Why same-sex couples need to know about Social Security benefits
by Gil Diaz
Ron Wallen is barely living the comfortable lifestyle that his late husband had envisioned.
“Right now, I’m living month to month. The money goes in the right hand and goes out the left,” says Wallen, 80. “It’s getting rougher and rougher.”
Wallen met the man who would be his husband, Tom Carrollo, in 1953. Fifty-five years later, in 2008, they were married. Carrollo’s biggest worry was that after he died, his husband wouldn’t have enough money to live on without him.
Every year we hear from respondents to our annual survey of Vanguard readers who tell us they would prefer to just receive a digital version of our award-winning newsletter. So early last year we created a tablet-friendly version ofVanguard that is steadily increasing in popularity. At lagaycenter.tumblr.comyou can do more than read Vanguard on your computer or tablet, you can share stories with friends and post comments about our articles.
And of course, those who don’t like print can also read VanguardNOW, which is an email digest of articles in the current month’s Vanguard with breaking news that didn’t make it into the print edition.
But we also hear from readers who tell us how much they like circling courses and activities listed in our Learning Curve pages and hanging them on their refrigerator. And we hear from readers who don’t like email and appreciate being able to read our stories—and learn about our events and activities—the old-fashioned way.
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Responds to Failed Attempt to Repeal “School Success and Opportunity Act” (AB 1266) By Referendum
LOS ANGELES, February 24, 2014—Today California’s Secretary of State reported that her office has finalized an exhaustive validation of signatures that were submitted to qualify a referendum to repeal AB 1266. She reports that proponents of the attempt to roll-back protections for transgender students have failed because they did not have the 504,760 valid signatures that were needed.
“I’m certain this won’t be the last attempt by anti-LGBT extremists to roll back advances in equality for LGBT people, but I’m relieved this attempt has clearly failed,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “All kids deserve the opportunity to do well in school, including transgender kids, and we know this law works because the L.A. Unified School District reports that for eight years it has offered transgender students the same protections guaranteed by AB 1266 and there have been no registered complaints by students or adults.”
About the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
Since 1969 the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has cared for, championed and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond. Today our health center, shelters, performance stages and classrooms serve more LGBT people than any other organization in the world. We are an unstoppable force in our community’s fight against bigotry and the struggle to build a better world—a world in which LGBT people can be healthy, equal and complete members of society. Learn more at lagaycenter.org.
LIFE IS A CABARET, OLD CHUMS
The one and only Liza Minnelli will be the special guest for the eighth installment of the Center’s “Conversations with Coco,” hosted by drag diva Miss Coco Peru on March 20. Minnelli’s highly anticipated appearance at the Center precedes her debut performance at Walt Disney Hall on March 25.
Blending fascinating discussion and revealing stories, “Conversations with Coco” has proven to be among the most popular events offered by the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center.
As of press time, VIP and Preferred Seating tickets for this fabulous event are still available online at lizacoco.eventbrite.com.
How a transgender woman escaped from the Middle East to work at the Center
by Gil Diaz
The life of Amanda Frontino, a young transgender woman living in the Middle East, changed completely in a matter of minutes.
She was lost in paradise as she sat in front of her computer mesmerized by a video she’d found on YouTube entitled “A Day in the Life of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.”
She vividly recalls what Center CEO Lorri L. Jean was saying in the video: “We’re like a one-stop center for people in our community who need… a place to celebrate… and to be free and open in Los Angeles.”
Frontino felt an instant kinship with the people who were shown in the video: LGBT people who were clearly happy and living their lives openly and honestly in a way she had never even considered.
Living in Kuwait, she was thousands of miles away from the nirvana that she imagined Los Angeles to be, with little hope she’d ever get to L.A. or the Center in person.
Riding to end AIDS for a friend who no longer can
by Gil Diaz
At 52 years old, Barbara Schwerdt will never forget the phone conversation she had with her best friend Chris in November 1997. He called from Washington, D.C. to wish her a happy birthday.
“We talked for awhile, and I noticed his voice was hoarse,” she recalls. “I asked him if he had a cold, and he jokingly said it was a little more serious than that.”
The duo had known each other since their college days at Gallaudet University, where they were studying to be sign language interpreters.
They were inseparable. When Chris was accepted into a Ph.D. program at California State University, Northridge, Barbara jumped at the chance to move with him to Los Angeles.
How the Center is helping to protect L.A.’s young gay men of color
Beginning in April, hundreds of young HIV-positive Latino and African-American men will make a difference in their communities by participating in an ambitious and groundbreaking $7 million study supported by the Center. It’s led by the University of California, Los Angeles and known as Project MASCULINE, which stands for “MSM and Substances Cohort at UCLA Linking Infections Noting Effects.”
STOLI® VODKA PARTNERS WITH L.A. GAY & LESBIAN CENTER IN THREE YEAR PROGRAM TO HELP FIGHT LGBT INEQUALITY
Stoli Group (USA) to invest $300,000 to support Center’s leadership development program
NEW YORK, January 24, 2014—Stoli Group USA and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center today announced a three-year partnership to fight inequality by investing in the development of LGBT leaders domestically and around the globe.
Under the partnership, Stoli will donate $300,000 to support the Center’s Leadership LAB (Learn, Act, Build): a program that helps current and future LGBT leaders and allies throughout the country and around the world to develop critical leadership skills. The aim of Leadership LAB is to prepare the next generation of LGBT leaders to effectively advocate for equal rights, build strong organizations, and fight anti-LGBT ballot measures.
“Over the last few years we’ve experienced tremendous gains in freedom and equality for LGBT Americans, but there is still much work to be done, especially in states where organizing for LGBT equality remains very challenging,” said Lorri L. Jean, Chief Executive Officer of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “And while we’re also making gains internationally, there have been big and significant setbacks. Extremists, acknowledging they’re losing the battle here, are expanding their influence in other countries by demonizing LGBT people and attacking our freedoms. Their influence must be countered. This extraordinary commitment by Stoli Group USA sets a terrific example for all corporations.”
“Our position at Stoli is clear. We stand with the LGBT community in the fight for equality, and are proud to be working with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to make our joint vision possible,” said John Esposito, President, Stoli Group USA. “Through our strategic partnership we hope to harness the power of our global community, cultivating leaders on a local level in the U.S to create meaningful change throughout the world.”
The Center’s Leadership LAB initiatives strengthen LGBT leadership capacity in the U.S. and abroad, providing mentoring, internships, training, and on-the-ground staff support in select communities that are strategic in advancing LGBT equality.
Charity Navigator, the nation’s premier charity evaluator, awarded the Center its highest rating of four stars—for the fourth consecutive year—for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency. Only 7 percent of the charities they rank have received four consecutive 4-star evaluations.
“We’re grateful Charity Navigator reminds people of the importance of donating to organizations known for fiscal responsibility,” says Center CEO Lorri L Jean, “and we’re very proud to be one of the few charities to receive their highest ranking for four years in a row!”
RIDING TO THE TOP
The final numbers from AIDS/LifeCycle 2013 are in and we now know that participants raised a record-breaking $14.5 million—a slight increase from the original $14.2 estimate!
There’s still time to register for the seven-day ride from San Francisco to L.A., June 1-7. Register now at aidslifecycle.org!
LGBT COMMUNITY TAKES COVER
The Center partnered with Covered California when it hosted a press conference on December 3 to kick off a marketing campaign aimed at getting the LGBT community to sign up for affordable health care.
Covered California is the state’s marketplace for affordable health insurance, under the federally mandated Affordable Care Act. Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee urged people to sign up for health insurance by December 23 in order for their coverage to begin January 1. As of the beginning of the year, more than 400,000 Californians have enrolled for health insurance. Consumers must enroll in Covered California by March 31 in order to avoid a penalty. For more information visit coveredca.com.
WELL DONE AND WELL FED
Whole Foods Market’s Feed Four More campaign in West Hollywood raised more than $16,000 worth of pre-packaged, non-perishable food products for the low-income LGBT seniors served by the Center.
The campaign, which ran from Thanksgiving through the end of 2013, also raised nearly $14,000 in cash donations from generous Whole Foods shoppers. The donations were greatly needed: more than half of the seniors the Center serves live on $2,000 per month or less and 18 percent live on less than $1,000 per month.
LGBT YOUTH GET ‘SIRIUS’
The holidays became brighter for many homeless LGBT youth, thanks to SiriusXM radio hosts Derek and Romaine. The award-winning gay/lesbian duo, whose national talk show hit the airwaves in 2003, chose the Center as a beneficiary for their Season of Giving holiday donation drive. They encouraged listeners to donate items for the thousands of homeless LGBT youth the Center serves.
Days before Christmas, the Youth Center on Highland received more than 10 boxes of gently used casual clothing, winter coats, new underwear and socks … just to name a few.
The Dream Team
The Center’s vision to provide medical services to all members of the LGBT community comes to life
by Gil Diaz
Dr. Monica Stokes is a fearless warrior.
In her 30 years of practicing medicine, she has served in the Navy, completed her medical residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, and interned at Oakland’s U.S. Naval Hospital. She also co-led the primary care services at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Though she’s not in combat now, she is facing a new battle: helping lesbians and bisexual women take better care of their health. As the Center’s new Director of Women’s Care, Stokes is leading the Center’s medical services for women.
“As lesbians and bisexual women, we face unique risks to our health, so we’ve got to protect ourselves,” she says. “When the Center offered me this job, I said I needed 100 percent of the organization’s support to get this program off the ground. And I got it.”
Meet the newest members of the Center’s medical team.
On his brother’s life
One man’s war against crystal meth addiction
by Gil Diaz
When Jason Flemming saw the lifeless body of his younger brother John-Andrew laying on a gurney, he struggled to take a photograph of it.
“John-Andrew wasn’t ashamed. He said that everyone, especially his drug dealer, needed to see what crystal meth did to him,” Jason says. “He wanted his image—graphic and uncensored—to be visible. It was his dying wish.”
The Flemming brothers—both gay and only two years apart—were extremely close. They grew up in a small rural Michigan town (population: 1,832) and attended Michigan State University. Both men moved to Los Angeles after graduation in the early 1990s. When John-Andrew began vanishing over the weekends beginning six years ago, Jason found it unusual. It just wasn’t like his brother to not keep in touch.
“John-Andrew would schedule time for us to have dinner or a night out, but once the weekend arrived, he’d disappear. I had no idea he was getting high to the extent he was,” Jason recalls. “Looking back at how he behaved, I can hardly believe I didn’t see the clues. This drug turned my brother into a completely different man.“
John-Andrew—who was once living a successful life working within the interior design industry—slowly deteriorated into a full-fledged meth addict. He became irritable and paranoid. He picked and scratched his body obsessively to a point where his skin, and later his scabs, would bleed. During the last two years of his life, John-Andrew documented his decay through more than 2,400 graphic photos and videos.
In an attempt to save his brother, Jason reached out to Mike Rizzo, founder of the Center’s Crystal Meth Recovery Services, for help. Rizzo met with John-Andrew’s parents in an attempt to set a family intervention. Each parent flew to Los Angeles to meet with John-Andrew, who eventually gave in and agreed to enter a detox facility.
“I was convinced my brother was going to fight his addiction,” says Jason. “He was a steadfast and strong man. He could be stubborn, but if he set his mind to something, he made it happen.”
Despite several attempts to rehabilitate, the younger brother couldn’t shake his addiction. Meth had already owned him.
“John-Andrew is an example of the beautiful, successful young men who get caught up with this drug and systematically dismantle their lives over a period of time,” Rizzo says.
On April 28, 2013, Jason got a phone call. It was John-Andrew’s roommate on the line.
“He said, ‘I have some horrible news. It’s your brother,’” Jason recalls. “And I knew immediately what had happened. I instinctively felt so lost. It knocked my breath away.”
John-Andrew died from an overdose, a combination of meth and the “date rape drug” GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid). He took a nap on the bed, but he never woke up. He was 43 years old.
“I remember looking at my brother laying on the gurney,” says Jason. “I put my hand on his forehead, and he was still warm. He was no longer gritting his teeth or scratching at himself. Gone were the frowns on his forehead. He was finally at peace.”
To honor his brother, Jason and his family and friends have formed The John-Andrew Flemming Foundation. This nonprofit organization raises money and awareness for the Center’s Crystal Meth Recovery Services and other substance abuse programs.
“With the foundation’s growth and commitment, we’ll be able to hire more staff, including an on-call interventionist,” says Rizzo, “and create more programs to save those in our community who are struggling to kick their addictions.”
Jason sometimes feels like the “last man standing” without his brother, but his parents remind him of John-Andrew’s wish.
"He would’ve wanted me to form this foundation,” Jason says. “He told us to use his journey as an example for others—to warn people about the evils of meth. That’s exactly what this foundation is all about.”
For more information about The John-Andrew Flemming Foundation, please visit thejohn-andrewflemmingfoundation.org.
I’ve always loved February.
It’s the month my folks got married (February 29); the month Arizona, my home state, became the 48th state; and the birthday month of important civil rights leaders Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks. It’s also Black History Month. Plus, it’s when we celebrate Valentine’s Day!
Recently, I learned that February is also American Heart Month. Why should that make a difference to our community? Heart disease kills more LGBT people in the United States than anything else—more than AIDS and cancer. It’s the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S. (although in the Asian & Pacific Islander community, it’s second to cancer). Every year about 600,000 people die of heart disease—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
Yet, heart disease is actually preventable and controllable. There are precious few studies on the health of lesbians and gay men—even fewer on the health of bisexual and transgender people—but what little information does exist indicates that we seek health care less than our straight counterparts. One of the reasons is that a very high percentage of us report having experienced problems with insensitive health care providers in relation to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Another is that LGBT people generally make less money than non-LGBT people and have been more likely to be uninsured.
Fortunately, the Center has a solution! Because we have been designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center—and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which expands healthcare coverage—we now provide leading edge medical care to everyone in our community, regardless of their HIV status, by providers who specialize in caring for LGBT people. And, we’ve added some terrific new primary care physicians to our already stellar corps of providers. This includes Dr. Ward Carpenter who has an extensive background in LGBT medical care and—for the first time ever—a lesbian ob-gyn, Dr. Monica Stokes.
If you haven’t been getting regular medical care, I can’t think of a better time than American Heart Month to decide to protect and maintain your health.