“Faces of Muhammed: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today” by John Tolan— The Contradictory Western Visions of Muhammad

Tolan, John. “Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

The Contradictory Western Visions of Muhammad

Amos Lassen

In European culture, Muhammad has been  seen and vilified as a heretic, an impostor, and a pagan idol. But there are other images of the Prophet of Islam that emerge from Western history. Some commentators have portrayed Muhammad as a visionary reformer and an inspirational leader, statesman, and lawgiver. Here in 
“Faces of Muhammad”, John Tolan gives a comprehensive history of the changing, complex, and contradictory visions. The book starts with the earliest calls to the faithful to join the Crusades against the “Saracens” and from there he traces the evolution of Western conceptions of Muhammad through the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and up to the present day.

We see the lengthy tradition of positive portrayals of Muhammad that many will find surprising. Reformation polemicists and the spread of Islam proved the corruption of the established Church and prompted them to depict Muhammad as a champion of reform. In revolutionary England, writers on both sides of the conflict saw parallels between Muhammad and Oliver Cromwell and asked whether the prophet was a rebel against legitimate authority or the bringer of a new and just order. Voltaire saw Muhammad as an archetypal religious fanatic but later claimed him to be an enemy of superstition. To Napoleon, he was simply a role model— a brilliant general, orator, and leader.

We see that Muhammad was a man of many faces in the West “because he has always acted as a mirror for its writers, their portrayals revealing more about their own concerns than the historical realities of the founder of Islam.”

John Tolan shows us the historical Muhammad and Muslim portraits of God’s beloved Messenger and focuses on Mahomet as European men have depicted him over the centuries. We see how varied versions of Islam’s prophet come into being and how they make sense within their own social, intellectual, and theological contexts. It becomes completely clear that there is no single, monolithic view of Muhammad in European culture.

“Pride: A Celebration in Quotes” by Caitlyn McNeill— A True Celebration

McNeill, Caitlyn. “Pride: A Celebration in Quotes”, 2019.

A True Celebration

Amos Lassen

After the Boston Pride parade I walked into my neighborhood bookstore where I saw a beautiful little book that looked like the rainbow flag. It was “Pride: A Celebration in Quotes” that were collected and edited by Caitlyn McNeill in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Pride Parade. Here is a collection of inspiring words of wisdom on loving yourself as you truly are. 
“These thoughtfully selected quotations are the perfect way to honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the first Pride parade. Taken from throughout history and from a variety of voices, they celebrate everything the LGBT community has achieved, looking at inclusivity across the board and reminding us that love is one of the world’s greatest powers.”

Quotes include: 
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” —Barack Obama
“I’ve never been interested in being invisible and erased.” —Laverne Cox
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson



“Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall” by James Polchin— Shocking Stories

Polchin, James. “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall”, Counterpoint, 2019.

Shocking Stories

Amos Lassen

In James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall”, we read of true crime headlines and the forgotten murders of gay men.

Some of you undoubtedly remember when gay were misunderstood and exploitered by American society. Safety was not part of their lives even with the fires of revolution beginning to take hold of the LGBTQ community. Polchin exposes this through story after story  and reminds us what really influenced the change that came. As he researched this topic, Polchin

discovered this as well as the early cultural shifts that fueled the revolution that was Stonewall. He has collected these stories and they are what make up “Indecent Advances” and we read one sad story after another about shocking crimes in which the victim becomes blame for the crime simply because of his sexuality. The killers used the excuse that they had to deal with indecent advances and in order to protect their heterosexism, they acted as the did.

We read of “gay panic” defense a tactic still being used today. Crimes against gay men sometimes led to uprisings by the press and local officials. Prepare to be shocked by want you read it.

My home town of New Orleans does not get off easy here as seen in the brutal murders of William Simpson in Miami, 1954, and Fernando Rios  in 1958. While Simpson’s killers were pardoned in the newspapers and they were found guilty of manslaughter (a lesser crime) in court and both served time. Rios’ murderers (Tulane fraternity boys) were acquitted and were applauded. uproarious applause. (Killing a queer is good for society, it seems). Polchin takes through gay history via the cries that were perpetrated against us. We read of the infamous Chicago gay murderers Leopold and Loeb as proof that sexual deviancy causes crime. We see that many thought that the friendship pf David Kammerer with Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac influenced their lives. Polchin’s research is amazing as is his ability to tell stories. This is the kind of book that you want to clear your day before beginning or you will find yourself unable to stop reading (I read it right through, twice!!!).

Something unexpected was Polchin’s looks at our literature (including James Baldwin and Gore Vidal) as well as the then Black press in order to feel the background of the time he was writing about. He also gained a different understanding of what was going on as compared to what the white press was reporting.

It is important for our community to know that we did not take this as it was given to us and we fought back as best we could. The launch of “ONE” magazine as a tool for a very early effort to fight homophobia and incorrect coverage by the press was so very important and it was able to a degree “counter narratives of homosexual criminality and mental sickness in the popular press” and this was so very important in making others aware of homosexuality as simply a minority identity. Along with Alfred Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” that added to the conversation and the beginning of the revolution that continued to carry on for the following decades. Once the seeds for revolution were planted, there was no turning back. Unfortunately violence continues and we understand that our history is filled with violence. We have to wonder what brought about the change in attitude toward the LGBTQ community. Of course there are still enemies and haters out there and even though the public media is no longer on their side, we still face violence and hatred. Those misinterpreted verses for the Hebrew bible that are really about the lack of hospitality are still being interpreted incorrectly and I can tell you are a sincere and concerned person who studies the Bible faithfully, that they are wrong but then I have also learned that we can twist into saying whatever we need it to say.

With the amount of LGBT literature that I read, it is quite hard to convince me of something new. Polchin was able to do so without twisting my arm at all. I was swept up into a world of crime in which the victims in no way deserved their fate. It was allotted simply based on their sexuality and nothing else. Since when is one’s sexuality a crime and how is punishment administered? This is the shocking information you will find here.

Polchin brings back a forgotten era of queer history (how quickly we forget). He brings together his exceptional crime research with his marvelous skills of analysis to look at how  the media, psychological theories and prejudice perpetuated the idea that gay men were sexual deviants. Polchin’s contribution to our history is both valuable and important and we owe him a great deal.




“The Song of the Sea” by Jenn Alexander— Facing Grief

Alexander, Jenn. “The Song of the Sea”, Bywater Books, 2019.

Confronting Grief

Amos Lassen

What I really love about reviewing is the chance to  read debut authors and if possible, help them on their ways. I love the feeling that I get when I realize that what I am reading must be shared with the world and today, I am sharing Jenn Alexander and her gorgeous novel. “The Song of the Sea”. I must say that the title won me over immediately and for those of you who are not familiar with the Hebrew Bible or Judaism, I will explain. One of the highpoints of the Jews wandering in the desert was the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and this becomes part of the prayer liturgy of the Jewish people. “The Song of the Sea” as it appears in the Five Books of Moses is read and every Jewish prayer service and is an integral part of the relationship between what was the young Hebrew nation and God. I was not sure what to expect from Jenn Alexander’s “The Song of the Sea” but she had already won me over with her title.

Quite basically, it is the story of Lisa Whelan, a woman who must deal with her grief when she falls in love with a struggling single-mom whose son reminds her of the child she lost. There is no time schedule for falling in love and Lisa really had no plans to do so. She always found comfort in the ocean and after her newborn son dies, she goes home to her family and to find solace in the nearby body of water. The song that comes from the water, “the song if the sea” strengthens Lisa and comforts her making her feel safe. She certainly was not planning on meeting anyone as she worked through her grief and is really not ready for how she feels for her new friend, Rachel. Rachel is part-owner of the restaurant in town but even with her strong feelings for the women, something happens when Lisa learns that Rachel has a young son and Lisa is still very brittle about the loss of her son.

We see that it has not been easy for Rachel as a single mom to raised Declan her son. Declan is not the best behaved child on the block and it often punished at school for his disruptive behavior. Lisa, in all of her grief, is irresistibly drawn to Rachel and her son. She thinks that she will be able to control her emotions at bay and that the grief she feels will not keep her from falling in love. She is, of course, shaken by her emotions yet she believes that how she feels for Rachel and Declan will allow her to find what she so badly needs.  She just must allow herself to a new song of the sea.

Yes. My friends, you will tear up while reading but that’s fine as this is a tale filled with grace and compassion. We face grief early on and it stays with us and ultimately becomes hope. The pain of losing a newborn child becomes part of the mother’s memory and remains there forever. We do not know how to deal with a mother’s grief and there are manuals but with help of Rachel, we feel that Lisa will ultimately be okay.

“Flannelwood” by Raymond Luczak— Finding Love, Loosing Love

Luczak, Raymond.  “Flannelwood”, Red Hen , 2019

Finding Love. Loosing Love

Amos Lassen

When I first seriously started reviewing some 13 years ago, one of the first writers I read and wrote about was Raymond Luczak and I did so without knowing any background information about him and certainly was not aware that he could not hear. Later as I continued to review him, I learned what a dynamic person he is and that his disability does not define him. Luczak is one helluva good writer and whatever he writes, poetry, fiction or nonfiction it is all punctuated with shining moments and excellent writing skills. I knew before I even picked up “Flannelwood” that I was going to be reading a very special book…. and it is.

Bill is a forty-year-old barista and a failed poet who meets James, a disabled factory worker and “a daddy hunk” at an OctoBear Dance and it is love at first sight. For six months they have wonderful weekends filled with passion at James’ house during which they made the cold winters seem very hot. Then, as spring rolls in, James calls Bill and tells him that it’s not going to work out and hangs up. As we expect, Bill is bereft and has nothing to base some kind of understanding upon. He looks for clues and reflects on his own past relationships but it took a mysterious stranger to learn why James ended it. Of course, I am not going to share that because if I did you have no reason to read this book and I want everyone to read it— not just for the story but also as a way to meet Raymond Luczak. I will share that this is a story that will haunt you.

Because one of the characters suffers from a disability, we get something of a new take on LGBTQ literature that we do not often have. It is the beauty of Luczak’s prose and prose poetry that makes the book and the characters come alive. His unique dealing with disabilities here is magical and as a person who works for disability inclusion, I found a great deal to love. I also was greatly tuned into Bill’s search for answers and his attempts to find a way to gain revenge. As I was reading, I found myself thinking about a book that dealt with similar issues and one that I read as a graduate student studying feminist literature but it was not until I realized that it was Djuna Barnes’s “Nightwood” (I suppose I should have read the blurbs on the book’s cover but it is my practice not to look at any supplemental material until after I have read the book I am reviewing).There are several themes here including disability, intimacy, questions about masculinity, alienation, and healing.

It is so often very difficult to find our ways into love and when it does not work to fight our way out of love. To me that is the overriding theme of “Flannelwood” and it is beautifully handled.

“5B”— Courage and Compassion in San Francisco’s First AIDS Ward


Courage and Compassion in San Francisco’s First AIDS Ward

Amos Lassen

Beginning with a Blondie-scored introduction, we are taken through a short introduction about the gay liberation movement of the 1970s when  San Francisco war he place to be for out-and-proud living. Directors Dan  Krauss and Paul Haggis also give brief establishing notes on how AIDS was initially referred to as “gay cancer” when first detected and reported back in the last days of disco. There is another deeper narrative that begins in “1983, with the founding of  5B, a dedicated AIDS unit in San Francisco General Hospital and spearheaded by nurse Cliff Morrison. It was a landmark innovation at a time when many healthcare professionals across the country did not want to treat AIDS patients. Info about how the disease was spread was filled with  reckless misconceptions. We see a hospital warning sign reading “Caution: Biological Hazard — AIDS.”

Morrison and a number of his ward colleagues are seen as present-day talking heads, reflecting on the unorthodox methods that made 5B a safe haven for victimized patients  who had been spurned by other facilities, and/or even their own families. “You had to get out of the mode that you were here for curing people; you were here to care for people,” one observes — and thus did the staff endeavor to make the ward a comforting home away from home for its residents, with a more informal, intimate bedside manner than was standard elsewhere in the hospital.  We see archive video of ward parties and hear from entertainer Rita Rockett who shares thoughts of her days as 5B’s roller skating cheerleader of sorts. Her morale-boosting Sunday brunches for patients became legendary.

Not everyone was on board with the humane, up-with-people approach of Morrison and his colleagues — many of them in the LGBT community themselves — as other doctors and nurses in the hospital and beyond complained of a “homosexual hierarchy,” accusing the 5B staff of preferential treatment for AIDS patients and insufficient safety measures. The film also the ramifications of this institutional homophobia, and it is here that we find the film’s most fascinating content here. We become acquainted with the case of Mary Magee, long known to the media only as “Jane Doe,” a 5B nurse who contracted HIV after an accidental needlestick that exacerbated a national wave of discriminatory care policy — to the point where 56% of the polled American public supported quarantining AIDS patients on a separate island.

The film’s biggest surprise may be the story’s clear villain: Dr. Lorraine Day, former chief of orthopedic surgery at San Francisco, whose high-profile lobbying for mandatory AIDS testing on all surgical patients made her something of a figurehead for homophobic fearmongers across America. She not least when she referred to AIDS as “a loaded gun under a coat.” She remains a critic of 5B’s practices 30 years later: “What is it they supposedly did that was so fantastic?” The film’s archive footage and the testimony of its living interview subjects answers that question as Day incriminates herself with her multiple bigoted statements. (She is also known as a Holocaust denier.)

The ravages of the AIDS crisis, the stigmatization of its victims and the shameful prolonged indifference of the Ronald Reagan government have been widely chronicled in both narrative and nonfiction features. But the heroism of the nurses and volunteer caregivers manning the frontlines is a largely overlooked aspect that’s worth remembering. Here is  first-person oral history and extensive archival footage that honors the pioneering work carried out in ward 5B which opened at San Francisco General Hospital in direct response to a state of emergency still being widely ignored at that time.

This is a straightforward conventional style documentary with a series of talking-head interviews and it has an inclusive perspective covering both the selfless contributions of people fighting the good fight — gay and straight, men and women, medics and nonprofessionals — as well as the conservative forces who tried to discredit the efforts of 5B staffers to bring dignity and compassion to what at that time was a death sentence. Making up the rules as they went along, the nurses reset the standard boundaries of clinical detachment to make human contact the focus, rejecting the alarmist precaution of hazmat suits prevalent even among medical professionals elsewhere.

The images of handsome young men transformed in a matter of weeks into skin and bones or covered in lesions are emotionally powerful even thirty years later, when the revolution in antiretroviral drugs has dramatically cut the number of fatalities. It is still shocking to hear the undisguised homophobia in news reports when cases first started surfacing in 1981, pointing to “the lifestyle of the typical male homosexual that has triggered a rare form of cancer.”

In those days it was clear that as  there was really no medication that could deal with the onslaught of the diseases that HIV caused and  that inevitably all the patients would die.  Some much quicker than others.  As one of the nurses said  “It was a wonderful place where you could go to die — but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they died.”

Let me warn you—this is a very difficult film to watch if you were alive during AIDS. I wept almost constantly but I also loved many of the characters we meet here. A good cry can be cathartic and it was indeed so here.

In a year when the LGBTQ community is focusing so much on how the Stonewall Riots 50 years ago went on to significantly shape our lives. it is also good to remember that the pain of the AIDS crisis will never really go, but as this film shows, it gives us hope that if we keep standing together as a community we can survive and be our true selves.

“Half Moon Street” by Alex Reeve— A Literary Surprise

Reeve, Alex. “Half Moon Street, (Leo Stanhope #1)”, Felony & Mayhem, 2019.

A Literary Surprise

Amos Lassen

As most of you can imagine, I get plenty of books every week but very few make me sit up and take notice. Now that does not mean that there is no good writing out there because there is and, of course, I have my own criteria for what will be great literature and I am as often wrong as I am right on this. Just imagine how boring it would be if we all liked the same thing. Even with that, I have a feeling that we will keep hearing about Alex Reeve.

I am generally not much of a mystery reader and for me to like a mystery is difficult. But then there is Alex Reeve who pulled me in on the first page and kept me going long after I finished the book. Set in 1880, we meet Leo Stanhope, a guy with great dreams and empty pockets. His dreams include  setting up house with Maria, his prostitute girlfriend and he dreams of getting of London and as far away from dead bodies as possible. Leo works at the morgue where he confronts blood and stink every day. He also dreams of a world

Like half the young men in London, Leo Stanhope is rich in dreams but poor of pocket. He dreams of making a home with Maria, the prostitute he loves. He dreams of a life far from the blood and stink of the morgue where he works. And he dreams of a world where no one cares about gender. You see, Leo has a secret that can lock him away in prison for life if he is not killed before that. However, Maria was killed instead, and Leo is the prime suspect. He is determined and desperate to clear his name and find the murderer but to do so, he is forced to make important sacrifices—  his books, his job, his home.

Leo was born Charlotte, but he knew he was meant to be a man despite his body saying otherwise. He ran away when he was just 15 and has lived as Leo since that day. Very few people knew about his original identity. 
Now with Maria dead and Leo accused of her murder, he lost the woman he loves, and now could lose his freedom and, ultimately, his life.

Alex Reeve is an amazing writer especially when we consider that he had create an atmosphere, draw characters and a plot that all work together.

It did not take long for Leo to understand that he barely knew Maria and her funeral gives Leo an opportunity to see and meet others from her life, including the brothel owner, a man who claims family connections with the powerful Bentinck family and his bookkeeper, Miss Nancy Gainsford. Before long, Leo is arrested as the main suspect for Maria’s murder by the police, but he is released after behind the scenes pressure is put on them. As Leo meets more and more people who knew Maria, he feels betrayed, begins to learn about human trafficking, and the misery and horror of it.  The mystery goes on but I want to leave that I can’t slip and give something away. It is important that we see Leo’s vulnerability  and how he has to live with the risks and dangers of being transgender in unenlightened times. He is forced to reinforce a self-protective barrier between himself and the world. There is a lot of brutality, abuse and rape in the novel.

Reeve wonderfully captures the  atmosphere of the times and I became so involved in reading that before I realized it, the sun rose and I was sitting in the same place I sat twelve hours earlier. The book was on my lap, closed but the story remained fresh in my mind and o it still is today. I must admit that I fell in love with Leo a bit and the good news is that he will be back in a series of books beginning in the fall of 2020.


“I’M FINE”: Season 3 July 25th Premiere on Dekkoo

“I’M FINE”: Season 3

July 25th Premiere on Dekkoo

 The final season of I’M FINE follows Nate and his band of friends as they continue to splinter off into their own journeys as other friendships develop. This season tackles themes of identity, monogamy, shame and the gay generational divide. Jeff progresses in his relationship with Zachary, revealing aspects of a past he was hardly prepared to grapple with himself. Nicole entertains an unexplored interest in women through an alluring new coworker, while Andy and Brian rekindle things with the possibility of a third. Mick continues to unabashedly be himself, figuring out his place in L.A. quicker than most. And lastly, after searching for himself and landing in a place of comfort, Nate gets an unexpected newcomer into his life, an older gentleman who challenges everything he thought he knew about himself and relationships.  Could this force him to make a big decision about his future in a city he finally learned to call home?



Working on I’M FINE has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it’s all thanks to my creative IM FINE family I’ve been able to cultivate over these past three years.

This series began over a break up, as the cliche now says, all gay web series are about a breakup. And back in 2016, IM FINE was no exception. I used my heartbreak as a creative outlet to create Nate, a fictionalized version of myself brought to life by Perry Powell, who imbued the character with so much unexpected depth that I soon realized this character and this story would go quickly go beyond any real life touch points.

Season one was a project squeezed in on weekends, shooting an episode a day over saturdays and Sundays in the summer of 2016. We were able to move fast thanks to the brilliance of my DP Andrew Ceperley and the exceptional skill and recourses my entire cast & crew brought everyday.

After we threw up the first few episodes on Vimeo, lgbt streaming service Dekkoo soon thereafter took notice and expressed interest in producing further episodes. I was in no position to say no, so I gladly accepted their offer and never looked back.

Now in 2019, we have wrapped post production on season 3 and can look back on years of hard work. The show’s cast and crew, lovingly dubbed the I’m Fine family, grew into a tight knit group of creative collaborators who took on extra responsibilities in the third season.

The first two seasons were largely about Nate, while introducing a colorful and vibrant cast of supporting characters. We expanded on their stories in season 2 while still maintaining Nate as the central focal point of these characters’ lives. And so, for season 3 I decided it was time to move even further past this show’s origin.

Nate became a supporting character in his own story, and the stories of the supporting cast became centerpieces. Their stories were completely independent and didn’t rely on Nate for their importance. As it works in real life with friendships, sometimes as we get older, groups spread apart while still acknowledging each other in their lives. And I wanted to reflect this pattern of friendships coming-of-age in season 3.

And with this also came the most important aspect of all, which was expanding the stories beyond just myself and my perspective. Season 1 and 2 are populated with fictional characters drawn from inspiration of people in my real life. And so with season 3, I opened it up to my collaborators to tell stories. My insanely talented producers wrote and co-wrote scripts, my DP and several actors directed episodes, while I helmed the ship and admired the stories they were bringing to the table.

For this series, it was time for me to take a step back and fully embrace the I’m Fine family, and what we ended up coming up with for season 3, I can’t wait for everyone to see it.    

“I’M FINE is definitely one of our most popular episodic series. The decision to end the series now was a story-telling decision. We let Brandon Kirby tell the story he wanted to tell. He always felt 3-seasons was the proper length for the story.  We couldn’t be more proud of the success the series has had and we’re honored to have it part of the Dekkoo library.”  – Brian Sokel / Dekkoo President



Brandon Kirby is the creator, writer and director of the Dekkoo original series I’M FINE, the third and final season of which releases this year. He also served as producer on the Dekkoo short film FACES and the Revry short film HE DRINKS, with more projects currently in production. Having graduated from Michigan State University, he began his career in L.A. seven years ago and is currently gaining his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University. In his spare time, he serves as co-host on the film podcast MOVIES IMO and is involved with fundraising efforts through AIDS/LifeCycle and Outfest.



Frankie A. Rodriguez has worked in television and film for the last four years and can be seen in the guest-starring role of Eduardo on ABC’s “Modern Family” and Dekkoo’s Original series “I’m Fine”.  Now cast as series regular on the Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical,” Rodriguez plays Carlos — captain of the color guard and the student choreographer for the show. Originally from central California, when he was five years old, Frankie dreamed of becoming a background dancer for Jennifer Lopez. That same dream still stands today.



After graduating from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television with a degree in acting, Lee Doud began pursuing his professional endeavors in Hollywood. Along with Dekkoo Original “I’m Fine”, Lee’s TV credits include Showtime’s “Californication”, “House of Lies”, “Last Man Standing”, and upcoming thriller “Dark/Web”. On the film side, he can also be seen in SXSW hit “KTown Cowboys”. As a producer, Doud worked on short film “Another Stupid Day”, followed by feature film “The Amateur” with the same team. “The Amateur” can currently be streamed on Amazon Prime. Lee is inspired by storytelling that can help make a difference in the world by representing different points of views or ways of life. 



ULYSSES MORAZAN plays Brain in Dekkoo’s Original series I’m Fine. He can also be seen playing Abel in Somebody Else, an official selection at the 2019 Outfest Fusion’s Festival and last year got play alongside Angela Kinsey in Sherry a 2018 California’s Women Film Festival Selection for best comedy short. Other credits includes BuzzFeed’s “You Do Two” and “Lesbian Princess.”  He currently studies at The Groundlings Theater and School and loves it!  



Perry Powell is a performer and art director based in Los Angeles. He has starred in dozens of plays and short films and created designs for clients including HBO, NBC, Comic Con, The LA Philharmonic Orchestra, Invertigo Dance Theatre, The Party By Ostbahnhof, Lightning in a Bottle, & Alaska Thunderf*ck. I’m Fine is his first experience leading a web series. 



“Will Branske is an actor and photographer living in Los Angeles, CA.  He has appeared in a number of short films, commercials, and web series’ since moving to LA and is continuing to put out content involving/documenting the queer community of today.  He is so happy to have been involved with “I’m Fine” and to have directed an episode of Season 3.  You can see him as one of the lead characters in an upcoming web series titled ‘The Spins’ and his photography work on his instagram @willbranske.” 



Jennifer DeFilippo is an actress and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has appeared in numerous television shows and films, as well as many national commercial campaigns. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Loyola Marymount University, she furthered her training in improv comedy at prestigious schools such as The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Second City. Jennifer has performed on television shows such as Modern FamilyMasters of Sex, ParenthoodShamelessNew Girl, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. She’s recurred in the Dannon Oikos Yogurt campaign opposite John Stamos and “fell from heaven” in the well-received AT&T Commercial opposite Karan Soni. Jennifer has also had the pleasure of working with directors such as William H. Macy, John Putch, and Larry Charles.

“Pride: A Celebration in Quotes” by Caitlyn McNeill— Inspiring Quotes and Words of Wisdom

McNeill, Caitlyn.  “Pride: A Celebration in Quotes”, Sterling, 2019.

Inspiring Quotes and Words of Wisdom

Amos Lassen

 In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Pride Parade,  Caitlyn McNeill’s “Pride: A Collection of Quotes”  brings us inspiring words of wisdom on loving ourselves as we truly are. 
“These thoughtfully selected quotations are the perfect way to honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the first Pride parade.” They are taken from throughout history and come from a variety of voices and celebrate everything the LGBT community has achieved, “looking at inclusivity across the board and reminding us that love is one of the world’s greatest powers.”

“There has never been a better collection of quotes about pride–from around the world, throughout history, and from a variety of people from all walks of life. From Mayor Pete to Walt Whitman and Anaïs Nin; from Dolly Parton, Lena Waithe, and Tan France to Marsha P. Johnson, David Jay, and Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (and activists from Taiwan, Palestine, the Philippines, Belgium, Uganda, India, and more), this is an amazing compendium of quoted material on everything from personal pride to global struggle, and a perfect gift for anyone who wants to learn about and celebrate pride, whether it’s this month or any time throughout the year.”

Quotes include: 
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” —Barack Obama
“I’ve never been interested in being invisible and erased.” —Laverne Cox
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson



“The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America” by Charles Kaiser— Struggle and Triumph

Kaiser, Charles. “The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America”, Grove Press, 2019 reprint.

Struggle and Triumph

Amos Lassen

 Charles Kaiser’s “The Gay Metropolis” is the story of the struggle and triumph of the LGBT movement in this country.  When first published fifty years ago, it was recognized as the most authoritative and substantial work of its kind. Now, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, Charles Kaiser brings this history into the twenty-first century in this new edition in which he covers the three court cases that lead to the revolutionary legalization of gay marriage in America. He also includes the shifts toward inclusion in mainstream pop culture, with the Oscar winning films “Brokeback Mountain” and “Call Me By Your Name”.

The book is filled with amazing anecdotes and tales of heartbreak and transformation as it moves forward decade by decade presenting  the rise and acceptance of gay life and identity since the 1940s. We have a fascinating cast of characters that includes Leonard Bernstein, Montgomery Clift, Alfred Hitchcock, John F. Kennedy, and RuPaul. We read as gay people come into their own and out of the mire of fear and self-hatred. There are also many surprises like the story of Otis Bigelow who was known as the most handsome man in New York of the 1940s and desired by so many men who said that being gay “was an upscale thing to be”, but at the same time just “across town from Park Avenue there was a completely different kind of gay life was in Times Square. Here is New York City, a melting pot of cultures, where each culture wants to reclaim their identity. In the ’40s, we were hidden in plain sight and anonymity was the way to live. In the ’40s, the general opinion was that, you could be gay but you could not  flaunt it. One of them cite a certain Mrs. Patrick Campbell who said “My dear, I don’t care what people do as long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses”.

In a period when civil rights were starting to be a common agenda of many politicians, it was not the same when those rights regarded LGBT people. You were free inside your private home, (if you were wealthy enough to have that safe home), but you were also captive of your own golden cage.

During World War II, we read about those men who remained (or went back) into the closet, not for the fear of being discovered, but to avoid to be refused the chance to protect their country as soldiers. We reach the ’50s, a period of euphoria when being gay was dangerous, and was hidden; if in the ’40s you could be gay inside private walls, in the ’50s even that freedom was a danger, and the closet developed as a symbol of a safe place. As for many others, gays became the target of a witch hunt. Maybe for this reason, late in the ’50s the main tendency was to “blend” and you see gays people getting married, with or without the knowledge of the wife.

With the ’60s came a surge of consciences, in all levels of society and among gays and lesbians as well. New York saw not only the first religious congregation for gays, but also Columbia University was one of the first colleges to give formal recognition to a gay students organization. Homosexuality left the closet and television saw a ground-breaking documentary, “The Homosexuals”.

Stonewall bridges the ’60s and the ’70s and from that moment on there will be always a pre and post-Stonewall gay and lesbian movement and culture: “although millions would remain in the closet, within a year after Stonewall, thousands of men and women would find the courage to declare themselves for the first time”. Suddenly, being gay, or at least bisexual, was in style, and in many media, television, cinema, publishing, the gay characters not only started to make their appearance, they were also, sometime, positively accepted by the mainstream public. And also Forster’s Maurice came out of the closet. The ’70 see the sexual revolution, a sexual revolution that happened also within the LGBT community.

The ’80s and the beginning of the ’90 are the Dark Ages of the LGBT community with AIDS killing so many that an entire generation was lost. “New York had far more AIDS cases than any other city in America”. It’s painful to read this part of the book and it becomes more and more painful when you think about it.

The ’90s  bring us the LGBT community entering politics and starting to put their weight on those politicians who represent them. Writer Kaiser brings to life the men he writes about and he shares their dreams, fears, love and betrayals.

Kaiser’s book is a chronology of planned and deliberate oppression against gay men and women- not only by politicians and psychiatrists, but also by Christian churches. We gain a better understanding of LGBT community and reading it again fifty years later then the first time lets me see its relevance and importance.