CBS News WeHo Pride Wrap with Chris Holmstrom

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The following is republished from KCAL. celebrating Pride by featuring people and businesses that represent what makes being in the LGBTQ+ Community so colorful! Join us as we show the importance of Pride across Southern California! Chris Holmstrom hosts.

Welcome everyone as CBS News and KCAL celebrates Pride. I’m Chris Holmstrom. Over the course of this show, we will be showcasing people, businesses, and stories that really help you understand what makes the LGBTQ community so colorful. We’re starting right here in West Hollywood, but we’re still going to go all across Southern California with unique stories that showcase the importance of Pride. Let’s begin with a local drag queen who has always embraced their differences while opening the doors for others to do the same. Our Luz Delia Abierto introduces us to Billy Francesca.

“I always knew that I was different,” Billy Francesca says as he puts on makeup. “I don’t even wax my eyebrows,” he adds, reflecting on how far he’s come. “I had something called Legg-Calvé-Perthes, which is a rare childhood condition that affects the hip, so I had to wear this giant brace. I remember thinking as I started to know myself more and realized I was gay, ‘Oh God, not another thing. Can’t you just be like air quotes ‘normal’?’ But instead of questioning it, Francesca celebrates his truth, which he calls his superpower. ‘I knew I couldn’t pass for anything other than myself.'”

Francesca was born in Boston, where he worked at a coffee bar called Francesca, which became the inspiration for Billy Francesca. “What’s your drag name? Billy Francesca. What’s your real name? Billy Francesca,” he explains. “I didn’t want people finding my family. It wasn’t like now where everyone’s accepted.” Pretty soon, he came to L.A. chasing a dream to further embrace who he is, “and that’s not bad with $40 in his pocket,” Francesca quips. “There weren’t drag hostesses back then. This was when people didn’t like drag queens. Even though he was struggling, it just wasn’t like it is now. You couldn’t get gigs every day of the week.” Francesca knew he was born to be on stage. “Me always being the over-the-top-youthful one is what really sort of springboarded me into working all the time,” he says. “This might just be as good as it gets. Tada! Now it’s time to hit the road because pretty soon it’ll be showtime.”

“We are going to Rocco’s in West Hollywood. It is Wednesday night, which means only one thing: Dragged Out!” he announces. “Why is it important for you to live your truth?” Francesca muses, “I don’t know any other way to be. Our time is so limited. Are you ready for this? I’m ready. We are here. Let’s hit it!”

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We’re now in the heart of West Hollywood at Rocco’s, the home of Billy Francesca’s Dragged Out show. Dragged Out is a safe space for up-and-coming performers. “We’ve been doing it for about seven years. We’ve given away over $78,000. It’s open to all drag performers, both drag queens and drag kings. It’s important because these kids need to know there is a space that they can go to,” he explains. “Of course I’m a pro. Yes, I was born ready. Yes, let’s get into it! Hi, it’s Billy Francesca. Make some noise!”

“Sit down, you’re embarrassing yourself,” he jokes. Francesca hopes that this space inspires people to live their truth free of judgment and full of love. “I think that’s amazing. Look at these kids performing,” he says. “So here’s to the little boy who always knew he could, and to all who struggle to accept that they can too. Where are the stairs? My God, I’m going to die.”

We’re down the street from Rocco’s at Cake and Art. This is an iconic spot that has been here since the 1970s, and joining us right now is owner Tom Rose. “So Tom, thank you so much for joining us,” Holmstrom says. “You’re very welcome,” Rose replies. “You have been around since the ’70s. You used to do things called commitment cakes. I mean, for the LGBTQ community, what does that mean for you?” Holmstrom asks.

“Yeah, back then, back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, people wanted to be able to show expressions of love toward each other, and since nobody could get married, they couldn’t do common law. They said, ‘We want this cake,’ and they came. We just kind of created this idea of a commitment ceremony. Some of the most famous closeted cases in all of Hollywood had us make commitment ceremony cakes. Then they would go to Palm Springs and have these little ceremonies, and every once in a while, they’d send us a little picture of them on the site and say, ‘Please don’t tell anyone,’ and so it was quite a different period of time back then.”

“Absolutely. I love that you are focusing on love and commitment. How have you seen West Hollywood change throughout the last few decades?” Holmstrom inquires. “Yeah, the biggest changes we’ve seen in West Hollywood are that it used to be like the center of the disco world, and that’s when everything was wild and crazy. Then the AIDS epidemic hit, and literally so many of the small business owners died, so many of the iconic places died, so many of my friends died at that period, and that changed the face of West Hollywood. Then slowly but surely, new blood started coming in and wanted to bring back some of the joy and fun, and that’s when you started to see the spring of a lot of new, um, disco clubs. I shouldn’t say disco—I’d use the term disco since the ’70s—but the bars started coming back, and the people became a little bit more, um, friendly. Because AIDS had such a dark pall over this city, after people started to lighten up again, I think that is when you know when that occurred. Then gay marriages occurred, there was just this blossoming of pride in this town, which is very nice to see, and it’s the West Hollywood we see now,” Rose explains.

“It is definitely the West Hollywood we see now. Talk to me a little bit about your celebrity clientele. You’ve got some big names out there,” Holmstrom says. “Yeah, basically the very first week that Cake and Art opened, Carrie Fisher and Candice Bergen were in the neighborhood, stopped by, looked at it, and I think they went and told all their friends. Not too long after that, Johnny Carson heard about it, and Johnny Carson started talking about Cake and Art, and so from there it kind of became the place to go. Back then, there weren’t any cake shows, there weren’t any of these people having. So we were doing cakes back then that nobody was making, and so now my staff always jokes with me because we have a lot of celebrities come in, and I have no idea who they are, especially in the music industry. They’re like, ‘Do you know who that person is?’ and I’m like, ‘Not really,’ but they have, and the other thing right now is the social media people who have 100 million followers, and every time they have a cake from us, they post it, and then everybody wants to have that particular cake,” Rose recounts.

“Alright Tom, thank you so much for your time. Now we’re going to head to another spot that is just as rich in history. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to trying some of your cakes,” Holmstrom concludes.

We are now at Block Party. This is the headquarters for all things Pride. Joining me right now is owner Larry Block. “First off, thank you so much for being with us. You have owned this establishment for years. It’s a hot spot. Tourists come here. What’s your secret to the longevity, and why do you think so many people come here?” Holmstrom asks.

“Well, um, the secret is our diversity of product and the niche market we serve that really isn’t served in many other communities. We’re in the heart of West Hollywood, in the heart of the tourist community. People come here from all over looking for the gays and, you know, looking for products for allies. We offer a value-added product, a lot of fashion, exclusive brands that you can’t find in other places. So, I think that’s really the key, is a lot of the exclusive distribution agreements we have with certain brands, and by having a super selection of products, of everything that has a rainbow in it. We go into the market and we ask them, ‘Can you make that with rainbow colors?’ or go to bag manufacturers or magnet manufacturers and create the newest thing that sort of appeals to, you know, the current item of the day,” Block explains.

“You are a very active member in this community. If they mention your name, they know who you are. Why is it so important for you to be a part of the community, both from, you know, a retail aspect but also a political point of view, and watching what’s going on in the city?” Holmstrom inquires.

“You know, West Hollywood means a lot to me. I’ve watched the changes. I’ve lived here for 40 years. I consider this like a community store where our job is to service the community, to keep the old cachet of LGBTQ alive in West Hollywood as things have changed a lot in the neighborhood. I’m disabled, I’m partially sighted, so sort of digging deep roots in the community is more important than having wide roots all around,” Block says.

“And what advice do you have for new business owners who want to set up shop in WeHo? Because as we know, there’s been a lot of new businesses that have opened up in recent years,” Holmstrom asks.

“You know, the number one thing any new business owner should do is understand the geography

of West Hollywood versus Los Angeles. People open in West Hollywood, they think they’re opening in Los Angeles, and we have an entirely different set of rules, wage requirements, and different criteria. They should also check with City Hall because it takes an amazingly long time to get through the city permit process. New construction businesses can wait to open for one year or two years, and it’s not for the little guy anymore. So we have to employ a program and create programs that allow for that young entrepreneur to open up in a city that has the highest minimum wage and the highest sales tax and be able to still keep those products affordable to the customers,” Block advises.

“It’s very important for places like Block Party to exist because, as KCAL reporter Joy Benedict explains, Pride merchandise is not readily available everywhere. This year, it’s a moment full of color, bubbles, dancing, and rainbows as June is Pride Month. But finding your perfect flair to wear may not be as easy this year,” Holmstrom says.

“This one doesn’t have any,” Shoppers at this Target store in Ontario were surprised to find no Pride merchandise at all. “Even something small, just to show that, you know, they still care,” one shopper says. But it’s not just one store. We visited six Target stores in two counties in 24 hours. Most had small end displays only. Not only was Ontario’s store Pride-free, so was one in Pasadena. Two stores, dozens of aisles, countless items—not one rainbow flag.

“I think to people who really like Pride, it sends a very unfortunate message,” Neil Saunders, a retail analyst with GlobalData, says. “There is a common theme of a little bit of a pullback over what we’ve seen in previous years.” “Why do you think that is?” Holmstrom asks.

“I think it’s because the country is very divided on many issues, and retailers are learning that you just cannot please all of the people all of the time. So although you can still find Pride products, they may not be at the front of the store. This Walmart, for instance, sprinkled in the rainbow flags with a display of the red, white, and blue, and most of the Targets kept their Pride in the back of the women’s section. We found no Pride products in the men’s or children’s sections. There are people who love Pride merchandise; they find it exciting and exhilarating. There are people who absolutely hate it, and it’s become, unfortunately, part of the culture wars. Although many retailers are still pushing online campaigns and promising support, Saunders says it’s just not as visible in person. ‘I think in Target’s case, it’s a genuine concern for the safety of some of their staff who were threatened last year. They don’t want to put frontline staff in that situation, and as unfortunate as it is for the pullback on Pride, that’s a very understandable position to take.’ But since the point of Pride is to be loud and proud, it may seem like a contradiction to keep the clothes in the closet, but some shoppers say they understand. ‘Either way is fine. You know, if they want to put more out there, it doesn’t bother me. If less, you know, it doesn’t bother me either.'”

“But of course, Pride is about more than just merchandise. It’s about being free to be who you are, regardless of what you wear. We’ll have much more on CBS News and KCAL celebrates Pride. We catch up with pop sensation Jordy and talk to the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress,” Holmstrom says.

“Welcome back. This month we are celebrating the contributions of our LGBTQ+ community. The first openly gay person of color elected to Congress was actually born and raised in Riverside. KCAL News reporter Rhea Tano has his story.”

“It was the 1960s in Riverside. Young Mark Takano and his three younger brothers grew up hearing stories about his family’s unjust incarceration in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. ‘No one should have to go through life being ashamed of who they are, especially when they’ve done nothing wrong,’ Takano says. Because of that, he understood the concept of civil rights as a young child. Then came the ’70s. Watergate hearings were starting to happen, and I watched those gavel to gavel. It was Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s statement during the impeachment hearing of the House Judiciary Committee: ‘My faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total,’ that inspired him to pursue a career in politics. ‘That 12-, 13-year-old self then was thinking, I’d like to be like her someday.’

“After graduating from Harvard, Takano returned to his hometown, first to become a public school teacher. Then, in 1992, the young Democrat found an opportunity to run for Congress. ’31 is pretty young,’ he says. He lost a tight race but didn’t give up. In 1994, he tried again, but during this campaign, Takano says he was outed by a sitting state senator. ‘He said, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a homosexual representing you.’ At the time, he’d only come out about his sexuality to his parents and close friends, but after this incident, he recalls his opponent sending homophobic mailers and eventually losing the race. After conceding, he returned to teaching at Rialto High School. He was asked to be the advisor to what later became the Unity Club. ‘I had this sort of PTSD from 1994 going through that experience, but then I see in 2008, 100 kids show up for the first day of organizing,’ he says. That change he saw and experienced as a high school teacher gave him the courage to campaign one last time. In 2012, Takano ran for an open congressional seat, this time as an openly gay candidate. ‘It was on my terms. It wasn’t something that I was being forced to do.’ After a grueling campaign, ‘I’m smiling, but I know I’m exhausted,’ the then-52-year-old became the first openly gay person of color to be elected to Congress on January 3, 2013. ‘It’s a very proud moment.’

“In the last decade, Takano has been involved in veterans, education, Asian-American, and LGBTQ legislation, among others. He says he’s seen the needle move toward LGBTQ acceptance, but ‘where things are not bipartisan right now is trans people’s rights.’ He vows to show up for trans people and every other person in his district. Congressman Mark Takano wants everyone, no matter their background or sexual orientation, to enjoy their civil rights and be proud of who they are,” Tano reports.

“We’re outside Schmidty’s in West Hollywood. It’s one of the many queer bars in the city, and joining me now is acclaimed pop artist Jordy. Jordy, thank you so much for joining us. You just released a new album, you just announced a new tour. Congratulations!” Holmstrom says. “Thank you, that’s huge,” Jordy replies. “Tell us a little bit about this album and what it’s about,” Holmstrom asks.

“This album was a new chapter for me, for sure. Lots of new sounds, new concepts. It feels a little bit more uninhibited, a little more free, liberating, and I’m just happy it’s out in the world. I’m so excited about it,” Jordy explains. “And it’s nice to be able to have your own creative process and spin on it, right?” Holmstrom inquires. “Oh, for sure, absolutely. No, I write all the songs with some of my closest friends, and we had so much fun making these songs for this project,” Jordy says. “They’re amazing. I’ve had a chance to listen to a few of them. Also, let’s talk a little bit about your concert tour coming up. This is huge. So tell us about that,” Holmstrom asks.

“So it’s my second headline tour, but it’s my biggest headline tour that I’ve done. We’re hitting 15 cities across North America, starting with Austin City Limits, and then Los Angeles on October 20th at the Teragram Ballroom. It’s going to be a great time. There’s going to be dope openers, lots of, you know, cool outfits, all the vibes, so I’m very excited to hit the road and see all the fans in real life,” Jordy shares.

“Your song ‘Story of a Boy’ went viral on TikTok, especially with trans people. Tell us a little bit about what that song means to you and to see that it’s touching people across all platforms,” Holmstrom prompts.

“That song means so much to me just because the original song was the song I grew up with as a kid and heard on the radio. So for the original band to approve me doing my own version was such a cool experience. But the way that trans people were using the sound on TikTok to showcase their transitions from ‘this is the story of a girl’ to ‘this is the story of a boy’ was very unexpected, not something that was planned at all. ‘This is the story of a girl’ became ‘this is the story of a boy,’ and because it was so organic, it was such a cool thing to experience every single day, seeing more stories, seeing more people sharing their journeys. It’s just so inspiring to me. Trans women, especially trans women of color, have really led this movement, and so it’s important for me to honor that. I’m just so happy that people took away that message from the song,” Jordy explains.

“Thank you so much for joining us. But before you go, you’ve had a challenging year. You’re now an independent artist, but you have a new album and a new tour. How do you stay zen?” Holmstrom asks. “How do I stay zen? Oh my gosh, walking, getting outside. I love to read, I love to cook, you know,

surround myself with people that ground me. I love my friends, and living in L.A. is a beautiful place to live. Mental health, treating myself is very important during June for sure and every month of the year,” Jordy shares. “Awesome. You rock. Thanks, good job, love it,” Holmstrom concludes.

“While it’s important to celebrate who we are, it’s also important to celebrate taking care of our bodies and minds,” Holmstrom says. “Our Manna Santino takes us to a Los Angeles gym where everybody is welcome.”

Everyone has their own reason for working out, but finding a space where you feel safe to do so can be a challenge. That’s where Everybody Gym steps in. They are creating a community for all bodies where you can strengthen and heal while you move. Tucked away in Cypress Park, Everybody Gym has been bringing the community together to sweat and feel good. That is exactly why Laura Luna has been coming here since the gym opened back in 2017. “I feel safe and supported and strong as a queer woman,” Luna says. “This is somewhere where I feel accepted wherever I am on my fitness journey. As somebody who is larger-bodied, I don’t usually feel welcome in spaces where there are workouts. When I walk in, I don’t feel stressed. In fact, I feel affirmed.”

This idea for the gym comes from a personal place for its owner and founder, Sam Rinsky. “As a transgender person, it was always hard for me to navigate those spaces comfortably. I felt like I really wanted to create a space where people could walk in and not have to make awkward choices: this restroom, that restroom. We have one locker room for everyone, one space that includes everyone, and make sure that everyone feels not only welcome but represented at every level and included in the programming at every level,” Rinsky explains.

Everybody Gym leaves the stereotypes at the door, allowing all people regardless of size, gender, or background to work out together comfortably. “Inclusion is good for everyone. Having access to healthcare and wellness for every person benefits everyone. It’s a fully equipped gym with in-person classes, online classes, and wellness providers that are led by trans people, that are led by queer people, people of all sizes, people of all ethnicities and abilities for everybody to look and feel their best,” Rinsky adds. “Coming regularly to class, I’ve developed some muscles, and that just feels so good to feel strong, to live feeling strong both physically and mentally,” Luna says.

“Don’t go away. We’ve got much more coming up. We are heading to Beaches, a business that is looking to expand and continue their mission of inclusivity. And we feature a dating app that’s connecting LGBTQ singles and helping them find love.”

“Welcome back. We are currently at one of the most popular bars in West Hollywood. We’re at Beaches, and joining me now is the co-owner Jacob Shaw. Beaches is such a fun place to be. It kind of pays homage to ’80s Miami. Tell us a little about this place,” Holmstrom says. “80s Miami, family-owned, started at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted to make a fun local vibe—neon, always live music, top 40 hits—and just a place that was always fun and open for everyone to come and have a good time. We didn’t want to be too specific to one group. Obviously, it’s gay-owned and operated, and we wanted to extend that to everyone,” Shaw explains.

“You guys opened up business in 2018. You were able to successfully stay open during the pandemic. Now you’ve got some big news. You’re expanding,” Holmstrom notes. “Yeah, the big news is we just recently finalized our purchase of the property across the street, so we’re going to launch Beaches Tropical Cantina across the street. It’s coming in the next few months,” Shaw announces.

“I mean, this is exciting. Food is going to be at both locations. You’re doing Cuban food, you’re doing Mexican food. Talk to me about what inspired you to do both of those at these two locations,” Holmstrom inquires. “Well, it’s our family recipe. Our family’s Cuban, came over here, immigrated, and then started working. So we definitely wanted to launch some of our family selects over at the new location. We’re also going to be adding a full American platter there as well. And then at this location, we wanted to add the Tex-Mex, the tacos, the quesadillas, more fun small bar food vibe over here,” Shaw explains.

“We’ve been hearing about so many businesses that have shut down during the pandemic. What’s the secret to staying open and being a successful shop?” Holmstrom asks. “Persistence, tenacity, being able to navigate the waters of what was quite a big disaster. We have to watch every dollar that we spend and that we earn, and it’s really about watching that bottom line very closely,” Shaw advises.

“Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it, and good luck on the new endeavors,” Holmstrom says.

“Many singles may find love at bars like this one, but if you want to go the high-tech route, there’s a dating app for that, and it focuses on inclusivity. Our Joy Benedict has this story.”

“Oh my God, it’s the moment lovers dream of, but these days, getting to this takes a lot of swiping. As dating apps spark a connection, but in the LGBTQ community, sometimes finding love is even harder. I’m a huge fan of online dating, as that’s how I met my boyfriend,” Julio Salgado says. “And now Julio Salgado is helping others find each other through art. ‘I found that violets are used as a symbol of bisexuality.’ The Long Beach digital artist created a new line of profile stickers for Chispa, a dating app for Latinos in the U.S. ‘What I created were stickers that represented different members of our community,’ Salgado explains. The app already had stickers to help users express sexuality, but in a world that is ever-changing, it wanted more symbols for those identifying as pansexual, bisexual, or fluid. ‘We are symbols of self-expression that could help somebody in their profiles show their authentic self,’ Julia Estacquez, the senior director of brand marketing, says. Chispa is trying to be as inclusive as possible. ‘More and more people in Gen Z and future generations are Latinos, and more people—I think it’s 21 percent of Gen Z—identify as LGBTQ versus about 10 percent from Millennials,’ Estacquez adds.

As for the new stickers, Salgado says he was inspired by his childhood. ‘They’re called nochemas. In English, I think they’re called poinsettias, and I used to put them upside down and play with them like they were ballerinas because I didn’t have dolls, and I was a gay boy. I brought this idea to Chispa, and I was like, what if we use flowers to represent the various members of our communities?’ And as the queer Latino community continues to grow in numbers, Salgado says it’s important for everyone to have a safe place for self-expression. ‘People like us who are privileged to live in bigger cities and who have family members who are understanding of who we are and who love us for who we are, I think it’s our duty to continue to have these conversations for the folks who are not in those circumstances,’ Salgado says. Using art and technology to spark a conversation, a connection, or maybe Chispa, a little love for a lifelong flame.”

“Thank you for joining us at CBS News and KCAL celebrates Pride, a month where everyone is welcome to be seen. I’m Chris Holmstrom. Until next time, happy Pride.”

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BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
13 days ago

Although I am over drag being synonymous with being gay and think the drag component should have been secondary, this article was diverse and respectfully highlighted gay individuals focused on supporting and protecting the community, rather than using their sexuality for fame or notoriety. The best sentiment came from the Block Party store: “I consider this like a community store where our job is to service the community, to keep the old cachet of LGBTQ alive in West Hollywood as things have changed a lot in the neighborhood.” Preserving the old-school gay vibe is more important to me than having… Read more »

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