Houston-based activist and co-founder of the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, Ashton P. Woods, announced on Wednesday, February 13th, that he is running for a seat on the Houston City Council At-Large 5.
(HOUSTON) — Ashton P. Woods is no stranger to the politisphere, and it doesn’t look as though he plans to become one any time soon. The co-founder of Black Lives Matter Houston and political advocate — who was most recently featured on the cover of Poz Magazine (shown below) — announced last Wednesday that he was running for a seat on the Houston City Council At-Large 5 in a Facebook Live video, which can be seen below this article. In the same video, Woods went on to better explain his platform, which includes focusing on infrastructure in various Houston neighborhoods that are poorly lit, decriminalizing homelessness and working to help Houston’s homeless population, as well as emphasizing healthcare on a local level rather than waiting for change on a national level.
Woods is a well-known voice in and out of both Houston’s Black and Queer communities, especially where those two intersect. His other work also includes such successes as the appointment of the City of Houston’s first LGBT advisory board. His advocacy against police brutality has in the past made him a target of violence, but in continuing to speak out, he has inspired others to take action, as well. Woods’ focuses in his advocacy also include support for the community of people living with HIV/AIDS, intersectionality, ending violence against people of color, and speaking out to end rape and sexual assault. Ashton has been speaking and fighting for the rights of people like him for years, and expresses his views publicly and unabashedly. Those views do not come without their share of criticisms from others, but Woods maintains his views and continues to fight for what is right.
Exposé: Untold Facts About Tatiana Mala-Niña’s Trial
On Friday, 15 March 2019, a story about a past child sex assault conviction surfaced about Houston drag queen Tatiana Mala-Niña. About Magazine and guest contributors dug into the details of the case to provide unreported information about the trial, the allegations, and an affidavit signed by the accuser asking for all charges to be dropped.
In the interest of maintaining journalistic integrity, I have made a conscious effort — along with contributors Jonny Lessard, Scott Lupton, and Wendy Taylor — to delve deeper into the happenings of the case recently brought back to light regarding Tatiana Mala-Nina, who was convicted of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child in 2009. The story was presented following the already controversial coverage of local Drag Queen Story Time, which took place at the Freed-Montrose Library once a month in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood. Reviewing the stories published by fellow online and print publications, as well as numerous television news stations, it felt necessary to provide more facts about the case than what had been laid out before. This is not an opinion piece. This is not a defense of either party involved in the trial. This article is designed simply to lay out the facts that have and have not been reported, as well as to pose questions that may have not yet been heard.
It is also important to note here that most news outlets have been using the pronouns he/him/his when referring to Mala-Nina. Tatiana Mala-Nina is a transgender woman and should be referred to using the she/her/hers pronouns. The only context in which we will be using her dead name (a name by which a trans person is called pre-transition) is when quoting documentation from the court file.
(HOUSTON) — Just over one week ago, in the early evening of Friday, 15 March, Houston news station KHOU published a story in which it was revealed that popular Houston drag queen Tatiana Mala-Nina (who had been reading to children at the popular Drag Queen Story Time event at the Freed-Montrose Library) was a convicted sex offender. Initial reports were relatively vague, with journalists using their very limited information to break a story around a subject that has been at the center of heated discussion over the past few months. Since Drag Queen Story Time first began in Houston — previously put together once a month by Trent Lira and Devin Will, until their recent resignation as directors of the program — it has been met with its share of acclaim, but has also been subjected to backlash and criticism. On the inside, local drag queens put on their made-up faces and don their most fantastical dresses while reading an age-appropriate book to the children who are there not only to learn a lesson in literacy, but in acceptance.
But outside of the library’s walls, matters aren’t quite as calm. Anti-LGBTQIA protesters would gather along the sidewalk thrusting signs quoting biblical verse, hate speech, and condemnation. One group in particular was hoping to do away with Drag Queen Story Time; and they go by the name of MassResistance, a conservative values group based out of Massachusetts that is known for taking a stand against LGBTQIA-positive issues in the name of “traditional values”. It was MassResistance that brought Tatiana Mala-Nina’s criminal history under the press light; and spreading this news was only just the beginning of a much larger fallout.
The offense in question is a matter of public record: Mala-Nina was registered as a sex offender after being convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a minor under the age of 14 in June of 2008. Further details revealed that the accuser was the child of a family friend, and that Mala-Nina had been sentenced to five years of probation and community service, which ended in June of 2016 without incident. Within hours of the article stating her sex offender status hitting the internet and the story playing across the five o’clock news, it seemed as though everything in Houston’s queer community had changed. Community members assumed sides, some calling Mala-Nina guilty and disavowing her, others swearing their allegiance and believing that she could not be capable of such an atrocity, and many reserving commentary until more evidence surfaced. Only, it seemed there wasn’t time for that; over the weekend ahead, the news would go on to get picked up by national news stations, and later would become international news. Conservative and liberal-leaning news outlets alike took the story and ran with it — many of the articles referring to Tatiana Mala-Nina by her deadname (and the wrong one, at that) and just as many misgendering her. You see, Tatiana Mala-Nina is more than just a drag queen; she is also a trans woman. While she may have identified as male at the time her conviction took place, her pronouns today remain to be she/her/hers. The fallout got worse, however. People all throughout Houston’s queer community — especially performers, drag and non-drag alike — grew fearful of what might happen at their forthcoming shows, and Tatiana Mala-Nina effectively lost every booking she had around the city.
By Sunday, just when the community thought the worst was over, it became quickly evident that it had only really just begun. As news continued to circulate around the globe, the ins-and-outs of the news report began to get messier. The largest example of this could be when fellow Houston drag icon, Blackberri, became a target after conservative news site Breitbart wrongly used her image rather than Mala-Nina’s when reporting on the story on 16 March. While Blackberri had also read at the library’s story time, her likeness to that of Mala-Nina is considerably small. More importantly, it put Blackberri in a position of danger, as well, once her face had been plastered against the headline, “Nolte: Houston Library Allowed Sex Offender to Read to Kids During Drag Queen Storytime”. Still, after the weekend had passed, many had taken note that Tatiana’s social media pages had been removed from the internet, and most outside of her nearest friends and family had not heard from her, until that Sunday afternoon, when Mala-Nina released the following statement through a friend’s social media:
“By now, many of you have seen the news that is circulating from KHOU. I would like to make a statement, and then am asking you all to respect my need for privacy at this time. I am safe, and with my family, but please don’t contact me for now, I will need some time…
Many years ago, I had a family friend. I had been babysitting her son for many years, and was considered a member of their own family. I made the difficult decision to come out as gay, and my life changed forever.
The boys mother was scared that gay = predator. She concocted a story, and went to the police. Her son attempted to tell the same story, but his changed many times during multiple interviews. There was no physical evidence or witnesses to what she claimed, but as a gay person of color, my side didn’t matter.
They did not have witnesses or evidence. They did not have a case, just a made up story. In the end, it didn’t matter. I plead not guilty. The jury did not all say I was guilty, but the judge defied the jury and chose to convict me.
Did you know that there are over 60 thousand people registered in Texas as sex offenders? Many of these people are in situations like mine. I wish that we could catch anyone who would ever hurt a child, and throw them in the deepest pit we could find. I would never. The catholic church has more sex offenders than any other organization. I would never do anything to hurt anyone, let alone one of our most innocent and vulnerable.
You all know me. I am sorry that this happened. I am sorry that I made a decision that could hurt people. I wasn’t thinking, because I’ve done all I can to put this horrible thing behind me. I am sorry that these horrible people are doing anything they can to attack us. But, I cannot be sorry for something I did not do. I have broken no laws, and although I regret the hurt this is causing, I wanted you all to know what really happened.” (sic).
That status update was shared 57 times from the original post and reached masses all across the queer community of Houston. Still, Mala-Nina was not being seen in a positive light by people in the community. Many questioned what made her accept the volunteer gig to read to children knowing she was a registered sex offender, regardless of whether or not she was innocent. Others stood up to say that, in cases of sexual assault, one should always believe the accuser. But for some, there was something about Mala-Nina’s story that set them to forge a path to find the truth, to look for something that hadn’t been seen that might exonerate Mala-Nina and prove her innocence. After all, this was an 11-year-old case that had been closed since Mala-Nina completed her probation terms in the summer of 2016; and finding details that could help prove her innocence was not going to be easy. That being said, it didn’t stop a few of Mala-Nina’s friends from Houston’s LGBTQIA community.
One of the most instrumental in this research was Jonny Lessard, who stated in an interview that he’s known Tatiana Mala-Nina for upward of seven years. Upon seeing the controversy spark and watching Mala-Nina lose everything, he stated that he felt like he had to do something. “I think there was this part of me — like I’m sure there was for everyone — that just didn’t want to believe it was someone I knew.” That feeling didn’t come singularly to Lessard. Across social media, friends and fans shared similar sentiments, some expressing doubt in the accusations, others hoped that they were not true, and some disappointment. Lessard and his boyfriend, Scott Lupton — a stage performer and former paralegal — had taken the time this past week after the news broke to travel down to Harris County Constable Precinct 6 to review the file related to Mala-Nina’s 2008 case. While unsure of exactly what they might find, both Lessard and Lupton took to the documents hoping something there might be indicative of Mala-Nina’s innocence. “We looked at those documents for about an hour and a half,” Lessard said in our interview. “If I’d had more time, I might have been able to get more information; but with limited time, we were just there looking for facts.”
Facts, believe it or not, are exactly what they found. Reviewing the documents — which included witness statements, court appeals, and more details about the case and are available to the general public — Lessard and Lupton found (again) that the claimant was a child under the age of 14 who had been the child of a family friend. The child alleged that he had requested access to Mala-Nina’s bedroom to play a video game, and that Mala-Nina had obliged under the condition that the child remove his clothing. The child then claimed that the Mala-Nina performed oral sex on the child for a few seconds before requesting that he do the same to her. The child alleges that he did so, but stopped after an additional few seconds, feeling uncomfortable, and left the room. According to trial documents, “The Complainant did not tell anyone what had transpired because the Appellant [Mala-Nina] told him not to, and because he was afraid of the Appellant. However, he did not remember telling the police that the Appellant had never told him not to say anything […]” (sic). Documents go on to say that the child, “[…] stated he was “pretty sure” that the above incident happened to more times when he was around the same age, the only difference being that he was not asked to touch the Appellant.”
The latter detail — regarding the two other instances — came up at an awkward time during the trial. Mala-Nina and counsel were not informed of this until just before the trial, and when the Defense requested time to review these claims. A separate document filed 7 December 2010 outlines an appeal requested by the Appellant and speaks more to this. “The outcry was made in February 2008. From then until trial, the complainant only revealed to police a single incident of assault. The complainant testified that he felt safe talking with the prosecutor though, and mentioned that appellant had also assaulted him on two other occasions. The complainant testified that these occasions occurred in the same place and at some time before the event described during the summer of 2006. The only apparent variation on these occasions was that the complainant was not asked to perform oral sex on appellant.” (NO. 14-09-00828-CR, pg. 3).
Moreover, another point to be considered is that Mala-Nina maintained and continues to maintain her innocence with no explicit admission of guilt to the allegations brought about by the accuser. However, in court documents entitled “Motion In Limine”, it would appear as though (although this is not confirmed) that the court attempted to use a sworn statement by the Defendant (Mala-Nina) of a separate occasion in order to imply guilt. In United States law, a Motion of Limine takes place when an attempt to exclude a testimony is made away from the jury. In the case of Mala-Nina, it would appear as though the testimony in question came from an interview in which Mala-Nina made a statement that reads as such in the Motion In Limine:
“[…] Defendant (currently 21 years of age) and Complainant (currently 10 years of age) were in a public pool when Complainant was younger, Defendant noticed that the Complainant (NOT THE DEFENDANT) had an erection while playing in the pool. As described by Defendant, it was the Complainant who inadvertently came into contact with the Defendant in the pool while Complainant had an erection.” (“Motion In Limine, 3). The court document goes on to state (in paraphrase) that the State of Texas tried to use this as an admission of touching the child inappropriately, but argues, “[…] which is a complete misrepresentation of what Defendant said.]” The same document (and on the same page) goes on to state another instance in which the Mala-Nina was present in the bathroom while the child was showering, but that nothing of any sexual nature took place and that this information was not an admission of guilt. It goes forth to say, “Most importantly, Complainant has affirmatively stated to the Children’s Protective Services interviewers (two separate interviews were recorded with Complainant), and has always stated, to the knowledge and belief of undersigned Counsel based on what has been provided to Counsel through discovery, that Defendant had not engaged in any other alleged sexual molestation.”
As per Mala-Nina’s official statement following the reemergence of this story on Friday last, Mala-Nina was a babysitter of the child in question. If the child was aged 6, 7, or 8 as alleged by said child at the time of these allegations, it may not seem unreasonable that either of the aforementioned incidents happened without sexual foundations, and calls into question why the State would elect to have this testimony be considered — especially so if it were to be used as an admission of guilt. Of all of these facts however, there is one document that raises more questions than all the others, which can be found in a document in the file examined by Lessard and Lupton.
The document is titled “AFFIDAVIT OF NON-PROSECUTION” and is dated to have been filed on 14 September 2009. In the document, which has been transcribed below (a photo of this document has also been included), the child who accused Mala-Nina of the alleged sexual assault claims that he would like all charges against the Defendant dropped and that no further prosecution take place. Unfortunately, in a case such as this where the State is now in opposition of the Defendant, the law does not require that the State drop charges at the request of the Plaintiff (the child). The document reads as transcribed:
“BEFORE ME, the undersigned authority, appeared [accuser’s name redacted] who being duly sworn, stated:
I am a witness in criminal Case Number No. 1169980 in the State of Texas vs. ALBERT ALFONZO GARZA [Mala-Nina], wherein the defendant is charged with the offense of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child Under 14.
It is my personal desire that the defendant not be further prosecuted for the offense and that the case presently pending against the defendant be dismissed. I do not wish to testify against the defendant as a witness, although I am aware that I can be compelled to do so if subpoenaed by the State.
I have not been compelled, threatened, or coerced to sign this affidavit in any manner. Nor have I been offered any bribe or improper inducement as a benefit or reward for signing this affidavit. My action in signing this affidavit is knowingly, voluntarily, and freely undertaken on my part.”
The above affidavit is not to be confused with a retraction of the original testimony of the Plaintiff. It does however, beg the question, “Why?” After the trial had gone on as long as it had, and before the jury had reached a decision on 18 September 2009, why would the child suddenly have a change of heart about the proceedings of the case? It may not be a blatant admission of Mala-Nina’s innocence, but certainly it is worth the consideration that the case — or rather, the handlings of the case — were not properly aligned with the events that took place.
Other details should be considered when reporting on this trial, as well. The first of which being that during an interview, Mala-Nina (who then identified as a gay man) was questioned about the nature of her sexual orientation, at which time she stated that she was a homosexual man. It is stated in page six of the Motion In Limine that, “The interviewer then elicited a great deal of details from the Defendant about the origins, history, and development of his sexual preference.” It was the belief of the Defense then (and remains to be so now) that after discovering Mala-Nina’s sexual identification, the State may have taken prejudice upon the Defendant and the case as a whole, which is why this issue is brought up in the Motion In Limine. The Defense — in order to leave no room for prejudices based on sexuality — wanted this testimony thrown out. In a case like Mala-Nina’s, which was presided over by Judge Mary Lou Keel — a registered Republican and member of the GOP — this Motion In Limine is especially important, as Republicans have a less than positive history with LGBTQIA issues and stand for “traditional family values”.
Another noteworthy piece of information goes back to the jury itself. While reviewing a document titled “General Orders of the Court” dated 18 September 2009, it is found that the jury was, “[…] deadlocked.” It further went on to state, “State requested an Allen Charge and the Defense objected. Court grants the State’s request.” In layman’s terms, an Allen Charge is an order set forth when a jury is deadlocked and cannot reach a verdict. The typical use of this is to have the minority of the jury reconsider their stance on the pending verdict as to prevent a hung jury. It is also worth noting that Allen Charges have been rejected and prohibited in twenty-two states across the U.S., Texas not being one of them (see the case of Early v. Packer, 537 US 3 that describes California’s rejection of Allen Charges). When the jury did return later, however, they had come to a unanimous decision that the Mala-Nina was guilty, although they suggested that a ten-year sentence be probated rather than served in prison. This final detail may be indicative that, although the decision finally became unanimous, there was still room for doubt as to whether or not Mala-Nina was truly guilty.
With all these facts in mind — albeit, possibly too many to absorb all at once — questions still loom as to the truth about what — if anything — happened between Mala-Nina and the accuser. While the Court found Mala-Nina guilty, she has since been meeting with an attorney to further evaluate her options and maintains her innocence in the case. We cannot predict what will come of these efforts, but we can state that the details outlined in the above article are a matter of public record and are able to be obtained and reviewed by any citizen and encourage anyone with more questions to do so. As it stands now (and as mentioned at the beginning of the article) former Drag Queen Story Time directors Trent Lira and Devin Will released a public statement in Houstonia Magazine where they announced that they would be stepping away from the program, and explained their decision to do so. This morning, the Houston Chronicle reported that in spite of this, the City of Houston had initiated plans to resume the program in the future, possibly as early as the summer of this year. The story of Tatiana Mala-Nina and of Drag Queen Story Time is ongoing. About Magazine will continue to provide all of the details as they come to light and unfold.
Both KHOU Channel 11 Houston and MassResistance were reached out to for comment. Neither responded to About Magazine’s outreach.
Country Superstar Ty Herndon To Perform At Rich’s Friday Night
Country Music’s Sexy Cowboy Ty Herndon Returns To Houston Friday Night For Special Performance At Rich’s
HOUSTON – It’s rodeo time and one of country music’s biggest hearts and brightest stars, Ty Herndon is heading to Houston for a ‘one night only’ performance at Rich’s in Midtown. Herndon, known for hits like “Living in the Moment,” and “What Mattered Most,” garnered three number ones, four top ten hits. Beyond charting more than 18 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs, Ty Herndon makes his return to Texas tomorrow night.
In an exclusive interview the day before his Houston concert, About Magazine sat down with Ty in his downtown Nashville condo. From the open patio doors sounds of tourists and bachelorette parties can be heard drifting up, Ty sits across the room in a wingback chair; he’s wearing his trademark black t-shirt and skinny jeans and has a big smile. It’s 8:20 am and he’s full of energy.
“I absolutely love Houston,” he says when asked about his return. ” I might as well be from Texas! I feel like I have spent half my life there.” Ty explains he has a deep history, passion and love for Texas. “I have two of the most amazing little God-sons in Houston with the most affirming parents.” Ty hits that stage at Rich’s Houston on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Though his performance is not part of the official Rodeo Houston concert series, Herndon will headline “The Stockyard at Rich’s,” an LGBT country music-themed night hosted by Al Farb. “It’s going to be an exciting show, I am excited to be performing for all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” Ty says.
“I ABSOLUTELY LOVE TEXAS, I FEEL LIKE I AM FROM THERE, AND EXCITED TO RETURN TOMORROW!” -Ty Herndon
In its first-ever country night, Rich’s has pulled out all the stops to ensure Herndon’s performance and the crowd enjoys rodeo season. “My love for country music and country bars for more than 15 years has lead me to tomorrow night,” Jeff Harmon, owner of Rich’s says. “One of the most amazing country music DJ from the Round-Up in Dallas, DJ Jeff Doll will be here to keep the music alive.”
Recently Herndon returned from Las Vegas after being invited to sing the National Anthem at the National Finals Rodeo. “The NFR just had an openly gay dude sing the National Anthem on the world stage,” Ty is referring to the progress made by the LGBT community.
As an outspoken LGBT Advocate, Herndon, along with GLAAD and CMT produce “Love & Acceptance,” a concert held in Nashville during CMA Fest each year. “We will announce all of our talent in the next few weeks,” Herndon says. ” We have had everyone from Vince Gill to Tanya Tucker to Michael Ray in the past.”
This year is gearing up to be the biggest yet. Love & Acceptance takes place on June 6 at the legendary WildHorse Saloon.
EXCLUSIVE: Pride Houston Adds Non-Binary Grand Marshal Category
Pride Houston, Inc. is revamping their grand marshal categories for the 2019 year — adding a ‘non-binary grand marshal’ category in a step forward toward better inclusivity.
(HOUSTON) — When it comes to Pride celebrations throughout the world, there’s always discussion about how grand marshal titles can be adjusted to be more inclusive of all people in the LGBTQIA community. These categories vary from Pride organization to Pride organization. Some host only a single grand marshal each year, while others classify their grand marshals by gender identification. Some cities even host a celebrity grand marshal seat, which has not always proven to be popular within the community. But as the discussion about gender identification is constantly and rightfully making its way to the forefront, Pride Houston, Inc. has made the optimistic decision to rebrand their own grand marshal categories and take a trailblazing step forward toward better inclusivity.
In recent years, the grand marshals that lead Houston’s LGBT Pride Celebrations annually have been classified to ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘ally’ or ‘honorary’ categories. But after hearing and seriously considering remarks from the community to make their grand marshal categories more inclusive of trans and non-binary people, Pride Houston, Inc. has made the bold and promising decision to reassess how they’ll be taking grand marshal nominations from the community in 2019. While last year — which marked Pride Houston’s 40th Anniversary — all forty years’ worth of grand marshals were honored leading up to and at the event, this year Houston’s LGBTQ+ community can expect a few changes. According to Daniel Cato, who serves as the marketing director for Pride Houston, Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has revamped the male and female categories, now classifying them as “male-identifying grand marshal” and “female-identifying grand marshal”, in an effort to better serve the trans community and provide them with a sense of much-needed inclusion. Additionally — and while retaining its ‘ally” category — this will be the first year that Pride Houston, Inc. will open up a new grouping, a “gender non-binary grand marshal” for their 2019 celebration. By doing this, Pride Houston hopes to help highlight the often-forgotten non-binary people in its celebration here in Houston.
“As an organization, we want to continue the effort of making Pride more inclusive to all. Pride Houston has started the conversation of moving away from gender-related grand marshal categories.”
— Lo Roberts, President & CEO
But Pride Houston isn’t stopping there. It seems as if they are well aware that this may not be a fix-all. In an exclusive chat with About Magazine first, both Cato and Pride Houston President and CEO, Lo Roberts, added that come late February of 2019, the nonprofit will host a Town Hall with representatives of Houston’s LGBTQIA community to discuss what more they can do to become more inclusive. At this Town Hall, Pride Houston hopes to discuss what the future would look like for their grand marshal categories and allow the public to talk back with Pride’s representatives in order to provide ideas and input to aid in the evolution of Pride Houston’s honors.
In an exclusive statement from Roberts to About Magazine, the president and CEO said, “As an organization, we want to continue the effort of making Pride more inclusive to all. Pride Houston has started the conversation of moving away from gender-related grand marshal categories. The 2019 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration will maintain its traditional categories, but will additionally provide a ‘gender non-binary’ category. That being said, Pride Houston has also decided that an open and public dialogue must occur in order to review these categories and to create a consensus among the greater community about what these honors should look like and how they should be represented. I would personally like to invite our entire community to come out and be a part of the discussion as we continue to make Pride Houston the community’s organization.”
This decision comes just off the heels of the loss of Ray Hill — an icon and activist in LGBTQIA culture and the man who co-organized Houston’s very first Pride parade. Following his death, Pride Houston also announced that they would be hosting an annual Town Hall to discuss the safety of Houston’s LGBTQ+ community, as well as the issues its people face. The nonprofit is now taking nominations in all four of their 2019 grand marshal categories. The form for these nominations can be found here. Pride Houston will be accepting nominations through 6 January 2019. Nominees for each category will be announced at the Pride Unveiling Event (where the 2019 theme will also be revealed) on 24 January 2019. Public voting for nominees in each category will run from January 25th through mid-April; and the selected grand marshals will be announced at the annual Pride Kickoff Party on 25 April 2019.
EXCLUSIVE: Dallas Pride Announces New Executive Director
EXCLUSIVE: This past Thursday, Jaron Turnbow — a thirteen year veteran of Dallas Pride — was announced as the organization’s newest executive director just a week out from the Dallas Pride Celebration.
(DALLAS) – Dallas LGBTQ celebration committee, Dallas Pride, has appointed a new executive director to its board of directors. Jaron Turnbow, Dallas Pride’s newest leader, has been worked under current executive director, Michael Doughman, for several years and has spent thirteen with Dallas Pride. He has worked as head of the organization’s parade committee most recently.
Anthony Ramirez: How long have you been with Dallas Pride and how are you feeling?
Wow, three words huh?
“I need Dr. Pepper”? [Smiles]. Okay, no. Creative, optimistic, compassionate.
Dallas Pride kicks off with its festival next Saturday, September 15th, and its parade next Sunday, September 16th. Headliners include Asia O’Hara and Thea Austin.
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Editor’s Note: Big Changes at About Magazine
It’s me again, Anthony Ramirez (or basically no one). Sorry to hit you with two back-to-back editor’s notes in one day. I know they’re annoying, and I apologize. Please feel free to hit me in the face if you see me at Neon Boots later today for their 5th anniversary celebration (there’s my plug). But that aside, I want to take a moment to fill everyone in on some very important news.
It has been nearly ten months since I took over as editor-in-chief of About Magazine; and in that time I have learned the true meaning of what it is to be exhausted. When I came on to work for this magazine in June of last year, the staff consisted of only then-executive publisher/founder Cade Michals, entertainment reporter Morena Roas, then-reporter Shelby Jeffcoat, photographer David Guerra, and myself. Since then, our staff has grown to a staff of nearly twenty. While Cade departed About for bigger and better opportunities but still remains our publisher, Morena, David, and Shelby all stayed on in more hands-on capacities, the latter becoming the managing editor of our newest branch, About Magazine Dallas. Joining the ranks alongside all of us came associate editor Jessica Olsen, About Trans editor Ian Townsley, editorial consultant Wendy Taylor, director of music and entertainment Al Farb, fashion writers Stoo Gogo and Gin Martini, my assistant and book reviewer Megan Prevost, About Magazine Dallas writers Raunda Ashton and Ravin Bones, columnist Madyson Crawford, and interns Brandie Larsen and Adam Kuta.
As a team, the About Magazine staff has worked tirelessly to put out more content everyday, support the community with fundraisers and events and spotlight pieces, focus on topics important to queer people like politics and sex and health, partner with businesses, shows, and nonprofits like the University of Texas Medical Branch, Guava Lamp, Neon Boots, Pride Houston, Pride Galveston, H-Town Kings, The Woodlands Pride, Pearl Bar, Men Having Babies, and so many more. We have focused in on pieces relevant to the nature of and state of the LGBTQ community in order to spotlight and focus in on individuals in the community who are making the world a better place for queer people. Additionally, About Magazine has expanded three-fold, introducing the only LGBTQ book publishing house in Texas (About Editions) in December of 2017, opening the only LGBTQ TV and film production studio in Texas (About Media) in June while at the same time launching our Dallas branch of the magazine with Shelby at its helm. In that time, we’ve published 8 books, have six more on the way before year’s end, have put two original web series into production, and are in preproduction for another, while also totally reestablishing the magazine and bringing it to a point where Newsweek is citing articles on stories that we broke and our books are winning the New England Book Festival awards for poetry.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.
“Anthony … you’re such a bad ass.”
I know, thank you. It’s portion control and water. But the truth of the matter is that most of these things wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for that incredible team I’d listed above. I’m kind of a hot mess, y’all. Like … real life Anthony is just constantly trying to make sure that the electrical fire that is his life doesn’t set his favorite pair of shoes on fire. So, when I say that everyone on this team (new and old) has made About into the content-producing, thought-provoking, community-loving magazine that it is today and that I am just trash, I mean it. And while we still have a long way to go before we’ve hit the mark we are all striving toward, we really have something going here that we think is special. Again, none of that would be possible without the people who have stuck by my side, listened to me while I cried about being a fraud, reminded me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and helped steer a ship that was constantly in danger of capsizing.
There is one person, however, who really dug her heels into the ground to make this magazine a success from the time I took over and that has not relented on that dream since then. Her name is Wendy Taylor, and while she was previously the magazine’s editorial consultant — aiding writers in shaping pitch ideas, conferring with me about the direction of the Pride Edition and how to best integrate the magazine into the community while also introducing us to some of our most important contacts. More over, however, she has been one of my closest friends and most trusted confidants over this past year. That’s why — after a conversation at QFest with Spectrum South’s Kelsey Gledhill and Megan Smith who seemed to have no idea how I was running a magazine without a creative director — it was so easy for me to make the decision I’m here to announce today.
Effective as of two weeks ago, Wendy Taylor has joined me as my partner at About Magazine, taking on the role of Chief Creative Officer, or CCO. What this means is that Wendy will be taking over the business side of About Magazine. She will be in charge of handling the budget, the business plan, the projections, and the advertising revenue so that I can spend a little more time focusing my attention onto the content of our three little baby companies. Wendy is — for lack of a better term — a Jack of All Trades. A musician and vocalist since she was a child, Wendy has made a career of performing as a professional musician. However, what many of her fans and acquaintances don’t know about her is that she’s also a full-time mom, a full-time student on the path to beginning medical school, and has worked over the course of her career getting new businesses off of the ground and as her own business manager as a musician (there’s so much more, but I have to wrap this up).
And that’s essentially what About has been since I took over — a new business (well, three).
About Media Group (the company operating as About Magazine, About Media, and About Editions) has been growing faster than a child these last few months; and I honestly believe I would have lost control of everything had it not been for Wendy Taylor, as well as many of my other staff members. We have so much exciting news to share with you in the coming weeks, and much of that is to do with the work Wendy has done, that Shelby is doing in Dallas, and that Al has contributed. So I hope that you will all join me in welcoming Wendy into her new position and wishing her the best of luck. Not that she needs it. She is one tough bitch and has brains and wit unmatched by most others. And with that said, I owe to both Wendy and my entire staff (especially so Al, Megan, Jessica, and Morena, without whom I’d have drowned 100-times over in my own self-pity and failures) a great deal of thanks and all my love. We have so much more to share with you in the coming weeks, and I cannot wait to do so because I am terrible at keeping secrets. But truthfully, it is going to be beautiful to get to continue to he and work with the LGBTQ community in all the ways we have planned. We have the most beautiful and diverse team here at About as we approach our ten-year anniversary, and I couldn’t think of any other people with whom I’d want to celebrate ten years.
I can’t wait to see what the next ten years have in store (but hopefully a lot of Xanax).
EXCLUSIVE: The Kitchen Sink Returned
In its sophomore year, The Kitchen Sink — a day-long event for photographers and models to build their portfolios — returned to Houston’s East Downtown (EaDo) to bring some of the magic back to photography; and your very own LGBTQ magazine got an exclusive first look inside.
(HOUSTON) – Following a wildly-successful freshman year, the photography event The Kitchen Sink popped back up in EaDo last Saturday to provide photographers the opportunity to exit the realm of Instagram photos, bikini-clad models, foodie pictures, and snaps of downtown skylines to enter one of aberrant talent acts, plus-sized models, LGBTQIA performers, and much, much more. For a nominal fee, photographers, models, and performers were invited from all across the city (a list carefully curated by the event’s founder and coordinator, Jeff Soderstrom — a photographer himself) to use a massive studio space in EaDo where models and talents of all types spilled in-and-out throughout the day for the photographers to capture on film. The description doesn’t quite match up to the title of the event. Does it? We were interested to know how exactly the event took on the name “The Kitchen Sink”, and asked Soderstrom exactly how that come to be. He told us half-jokingly and half-seriously, “The ‘Everything but the Kitchen Sink Photo Shoot’ was too long.”
Walking the grounds of the giant studio space in EaDo, we ran into numerous photographers, performers, models, and their crews. When speaking to one participating photographer on his thoughts of the event, Laie Holloway said, “I’m a photographer. I’m mainly glam, but I shoot any and everything.” He continued, “[This opportunity] helps shoot diverse dancers, male and plus-sized models, [and] glam. So, it just gives you a chance to shoot a whole range of everything,” he told About Magazine at the event. “I’m loving it.”
“The LGBTQ community […] they don’t get photographed […]”
While Soderstrom hopes that the event will become larger in the future — at least large enough to accrue some sponsorship for next year — the event is private and is hosted at an undisclosed location. This is maintained so that the artists and models are protected, but also to keep the artistic and creative environment productive and free-flowing for the photographers who have spent money to be there. Soderstrom hand-selects photographers for the event himself, having added numerous newcomers to this year’s event as opposed to its inaugural year. Of the list and the event, Soderstrom, “We curate the list of as many interesting subjects that are getting short shrift and try to put them into one area where they can be shot by some amazing photographers […] [That means] the LGBTQ community, as well. Because they don’t get photographed either!”
Catching up with some of the models, we met Connor Riley (or, “the Butterfly”) of Modern Monarch in Pearland. Riley lives with a disease known as alopecia, which is known for leaving people with missing hair on certain parts of or their entire bodies. Riley could be seen against a black backdrop dressed as a superhero where he was being captured on camera. He told About Magazine, “I’m creating a superhero character that’s about creating insecurities into novelties.” When asked about his pseudonym, he explained that it ties into his art (especially the superhero shots) like so:
“When I was a kid, I loved butterflies. And my favorite after school activity was catching butterflies. I was ashamed of that because of how society portrays it […] And now me owning this brand, it’s almost like me making amends with my younger self. I’m getting peace within my heart.”
The joy and excitement of the artists and models in the room was palpable. Soderstrom — through what is clearly no small effort — has created a safe and comfortable environment for both models and photographers alike, not to mention one that is symbiotic to the careers and portfolios of both. Said Soderstrom of how the event originally came to be, “Photographers can do better. There are many other things that we can be pointing our cameras at other than naked, 24-year-old, white, thin women. Texas has a thriving performance community [and] a thriving plus-sized model contingent. We have male models who are getting short shrift because they aren’t getting the Instagram and Facebook likes. And photographers have shifted their priorities to Instagram and Facebook and, in turn, have left so many interesting and vibrant subjects to the wayside. That’s why we have these events here.”
For more information on his photography company, Emporium Photography, or to connect with Soderstrom about next year’s event, you can click here. Check out shots from the event below.
Contributions to this article were made by About Magazine Creative Director, Wendy Taylor.