained. When Wallen was discharged, he also moved to the Los Angeles area, where they both eventually worked in a document-reproduction facility—where Wallen was required to have a security clearance.

“Obviously, when you produce things that are secret, and because of my job where I had to go anywhere in the plant, I had to have a security clearance as the assistant controller,” he said. “I used to help the sales manager with his budget every three months because he was so fucking stupid. I also paid the commissions and got sick and tired of paying unearned advances every single month, but these people knew what they were doing. I knew that Tom knew how to sell, so I blackmailed the sales manager into hiring him.

“You weren’t supposed to be gay and have a security clearance. Anybody knew you were gay … bye-bye security clearance and bye-bye job. Tom would have to sit and listen to all the fag jokes with all the other 25 people in the sales department and go, ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ even though he wanted to punch them out.”

Wallen said co-workers eventually figured out that they were together, and there was a level of acceptance.

“We were their fags. How we got away with it? I’ll never know, but we did,” he said. “I suppose the people who were monitoring the clearance knew we were sharing a home and must have known, or the company should have told them.”

The year 1978 was a particularly ugly time in California, as Anita Bryant and others promoted the Briggs Initiative, which would have had any LGBT citizen, and even some supporters of the LGBT community, fired from positions in public schools. Both Wallen and Carrollo were politically active and fought against it.

Wallen said the movement went well beyond teachers.

“We were the nucleus for an organization called the Whitman-Radcliffe Foundation,” he said. “… One of the things that floored me was at one point, they said they were going to defrock anybody who required a state license, period. A hairdresser they were going to defrock, because (hairdressers) had to have a state license. It never got to that; everyone remembered the teacher thing, but it really was a state-licensure thing.”

Trying to get people involved in the fight presented a challenge.

“We asked our friends in San Diego to give us money, and they said no and were afraid,” Wallen said. “We would tell people, ‘It’s your license were trying to preserve,’ and they were that afraid. The climate was such that smart people, if they really thought about it, were so paranoid that they wouldn’t even give us cash.”

In the 1980s, Carrollo suffered a severe heart attack and was no longer able to work, so the couple decided to relocate to Mexico. In the 1990s, they moved to Florida, and eventually settled in Indio. They bought a home together, and were living on investments and their Social Security income.

When California allowed gay marriage in the state for the first time in 2008, they were one of the first couples to be legally married. But until June of this year, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government did not recognize these marriages.

After Tom’s death in 2011, Wallen found himself in a stressful situation, because he was unable to get Tom’s Social Security survivor benefits. He was forced to do a short sale of the home they once shared together.

Wallen found himself testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the impact of DOMA on American families, at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“It was a very bad time in my life,” Wallen said. “Because it was a very bad time in my life, it was great, because it got me out of myself. Dianne Feinstein asked (pro-gay-marriage group) Freedom to Marry to send me to Washington for the hearing. Tom had died a month prior to that. I was like, ‘It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.’ Now I think it couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

On the day that Wallen spoke to the Independent, he found out he would finally be getting the survivor benefits going back to when Tom died in 2011.

“When I first applied back then, I was doing it because I was being a bitch. I was doing it to make a point. Sometimes, when you do a thing for a good reason—then some good reason comes back.”

Jim McDivitt

Jim McDivitt,Jim McDivitt, of Palm Springs, is usually the life of the party. The 73-year-old has an outgoing personality and a fantastic sense of humor. When I approached him about being interviewed, his response was: “Oh, do I have some stories to tell you!”

While growing up in Deport, Texas, McDivitt realized his attraction to men at an early age.

“During my childhood, sexual orientation was never an issue. I never tried to hide anything—but I just didn’t do anything about it,” he remembered. “Once I got into adolescence, I was scared to do anything, because I was supposed to be interested in girls, and I wasn’t. I used to get Playboy magazine, and I’d flip through it and look at the jokes, but I’d never look at the naked women. I was more interested in getting a copy of National Geographic.”

During his college years at the University of North Texas, he saw firsthand what the social implications were for being openly gay.

“I had to go back home during spring break, and this kid came through on his Vespa scooter from Mississippi. He had been kicked out his house for being gay by his father,” McDivitt said. “He was basically on the road and living off the kindness of strangers. I asked him, ‘Would you like to come home with me?’ So we went. My mother didn’t quite know what was going on. We stayed in the guest room on twin beds—nothing out of the ordinary.”

McDivitt’s father eventually discovered some materials in the traveler’s suitcase and confronted Jim. The traveler was sent on his way that evening by Jim’s parents. Jim later returned to the University of North Texas, and his mother came to visit him.

“She says, ‘I have a surprise for you,’ and it was my aunt, who had flown in from Florida. She said, ‘Get your things. You’re moving away from these people. It’s all these people’s fault; you’re in the wrong crowd!’” he said. “It was like an intervention; you couldn’t be gay. My father told me, ‘You’ll never amount to anything but a shoe salesman.’ My mother had already called an old friend of the family, a doctor, who she felt she could confide in, and my parents actually thought I was mentally ill. I think my mother would have had them do a frontal lobotomy on me if that would have made me straight, because it was like I brought shame to the family.”

McDivitt faced the military draft after his family found out about his sexual orientation, and he decided to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He lied during the recruitment process when asked about being a homosexual.

“It was good and it was bad in a way,” he said about his military service.

“No, I could not be myself. But I was a very unmotivated, undisciplined, lazy person. Being in the military? You get in there and clean the urinals or do 25 pushups. I started doing what I was told to do. It was good, and it even got my family to think I was doing the right thing, turning my back on that evil lifestyle and serving my country.”

He was stationed in Scotland during his military service.

“I had a top-secret clearance, because my job was copying Soviet chats through Morse code,” he said. “They read a letter that I wrote to my ex-roommate who was also in the Air Force; the only thing I said was, ‘There’s the cutest guy in the barracks. He’s half-Italian and half-Irish.’ Well, that was all that it took. They read that and questioned me: ‘Did you write this? Are you homosexual? Have you had sex with anybody?’ So as luck would have it, I got an honorable discharge (due to an) inability to adjust to military life.”

He returned to the University of North Texas, and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he found a job at a bank. He also took part in the first gay parade in San Francisco.

“That parade was the first time I didn’t mind people seeing me on the street celebrating who I was,” he said. “It was just a little parade, and we didn’t have the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marching with us back then or anything like that. Back to Monday morning at work, I’m pink and sunburned. People said, ‘Oh, you got some sun this weekend. Where’d you go?’ I said, ‘Oh, some friends and I went to the beach.’ I couldn’t say I went to the gay parade; I just couldn’t.”

He later became a victim of workplace discrimination.

“There was a bank robbery, an inside job,” he said. “I would let people into the safe-deposit boxes and inside the vault. There was another door inside the vault that went into another room, and that’s where all the money for the bank was; I didn’t have a key to that. What happened was at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday—the bank closed at 5—this woman comes in and wants to withdraw about $5,000 in cash. In those days, on Friday afternoon, you counted all your money at about 2, and from about 3 on, business was (delayed until) Monday. She wanted that money; she (says she’s) going to Reno to gamble—she wanted her money, and she wanted it now. They opened the safe to get her the money, and there was no money in there.

“This kid who’s a bank teller and a co-worker, who worked in the mailroom, had gotten together and devised this plan. The teller didn’t twirl the dial on the safe. He goes in, takes a black garbage bag, dumps all the money in the safe, puts it in the trash can, and puts trash papers on the top. He said he was going to take it down to the basement, where the guy from the mailroom put it in a canvas bag and put it next to the mailbox, where a third person would come and grab it.”

When McDivitt discovered the bag and brought it to the attention of the bank manager and the authorities, the culprits confessed. However, McDivitt’s military discharge became a subject of interest to the investigators.

“They asked me why I got out before four years of service. I told them, ‘Well, they found out I was gay.’ They didn’t question me any further,” he said. “The two guys confessed, and neither of them got jail time. A week later, the bank called me up and said, ‘We really appreciate your help in recovering the money.’ They gave me a $100 bonus for finding the money—and then a two-week notice. They said, ‘We’ll let you write a letter of resignation so it looks better.’

“They did that so I couldn’t file for unemployment.”

Dorian and Kim Kieler

Kim and Dorian Kieler.Dorian and Kim Kieler reside in a small apartment in Palm Springs. They have been together for about seven years and were married in Canada.

Like many retirees, they are part-time residents in the valley; they return to British Columbia for part of the year, by necessity. Due to Dorian’s health and problems with arthritis, she’s not able to tolerate the cold and wet weather in British Columbia during the fall and winter months. Kim is a Canadian citizen, and Dorian is an American citizen.

Dorian grew up in Indiana. When her mother found out Dorian was attracted to women, her mother was not accepting—and went to extremes to free Dorian of her same-sex attraction.

“My earliest memory of hearing about being gay or lesbian was through the church,” she said. They said you were going to hell; you were probably not better than some sort of criminal. When I was growing up, it was still a mental illness to be gay.

“When my parents found out I had leanings that way, they admitted me to a psychiatric hospital, where they told me I could have shock treatments to cure me of my gayness. In the hospital, I distinctly remember becoming straight, and then about a day after I got out of the hospital, I got real gay again.”

Dorian’s understanding of her sexuality came with the women’s liberation movement during the 1960s and 1970s.

“The bar scene and all—I missed all of that,” she said. “For me, coming out was like (being) in women’s studies in college, the NOW Movement, and the Women Take Back the Night movement. (Accepting) myself as a gay and coming to love myself made me naturally interested in women’s issues back then … but I didn’t live ‘out.’”

Dorian said that she lost a job as a psychiatric nurse for being a lesbian in the 1990s—and she pointed out that some Americans still face similar discrimination today.

“They didn’t want me working with adolescents,” she explained. “In many states, that’s still the same thing. I could walk into any state outside of California—for instance, a hospital in St. Louis. I might not be so OK if I’m out. I might not get raises; I might not get promoted. It’s still there, and it’s a really big deal still. In 2013, it’s still happening. I wouldn’t want to know what it would be like to be gay in this day and age and go to Tupelo, Miss., to try to find myself a nursing job.”

Meanwhile, Kim grew up in Northern British Columbia in a small town where being gay wasn’t really talked about—although it didn’t seem like a huge issue.

“It’s interesting: I can’t remember anybody in high school being openly gay,” she said. “It was a redneck little town; no one would come out or acknowledge it. Then in university, I started to run into a few gay people, and I think it was then I started to figure out I might be gay, too. (Canada) is more progressive. Legally, our prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, in 1968, before it was even a social issue, took homosexuality off the criminal books. People weren’t even talking about gay issues then.”

While Canada as a whole has been quicker to accept gay marriage and LGBT people in general, Kim knows firsthand that Canada is not free of discrimination.

“For most of my working life, people didn’t come out,” Kim said. “Part of it was just the social stigma. There was always that sense of shame or something. You never came out to the straight folks, and I never really came out to my family until after quite a while. I came out in the ‘90s at work, and at that time, I was a manager. I was the first gay manager to come out where I worked. That was pretty much it for my career at that time. My first boss was great and had no problem with it. When he left, the next guy who came in had a problem with women—and he really had a problem with gay women. He was out to have my position eliminated, and he was going to go after me. He did it by reorganizing. They restructured my job and got rid of all the female staff under me.”

Kim said that her family still doesn’t acknowledge the fact that she’s a lesbian.

“I have 300 Baptist relatives back in Alberta. They’re in a really small town,” she said. “My one cousin will leave the room if I’m in there. She has a really hard time trying to talk to me, and I always talk to her about what Dorian and I are doing just to make her uncomfortable. In some ways, I’m denied my whole family, who are all supportive of each other; if you’re gay, you’re not welcome in that support system.”

On a happier note, Dorian’s family has been quite supportive of the couple. In fact, Dorian joked that the biggest picture in a relative’s house is of Kim.

Even today, Dorian and Kim face difficulties whenever they cross the U.S.-Canada border.

“We got married in Canada, and because it’s not legally recognized down here, we’ve had to maintain two homes,” Kim said. “We’ve had to cross the border separately. If we say we’re married at the border, they assume I’m coming down here to live, and they’ll ban me for five years. The same with Dorian; they’ll ban her for five years. We have to take two separate vehicles to cross the border,” Kim said.

Dorian added: “What happens is I drive the RV, and we have the Smart car on the back of it. About three miles from the border … we unhook the car, and Kim drives it. The car is registered in Canada, and the RV is registered in America. We cross the border separately, and then three miles down the road, we hook up again and go on our way,” Dorian said.

They said the fact Kim can only stay in the U.S. for a limited time causes problems for them both.

“There was a point once where it was getting time for me to have to leave, and Dorian was running into medical problems,” Kim said. “She might have needed surgery, and I couldn’t be here with her, because I had to get out of the States. So the fact that DOMA has been repealed is an enormous difference for us both.

“I just turned in my papers for permanent-resident status. Imagine what would happen if Dorian were to get sick and I would have to leave—it’s barbaric!”

Allison Annalora

Allison Annalora with Bill Brockman (top) and Ron Campbell (left).Allison Annalora shares a Palm Springs apartment with her boyfriend, Ron Campbell. She’s a fairly well-known figure within the LGBT community, because she’s been very open about the fact that she’s transgendered. In fact, on the day of her chat with the Independent, she had just gotten home after being interviewed for a local radio show.

Her ex-boyfriend from her previous life as a gay man, Bill Brockman, was also present.

Annalora, formerly known as Larry Miller, recently completed her three-year transition from man to woman. Her life as Larry Miller was 55 years of torture, she said. She tried to make the transition in the 1970s and stopped. In January 2008, she attempted suicide by sitting in her car in the garage of the home she was sharing with Brockman.

She said she eventually turned off the ignition and decided to stop living a life that wasn’t hers.

“My life has pretty much settled into a mainstream lifestyle,” she said. “I met Ron on a straight dating site and portrayed myself as a woman, because I am. One of the things I made very clear to myself when I transitioned in 2009 was I was going to be really upfront about my being transsexual, which is the reason why I didn’t transition back in 1974 when I started the first time. Back in 1974, you had to go ‘stealth,’ as we called it. You had to just move away, forget all the people you knew before you transitioned, and then forget the past—and hope that no one ever figures it out. That was one of the reasons why I backed out of it, because I wasn’t sure I could do that. I also knew back in 1974 that being open about it wasn’t an option.”

Annalora said it was not easy at first when she started seeing Campbell.

“We contacted each other, and he lived in Huntington Beach at the time, born and raised there. When we were talking, he said, ‘Well, we really hit it off; I really like who you are. We really have a lot in common, and I think we should get together.’ I said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and when I told him, he said, ‘Whoa! I didn’t see that coming,’ because he had seen my pictures, Facebook, and all that other stuff.

“He said, ‘You know what? I like you; I appreciate your honesty, and why don’t we just hang out and see what happens?’ So we dated long-distance for two years. The first year, he didn’t introduce me to any of his friends or any of his family, because he wanted to make sure this was what we both wanted before we took it to the next level.”

After that year, Annalora made it clear to Ron that their relationship needed to be taken to that next level. Ron therefore told his friends and family, and she has since gotten close to Ron’s sister, his married daughter, his son, and other members of his family.

For Annalora, the three-year transition wasn’t easy. It was full of procedures to remove facial hair, a trachea shave to reduce the size of her Adam’s apple, breast-augmentation surgery, and gender-reassignment surgery. She also faced legal hurdles to change her name and gender.

“The most difficult thing for me really was the psychologist, the weekly appointments, and all that other stuff,” Annalora said. “… It took me four years to clear my beard (using electrolysis), and I just recently had laser resurfacing to get rid of the scarring. It’s a very long, very expensive process. It can be very frustrating.

“The other part of the transition that I didn’t enjoy was the one year you have to live as your true gender without reassignment surgery,” she said. “It made it difficult to start a relationship, because you’re in this gray area. I was very nervous when I had to use the public restroom. I have never once had anybody react to me negatively in the women’s restroom, but there is that fear that someone is going to figure it out and make a scene.”

She also stated that the cost of gender-reassignment surgery is out of reach for a lot of people. Annalora’s surgery was paid for by Brockman, who had received an inheritance.

“What’s aggravating to me is that the medical community has now made this a medical condition, yet medical insurance won’t cover it,” Annalora said. “We found out the IRS will let me write off my gender-reassignment surgery, but not my trachea shave or my breast-augmentation surgery. Who would want to have gender-reassignment surgery and not do the other?”

Brockman said he was upset that many of his and Annalora’s friends within the gay community were not accepting of Annalora’s change.

“Some of our gay friends will say to me in private every once in a while, ‘Gosh! I really miss Larry.’ I’m going, ‘You what? This is the same person—the same soul, the same brain, the same heart, and that comment really makes no sense to me.’ She was no different before than she is now,” Bill said.

“Except that I’m blonde, wear makeup, and I have breasts,” Annalora added with a laugh.

Annalora said she’s come to accept that many people in the LGBT community have problems with the ‘T’ part.

“How could they possibly understand it if it’s not something they’re experiencing?” she said. “I can’t know what it’s like to be African American; I will never know, because I’m not.

“But I learned a long time ago that what’s really missing here is the compassion. We don’t need to understand; what we need to be is compassionate and support people. I find it very fascinating in the gay community that they want compassion, understanding, acceptance and all the same rights as the heterosexual community, yet they’re prejudiced against (transgendered people) and say, ‘I don’t understand why they have to do that. Why don’t they just dress up and get it out of their system?’ I say to them, ‘You’re expecting heterosexuals who don’t understand what it’s like to be gay to understand you, yet you’re not willing to give acceptance to another group?'

“We need to start practicing what we preach.”

Moving Forward

While June’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions show how far gay rights have come since Stonewall, the struggles that these five area residents continue to have illustrate that there’s still a long way to go.

Wallen said the difficulties he and others faced should not be forgotten—and that young people need to stay engaged.

“In 10 years, maybe 15, they’re not going to understand what in the hell this was all about,” he said. “It’s very easy to say you can’t legislate how people feel, and I agree. If you reinforce the way people feel with unjust laws that make those people right … the bigots will just keep going on convincing other people. As soon as the government says it’s not right or legal to have inequality, that’s a very important step toward people’s thought processes. … It’s up to the younger people now, if only they’ll get off their asses and vote.”

McDivitt said times have definitely changed for the better.

“The young people today are very lucky, and they don’t have any idea,” he said. “When President Obama said something in his inaugural address about equality including the LGBT community, I almost cried, considering (President Ronald) Reagan wouldn’t even mention AIDS. It’s been a struggle, but looking back, I’ve had it pretty good. I’d like to see more education about homosexuality. Parents who are accepting of their gay children are now more common because of that. If many of the older people like me wouldn’t have educated the straight population, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Kim and Dorian Kieler feel similarly.

“I feel that the thoughtful young ones among us know about history, and know there have been some big dues paid,” Dorian said. “Those drag queens at Stonewall? I owe them all the gratitude in the world, and many others such as Billie Jean King. … I love this freedom that young people have to explore, and that it’s OK without carrying shame in a relationship, because that can destroy a relationship from the start,” Dorian said.

Kim added: “Some of the young kids won’t understand what they’ve been given; we’re probably the generation who’s going to be most grateful, because we went from one end of it to the other.”

Annalora said the day may never come when everyone is accepting of LGBT people.

“There are some people out there who are never going to accept anything and are prejudiced against people because of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, their country of origin—and you can’t change those people,” she said. “But there are so many more people in the world who just don’t know any better. People don’t like change. … I never really believed we would have gotten as far as we have today.”

Published in Features

As thousands of people celebrated in 100-plus-degree heat, Rancho Mirage City Councilmember Scott Hines had sobering words.

Standing directly under the Forever Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, the gay family man, military veteran and elected official explained that he was there representing not the city of Rancho Mirage—just himself. He had asked the current mayor of Rancho Mirage, Richard Kite, to issue a proclamation celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the decision effectively appealing Proposition 8—therefore setting the stage for gay marriage to be legal once again in California.

But Kite refused, Hines said. Such a proclamation, or even allowing Hines to speak on behalf of the city, might be offensive to some.

Despite Hines' sobering words, thousands of people showed up to celebrate the happy events. Below are images from the celebration of this historic day.

Published in Snapshot