How to Renovate a Holiday Inn Into a Big-Hearted Boutique Hotel

It’s hard not to crack a big ol’ grin when you enter the main lobby of The Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, California. On top of a welcoming staff, the property’s homage to the happy-go-lucky attitudes of yesteryear sweeps you into a surprisingly charmed present. By the check-in counters a spiral of vintage wooden tennis racquets playfully decorates the wall, a shag carpet shimmies on the hardwood floor and holds mid-century modern chairs that invite you to sit next to a cozy fireplace showcased by whimsical Spanish tile.

“We wanted to go for the John Denver and Stevie Nicks L.A.,”owner James Crank said to us as we sat in the on-property restaurantThe Front Yardwith his partnerScott Elliott. Both men are polite, well-dressed and clean-cut cats who truly lift each other and those around them with genial warmth. “We wanted to bring back the Valley in the 70s.”

“Los Angeles almost fifty years ago was the Brady Bunch,” Scott chimes in, “everything was open, everyone looked you in the eye and smiled. There were no barriers because people were racing so fast into the future that they were celebrating each other and the times.”

But what makes this hotel so welcoming besides its jubilant aurora? How did the two men renovate the 7-acre Holiday Inn, originally built by James’ father, Fillmore Crank, in 1971 as The Beverly Garland Hotel (after James’ mother), into one of the most thoughtful independently run boutique hotels in the country? After talking with the men, their staff, and touring the property, it became clear that four unique factors set The Garland apart from its ilk by picking a fabulous theme, investing in their staff, knowing their history, and giving back to their local and queer communities.

Embrace a Theme

James and Scott picked a four-dimensional theme that expounded beyond their fabulous 70s aesthetics. While the theme is lovely on the eyes and provokes a vibrant nostalgia of VW vans, laid-back lifestyles, and mid-century modernity, the theme also carries with it an almost tangible sentiment. But not just any fleeting feeling, one of inclusivity, amiability, and love. Here, the design double dips with positive attitudes. Call it flower power, call it free love, call it the Fleetwood Mac guitar solo in “Gypsy” uniting the people’s souls into some kind of humanity, call it what you want.

Unlike many hotels chasing the lackluster trends of Dwell and Architectural Digest, The Garland represents an unpretentious rising in the hotel industry that caters to good vibes and tenor over exclusivity and materialism. “If you don’t want to be around a diverse group of people, we’re not for you,” James says matter-of-factly.

While visiting the hotel, I shoot the breeze with an international family with Harry Potter paraphernalia coming back from a long day at Universal Studios, a young San Franciscan couple in the hot tub ordering nightcaps from the pool bar, and elderly staycationers from Culver City having a breakfast of Nutella French toast. So while The Garland draws on it’s 70s past, the hotel rockets its theme into to the present with educated and thoughtful inclusivity.

And frankly, it’s mighty hard to resist jumping in and playing along in the time warp the hotel confidently exudes. It’s hard to not want to throw on a fringed mini skirt, a flirty little maxi dress, a tight cut polo, or a flowy ass pair of printed culottes and chuck a couple of footballs with Martha Brady. But it is easy to say hello to the other guests and tell each other about your travels in the elevator taking you to your sunny rooms.

Investing in Staff

While the dandy attention to details are present on every inch of the 7-acre 4-star hotel that contains two balconied towers, floor to ceiling windows, fun, flirty, and yet simple room embellishments, a lovely pool, hot tub, and two restaurants, the property matches its fun aesthetics with a smiley, professional, and diverse staff that genuinely gleam with pride.

“Our staff is fully aware that we are a couple, and fully aware that we embrace complete diversity on the property, which helps them encourage guests to feel comfortable here,” Scott says. And it’s true. During my stay, I see true diversity from check-in, to house cleaning, to an HR department run thoughtfully by a self-identified, openly gay woman, Elizabeth Jacobs, who had the idea to fix the problem of a curmudgeonly dated holiday party most hotels throw by substituting it for a celebratory Children’s Festival.

Scott and James invest further in their staff by offering the highest starting rate at hotels in the country (as hotels with over 250 rooms in Los Angeles offer $15.66) and scaling their menus and amenities up alongside a 12% service charge provide a more livable wage for food and beverage staff. And again, it pays off. The hotel has a low turnover rate of staff and plenty of opportunities to advance employees’ careers from within the hotel. “I’ve had people from housekeeping take over the gift shop, hostesses become waiters, waiters become front desk clerks, and clerks become sales people,” James says.

And as we waltz about the property everyone smiles when they see James and Scott and the two men greet their employees with their names.

Knowing Their History

When the hotel was The Beverly Garland Hotel, James was just a lad growing up, but he remembers the old hotel bar. “It was this kind of dark, loungey space,” he says, “which, when I grew up and became an adult I later learned was the gay bar of the valley in the 70s. They’d all come here and rent rooms and it was quite the swanky little gay scene in its heyday.”

By reviving and choosing to keep the queer history of their past space alive with open arms, the relic of the unofficial gay bar that once united men of all walks, now unites a greater mix of international guests, but still draws a swanky queer clientele as we hurtle even faster into a queer future.

Giving Back

Apart from strict environmentally conscious standards, material sourcing from local companies for room embellishments and local organic food for their restaurant, the hotel puts on yearly block party fundraisers for the local community. This spring will bring music, bites, brews, and wines all benefiting the East Valley Family YMCA on April 15th, and on April 22nd, the hotel will host its first ‘glamp out’ to benefit Brave Trails, a non-profit leadership summer camp for LGBTQ youth.

“A lot of boutique and independent hotels that are gay owned are doing more and more things to give back to the gay community,” James says, “we wanted to sponsor Brave Trails. The kids who attend the camp are coming out with these incredible stories. Many of them learn how to start the first LGBTQ clubs at their schools in places like Kansas and Oklahoma that don’t naturally embrace them.”

Scott tells me, “when I was young there were no gay examples. No gay senators, doctors, lawyers, Olympians. When I was young being gay meant that everyone just ran to a gay city and was gay and that meant going to the bars and parades because there weren’t a lot of mentors out there. This is why we are really interested in Brave Trails, because they are filling that void.”

“The hotel has been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Scott says as James nods alongside in agreement, “even just being in front of our employees as gay employers is important, especially today, it lets them know you can be diverse and successful and respected and that an entire community will still come to something you’ve made.”

‘Frozen’ Writer Responds to Fan Theory that Elsa is Gay

In 2016, Frozen fans launched #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, a social media campaign that garnered significant media attention, even drawing comment from some of its stars. Jennifer Lee, the writer and co-director behind the Disney hit, spoke with HuffPost this week, and the site asked if there was potential for Elsa to indeed get a GF in the sequel.

“I love everything people are saying [and] people are thinking about with our film―that it’s creating dialogue, that Elsa is this wonderful character that speaks to so many people,” Lee said. “It means the world to us that we’re part of these conversations.”

“Where we’re going with it, we have tons of conversations about it, and we’re really conscientious about these things,” Lee continued, “For me … Elsa’s every day telling me where she needs to go, and she’ll continue to tell us. I always write from character-out, and where Elsa is and what Elsa’s doing in her life, she’s telling me every day. We’ll see where we go.”

The social media campaign started after fans started speculating that the film’s hit song “Let It Go” was a coming out anthem. The animated film’s star Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, told PrideSource that she was “really happy” her character ignited this conversation.

“Maybe at first I was a little surprised because it’s Disney, but I can say that I’m excited that the conversation is happening.” Menzel said, “I can’t promise anybody that that’s what’s gonna happen… But deep down am I really happy that it’s causing people to talk about it and have these kinds of conversations? Yeah, I am.”

The Tony-winning Broadway star compared the fan reactions to her time on Rent, playing a bisexual character in a same-sex relationship.

“I’d get all these amazing letters from young kids struggling with their sexual orientation and who they were and how they wanted to come out, and it’s continued to be like that, really, with Wicked and Frozen, with Elsa,” she said.“There are always these characters who are literally trying to come out of the closet―they’re hiding something within them that they’re afraid to let people see, and then finally they embrace it and change the world around them.”

Menzel and Kristen Bell, who voices Anna in Frozen, sat down for an interview with YouTuber Tyler Oakley, and when prodded on the subject, Bell said, “Whatever Elsa wants to do is up to her, and it’s up to us to support her.I cannot confirm or deny I think in Frozen 1 she was young, so she’s still figuring stuff out.”

Unfortunately, there’s still no real word on what Elsa’s storyline will be like in Frozen 2. Disney hasn’t been very inclusive of the LGBTQ community in the past. Last year, the studio promised an “exclusively gay moment” in the live-action Beauty & The Beast remakewhich fell short, as the film only showed LeFou dancing with another male character. There was also speculation in 2016 about an alleged lesbian couple featured for an ephemeral moment in a Finding Dory trailer, but the couple was not featured in the film. When asked about the couple, the film’s director said, “They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.”

The cop-out answers from Disney and their filmmakers are getting tired, and quite frankly insulting. It’s high time the studio featured a same-sex couple or a character who doesn’t identify as straight. They have a huge opportunity with Elsa, an adult protagonist whose sexuality has yet to be defined, as she wasn’t given a love story in the first film. Hopefully Frozen 2 will be different.

Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner Is Creating Queer Music That Embraces Queer Liberation and Hooking Up

If you’ve ever been to a gay bar anywhere in the world, it’s likely you’ve spent a sweaty, energetic night dancing tirelessly to Fischerspooner. The duo made up of musician Warren Fischer and vocalist-performance artist Casey Spooner – saw their brand of filthy, synth-driven electronica bleed into mainstream consciousness back in the early 2000s; since then they’ve sporadically released albums, the latest of which – Sir – took almost five years to create.

“I very specifically knew I wanted to create a record filled with queer narratives,” says Spooner, who speaks to INTO over the phone after a long day of exploring Paris, his new home city. He sounds invigorated, optimistic, and passionate about the “aggressively gay” new record.

“I was in a very happy, long-term open relationship when we started writing; I was having lots of different emotional and sexual experiences, lots of different kinds of friendships,” explains Spooner of the album’s early creation process. “I felt like I had found a non-heteronormative ‘happily ever after.’”

Driven by a desire to soundtrack these stories, the duo began working on a series of songs which were later thrown out when R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who was Spooner’s first lover back in the 1980s and remained a friend, was enlisted as the album’s executive producer.

“He came in to work on one last song – it was a very difficult piece of music, but he found a great way to attack it,” recalls Spooner. “Then, he would come in every so often and give me notes; eventually, he started making big changes. He really wanted me to change my vocal style. He felt like I was too subdued and that I should be expressive, so he pushed me on a couple of songs and later proceeded to throw out half the record.

“He didn’t want any credit either – he just saw it as doing a favor for a friend.”

Eighteen months of work were then essentially scrapped; songs were rewritten, re-recorded, and started from scratch. Fresh faces were recruited, too, most notably wunderkind producer and Beyoncé collaborator BOOTS. Spooner credits the enigmatic talent with bringing a pop sensibility most evident on the synth-driven lead single “Have Fun Tonight,” an ode to open relationships which unfolds around an earworm refrain: “We come sweetly together.”

“I had been spending a lot of time on Fire Island and gaining an appreciation for more classic gay pop songs and those dance ballads where there’s kind of an innate sadness,” says Spooner of the track’s sonic references. “I actually specifically wanted to write a queer version of Ariana Grande’s “Into You” because I love that song so much; a fusion of that and Sylvester’s ‘I Need Somebody To Love Tonight.’

The track lingers on the topic of queer sex, one which recurs throughout the album. “I really just felt like I was living through a sexual revolution of sorts,” says Spooner, referring to the ways in which apps, new technology, and scientific breakthroughs have all worked to partially destigmatize queer sex. “There was the dawn of PrEP too – all these things were happening, and people were having more access to information about sex, pornography, and ways to communicate.”

Sex is written heavily across the album cover too, which sees the artist reclined with his tongue suggestively outstretched. Incidentally, Spooner’s own aesthetic now mirrors that of the iconic sexy, muscle-bound hunks whose hyper-masculinity was always tinged with a lick of queerness – think Tom of Finland goes to Fire Island. This was accidental – he had been cast in a play which required the mustache and the chiseled Adonis body – but fit perfectly into the visual world he was looking to create for the album, one which specifically nods to a “golden age of homosexuality.”

Visuals are particularly important to performance artist Spooner, whose aim is to film a video for every song on the album. “I always have very specific visual ideas,” he explains, discussing a recently-lensed video for “Oh Rio” which fuses the homoerotic photography of Alair Gomes with Dirk Bogarde’s famous “melting” scene in The Death of Venice.

A series of other music videos are currently in the works, as is an upcoming exhibition in Aachen, Germany, which will display five years of photoshoots taken while Sir was being written and recorded.

“I just love creating images,” he says, stating his ongoing love for the art world and his ongoing feelings of being an outsider in the music industry. “I really just turn to the distribution and marketing system once I’ve created enough work; I never really felt like I ‘found my place’ in the music industry. The art world is where I feel the most free, comfortable, and intellectually stimulated.”

In this sense, music is just another medium, but it’s one which Fischerspooner has continuously embraced and used to push boundaries. There’s something inherently political about creating such a sex-positive album, especially in the context of a world increasingly viewing non-normative identities – particularly those of trans people and QPoC – through a lens of hostility.

This is not lost on Spooner. In fact, he cites “political noise, anxiety, stress – just the general horror of America right now” as a key catalyst for his spontaneous relocation from New York to Paris. “I was meant to be here for two days but skipped my flight because I didn’t want to spend winter in New York. I felt safe. It’s very difficult to be an American in America right now; it actually started to dawn on me that I could probably be a better American with a clearer perspective and a clearer focus on the facts if I stayed outside of the country.”

Although the move was entirely accidental, Spooner landed on his feet: Europe quickly fell in love with him and his distinctive style, particularly the fashion industry. “I actually met Violet Chachki in Milan. We had never met before, but we really hit it off. Suddenly we were being invited to everything, getting dressed by designers, and doing fittings; this whole ‘fashion thing’ just took off in the last month.”

He says that an added perk of travel comes in the form of sexual adventures; like many of us, Spooner regularly uses dating apps to facilitate new connections both intimate and creative.

One track – the pulsing, mid-tempo “TopBrazil” – tells the story of a particularly shitty hookup in Italy. The previous night had been spent with “a beautiful, amazing Roman college student We had this fantastic, super versatile, flip-fucking fantasy night! But then I wanted to do it again: I was greedy, thirsty, hungry, so I went to meet this guy whose name was ‘TopBrazil,’ and it was a disaster! You’ve got that crazy, compulsive need to get off, so you end up having an awkward, not ideal sexual experience with someone just because you put yourself in a stupid situation.”

Despite this misstep, Spooner describes dating apps as one of many tools at our disposal to “make a great queer liberation.” In context, this soundbite comes just after a thoughtful critique on assimilation: “You’re raised to want acceptance, to want families, companionship; something more than just sex, drugs, and a hot body. But there’s not a lot of guidance for us, and I think that’s because we lost a generation to AIDs. There weren’t a lot of older men showing me how to have an open relationship or how to have a family because they all died.”

He continues by highlighting that heterosexuality is inherently flawed and that instead of trying to emulate “straight” values, we should be working to try and build our own queer families. “Don’t get me wrong, I want the civil rights but I don’t want the morality of it. I want the same protections, the same power, but I don’t need the social acceptance that comes with that dead American dream.”

This message of queer liberation permeates an album custom-built for the one place Spooner – and countless LGBTQ people worldwide – has always felt safe: the dance floor.

Soundscapes range from dark, industrial synths to bright, bouncy pop tracks rooted in euphoric melodies; Spooner’s emotive vocals dip and soar, often complemented by guest singers including Holly Miranda and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek. The accompanying visuals – at least the ones we’ve seen so far – are equally queer and often brilliantly filthy: expect various subversions of hyper-masculinity and a lot of men in jockstraps, some of which Spooner recruits online.

Not only is Sir a queer mission statement, it’s also been a handy tool to make his online cruising easier.

“All of a sudden these hot guys are sliding into my DMs,” Spooner laughs as the conversation comes to a close. “One was asking me what I do because I was saying: ‘I love my job today!’ So I responded: ‘I’m a sexual warrior for the queer liberation front.’ I like that. I think that’s a pretty good job title – don’t you?!”

LGBTQ Rights Scores Major Victory in Hawaii ‘Religious Freedom’ Case

A Hawaii appeals court has upheld a prior ruling claiming a lesbian couple was unlawfully discriminated against when a B owner turned them away due to her religious beliefs.

In 2007, Aloha Bed & Breakfast Owner Phyllis Young refused a room to Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a lesbian couple from California in town visiting a friend giving birth. Young, who is Catholic, claimed that allowing them to share a single bed would amount to endorsing a relationship condemned by her faith.

She further referred to same-sex behavior as “detestable” and claimed LGBTQ people “defile our land.”

Cervelli and Bufford filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which found that the couple had a right to sue Young in court. That lawsuit was originally filed in 2011, and a lower court judge ruled in favor of the couple two years later. The decision would later be appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

The state court claimed in a Monday ruling that refusing services to same-sex couples in the name of faith is prohibited by the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

“Discrimination in public accommodations results in ‘stigmatizing injury’ that ‘deprives persons of their dignity’ and injures their ‘sense of self-worth and personal integrity,’” the court said in a written opinion, adding that the law is “narrowly tailored to achieve Hawaii’s compelling interest in prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.”

Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ advocacy group which represented the couple in court, claimed the verdict was a major victory for queer and trans rights.

“The court today affirmed that there is no excuse for discrimination,” Senior Attorney Peter Renn said in a statement. “Hawaii law is crystal clear: If you operate a business, you are open to all. […] The court saw this case for what it was and rightly refused to allow the business owner to use religion as a fig leaf for discrimination.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing legal firm which argued Young’s case, has not responded to requests for comment from media.

The outcome of the Hawaii ruling may, however, be impacted by another ADF case over “religious liberty.” The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in December. Jack Phillips, a Christian baker in Lakewood, Color., denied to bake a cake for a gay wedding due to his “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The nation’s highest bench is set to issue its final ruling in June, and a number of similar cases across the U.S. have been met with divided outcomes.

In February, a California judge ruled in favor of a Christian cakeshop owner who turned away a lesbian couple, while the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a Mississippi law permitting sweeping discrimination against LGBTQ people to stand in a June 2017 ruling.

The ADF has not indicated whether it plans to appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

But while next steps are determined, the lesbian couple at the center of the case believes the verdict from the Intermediate Court sends an important message.

“We thought the days when business owners would say, ‘we’re open to the public but not to you,’ was a thing of the past,” Bufford said in a press release. “You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does.”

Photo via Getty Images/ilbusca

Will Gina Rodriguez’s New Movie Be a Gay Rom-Com?

Hot off the success of Annihilation, Gina Rodriguez has landed her next big project. The actress is set to star in a brand-new romantic comedy called Someone Great. She’ll serve as a producer in addition to taking the lead role. The question is: How gay will it be?

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the creator of MTV’s short-lived comedySweet/Vicious,will direct the film for Netflix, her feature debut. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie “centers on a woman who, after a heart-wrenching break-up, decides to seek adventure in New York City with her two best friends before she moves across the country for her dream job,” and is thematically about “ loss, growing up and, above all, the everlasting bond of female friendships.”

Rodriguez recently played a soft-butch lesbian in Annihilation, and has publicly remarked that her sexuality is fluid. She has pushed for same-sex love interests for her characters in the past, proclaiming she wants to play a love interest opposite out bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz(“I want to play her love interest so bad,” Rodriguez told BUST last year) as well as her Annihilation co-starTessa Thompson.

So, we know Rodriguez wants to play queer on-screen. Plus, Sweet/Vicious had a bisexual character. Obviously we’re speculating here, but if Someone Great reaches its full gay potential, it could be the queer rom-com of our dreams.

There have been barely any mainstream lesbian romantic comedies, and none as good as the Piper Perabo and Lena Headey-starred Imagine Me & You, which was released over a decade ago. It’d be refreshing to see two A-List actresses star in a women-loving-women romantic comedy, a genre that needs a fresh rebooting, and I definitely wouldn’t hate if Gina Rodriguez steered that gay ship.

New Hampshire Could Become 21st State to Outlaw Discrimination Against Trans People

A historic bill in the New Hampshire legislature would prohibit bias against transgender people in employment and housing.

House Bill 1319 would make gender identity a protected class under the state’s existing nondiscrimination laws, which are already inclusive of sexual orientation, as well as religion and sex. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not offer nondiscrimination protections to the trans community.

Although similar legislation was tabled by the state House of Representatives last year, another bill will receive a full House vote after receiving a recommendation from the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

LGBTQ advocates commended legislators for allowing the bill to move forward.

“New Hampshire state lawmakers sent a clear message that nobody should have to live in fear of being fired from their job because of who they are and for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance,” said President of CEO of GLAAD Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.

“Every American should have the opportunity to work hard, provide for themselves and their families, and achieve their part of the American dream.” added CEO of Freedom for All Americans Masen Davis in a press release. “The strong bipartisan support for the bill shows that more and more Americans understand the importance of defending equal opportunity for their transgender neighbors.”

To date, 15 legislatorsboth Republicans and Democratshave signed onto HB 1319.

Supporters, like primary bill sponsor Rep. Edward Butler, claim it’s necessary to prevent discrimination against the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“As a gay man, I understand how important this legislation will be to provide needed protections,” Butler said during a Feb. 21 public hearing held at Representatives Hall. “But also to say to our transgender citizens by the legislative body of this state in a very unambiguous way: you deserve to be seen, recognized, protected, and supported for who you are.”

As a National Center for Transgender Equality Spokesperson Jay Wu noted in an email to INTO, transgender people “face disproportionately high levels of discrimination and harassment” in municipalities across the United States.

In a 2017 report from NCTE, three in 10 respondents to a nationwide survey claimed they’d been fired or denied a promotion in the past year due to their gender identity. Nearly a quarter of the 28,000 people polled by the national advocacy group said they’d been evicted from their home or refused an apartment in the past year.

“We continue to lack explicit federal nondiscrimination protections for trans people, so it’s important for states to pass laws like this to ensure that trans people in those states can have equal opportunity in all areas of life,” Wu claimed.

But opponents of the bill voiced an oft-cited argument: that trans rights give a free pass to predators to target young girls.

“When you get in the shower and the locker room and you’re getting changedare my granddaughters going to be in there with transgender that have a package?” said Rep. Al Baldasaro during last week’s public hearing. “That’ll be in the showers or changing room, does this bill open that door?”

The myth that trans bathroom access is a slippery slope to abuse has been widely debunked. In the more than 200 municipalities with inclusive nondiscrimination protections, none have witnessed an outbreak in sexual assaults.

Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso personally addressed those concerns at the hearing, which was so packed it had to be moved to another meeting room.

“When I was a little boy, my father used to tell me stories,” Colarusso said, as originally reported by New Hampshire Public Radio. “Some were good, some were scary. And he told me the story about the boogeyman. That somebody would use this bill, specifically, to say ‘Oh, now I have license to go into a bathroom and dress up as a woman or whatever and molest somebody’that’s the boogeyman.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated his support for HB 1319. Should the bill become law, New Hampshire would become the 21st state to enact statewide nondiscrimination protections for trans people.

Photo via GettyImages/valentinrussanov

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Jinkx Monsoon Talks Drag, Overwatch and Her Love Of Gaming Culture

When it comes to gaming, Jinkx Monsoon doesn’t play games. While you probably know Jinkx as the crowned winner of season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when she’s not on tour, or in her Cool Mom videos, you can find her playing Overwatch or Breath of the Wild.

If you’ve only seen her on the show, it may come as a surprise that Monsoon is secretly a huge nerd, but it turns out she has a long history with video games. INTO spoke with Monsoon about her gaming influences, her desire for better gender representation, and much more.

Have you always been into video games? What’s your earliest video game-related memory?

I have been into video games for as long as I can remember. It started with me watching my dad play Mario on the Nintendo. We’re talking old school, first Nintendo console, with the little rectangle controllers. I also used to watch my aunt play games like The Little Mermaid and Darkwing Duck, and I would sit beside her and pretend to be Flounder, or Morgana, helping her along. So nerdy.

When the Super Nintendo was introduced, that’s when I really got hooked. The first game that I beat by myself, as a player and not a spectator, was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Other favorites include Harvest Moon and Super Mario RPG. These game series continued to be my favorite when the Nintendo 64 came out. On more than one occasion, I faked being sick so I could stay home and play Harvest Moon 64.

Is there a specific genre of video game that you always gravitate towards?

Anything where I get to have magic or superpowers. The most realistic game I got sucked into was Fallout 4, and I think that’s saying something.

In your Overwatch video with Nick Sahoyah, you off-handedly mention being harassed by aggressive gamer nerds from a young age. Is that something you had to deal with a lot growing up?

Well, when I was a kid, we didn’t have games you could play online with other live players. Well, they existed, but I didn’t play them. Video games were more of a private thing for me. They were an escape from being the chubby, effeminate, weird kid at school, and were often my way of closing myself off.

Nowadays, when I play Overwatch and I hear the things kids say to each other and call each other, I’m shocked. Little tiny voices calling each other horrible slurs and giggling about it. I can only imagine that these kids are similar to what I was as a child. Weird kids and outcasts who have trouble making connections in real life, so they play video games, where they can be top dog. It’s their way of being a jock. Maybe they act aggressive because they’re repeating the behavior that’s been done to them. Or maybe they’re just jerks. I dunno.

But as a kid, video games were the one thing I had in common with the straight, “normal” boys at school. So when I talked to the other boys at school, I kept it to video games and cartoons, not Greek mythology and crystals (which were my other obsessions.)

Has your relationship with gaming changed since you won Drag Race? Do you wish you had more time to play games?

I think I get just the right amount of time to play games, seeing as if I didn’t have such a busy career, I’d prolly just be playing games all day. Haha. Having a portable Nintendo Switch helps me get in some gaming on long flights and in hotel rooms.

Of course, I was addicted to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I played it until I had completed about 95% of everything you can possibly do in that game. (I’m a bit of a perfectionist.)

Is there a connection between drag and video games for you? Has your drag been influenced by gaming?

Yes and no. Yes, because whenever I play a game where you can customize your character, I always create a fierce, badass lady to play as. (I pretty much only play games that allow you to play as a female. For the most part, at least.) My avatars are always female and always a little drag queen inspired. I’ve had a few looks made for myself that are inspired by costumes from video games. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to cosplaying. Haha. At least one of my looks this year for RuPaul’s DragCon is inspired by Dragon Age: Inquisition.

But also, video games are a departure from my work life. There’s nothing better than coming home from months on tour and getting sucked into a new game. It’s like a vacation without having to go anywhere.

In her All Stars 3 reveal, Trixie jokes about coming home after a weekend of talking to teenagers as a queen and then playing games with more teenagers, “but it’s a different demographic, let me tell you.” Do you play games online? And if so, does it ever feel weird to be immediately surrounded by a different community of straight teenagers who might not know what drag is?

Well, the biggest way I stay away from this is that I don’t use a microphone when I play. I listen to the group chat (for team advantage) but I don’t contribute. If I did, I’d prolly just nag these kids about their ignorance, and no one wants to play video games with Mom.

Did you have any formative gaming characters growing up? Any dude characters you had crushes on or female characters you wanted to play as all the time? If so, did they have an impact as you grew up? For example, at the DragCon gaymer panel, some queens talked about how playing as female characters helped them explore gender at a young age.

I absolutely explored my gender through video games. Especially through The Sims. I would create rather mundane characters and scenarios that I felt were realistic, and let me play out, through an avatar, my inner female fantasies.

Of course I had some crushes. Link is my dream date, and let’s face it: Princess Peach is a style icon for me and many other drag queens.

Have you had any funny or noteworthy gaming usernames?

No. I’m a nerd. I name all my characters and user handles after Greek goddesses.

I saw that you posted an article I wrote (thank you, by the way) about non-binary gamers and character customization. Is there something you’d like to see more in video games in regards to customization?

I want to see WAY more representation of queer and gender non-conforming characters. Although, I think some games really try within the confines of our heteronormative culture. For instance, the Dragon Age series has always embraced same-sex relationships, as well as The Elder Scrolls games and the Fable franchise.

But we’re still working towards gender inclusivity. It’s an elusive subject for some gamers, but I’ve seen examples throughout my gaming history. Gender bending has already occurred in games like Metroid, and like with Princess Zelda, who appears as the mysterious Sheik. And guess what?! Gamers were fine with it!

They appreciate the nuance of the story and aren’t all that hung up on the non-conventional gender aspects. I think we need to give the audience more credit and trust that they can handle us pushing the envelope even further.

10 Reasons to Sign Up for the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride

Every year, thousands of cyclists unite to bike the epic journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. They’re all united with the same purpose: to raise millions of dollars for HIV-related health services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The event happens every year in June and, if you’re reading this, you’re in luck there’s still time to sign up!

If raising money for these organizations isn’t enough of a draw as is, here are ten more reasons to sign up for the AIDS/LifeCycle.

1. End Stigma

HIV stigma is still a reality for the millions around the world living with HIV. By participating in AIDS/LifeCycle, you can help start conversations about the virus in your communities, hopefully leading to some lessons about what is myth and what is reality when it comes to HIV.

2. Get to see California!

Sure, you’ve seen California inside the air-conditioned walls of a car, but you’ve never seen it like this before! On this bike trip, you’ll wind through wineries, bike through strawberry farms and pedal through quaint towns. There’s no better way to see the Golden State.

3. Have fun fundraising.

There’s still plenty of time to fundraise once you sign up. When you do, a Cycle Rep will be assigned to you and the both of you can fundraise fun ways to get your friends and loved ones involved in raising money. There are plenty of opportunities for socializing and fun during the process.

4. Get in some exercise!

No matter what size you want your body to be, AIDS/LifeCycle can definitely help you get back on the exercise bandwagon. And hey, you’ll be healthy just in time for summer!

5. You’ll be a hero to people living with HIV.

The money you raise will go directly to services helping people living with HIV. You may not realize it, but your fundraising efforts will directly impact the health of an HIV-positive person.

6. Lifetime bragging rights!

Not everyone has ridden 545 miles. But, if you participate, you’ll have a great icebreaker for when you first meet people.

7. Lots of laughter!

AIDS/LifeCycle is a serious event, but there’s plenty of laughter to be had. Friendships will form and you can also check out photos from the 5th day of the ride, also known as Red Dress Day, for evidence that riders know how to have a good time.

8. You’ll get lots of help along the way.

Biking might seem like a solitary activity, but you’ll have plenty of help and support along the way. During the day, there are four rest stops and a lunch stop. And, along the way, there’s dancing, cookies and an endless supply of Otter Pops! When you ride through Santa Barbara, prepare for residents to greet you with ice cream and shoulder rubs.

9. Lifetime friends.

Though the ride takes place in California, people from all over the United States and other countries participate in the annual race. Now’s not only the time to raise money for a good cause but to make lasting connections.

10. Up your Instagram game.

There’s never gonna be an opportunity for a great selfie like AIDS/LifeCycle. Tell your friends and followers that you care and do it against the backdrop of one of the California’s most beautiful routes.

*****Sign up for ALC here*****

Demi Lovato Brings Parkland Survivors on Stage on Opening Night of Her ‘Tell Me You Love Me’ Tour

Demi Lovato has always been vocal when it comes to politics, but last night she flexed her activist muscle in the sweetest way. The pop star brought survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which tore through Parkland, Fla. earlier this month, on stage at her “Tell Me You Love Me” Tour.

Many of the survivors have been extremely outspoken since the massacre, taking to social media to address the issue of gun violence. Lovato took notice of these teenagers almost immediately following the shooting. After survivor and activist Emma González made a fiery speech about gun control, Lovato tweeted, “Does anyone know how to get in touch with Emma González?”

The singer and activist also spoke to CBS This Morning about the school shooting, offering, “Seeing something that disturbing is just painful to watch andmy heart goes out to them.”

The tour opened last night in San Diego. Lovato welcomed the survivors with a heartfelt intro: “On February 14, one of the worst mass shootings in American history took place. These students were in school that day. Please welcome them to the stage.” She told the crowd, “It has nothing to do with politics. It’s about healing. It was how can we help these students heal from what they’ve been through? These students that came here today and shared their stories are so incredibly brave and courageous and they really are warriors in my eyes.”

In the past, Lovato has advocated for many social issues. Aside from being a loud and proud member of the LGBTQ community, the bisexual singer has also been vocal about her struggles with mental health, and even met with legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss comprehensive health reform in 2015.

Demi Lovato consistently uses her platform for good, standing up for marginalized voices and those who have been silenced every chance she gets. Last night was just the most recent show of the pop star’s gigantic heart, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw other similar demonstrations on the “Tell Me You Love Me” Tour, which stretches worldwide, all the way through late June. Bisexual R artist Kehlani also joins Lovato on tour, as does DJ Khaled.

Images via Getty

In Historic Moment, First Transgender Recruit Joins U.S. Armed Forces

The first transgender person has been allowed to openly enlist in the armed forces after a ban on trans military service was lifted on Jan. 1, according to the Pentagon.

Army Maj. David Eastburn has confirmed the first transgender recruit completed his physical, medical, and psychological exams and signed a contract Friday confirming his enlistment. As Eastburn told INTO over the phone last month, the process of enlisting in the military typically takes between 30 and 90 days to complete.

Eastburn, however, did not state the individual’s name or how many transgender troops have sought enlistment in the two months since the ban was lifted.

The news comes days after Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis reportedly delivered his recommendations on the future of trans military service to President Donald Trump, who announced last year that he would be blocking transgender troops from joining the armed forces.

In a series of July 2017 tweets, Trump claimed the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption” caused by allowing trans people to serve.

The president signed a directive putting that proposal into effect a month later.

That policy, though, would be blocked by a series of court decisions which held that banning trans people from the armed forces violated the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that the federal government shall not deny any of its citizens “the equal protection of the laws.”

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia pointed out in a December ruling, transgender people are “already serving openly in the military.” As many as 15,500 trans troops are currently serving in some capacity, although estimates vary widely.

The recent announcement that a transgender recruit has successfully enlisted is yet another strike against the president’s assertion trans people would be burdensome for the military.

A RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon in 2016 showed trans inclusion would have a “minimal impact” on troop readiness and health care costs. Providing medical care for transgender troops would increase the military’s overall budget “between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually,” or less than one percent of total expenditures.

Even if Trump drops his embattled transgender ban, trans troops are likely to continue to face obstacles in joining the armed forces.

As INTO previously reported, the military’s requirement that transgender people be “stable in their preferred gender for 18 months” prior to enlistment may prevent many individuals from seeking recruitment. A 2011 survey from the National Center for Trans Equality found that 39 percent of trans people hadn’t medically transitioned and 67 percent hadn’t surgically transitioned.

Many respondentsincluding 72 percent of trans menclaimed they didn’t plan to surgically transition at all, whether due to the high costs of doing so or unrelated other reasons.

The president has yet to respond to the Pentagon’s announcement on Twitter.

Photo viaNazir Azhari Bin Mohd Anis/EyeEm