The Japanese Queer Festival You Need To Know About

Osaka may be a city best known for its delicious street food, neon-lit entertainment districts, and historic castle, but there’s also a charismatic queer scene bubbling up in clubs like EXPLOSION, Grand Slam, and G Physique. Better still, lesbian bars like JAKE and Marble, as well as club nights like Lady Killer, are on hand to offer an antidote to the men-only clubs which are still depressingly commonplace in queer districts worldwide. In these various venues, locals and tourists alike can expect to find friendly, like-minded club-goers, hilarious drag queens, and tipsy karaoke which often extends into the early hours of the morning.

This culture is, however, not restricted solely to bars and clubs; the Kansai Queer Film Festival is just one pioneering event working to highlight on-screen examples of LGBTQ stories across the globe. 2017 sees the festival enter its 11th year.

The festival comprises a number of screenings, all of which are spread across five non-consecutive days in three different venues across Kyoto and Osaka. Last weekend, the action officially kicked off in Osaka, where two queer community centers screened seven movies to an enraptured audience of culture junkies. In a statement on the official website, the organizers highlighted their desire to curate a program which “showcases films from around the world, including a special program highlighting queer, feminist, and sex-positive themes.” Judging by the movies shown so far, it’s fair to say they have succeeded.

It’s no secret that LGBTQ art often disproportionately homes in on Western culture, and white, gay male protagonists in particular. The festival’s eclectic schedule breaks with this convention by featuring a range of options which are genuinely queer as opposed to merely gay. Characters and storylines develop in handfuls of usually ignored countries worldwide, whereas themes and topics cover everything from cruising and sexual assistance for disabled people, to discrimination against queer parents and even the life and times of Marsha P Johnson, the often-forgotten rebel who was famously the first to fight back in the infamous Stonewall riots.

Refreshingly, the breadth of the movies on offer gives us a glimpse into a truly diverse spectrum of queer experiences; the kinds which are usually either erased, tokenized or simplified by mainstream media.

Alongside portrayals of BDSM and brilliantly unapologetic queer sex scenes, there are also touching love stories such as Sisterhood, an emotive, award-winning movie directed by Tracy Choi. One of the most poignant features on the schedule, Sisterhood follows the development of a young relationship between two women, recounted through nostalgic glimpses of the past. The story is complex, rooted in hope, tragedy, and a series of brilliantly nuanced queer protagonists. When coupled with beautiful cinematography, the result is an excellent example of cinema’s potential to humanize the kind of experiences often lived out but rarely seen on-screen.

Elsewhere on the schedule, When We Are Together We Can Be Everywhere is an example of porn done well. It’s fair to say that most of us are probably so used to tacky clichés, hugely over-dramatized orgasms, and, um, weird salad scenes that we forget porn can be a genuine artistic medium. Director Marit Östberg seeks to remind us of this potential with a documentary that homes in on the sheer beauty that can come of two (or, in many cases, more than two) bodies fucking. There’s no sense of voyeurism; instead, the film purely celebrates a variety of kinks, fetishes, and fantasies without judgement.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a queer festival without some depiction of a gay sauna.Spa Nightticks this box in an extremely impressive fashion, moving beyond tired stereotypes by narrating the story of a young, shy teenager in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. The story of forbidden love is one which is important to highlight – thehandkerchief codesand “tearoom trade” are a crucial part of queer history. This movie illuminates the depressing fact that these stolen romances are still a reality for those not fortunate enough to be born to accepting parents, which is precisely why this story of queer sexual discovery will undoubtedly resonate with audiences worldwide.

As opposed to just showing the features, the festival also offers a series of online educational tools and abreakdown of terminologywhich can be translated loosely into English. This is necessary – even words like “cisgender” can still seem unnecessarily complex so, by breaking down these linguistic barriers, the organizers have assured a clarity in communication which makes this event as perfect for queer people as it is for those simply wanting to learn and understand more. Extensive information on subtitles is provided as well as a sign language interpreter – this rare attention to detail highlights a true desire to create an event which is accessible to all.

In every country worldwide, this dedication to showcasing queer art and breaking down stigma is still necessary. In Japan, however, it seems particularly important. On paper, the country isrelatively progressive– particularly when compared to the 71 countries across the globe which still persecute queerness by law. Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1880, and trans people are relatively well-protected in the sense that they have the option to match their legal gender with their true gender identity without any huge obstructions.

Despitesome progress, there is still reluctance to discuss queer rights on any large-scale political forum, meaning that events like the Kansai Queer Film Festival are crucial. From the extensive explanations of queerness on the official website to the conversations promoted in the community centers which act as its venues, every effort is needed to both support and create more exemplary events.

Not only does the festival raise awareness and create visibility, but it also seeks to educate and spark discussion by bringing hidden stories to the big screen.

Political Scandal Disguised in Ultra Lux

These days it seems like I wake up each morning with hopes that Robert Mueller has come closer to finishing up his investigation into the possible corruption, collusion, and overall shadiness of the president and his administrationbut after glancing at my news alerts, I typically bury my face in my pillow (and at times scream) because it seems like it’s never ending.

There’s been so much comparison to “Watergate” with what’s currently happening that one can only truly hope that whatever the outcome is in the end, we can finally move on from it and get our country back on the right path, whatever path that may be.

When I was booking a trip to Washington, D.C., I was checking out hotels and came acrossThe Watergate Hotel. At first, I questioned myself because I was pretty sure that the hotel was no longer operating under that name, or at all really, and it turned out that I was partially right.

The hotel had undergone several names and transitions since the 1972 scandal had taken place inside and within the Watergate Complex, but had just reopened a year ago after a new owner spent a fortune renovating the place and returning its original name to it.

A brief history lesson for those who may not be totally tuned into 1972 politics, fromHistory.com:

The Watergate scandal began early in the morning of June 17, 1972, when several burglars were arrested in the office of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate complex of buildings in Washington, D.C. This was no ordinary robbery: The prowlers were connected to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, and they had been caught wiretapping phones and stealing documents.

Nixon took aggressive steps to cover up the crime afterwards, and in August 1974, after his role in the conspiracy was revealed, Nixon resigned. The Watergate scandal changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leaders and think more critically about the presidency.

From the outside, the hotel and surrounding buildings have not changed, they still have the same iconic look they always had, but once inside, it was hard not to go into stimulation overload. My suite wasn’t fully ready upon my arrival so I was escorted to the library, an elevated glass room overlooking the hotel’s signature restaurant and the lobby.

The furniture was retro mod with vibrant pops of color. Everything was very streamlined and strategically placed, making it impossible for me not to start taking pics and posting them. When it was time to head up to my suite, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I was about to experience upon stepping inside.

My one-bedroom suite had a separate sitting room with this magnificent brown leather couch – it was just so simple and pretty. The designer didn’t fill the space with furniture, but instead took the time to ensure that each of the limited pieces of furniture were all incredibly sexy stars of the show, making the room feel like an interactive museum, interactive because there was no way I wasn’t going to use and touch every piece in there.

Through the doorway, the bedroom continued with the simplistic modern theme and the wraparound balcony with views of Georgetown to the right and the Mall to the left, with the Potomac River acting as the centerpiece.

The river area directly in view served as a helicopter highway, and the low-flying copters were seriously fun to see as they passed by every now and then. I was told that even the presidential helicopters along with military escorts would pass by, and I was hoping to see them, even though I wasn’t particularly interested in who would be inside.

The bathroom within the suite was beautiful and black and had one of my favorite hotel bathroom features of all time – a bath within an enclosed shower. There’s just something about being able to slip out of a bath, directly into a shower to rinse off. The hotel designer had really gone out of their way to not overlook any detail. I mean, there were even pencils that had “stolen from The Watergate Hotel,” written on them. One night, I swore I even heard mumblings of a conversation coming from my telephone, but that could have been the champagne talking

Speaking of drinks, the Top of the Gate, their exclusive rooftop bar was the place to be, and thankfully I managed to snag a last minute reservation (it might have helped that I was going to write about it, just saying). The place was packed by 8pm and the drinks were flowing all night. They serve some pretty awesome thin-crust pizza up there, and since it’s thin crust, it’s guilt free and totally healthyat least that’s what I tell myself.

Downstairs, in the lobby, The Next Whisky Bar is the centerpiece upon walking into the hotel. Tucked away behind a wall of whisky, literally over 2,000 custom whisky bottles made just for the hotel, is this beautiful bar with the most complex whisky menu I’ve ever seen. Naturally, I had to taste as many rare whiskeys as possible during my stay – for research purposes, obviously.

And their signature restaurant, Kingbird, played host to my final hours at The Watergate, as I had Sunday brunch there. Keeping with the theme of the hotel, the menu was limited but was made up of all incredible options. Plus, the bottomless mimosas for $17 were a steal (Watergate reference, totally not on purpose) for an upscale brunch.

This beautifully modern hotel provided me an opportunity to take a step back in time with its nods to history and what took place there, without being so obvious about it. The clues were everywhere and finding them, and digging deeper, uncovered so many unique touches to the décor and atmosphere that are probably often overlooked.

It was nice to be able to step away from our current political climate (and scandals, depending on who you ask), and immerse myself within a part of our past that really changed the office of the presidency forever (except until now, because this current guy obviously hasn’t read a history book).

The Insider’s Guide to Palm Springs

Often described (by me) as the most glamorous desert in the world, Palm Springs and I have a sorted past, most because I grew up in Southern California and it’s always been super accessible. Going there as a kid with my family, it wasn’t always my favorite place because we would visit during the summer months and my parents would force us go sightseeing on tours that I wasn’t particularly keen on as a kid. As an adult though, after figuring out there’s more to it than what I had been exposed to as a child, I’ve come to really love the area (outside of the splotches of ultra-right conservatives in the era of mango president, that often flood the area).

Now also remember that Greater Palm Springs is made up of nine cities, including Palm Springs, so don’t get thrown off when mapping out what to do because everything is relatively close to one another. All nine of the cities are worth exploring, but some have a bit more than others. Obviously Palm Springs itself with it’s mid-century modern architecture and streets lined with restaurants and boutique shops will keep you captivated, but spread out a bit and have a look at some other parts that make up the area. If you are into golf or just hanging in fancy golf clubs, La Quinta is the city to be. There’s also an abundance of art and cultureand shopping! Rancho Mirage is another golfer’s paradise and was once home to famous folks like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. And in the heart of the Coachella Valley is Cathedral City, which has more of an outdoor vibe with epic hiking trails as well as shopping – although here you will find everything from trendy to vintage collectibles.

What To See

August is National Mountain Climbing Month. Let’s go to the top. #ClimbToTheTop #PalmSpringsAerialTramway

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For a marvelous view of the desert, take a 10-minute trip up the mountain on the world’s largest rotatingtrams. Once up top, take some killer panoramic photos and then head for a guided nature walk or hike a trail. It can get cold up there (I’ve played in the snow many times up there and then laid by the pool the same day), so dress appropriately. Back down where it can be warmer, get in your rental and just drive through the old neighborhoods. For architecture buffs or for anyone who appreciates vintage design, it’s a great way to see some really fun houses from the outside. If you want to step inside one of the houses, drive to the “House of Tomorrow,” which is a prime example of mid-century modern architecture. The home used to belong to Elvis Presley, and his bizarre décor style can be seen within. Think leopard print walls and pink, lots of pink.

ThePalm Spring Art Museum– Architecture and Design Center is also worth spending some time inside for a more in-depth overview of the area’s architecture and design. Additionally, the museum itself has a renowned collection of some of the world’s best art. Smaller galleries worth stopping by for some unique finds includeElena Bulatova Fine ArtandMichael Weems Collection, which is one of my all-time favorites because of the tiny backroom where he keeps his extra naughty collection.Stewart Gallerieshas a bit of everything, including paintings, drawings, antiques, collectible as well as rare finds, whileSavage Art Galleryfeatures more local artists in a comfortable and unpretentious atmosphere.

Where To Eat

The food scene here is endless and ranges from the casual brunch to reservation required. For the ultimate in views and unbelievable cliff-side dining,The Edge Steakhouseat The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage presents unreal prime steak, seafood, and wine experiences, all highlighted by the spectacular views from its dramatic cliff-side setting.Workshop Kitchen + Barhas been praised as much for its approachable seasonal California cuisine menu as for its high design.

The charming and hard to findFarmrestaurant features a French countryside aesthetic that carries over to the menu. French press coffee, croque madames and monsieurs, mimosas, and more are what make this a favorite spot for early eats. Tiny but fun, located in the Uptown Design District,Bootlegger Tikiis an all-out tiki experience with everything from sweet, fruity, and heavily poured boozy cocktails, to light fixtures resembling blowfish and racy aloha art, which can be fun to pose next to for an Instagram. The high-end, chic rustic ItalianAppetito Deliis known for making most everything that can be, in-house, such as pasta, cheeses, sauces, and more. There’s a full bar, which means one thing: Negronis.Matchboxshould be on the pizza radar whileGyoro Gyorois on the sushi watch.Sherman’sis an old school deli, andWally’s Desert Turtleis an old school supper club, both of which provide a bit of nostalgia.

Where I’ve Stayed

“Winter” 😉 #gaypalmsprings

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Santiago Resort– So let’s start out with the obvious. This isn’t your typical clothing-optional gay men’s resort – not that there’s anything wrong with those, but it’s definitely a few levels above from what we’ve come to expect. I typically wouldn’t dare take my clothes off in public, let alone around a pool, but I came here at a time when I was in my more adventurous mode, and I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms are updated and comfortable and the staff is really considerate. It was actually a lot more relaxing and mellow than expected, and wellonce I was comfortable, it was quite liberating.

Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage– Those who know me, know I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that this place is one of my favorites in the Greater Palm Springs. It’s near enough to downtown but also just far enough away, so it provides a bit of an escape. Also, it’s near where my beloved President Obama and his family were rumored to be purchasing a home. True or not, he does vacation nearby, so that automatically makes it special. The hotel itself is spread out on a lovely Cliffside and has in recent years, undergone a renovation. A lot of the rooms on the first level have access to private-ish fire pits, so it’s kind of great to pour a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset with the warmth of the fire.

Beat the Palm Springs desert heat by taking a dip! 🏊 ☀️ (PC: @autographhotels)

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Triada Palm Springs– On the boutique scale of hotels, this is one of the best. Located close to downtown, this 56-room modern Mediterranean retreat is made up of three separate wings. First opened in 1920’s, there’s a great history to the property, which now comes with a more updated presence. There are two very cute sparkling pools on property and some of the accommodations have full-size kitchens, making it convenient for longer stays or for those of us who simply enjoy having a fridge full of champagne at all times (me). It’s located in the Movie Colony District of the city, and right next door is their sister hotel,Movie Colony Hotel, which is currently undergoing a full-transformation and will be making its debut in the near future.

It’s always a beautiful day in Palm Springs. 💚 R/ps

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The Riviera– I most recently visited this property to check out their renovated public spaces and re-imagined restaurants. I was here over a holiday weekend, so the place was packed. If you are into the big pool party scene with a DJ, this place has two of them. The lobby also had a party scene one evening when we came back from a night out, so it was really nice to just continue the party inside the hotel. The rooms and overall customer service are in need of some upgrades, but overall, if you’re into boozing by the pool, it’s a fun time (just avoid talking politics with guests – another story for another time).

Meet the Queer Magazine That’s Just Being “Honest”

To look at the cover of the first twelve issues of Elska Magazine is to get a kaleidoscopic glimpse at queer men from around the globe.

A bespectacled young man in a tee with a loud floral print stares at us while blurred Welsh flags hang in the background. A tattooed guy in just his swim shorts is framed by windows that look out onto the Toronto skyline. A mustachioed man in just a white t-shirt, jeans, and a backwards cap stands in the middle of a busy cross street in Taipei. Each cover suggests the plurality inherent in the most utopian ideas of what a global queer community can look like.

Celebrating two years this month, Elska magazine is kind of travelogue for the Instagram age. It was founded and is run by Liam Campbell, whose previous job as a flight attendant is what first gave him the idea for what Elska has become.

“I had this idea to make a book,” he told INTO. “To travel somewhere, shoot a bunch of guys in the country and then write a book. You know, with some stories, but just a lot of pictures of the local people. Then, I thought, if I do a book that’s kind of like a one-time thing. But if I call it a magazine I could do lots of thema new one every couple of months.”

With twelve issues under his belt and with his magazine stocked in over 50 shops around the world, Campbell has found there’s a clear interest in these roving looks at men. Browsing through any issue of Elska, whether the one in Reykjavik, which Campbell loves, or the one in Providence, where he’s now based out of, is to get a glimpse of the “average men” that you are a click away on any given dating app; the ones you’d meet at a local coffee spot or find yourself catching late night at a gay bar.

And while some of the spreads skirt the line of propriety, suggesting and creating a vibrant queer intimacy, there’s no hard and fast rule about nudity or provocation. It all depends on the comfort level of those Campbell collaborates with. He recruits subjects and writers on the spot, often using social media to arrange photo shoots. He’s not looking for models. His motto is, “Anybody is welcome to take part. Whoever wants to.”
“You wear what you want. We shoot outside, inside, whatever you’d like. We can do nudity. But it’s up to you!” he tells the men who, as he recounts, have all too generously donated their time and bodies to Elska’s pages.

The results, just like the types of guys he’s met these past two years, have varied from city to city. Thus, while those in Istanbul were all too comfortable dropping trouin contrast, surprisingly, to those in BerlinCampbell found the men in Israel, from an upcoming issue set in one of its cities, to be the horniest he’d met yet.

There’s a sense of discovery in the mag’s pages that mirrors Campbell’s own journey in making each issue. That’s due not just to the sensuous photo spreads that make up the glossy mag, but to the casual writings that litter its pages.

“Most of these guys aren’t experienced with writing,” he admits. But he’s found that their raw, near-unedited voices are what make each issue feel so authentic.

“Some are brilliant writers and have been super creative. And others are a little bit boring. But I do like this documentary aspect to it” even if he’s sure it might be “off-putting for a casual reader who picks it up off the shelf and happens to flip to an article that’s kind of dull. But once you understand what the concept is you just realize it’s about real people that you might meet and appreciate the honesty of it.”

Concerns about readership and, in turn, profitability don’t faze him. After all, if he wanted to chase after what sells, he’d be sticking a blond, white guy on the cover every chance he got.

“It’s just like on an Instagram page. If I have some white guy with his shirt off,” he told INTO, “it’s always gonna get like three times more likes than a chubby Indian guy. Always. It’s like science.”

He witnessed that firsthand when he published the first non-European issue of Elska set in Taipei. That run, he found out, became the lowest-selling one in Western countries and earned him plenty of tone-deaf responses.

“You know, I hope you don’t do this again. Because I’m just not into Asians,” one subscriber wrote. As disappointing as such interactions were, Campbell feels vindicated by the fact that Taipei eventually became the second best-selling issue worldwide.

Rather than shy away from embracing the full breadth of the queer global experience, Campbell has since also traveled to India (Mumbai), Japan (Yokohama), and hopes to shoot the first issue below the equator sometime soon. He wouldn’t mind heading down south to Buenos Aires or Sydney, but he’s most eager to travel to Africa. Not Capetown, which would be too obvious, but maybe Dakar, Senegal or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I’ve tried to set issues there, but the people I talked to, there were some that wanted to do it, but others told me ‘I think this is dangerous. Not for me, but for others to be published in this type of publication,” he says. “And as much as I’d love to put a spotlight on an African gay community, it may not be ethically the best thing to do.”
In the meantime, Campbell is happy to be celebrating this two-year milestone and glad to take stock on how his pipe dream of an idea has since evolved into a globe-trotting project.

Looking back at the many men who opened their doors to him, and let him photograph them in their bedrooms, their bathrooms, out on the streets, in the nude or in their skivvies, he can’t help but beam with pride and remind himself what Elska is all about. It’s always been about shining a light on local communities for a global audience.

“I’m just trying to be honest about it. Show different places,” and if that happens to show readers what a diverse and inclusive gay media company can look like, so be it. As he puts it, “The people I meet are the people I meet.”

A Philanthropic Desert Queen Has a New Stage

This past weekend, on a whim, I decided to head to the desert to enjoy some Labor Day fun. And with keeping with my Palm Springs tradition, I decided to include a drag show during my weekend because I needed an excuse to check out from reality and work out my stomach muscles a bit.

When I stumbled upon a new Sunday drag brunch at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs and saw that it was a set price, including bottomless mimosas, there was no turning back. I booked the VIP seats (for an extra $10) for DRG BRNCH (Divas of Rock & Glam) and guaranteed my front row seating, to ensure I would have prime time viewing, and couldn’t wait for the highlight of my spur of the moment trip. With a name like Hard Rock backing up these queens, I knew I was in for a great production.

After digging around a bit, I got in contact with Arial Trampway, the leading queen behind the show (also the one whose face I would later see splashed across a massive billboard on the drive into the city). Arial Trampway, a.k.a. AlfiePettit, took the time for a quick interview between last Sunday’s shows.

The interview started backstage as I jumped into a service elevator with a half naked Alan and his hair and makeup artist. We made our way through a kitchen where he waved to hotel staff as he continued to disrobe. The entire experience was a bit surreal and reminiscent of some pop diva leaving the stage after a big show.

As I stood there, drooling to snap photos of him mid-drag, he didn’t even let me ask as he proclaimed, “take all the pics you want, this is me.”

1. So what’s your background with Palm Springs?

I first visited Palm Springs in 2002 and fell in love with the place. I knew on the spot I would end up here. In 2006, I first bought here and lived part time, sharing my time with Thailand where I lived at the time.Finally, in 2010, I was ready for the big, permanent move.

Prior to this show, I was with Carnival Cabaret for a year and a half, working alongside the incomparable Gypsy.I was one of three owners.We used my pink chrome Cadillac to promote the business and increase visibility, as well as riding up and down the local Street Fare on my Segway. And just like now I was the opening and closing act for that show. All this, as well as numerous charity functions and philanthropy, earned me a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame in September 2016.

2. How did you partner with Hard Rock Hotel and how does it feel to have such a big name brand as a venue?

It’s amazing to be able to partner with them! I think Carnival Cabaret was the launch pad to working with Hard Rock Hotel.They saw what the Arial Trampway brand was able to do for Carnival Cabaret, and wanted to work with my presence in the city to help build a stronger foothold in the Palm Springs community. It’s a perfect Palm Springs marriage.

Not to mention Hard Rock Hotel is one of the most well-known brands when it comes to music and performers, so matching that up with drag queens was only natural.And before I ever came to Palm Springs I owned Alfie’s Of Hollywood, obtaining signed celebrity head shots and memorabilia, which one walk through the Hard Rock Lobby will let you know we have in common.

3. How did this show come to fruition?

The General Manager of Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, Juan Rivera, approached me about setting up a meeting with Dale Hipsh (now SVP of hotels), to discuss a possible show at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. After a few meetings, including Kristian Zambrana head of F at the time, and Vince Koehle Director, Corporate Marketing & PR – Hotels & Casinos at Hard Rock International, it was decided theywanted me to produce and star in a weekly drag show. ANDthey wanted it donein 2 weeks! But thankfully with an amazing team surrounding me, we pulled it off.Many thanks go to my executive producer who really made things happen in the beginning, David Reese. If you can get an executive producer with a shelf full of Emmys, you’re starting off on a good foot!

4. Tell me the concept behind the show or what someone coming for the first time can typically expect?

The concept is Divas of Rock and Glam, which is actually what DRG stands for, though it works perfectly as a shortening of DRAG as well.Vince Koehle came to me with the concept shortly after signing the contract.And I was thrilled when it was also put on the back of my very own Arial Trampway Hard Rock hologram labeled T-Shirt.

Our show is all about high energy, in your face, fast paced performances and glam to the max with over the top costuming and glitz. I open the show with my giant feathered fans (in signature pink of course), flying around the room and setting the tone, and then we are off and running from there. The entire show is highly produced, so there is no downtime, not a slow moment.It’s a fast paced thrill ride from beginning to end.

5) How is this show different from the other drag shows in Palm Springs?

Like I said, it is completely professionally produced beginning to end.My executive producer David Reese set it up that way, and it has since been passed on into the capable hands of my producer Ezra Zane and talent coordinator Michael Ralke. We leave nothing to chance. And what other show can boast a giant billboard of my face on the 111 highway, greeting you as you drive into Palm Springs, and a big pink hummer (also with my face!) driving around Palm Springs available for LYFT?

We also have an amazing charity portion midway through the show, #PassThePurse #DRGChallenge, where we do a very special number with guests randomly picked from the audience.We do them up in drag and parade around with our purses open collecting tips for a very special local charity for the entire month.Then, the last Sunday of the month we do a giant check presentation to said charity. We consider ourselves the “Show with a Soul.” To date, we have raised over $7,000.00 for various charities including ACS, HRC, Parkinson’s, DAP, United Way, and manyothers.

6. How do you pick the talent for each week?

I do a lot of in person scouting around Southern California shows, always looking for those amazing performers that may not have the big name cache’ yet, but have all the talent to light up a stage and thrill an audience. Word of mouth is invaluable in the drag community, so I have a lot of referrals from friends and talent we hire as well.

Internet trollingand of course the phenomenon that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race is undeniable. We love the frequency with which we get to have those performers with us like Pandora Boxxx and season two winner Tyra Sanchez, as well as widely known favorites of the scene such as Wendy Ho and Raquell Lord.

7. The show just moved to a bigger space. How did the success of the show make you feel?

The show was always set up as a very high concept, big room experience. We wanted it to have the feel of a fully produced Vegas show.So even though such a big move (and starting a two show back-to-back format at the same time!) can be a little daunting, ideally it’s the space and platform that Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays at Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs was always intended for.

8. Now that the new space has had its first run, how do you feel it went?

Incredible! There are always going to be some nitpicking kinks here and there you want to smooth out, but the overall flow, energy, and excitement of the show in that space was spectacular.I was over the moon.

It felt like graduation, with all the proper pomp and circumstance to go along with it. And to be honest, it just got my creative juices flowing even more for bigger and better things that are now available to us. More, more, more show!

LGBTQ-friendly traffic lights promote diversity, cause controversy in Europe

On the corner of Knipstraat and Daalsesingel in Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth largest city, a cluster of pedestrians waits to cross the street. When the time comes, the traffic light on the other side of the Knipstraat will turn green, indicating that it’s safe to cross.

Pedestrian traffic lights in the Netherlands take the form of a red male figure viewed head-on for “stop,” and a green male figure shown in profile with one leg raised for “go.” But in early March of 2016, three of Utrecht’s pedestrian lights underwent a radical makeover.

At the intersection of Knipstraat and Daalsesingel, the lone male figure was replaced by two females, holding hands and surrounded by hearts. In the opposite direction are two additional regenboogverkeerslichten, or rainbow traffic lights. One depicts a gay couple, the other, a heterosexual one.

City alderman Kees Geldorf, who was on hand for the March 8th unveiling, told Dutch news broadcaster Nos that the lights are a reflection of Utrecht’s diversity. “Each time you come upon one of these lights is an opportunity to reflect on that,” he said.

Utrecht is the most recent of a growing number of European cities to install the rainbow traffic lights. In May of 2015, the first lights appeared in Vienna, Austria in preparation for the Life Ball AIDS charity fundraiser and the city’s stint as Eurovision Song Contest host.

Originally intended to be temporary, the Ampelpärchen, or traffic light couples, were made permanent due to public pressure. A Facebook page calling for the preservation of the lights accumulated more than 4,000 Likes in a matter of hours. The lights even received international attention, scoring mentions in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The BBC, and TIME among others.

Soon after, the Austrian cities of Linz and Salzburg adopted the design, followed by Cologne, Munich, and Hamburg in Germany. Last fall, Helmond and Arnhem in the Netherlands followed suit. Lucerne, Switzerland is debating jumping on the bandwagon as well.

“Being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people in public-works is something that helps eliminate stigma and hate by making sure that they are visible, making sure that diversity is represented,” said Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, headquartered in Washington, DC.

That’s why the all-inclusive nature of the traffic lights is so important, according to Pepijn Zwanenberg, the Utrecht City Councilmember behind the implementation of the traffic lights. The goal is “to show diversity, not single one group out from the rest,” Zwanenberg said.

“If you’re from [somewhere less tolerant] and you hear about this or you see this and you’re gay or lesbian or transgender, I think it can be very powerful,” Zwanenberg added. The lights send a message of welcome and the validity of love of all kinds, while at the same time helping normalize LGBTQ+ people.

Reactions to the lights have been mostly positive, according to Zwanenberg and Dutch gay rights group COC Midden Nederland. But not everyone is on board. Comments on Twitter, Facebook, and the Dutch news organizations reporting on the development are overwhelmingly negative.

The most common accusation is that the lights are guilty of the very thing they are purported to be fighting – discrimination – by singling out the gay community and excluding heterosexuals. Since the media frequently bills the lights as “gay traffic lights,” most critics are unaware that a heterosexual couple is included.

Most infuriating to detractors is the cost of the project, which set the city of Utrecht back €1,200 (roughly $1,350 USD). A waste of money, one commenter argued, for what amounts to little more than a “photo op for tourists.”

The well-intentioned traffic lights were met with similar criticism in Austria. In Linz, city traffic official Markus Hein had the lights taken down just five months after their debut. “Traffic lights are for traffic and should not be misused to impart advice on how to live your life,” Hein, a member of the right-wing Freedom Partytold the Kurier. The city council voted in January 2016 to restore the lights.

In Vienna, The Freedom Party filed a criminal complaint against deputy mayor and traffic official Maria Vassilakou, who initiated the placement of the lights at 120 pedestrian crossings throughout the city. The Freedom Party claimed that the lights were a waste of taxpayers’ money and a violation of traffic codes.

The complaint ultimately proved unfounded and was subsequently dropped. City spokesman Andreas Baur told INTO that, in addition to complying with Austria’s road traffic requirements, “the diversity-themed symbols on the traffic lights [are] part of a road safety campaign” the city is pursuing to reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents.

Pedestrian safety is a major concern in the Austrian capital, where, in 2012, 16 pedestrians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured, according to Statistics Austria. Twenty-two of those injured at pedestrian crossings in 2014 were children. To draw attention to the often-ignored traffic lights and motivate pedestrians to adhere to their signals, the city of Vienna replaced the traditional symbol with the unique, more visible Ampelpärchen.

Vienna is not the only city to experiment with this concept. In Augsburg, Germany, city officials moved to embed traffic signals in sidewalks, where Smartphone users would be more likely to see them. Smart, the company best known for its self-titled mini car, designed a dancing traffic signal for a crosswalk in Lisbon, Portugal. Passersby slip into a booth in a nearby square to bust a move, which is then mimicked in real time by the red figure in the traffic light. Smart reported that 81% more people stopped for the red light when it was dancing.

Many European cities have their own unique traffic light designs, of which city dwellers are fiercely proud. Berlin, Germany, for example, has its Ampelmännchen; behatted cartoon men implemented in East Germany in 1969 and saved from extinction by the public after the reunification of Germany in 1989. It’s entirely possible that the rainbow traffic lights will become part of the local identity of the cities that adopted them.

When asked if a similar initiative might be possible in the United States, a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) spokesperson explained that, although the FHWA does have a set of nationwide standards to avoid confusion for road users, it’s ultimately up to local officials to decide which images to display on their traffic signs and signals.

West Hollywood, CA Councilmember John Duran, who sponsored the city’s rainbow crosswalks, expressed an interest in exploring the idea in WeHo. Seattle traffic engineer Dongho Chang said the City of Seattle would also be “open” to experimenting with modified pedestrian traffic lights. Once approved, they could be tested “at locations that have ‘all-way’ walks, where all vehicular traffic is stopped before pedestrians are provided the signal to cross,” he said.

Obviously, cost would be a major deciding factor, as well as location and public receptiveness. “It might look trivial and it might sound trivial – most people don’t spend their days thinking about crosswalk lights,” said Rodriguez-Roldan. “The point is, even that is a way to show inclusion.”

Though traffic lights alone won’t guarantee acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ+ community, they just might be a step in the right direction.

LGBTQ-friendly traffic lights promote diversity, cause controversy in Europe

On the corner of Knipstraat and Daalsesingel in Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth largest city, a cluster of pedestrians waits to cross the street. When the time comes, the traffic light on the other side of the Knipstraat will turn green, indicating that it’s safe to cross.

Pedestrian traffic lights in the Netherlands take the form of a red male figure viewed head-on for “stop,” and a green male figure shown in profile with one leg raised for “go.” But in early March of 2016, three of Utrecht’s pedestrian lights underwent a radical makeover.

At the intersection of Knipstraat and Daalsesingel, the lone male figure was replaced by two females, holding hands and surrounded by hearts. In the opposite direction are two additional regenboogverkeerslichten, or rainbow traffic lights. One depicts a gay couple, the other, a heterosexual one.

City alderman Kees Geldorf, who was on hand for the March 8th unveiling, told Dutch news broadcaster Nos that the lights are a reflection of Utrecht’s diversity. “Each time you come upon one of these lights is an opportunity to reflect on that,” he said.

Utrecht is the most recent of a growing number of European cities to install the rainbow traffic lights. In May of 2015, the first lights appeared in Vienna, Austria in preparation for the Life Ball AIDS charity fundraiser and the city’s stint as Eurovision Song Contest host.

Originally intended to be temporary, the Ampelpärchen, or traffic light couples, were made permanent due to public pressure. A Facebook page calling for the preservation of the lights accumulated more than 4,000 Likes in a matter of hours. The lights even received international attention, scoring mentions in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The BBC, and TIME among others.

Soon after, the Austrian cities of Linz and Salzburg adopted the design, followed by Cologne, Munich, and Hamburg in Germany. Last fall, Helmond and Arnhem in the Netherlands followed suit. Lucerne, Switzerland is debating jumping on the bandwagon as well.

“Being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people in public-works is something that helps eliminate stigma and hate by making sure that they are visible, making sure that diversity is represented,” said Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, headquartered in Washington, DC.

That’s why the all-inclusive nature of the traffic lights is so important, according to Pepijn Zwanenberg, the Utrecht City Councilmember behind the implementation of the traffic lights. The goal is “to show diversity, not single one group out from the rest,” Zwanenberg said.

“If you’re from [somewhere less tolerant] and you hear about this or you see this and you’re gay or lesbian or transgender, I think it can be very powerful,” Zwanenberg added. The lights send a message of welcome and the validity of love of all kinds, while at the same time helping normalize LGBTQ+ people.

Reactions to the lights have been mostly positive, according to Zwanenberg and Dutch gay rights group COC Midden Nederland. But not everyone is on board. Comments on Twitter, Facebook, and the Dutch news organizations reporting on the development are overwhelmingly negative.

The most common accusation is that the lights are guilty of the very thing they are purported to be fighting – discrimination – by singling out the gay community and excluding heterosexuals. Since the media frequently bills the lights as “gay traffic lights,” most critics are unaware that a heterosexual couple is included.

Most infuriating to detractors is the cost of the project, which set the city of Utrecht back €1,200 (roughly $1,350 USD). A waste of money, one commenter argued, for what amounts to little more than a “photo op for tourists.”

The well-intentioned traffic lights were met with similar criticism in Austria. In Linz, city traffic official Markus Hein had the lights taken down just five months after their debut. “Traffic lights are for traffic and should not be misused to impart advice on how to live your life,” Hein, a member of the right-wing Freedom Partytold the Kurier. The city council voted in January 2016 to restore the lights.

In Vienna, The Freedom Party filed a criminal complaint against deputy mayor and traffic official Maria Vassilakou, who initiated the placement of the lights at 120 pedestrian crossings throughout the city. The Freedom Party claimed that the lights were a waste of taxpayers’ money and a violation of traffic codes.

The complaint ultimately proved unfounded and was subsequently dropped. City spokesman Andreas Baur told INTO that, in addition to complying with Austria’s road traffic requirements, “the diversity-themed symbols on the traffic lights [are] part of a road safety campaign” the city is pursuing to reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents.

Pedestrian safety is a major concern in the Austrian capital, where, in 2012, 16 pedestrians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured, according to Statistics Austria. Twenty-two of those injured at pedestrian crossings in 2014 were children. To draw attention to the often-ignored traffic lights and motivate pedestrians to adhere to their signals, the city of Vienna replaced the traditional symbol with the unique, more visible Ampelpärchen.

Vienna is not the only city to experiment with this concept. In Augsburg, Germany, city officials moved to embed traffic signals in sidewalks, where Smartphone users would be more likely to see them. Smart, the company best known for its self-titled mini car, designed a dancing traffic signal for a crosswalk in Lisbon, Portugal. Passersby slip into a booth in a nearby square to bust a move, which is then mimicked in real time by the red figure in the traffic light. Smart reported that 81% more people stopped for the red light when it was dancing.

Many European cities have their own unique traffic light designs, of which city dwellers are fiercely proud. Berlin, Germany, for example, has its Ampelmännchen; behatted cartoon men implemented in East Germany in 1969 and saved from extinction by the public after the reunification of Germany in 1989. It’s entirely possible that the rainbow traffic lights will become part of the local identity of the cities that adopted them.

When asked if a similar initiative might be possible in the United States, a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) spokesperson explained that, although the FHWA does have a set of nationwide standards to avoid confusion for road users, it’s ultimately up to local officials to decide which images to display on their traffic signs and signals.

West Hollywood, CA Councilmember John Duran, who sponsored the city’s rainbow crosswalks, expressed an interest in exploring the idea in WeHo. Seattle traffic engineer Dongho Chang said the City of Seattle would also be “open” to experimenting with modified pedestrian traffic lights. Once approved, they could be tested “at locations that have ‘all-way’ walks, where all vehicular traffic is stopped before pedestrians are provided the signal to cross,” he said.

Obviously, cost would be a major deciding factor, as well as location and public receptiveness. “It might look trivial and it might sound trivial – most people don’t spend their days thinking about crosswalk lights,” said Rodriguez-Roldan. “The point is, even that is a way to show inclusion.”

Though traffic lights alone won’t guarantee acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ+ community, they just might be a step in the right direction.

A Weekend In Phoenix — While Never Leaving Downtown

I have a soft spot for Phoenix.

When my parents left Southern California for the desert, I had already been long gone from the nest, so I figured it would be like going on vacation each time I went to go see them.

At one point, I even liked it so much that I tried to lay some roots there, but my constant travels and need for a nearby beach kept me from ever committing to the city I had seen transform over the years. Way back in the day when I first would visit, downtown Phoenix was definitely lackluster and besides the few gay bars and the monthly art walk, there was no real reason to be there, as it was mostly scarce and abandoned after regular working hours.

But today, downtown is booming with new residential high-rise buildings and incredible restaurants, and nowmodern, boutique hotels, which are attracting a new clientele outside of the convention-goers which typically dominate the downtown mega-hotels.

Granted, outside of their politics, Arizona is a beautiful state, one of my favorites. There is so much to see and experience all around, like Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, etc. Within the Phoenix Metro area, there are really great cities like Mesa, Glendale, and Scottsdale. And within Phoenix proper, there are many neighborhoods worth checking out like Biltmore, Arcadia Lite, and Central Phoenix.

But I’m determined to really hone in on the Downtown Phoenix area and keep it all on things to see and do within the Central Avenue vicinitybecause there’s enough to talk about within a 2 mile stretch of road.

Where To Eat:

DeSoto Central Market

Located in the center of the arts district, Roosevelt Row, DeSoto Central Market is all about community and providing a gathering place reminiscent of a time when the daily market was the heart of every city.

The market is a combination of boutique eateries, an artisanal market, and a deco-era bar, a bar that serves one hell of a bloody mary: The Kraken, a three-course meal in a mug which has some unusual garnishments like a cheeseburger slider and a homemade dessert that really make it one of a kind.

Joyride
One of my absolute favorite Mexican restaurants, check this place out during their infamous happy hours. Every day from 11am-5pm they have $5 margaritas, pitchers of beer, wines by the glass, and spiked agua frescas – and since day drinking is one of my favorite pastimes, now you see why I love this place. That, and the tacos are ridiculously good.

Windsor

Also with a $5 until 5pm daily happy hour (same owners as Joyride and many others on this list), this place is great for some typical pub food and craft cocktails. They’ve also got an impressive brown booze menu featuring Irish whiskey, single malt scotch, and blended scotch, as well as Canadian, bourbon, and rye options.

Federal Pizza

Federal Pizza is housed in a restored First Federal Bank from the 1950’s. The architecture is mid-century modern while the pizza is wood fired. If you don’t want to dine in, feel free to order ahead and then drive right up to their drive-thru window to pick up your order, but don’t forget your growler of beer. Federal Pizza has an extensive and thirst-quenching selection of beers just calling out to be taken home in a 64oz growler.

Phoenix Public Market Cafe

A casual urban hangout offering all three meals a day, Phoenix Public Market Café’s goal is to provide the downtown community a place to gather and enjoy a meal together. But come breakfast time, the cooks are usually bombarded with orders for their house made biscuits and gravy. The dish is served with two eggs (any style), chorizo gravy, and of course, the house made biscuits – you’ll hate and love yourself for indulging.

Clever Koi

It’s evident from the love and attention that goes into their menu that this place is awesome, and the food and cocktails at Clever Koi are expertly crafted. Lunchtime here is fun as guests can build their own bowls with noodles, stir-fry, or rice options serving as the base. It’s a quick way to enjoy a delicious lunch at a great price. Pro tip: add on a small bite (the chicken & waffle bun is out of this world). Full disclosure, the owner is a friend of mine, but really, they’ve already opened a second location so you don’t have to take my word for it, the proof is out there.

Postino

Ok, so it’s Monday and Tuesday that makes this place perfect for a date because on either night, diners can order a bottle of wine and a bruschetta for only $20. Bruschetta options include smoked salmon and pesto, tomato jam with fresh sheep’s milk cheese, and brie with apples and fig spread. It’s possible to mix and match your bruschetta, so don’t worry about not knowing which to choose.

FEZ

Another Phoenix icon with a new location closer to downtown, FEZ offers up an eclectic menu. But it’s the twelve different burger options here that should call your attention, besides their really great happy hour. Burgers come in all sorts of flavor combinations, but the Bleu Cheese Balsamic with a half pound grilled Angus burger, balsamic glaze, Danish bleu cheese, spinach, red onion & aioli is a great first one to start with. Pair that burger with some spicy harissa fries or garlic and rosemary fries for a fun flavor combo.

Churn

Here you will find all sorts of sweet treats, including old-school candy, but the ice cream is what takes the cake. The rotating menu will make you want to come daily to try new flavors. From goat cheese, honey, pistachio, to Mexican chocolate, there is a flavor to please all. If you happen to see the Hangover Helper on the menu, give it a try and don’t let the ingredients turn you off because somehow, they work.

MATCH

Located in the hotel I’m about to talk about below, MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails is FOUND:RE’s on-site eatery. It offers a creative menu of social plates focusing on eclectic, globally-inspired street food, made with locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, served in a fun, vibrant atmosphere that channels the spirited downtown art scene.

Where To Sleep:

During my last trip to Phoenix, I stayed at the new FOUND:RE Hotel, a boutique, art-focused gem with an equally amazing restaurant (see above, like literallyyou just read about it). After I made my reservation, I was contacted by the staff and was asked if I wanted to take part in a new wellness program they had in partnership with IV Revival. They offered shooters (actual injections) as single or multiple intramuscular injections of B Complex 21, CoQ10, anti-nausea & anti-inflammatory, which leave you feeling relaxed before going home or give you some energy at the start of the trip. I, of course, decided to just go for a full on IV bag with anything and everything they could (safely) place inside. It was the first time I had purposely asked for an IV treatment, and being inside my really spacious hotel room made it kind of addicting.

The rooms at the hotel are really big and industrial chic with a lot of the beds placed in the center of the room, making it possible to walk around them. My favorite feature was the large sink that sort of doubled as two sinks, one inside the shower and the other in the hallway. But the main attraction is that the hotel itself is an art museum, one that truly focuses on local art. Their in-house expert curator has meticulously selected works of art to grace the walls, but the art is ever changing so each time you come, expect something new (unless you are going like every weekendwhich you should). But, it’s the massive “Burtney” that’s behind the front desk that will probably blow you away (it’s for sale, so you could ruin it for everyone and take it home if you wanted). “Burtney,” a painting of a nude Burt Reynolds, created by Phoenix artist Randy Slack. The painting is a salute to Reynolds’ iconic 1972 centerfold in Cosmopolitan, with an assist from Caitlyn Jenner. “Burtney” has Jenner’s hair, which Slack painted blond to resemble both Reynolds’ ex-wife Loni Anderson and Britney Spears. (I had to borrow that epic description from Phoenix Magazine.)

Where to Art:

The really great thing about this part of town is that there is art all over the place. From the killer David Bowie murals, to Roosevelt Row (RoRo), a walkable creative arts district in the urban core of downtown, to the endless sculptures (including some really unique ones found at each Light Rail stop – yes, they have a metro system, and it goes straight down Central Avenue), there’s enough art to satisfy your thirsty art-craving needs. But for the mother load of art, one would need to visit the Phoenix Art Museum, which has provided access to visual arts and educational programs in Arizona for more than 50 years and is the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States.

Critically acclaimed national and international exhibitions are shown alongside the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. There’s also a really cool T-Rex sculpture outside that’s worth an Instagram photo. The museum shop inside is also filled with some quirky gifts or souvenirs.

The Violence in Chechnya Continues

It’s been just a few months since details of a brutal homophobic regime in Chechnya began trickling slowly into public consciousness. Back in April, Russian political newspaper Novaya Gazeta unveiled the first details of reports that hundreds of men were being rounded up, beaten, and tortured for their sexuality.

Some were killed by their captors. Others were bundled up in sacks and thrown to the ground in front of relatives encouraged to execute “honor killings,” in which they would be murdered by family members for bringing shame to their reputation. When confronted with these horrific reports, Ramzan Kadyrov – leader of the Chechen Republic – was unfazed, explaining calmly in a televised interview that he would condone these murders even if he knew of them and describing queer people as “subhuman.”

The news ignited a global media frenzy, launching celebrity-endorsed campaigns to pressure the Chechen government and countless salacious articles detailing the conditions in these so-called “concentration camps.” Elena Milashina, a leading reporter for Novaya Gazeta, later clarified details in a New Yorker interview – although these undocumented prisons weren’t exclusively for gay men, they were subjected to disproportionately torturous treatment.

Despite this initial focus on the graphic horrors of the regime, few media outlets have detailed the consequences still being felt by those responsible for breaking the story.

These consequences are nothing new. It’s well-known that Russian journalists often pay the price for daring to write about government scandals; since the year 2000, six Novaya Gazeta journalists have either been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances. The most notable victim is Anna Politkovskaya, a famed human rights activist and writer shot in her apartment elevator back in 2006.

Her murder is widely believed to be a contract killing. Speaking at the time, deputy editor Vitaly Yaroshevsky pointed to a radio interview given just a week prior to her death. In this interview, Politkovskaya had revealed that she would act as a witness in a criminal case against Ramzan Kadyrov connected to unexplained abductions in Chechnya and went on to refer to him as “the Stalin of our times.”

Alina Politkovskaya
It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elena Milashina fled Russia shortly after breaking news of the investigation, fearing for her own safety. She has spoken about the protected identities, memorized phone numbers, and high-risk lies required to bring these stories into the public sphere. Publishing these articles can result in an unofficial death sentence.

Index On Censorship is a nonprofit organization rallying against this oppression.

Hannah Machlin, the project manager of its monitoring platform, Mapping Media Freedom, highlights the rising pressure on journalists in Europe and the former Soviet Union: “In Russia, reporters for independent publications have seen a wide-range of tactics in an attempt to silence their critical reporting, from murder to legal measures,” she explains. “Journalists reporting on human rights abuses, including the treatment of gay people in Russia, have been targeted by the authorities.”

The case of fellow Novaya Gazeta reporter Ali Feruz – legally known as Khudoberdi Nurmatov – further exemplifies the government’s war on political journalists. Born to a Russian mother and an Uzbek father, the openly gay journalist is currently locked in an ongoing battle for asylum.

Buzzfeed News recently detailed his story at length, writing that he fled Uzbekistan in 2009 after being tortured for two days. He returned to Russia and began writing for the notorious newspaper in 2011, but had his passport stolen just a year later. This lack of documentation forced Feruz to apply on several occasions for asylum, but, earlier this month, he was detained after they were repeatedly declined.

Little is known in terms of why he is actually being held and refused the right to stay in Russia, but a lengthy article written by Olga Bobrova and published on the Novaya Gazeta’s website earlier this year illuminates a few interesting and potentially crucial details. In the emotive, extensive article, Bobrova suggests that Uzbek special services are attempting to link Feruz with a radical group – despite his record, which shows no links to crime or extremism.

This could explain the alleged violence suffered by Feruz throughout his detention. In a press release issued by Amnesty International, Denis Krivosheev, the organization’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, highlights that claims of abusive treatment have been ignored: “His continued detention despite his claims he has been beaten is disgraceful,” he said. “He has committed absolutely no crime, and it could take months or even years before a final decision [is made] by the European Court of Human Rights.

Ali Feruz complained that security officials beat him during the transfer to the detention center and showed bruises during his court hearing. The judge decided to ignore these shocking allegations.”

Although Feruz’s deportation to Uzbekistan has been suspended – a minor victory which Krivosheev describes as a “small step” – it is still a real possibility. This is a problem. The country still legally persecutes sex between two men, dishing out punishments which range from financial sanctions to prison sentences.

Furthermore, a lengthy report issued by Human Rights Watch reveals that activists and journalists are still imprisoned for their work, whereas reports of “disappearances” point to corruption and institutionally-approved discrimination which, when combined with widespread homophobia, would effectively spell out a death sentence for Feruz. His media profile puts him at extreme risk; he must be protected.

This tragic case is also a reminder of the countries worldwide, which still legally punish homosexuality – in privileged Western societies, it can be easy to take for granted the freedoms we have. All Out is an organization looking to highlight this global homophobia by using technology to spread awareness and enable people to donate to or campaign for LGBTQ rights.

“In 71 countries, it’s a crime to be gay and, in 10, it can cost you your life. In many more, LGBTQ people face appalling discrimination and exclusion,” writes Senior Campaigns Manager Yuri Guaiana in a statement issued to INTO.

“Across the world, many powerful religious and political forces regularly incite hatred and violence against LGBTQ people. Those responsible for attacks on LGBTQ people often enjoy impunity,” he continues, before underlining the organization’s campaigns to rally against the homophobic atrocities unveiled in Chechnya.

“We have been doing this work in Russia for a long time. We do this work because we want to build a world where no person will have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love.”

Hearteningly, these campaigns and articles have resulted in genuine progress. A report published on EU Observer reveals that Chechnya’s authorities have suspended the anti-gay regime. However, various EU countries have been reluctant to actually accept refugees and offer protection to victims – at the time of writing, only five were actively helping victims to leave – whereas Donald Trump has been predictably silent on the matter, refusing to discuss it in meetings with Vladimir Putin.

In fact, it was only last month that anyone in his administration bothered to even acknowledge the disgusting tragedy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given his transphobic, xenophobic laws and well-documented links with Russia, but if one of the most world’s most powerful men won’t condone these atrocities, what hope is there for LGBTQ communities suffering in these oppressive regimes?

This appalling reluctance to document and fight against the catastrophic consequences of the Chechen regime shows exactly why the media needs publications like Novaya Gazeta now more than ever. Journalists are literally risking their lives to write about the segregation, torture, and murder of queer communities, as well as to put pressure on the corrupt governments still turning a blind eye to this treatment.

Whether it’s signing a petition, writing an article, or simply sharing accounts of this prosecution, we could all be helping to raise awareness of these violations and the subsequent abuse of the journalists uncovering them. In a world still plagued with fatal xenophobia, silence is the same as complicity.

You Should Book A Trip To Buenos Aires ASAP

For the past three years, I’ve been going to Buenos Aires for the GNetwork 360 Conference, an annual international conference about LGBTQ tourism and business, centered on Latin American countries. It’s the one time of year where I look forward to returning to one of my favorite South American cities to see my conference friends as well as indulge in unbelievable wine, beef and well: men.

There’s something rather irresistible about an Argentine accent and it doesn’t help that there is an abundance of attractive men that swarm the city. But besides the obvious, Buenos Aires is one, if not the most, welcoming cities on the South American continent.

On my flight over, after arriving to my connecting gate, my jaw hit the floor.

There, scattered around the waiting area was Argentina’s field hockey team, fresh off their victory. All I could do was pray that one of them would be sitting next to me for the next 10 hours, but alas, after boarding, the team of 25 or so, walked right past me, all the way to the back of the plane.

It wasn’t my ideal situation, as my seatmate ended up being the complete opposite of what I had hoped for, but at least the eye candy was a delicious way to start the journey.

“Amor.” Plain and simple, that’s Argentina’s new marketing initiative towards LGBTQ travelers and tourism. In short, it easily sums up what the country is all about, especially the city of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires has always been at the forefront of change and acceptance; a quick Google search of their yearly pride celebrations will quickly prove that, as it is one of the largest and most festive celebrations in the region, if not the world.

There’s a lot to see and do in the city, and if you only go for the empanadas alone, you will have already won at life, as they are irresistibly good, and determining your favorite empanada spot will be a challenge worth accepting.

Due to the current economic situation that is taking place in Argentina, for visitors, especially those coming from the U.S. or Europe, the exchange rate is rather favorable, although it fluctuates daily, and it’s also worth noting that Argentinian pesos should never be taken outside of the country, and they are very difficult to exchange.

Eat and Indulge

One of my favorite things to do in the city, since I’m typically there only a few days, is the Argentine Experience. It’s this really great interactive dinner where you get to socialize a bit with other diners and learn about the culture, food and drinks.

There’s something pretty wonderful about helping make your own meal and then enjoying it with great company and free-flowing wine. There’s even a competition that I always keep a secret, as to give myself a mini-advantage. During my most recent visit, we took over the place with a gaggle of gays and although I didn’t win, the whole night was definitely a win as it was the best part of my trip.

But after making my own food, I like to spoil myself a bit, and there’s no better place to do that than at La Bourgogne at the Alvear Palace Hotel. It is a must for fine dining as it is the best French cuisine in the city and if you don’t get the tasting menu with expert wine pairings; you are doing yourself a disservice.

The restaurant has been modernized with a more approachable atmosphere but still has that classic fine dining service at a fraction of the price (remember the exchange rates are in your favor).

Time To Go Out

When it comes to nightlife, Buenos Aires doesn’t mess around. Don’t expect anyone at the clubs before midnight, and really, the crowd truly picks up closer to 2am.

There are a lot of gay bars one can go to, and the best way to find which one is the one to be at is simply by asking locals or jumping online, as the crowds are typically flocking from one to the other. Some of these clubs offer an all you can drink shit show experience where you will find bars full of cheap vodka and mixers already poured in plastic cups, ready for anyone to grab.

By the end of the night, your clothes will be ruined and mud-stained, but to each their own. I’ve spent many nights in these bars, but with the years, I’ve kind of tried my hardest to avoid them.

For something a bit less adolescent, the city’s best clubs have gay parties and gay nights where the entertainment is usually pretty great, and the crowds are a better representation of diversity. NicetoClub in Palermo hosts Club 69 and this theatrical night is one of the best nights to go out.

From circus to Arabian nights, the themes are spectacular and the performance art and show alone are worth the entrance fee.

Quick Island Getaway

When I have an extra night or two in the city, I always plan ahead and book this truly unique visit to one of the most exclusive experiences in the country.

Just a quick drive outside of the city limit is a river delta, and an area known as Tigre. The microclimate here is unlike anywhere else in the world, which has resulted in an array of botanical gardens on a private island, Isla El Descanso.

Via private bookings, guests can be shuttled by boat to the island where they can spend the day exploring the gardens as well as one of the largest private collections of significant sculptures within the gardens.

Guests can also arrange for breakfasts, teas or even a private lunch by the pool. The island is really meant as a getaway, a place to rest for the day and be at one with nature and art.

Several high profile celebrities, including Madonna, have frequented it. With that being said, the island can also accommodate for private helicopter landings.

Each time I visit, I spend most of the time having my photos taken on the bench where Madge once sat, overlooking the river, imagining what she must have been thinking of while doing so. It should be noted that it’s gay owned and operated.

Where I Stay

I’ve kind of become an Alvear Hotels snob when it comes to Buenos Aires, although there are some really great hotels in the city, I tend to find my way at their properties.

The Alvear Palace is classic white glove property and will not disappoint. The butler service they provide is one of the best, as most of the butlers have attended the Louis Vuitton course on luggage packing, making them extra valuable when it’s time to pack up all your extra shopping.

For a more modern twist, still with the white glove service sans the gloves, the Alvear Art is the hip younger sister property of the palace and has one of the coolest enclosed rooftop pools in the city. The lobby bar serves some superb craft cocktails and the rooms are up to date and super tech friendly.

Over in a different part of town, which is quickly becoming the place to be, Puerto Madero is home to more artsy lux properties and is home to the newly opened Alvear Icon, a combo of hotel and residences, and is where I stayed during my most recent stay.

My Luxury Suite was impressive, with an oversized bathroom covered in marble and closet space for days. But what makes this new hotel so special are the views – there’s something to be said about viewing a city from above.