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Odyssey Oakengrove - Grand Marshal nominee -- Kevin O'Connor, LGBTQ author --Mr. Prime Choice James Martinez

We speak with Odyssey Oakengrove. Odyssey Oakengrove grew up in Houston and quickly moved back after their boyfriend broke off the relationships, saying that Odyssey was “too involved in the gay community, the trans community, and Black Lives Matter.” Not having recognized their transness, they simply said, “I am the gay community” and packed their stuff to move back home.  Once here, they found a home with Black Lives Matter activists, learning advocacy and unlearning their colonized mindset. They realized they were genderqueer at an ACLU abortion access seminar, not simply a “really strong ally.” They have volunteered time with Clinic Access Support Network, Black Lives Matter: Houston, and Showing Up for Racial Justice. They have spoken with state reps at the 2021 and 2023 Texas Legislative Session, fighting for queer students, public education, and against oppressive immigration policies. Odyssey is a candidate for grand marshal for the Pride Houston 365 parade.

Then, we speak with Kevin O'Connor, author of “Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home”.  Kevin O’Connor enjoys chronicling the stories of families and friends through tracing genealogical histories and writing. He is an expert at organizing family letters and artifacts. He sings and performs in theaters and is active with SMART Ride, a bicycling group that rides annually from Miami to Key West, raising funds for HIV awareness, treatment, and education. Kevin was an elementary teacher, principal, professor, and curriculum coordinator in California, Illinois, and Florida from 1973 to 2020. He authored content and provided training in areas including support for substitute teachers, LGBTQ advocacy, and Sexual Health/Family Life. Kevin resides in Ft. Lauderdale with his husband, Leon. Their family includes five sons and seven granddaughters.

Finally, we speak with James Martinez, Mr. Prime Choice 2024. Mr. Prime Choice is open to any male identified individual 40 or older living in the state of Texas.  James is founder of Texas Men of Leather. We talk about what being Mr. Prime Choice is like.



Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Odyssey Oakengrove - Grand Marshal nominee -- Kevin O'Connor, LGBTQ author --Mr. Prime Choice James Martinez

We speak with Odyssey Oakengrove. Odyssey Oakengrove grew up in Houston and quickly moved back after their boyfriend broke off the relationships, saying that Odyssey was “too involved in the gay community, the trans community, and Black Lives Matter.” Not having recognized their transness, they simply said, “I am the gay community” and packed their stuff to move back home.  Once here, they found a home with Black Lives Matter activists, learning advocacy and unlearning their colonized mindset. They realized they were genderqueer at an ACLU abortion access seminar, not simply a “really strong ally.” They have volunteered time with Clinic Access Support Network, Black Lives Matter: Houston, and Showing Up for Racial Justice. They have spoken with state reps at the 2021 and 2023 Texas Legislative Session, fighting for queer students, public education, and against oppressive immigration policies. Odyssey is a candidate for grand marshal for the Pride Houston 365 parade.

Then, we speak with Kevin O'Connor, author of “Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home”.  Kevin O’Connor enjoys chronicling the stories of families and friends through tracing genealogical histories and writing. He is an expert at organizing family letters and artifacts. He sings and performs in theaters and is active with SMART Ride, a bicycling group that rides annually from Miami to Key West, raising funds for HIV awareness, treatment, and education. Kevin was an elementary teacher, principal, professor, and curriculum coordinator in California, Illinois, and Florida from 1973 to 2020. He authored content and provided training in areas including support for substitute teachers, LGBTQ advocacy, and Sexual Health/Family Life. Kevin resides in Ft. Lauderdale with his husband, Leon. Their family includes five sons and seven granddaughters.

Finally, we speak with James Martinez, Mr. Prime Choice 2024. Mr. Prime Choice is open to any male identified individual 40 or older living in the state of Texas.  James is founder of Texas Men of Leather. We talk about what being Mr. Prime Choice is like.



Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody, this is Queer Voices, a home-produced podcast that has grown out of a radio show that's been on the air in Houston, texas, for several decades. This week, deborah Moncree-Fell has a conversation with Odyssey Okangrove, who is one of the nominees for Grand Marshals for this year's Houston Pride 365 Pride Parade.

Speaker 2:

Pride means resilience, but more than that, Pride means being able to be in community with others who have experienced the same resilience with you.

Speaker 1:

Brian Levinca talks with Kevin O'Connor about his book Two Floors Above Grief.

Speaker 3:

The premise of the book, the premise of the memoir is it focuses on the time I spent from birth in 1950 till the time I went away to college, and a little after, in the 70s, I was the son and nephew of funeral directors.

Speaker 1:

Deborah has a feature-length interview with James Martinez, who is Mr Prime Choice 2024. And we have news wrap from this Way Out Queer Voices starts now.

Speaker 4:

Odyssey Okangrove grew up in Houston and, after moving away, quickly moved back when their boyfriend broke off the relationship, saying that Odyssey was too involved in the gay community, the trans community and Black Lives Matter. Not having recognized their trendness, they simply said I am the gay community and packed their stuff and moved back home. I love that story, odyssey, because part of your journey in realizing your true self and then the things that matter to you, your values, your principles and how that led you to activism in various areas, not just the queer community, but Black Lives Matter and showing up for racial justice, the clinic access support. The reason we're talking to you today, odyssey Okangrove, is because you've been nominated to be a Grand Marshal for Pride Houston 365, pride Parade 2024 in the category of gender non-binary, non-conforming. What does being nominated mean to you?

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much. I am very excited about this nomination and I am more excited than I ever thought that I would be. Seeking out accolades is not something that I do. When my friend, ethan Michelle, reached out to me and was like, hey, you know, get in contact with Kay. And I was like, who is Kay? I don't understand what is happening. And then Kay informed me that, yes, I was a finalist, I was pretty flabbergasted, honestly, but mostly just humbled and really honored. I don't do my activism, like I said, for accolades. I do this because it is the right thing to do, and you know where this story leads me has just been one adventure after the other and I'm really excited for this good adventure.

Speaker 4:

Many of us. We are forced into activism because our very lives depend on it. And then we find the queer community and that opens up in a whole other world. Honestly, what are some of your past experiences with Pride?

Speaker 2:

I didn't get to actually attend a Pride event until I was, I think, in college somewhere around there. And at the time a lot of Pride events across the country were starting to get a lot of threats and there were threats of violence, threats of, frankly, warfare and that sort of thing. And I remember getting a call from my mom who was asking me hey, are you still planning on attending Pride this year? And I was like, well, yes, and she goes. Well, there's been a lot of threats and I am angry and I want to go with you. And that was not what I was expecting her to say. I was younger, I hadn't quite learned about her history of activism, but it's what she taught me of you say yes to doing the right thing and then you figure out how to do it. When she heard about the threat, she was like no, I'm going to go do this with you more, I'm going to do it harder. And I was like that's where I get this from.

Speaker 4:

So what does Pride mean to you?

Speaker 2:

Pride means resilience, but more than that, pride means being able to be in community with others who have experienced the same resilience with you and passing that resilience down to the next generation. I have marched in the parade, I have watched the parade go by. I've now been able to interact with Pride celebrations in Houston in a myriad of different ways and last year I got to watch the parade go by with my girlfriend and a whole bunch of younger generation of gays and queers came up and they watched as people in the parade would come up to me and give me a hug and they're like you know a lot of people and I just go. That's because this is my community, this is who I work with. That is, to me, what Pride is is because we learn from our elders. We teach the younger generations, and also those younger generations invigorate us to be able to face what we still have to change.

Speaker 4:

Do you think that's why Pride is relevant?

Speaker 2:

Yes, absolutely, and Pride will always be relevant because there is going to be a need for both teaching history and for leading us into the future. It is a communication and it will change its costumes, but it will always be necessary.

Speaker 4:

Odyssey, one of the things I know you do is work with the Houston LGBTQ plus political caucus are as most commonly referred to as the caucus, so what is some of your work that you've been doing? I think you were named to the board in 2023.

Speaker 2:

I joined the caucus in 2019. And then in 2022, I was at a Trans Day of Remembrance event and Jovan, who was the president at the time, approaches me and my partner and says that he wants me to be on a presidential advisory committee. And I was like, okay, you do understand that I'm not going to be someone who beats around the bush or tells you, yes, because I want to go along, to get along. And he was like that's, I absolutely want you to not be a yes man.

Speaker 2:

And I was like, okay, after a year of being in your face and bringing up that, hey, we need to address these issues of access. We need to address these issues the questions of being able to even attend meetings. Do you need to be able to get a ride to these meetings? We need to make sure that the meetings are in a place that people can easily get in and out of and making sure that events know that, hey, let's look into getting an ASL interpreter. Where do we have the budget for that? And I believe that access is one of the places where we can grow the most, and that's access in terms of disability as well as financial ability as well. After a year of being on the advisory committee. They said well, you're outspoken enough, we want you on the board. And I was like this is your problem now.

Speaker 4:

You are making good trouble. Exactly, this is Deborah Moncreech Bell and we're talking with Odyssey Oak and Grove, a nominee for Houston Pride, Grand Marshal for Pride. Houston 365 for the 2024 Pride Parade which will be on June 29. The same this year. You won't break our pride. What does?

Speaker 2:

that mean to you. Well, of course and I'm sure this is on purpose I immediately think of the Beyonce song, and you know you won't break our soul and please excuse that singing, but I do love the idea of pride being both a funeral and a celebration, and so you won't break our pride brings in this idea of resilience, but also combines it with this big old party that we get to have. Pride came out of a riot, pride came out of resistance against the police, against the systems in power, and also we're going to do it in a way that represents our full identities, represents the full rainbow, represents our shininess, and that's what I love about this.

Speaker 4:

What would you say? Your number one achievement for the queer community has been thus far.

Speaker 2:

You know I'm really proud of the scholarship that I have worked to put into place for the caucus. I am really excited to be able to say, hey, I joined the caucus on someone else's dime. I did not have the money at the time to be able to do that, to be able to pay for my own caucus membership, being able to put this scholarship into place, where we are consistently funding this scholarship through memberships of privilege and it's not for the person signing up for a membership of privilege to say who gets the scholarship, as the membership committee gets to say, hey, this person, who's applied, we're going to match this application to this membership of privilege and say that this person gets to join no matter what sort of financial situation.

Speaker 4:

We've been doing this series of interviews with the nominees for Pride Houston 365 2024 Pride Parade, which will be on June 29. But for the individuals you believe should be this year's grand marshals for 2024, by going to pride Houston 365.org, the grand marshals perform ceremonial duties, lead the parade and serve as pride ambassador for Pride month and throughout the year. Read the bios, watch the videos and cast your vote.

Speaker 1:

This is queer voices.

Speaker 5:

This is Brian Lomincke, and today I'm speaking with author Kevin O'Connor about his book Two Floors Above Reef, a memoir of two families and living in a unique place we called home. Welcome to Queer Voices, kevin.

Speaker 3:

Hey, thank you, brian. I appreciate the time and the accommodation here and I'm welcoming the opportunity to speak with you and your team there. Thanks a lot. Tell us about the book and what made you decide to write it. The book is a memoir, as you said in your intro.

Speaker 3:

The premise of the book, the premise of the memoir, is it focuses on the time I spent from birth in 1950 till the time I went away to college and a little after, in the 70s, I was the son and nephew of funeral directors and we lived in a 1880s Victorian house that my dad and uncle had converted into a business on the first floor, the funeral home business, and the second two areas of the house One was a collection of bedrooms and the other was a ballroom. On the third floor they converted those two areas into two family apartments, hence the title Two Floors Above Reef. It's more about the stories that I tell about our families, not very much about the clients that were in the funeral home, but more about the families and what it was like in that period of time for me. I talk mostly, you know, I relate it to myself, but also connect my brothers and my cousins into the stories too. What was it like to be kids and teens and young adults in a funeral home setting, and what kind of responsibilities we had and what our expectations were? I don't set up the book as a sequential thing. Where you start? I was born in 1950 and I more or less based it on a lot of themes.

Speaker 3:

The themes became more apparent to me because the book is based on 700 pages of letters that were saved by me and other people in the family. I ended up being the keeper of the letters and I had these letters in file folders, shoeboxes, whatever people sent them to me, in banking boxes, file boxes. I finally, about 10 years ago, decided to organize them and that was a lesson in itself Organize those letters. And a lot of the stories are based on the actual words that were in these letters. So when I transcribed these letters into the book, it was the actual people speaking, whether it be my father or my uncle or my mom or aunt, brothers, sisters, whoever it was. It was their words. I have a lot of other narrative, but within the book I use a lot of these letters. So I really enjoyed putting that book together because of the authenticity of it. Also, the themes I chose. I chose themes as oh examples would be in the 60s.

Speaker 3:

Of course, there was a lot of issues about hair, not only the musical, but how people, and especially boys, were wearing their hair. Men were wearing their hair. There was a lot of talk in our family about that. There was some chapter about smoking and what our family did I didn't smoke myself, but most of the adults did and what did they do and how they take care of that. There's a section there based on some of the letters that were written back and forth between my mom and I during the Vietnam protest and student activities and the Kent State activity at that time. What was going on in the country. Another area covers the talk about miscarriages that were experienced by my mom and my dad five miscarriages in the 1940s. That's some of it. I could go into a little more detail, but that's sort of a nutshell of what the book's about. It's been released now for about 15 months and I've been doing a lot of marketing, starting to work on a second book and having the opportunity to come on to podcasts and broadcast things like yours To talk about the book, and so that's what brings me here today.

Speaker 3:

What did you learn about writing the book? I learned the discipline of writing, which I wasn't a stranger to Prior. I had to written a dissertation when I got my doctorate, so I got that in the 90s. I knew what it took, but this was certainly a different kind of a format. What I learned, too, was just how, through different training I took upon myself to have individually and through classes, how do you write a nonfiction book? How do you write a novel? How do you put these ideas together?

Speaker 3:

I went to an online school called nonfiction book school. I had a lot of great training there, and so I learned this, their technique, and that helped me discipline myself, and part of what they worked into our training was the discipline. There was a period of time then in my learning, from May of 21 to about December of 21, where I spent I disciplined myself to spend about 20 hours a week, usually four hours every Monday through Friday to just do nothing else but work on the steps I needed to put the book together. That was one learning, and the other learning occurred when I then just figured out, with help, how to market the book. I worked with a group called my Word Publishing, who are based in Denver, but they work with self-published authors all over the country. I was able to work with them, and still work with them, and have a nice relationship in terms of what do you do to market a book what they started me off doing earlier than that.

Speaker 3:

What do you do to get your book edited, and properly edited, and go through two editing processes? How do you get a cover design and how do you format the inside of the book and how do you get it uploaded to Amazon and other formats? How do you launch the book? It was a big learning curve. I'd been trained as a, even though I was raised in the funeral home business. I became an educator. I was a teacher and a principal for almost 50 years, so I didn't have this kind of training to publish a book. It was a big learning curve to tackle as I entered my 70s and it's been great. I'm loving it and just the process of it, and every new day gives me something new to learn. That's what I've been learning about in terms of publishing a book and writing a book.

Speaker 5:

How is being a gay man being interested in this book?

Speaker 3:

Minimally actually, but it has, because it really wasn't part of the story at the time, but it does. I do talk about a little bit. Even though the book covers mostly from those years, 1950 to the 80s, it does talk about the discussions I had with my father in 1970 when one of my first attempts at coming out talking to him and his acceptance of that. It talks about my two marriages that I entered into, how I finally determined that I needed to exit both marriages, and then it talks about the coming out discussion I had with my mom when I was about 53 or 54 years old. So that's in there as well. And then it does also mention the last 8, 10 years of my career. I worked in the diversity department of Broward County Public Schools and one of my tasks, one of my responsibilities, was to work with LGBT students, faculty and parents, to do trainings, to do advocacy. We started a group. Of us started the first employee affinity group in our district. So we have a. It's called Edu Pride and that's for our employees. We modeled that after other corporations and businesses that do that. So I'm pretty proud of that, what we did. And the other thing I tell a story in there about working with kids, and I talk about it more on podcasts and articles I've written just the idea that kids will ask me why'd you wait till 55 to come out? So that's a whole other story in itself.

Speaker 3:

In the midst of all this, I didn't mention yet that I was part of a book called Journey Out. It's an anthology of 20 stories of men who did come out in their marriages. It's called Memoirs of Men Coming to Grips with their Orientation. This was published in 20, I'm looking it up 2010, and the gentleman who put it together, gene Probasco, has unfortunately since passed on. But he found 20 people like myself who had decided to exit their marriages and how did we do that and what was our thinking and what were the doorways and what were the gates and how did we navigate that process.

Speaker 3:

In addition to the things I mentioned that were in Two Floors Above Grief, the mentions I made about it and then Journey Out and then my career process as a later adult, those are where a lot of my details are about what I've done in terms of LGBT advocacy, and I got seeds in my head of doing further books where I would like at some point to unpack my own coming out process because I think that it's so very individual. There's no prescription, there's very little prescription, if there is any, and each person that doesn't no matter what age has to discover and find their own route. So I'm looking forward to, as I look at other books I want to write that would be certainly one that's coming up.

Speaker 5:

When I heard the title of your book I kind of thought of Alice in Bechtel's Fun Home. Were you inspired by that in any way?

Speaker 3:

In fact I'm happy you bring that up. I have one of those on your Google. You can do Google Alerts. I'm not sure if you do those Google Alerts. I have one. That's just as Alice in Bechtel. I'd love to be able to get a hold of her. I've tried a couple times. She doesn't do social media communication so I've written her letters.

Speaker 3:

I did see the play Fun Home and I have gotten very familiar with that show and took one of my brothers, went with me and his wife and went to see it when it was on Broadway. Actually the year at 1Metoni, whatever year that was. When people ask me about that, and sometimes even I think I've gotten a reviewer too that talk about Fun Home and the other people in the reviews talk about the TV show 6 Feet Under in terms of the relatability of the book. But yeah, to Alice in Bechtel, I just tracked something down yesterday on the internet about a presentation she made at a conference. But I like reading about her and her just approach.

Speaker 3:

Our family probably wasn't quite as quirky as hers was and didn't have the darkness of that story. When I watched that show and that play and the way that the set was, it was like being home. They called it Fun Home. Of course the title's a play on Funeral Home. We had a lot of fun and I reference it in the book with a mention or two that, yeah, we had fun. In our house too, we had fun, and sometimes people will think living in a funeral home is pretty subdued and very sad, but that wasn't the case. Other than being in a funeral home, I think I had a pretty regular childhood. But that was a great question. Thanks, yeah, I follow Alice in Bechtel and, like I said, she's on my list of people you'd like to meet that she'd be on that list.

Speaker 5:

We're speaking with Kevin O'Connor, the author of Two Floors Above Grief, a memoir of two families in the unique place we called home. Kevin, is there anything you'd like our listeners to know before we go?

Speaker 3:

I'd love to get in touch with you, your listeners. They can I think you'll probably have this in your show notes, but the books available at Amazon that's probably the easiest, most accessible place to get it. If they wanted to get a signed copy from me, I can make those arrangements. They can also go to my website. They can go to the website. There's things that they can sign up for.

Speaker 3:

One of the things, if they put their email on my website, that gives access to a weekly newsletter that I put out about, not only about the book, but things that are happening because of the book, or cities I go to or conversations I'm having, or maybe ideally, someday I'll have an article about there, about my meeting with Alice in Bechtel. So that's other things that readers can do and that's how they can access the book and get a hold of me and provide further conversation. I'm also available for book clubs. I have a whole thing I can do online or, if the presented itself, maybe come to the Houston area to talk to a book club and bring the book with me and engage in conversation about it.

Speaker 5:

Well, Kevin, I appreciate you coming on the show.

Speaker 3:

Great, I appreciate this. I appreciate you having me on. I look forward to the recording so I can share it with other people and make it part of my list on my media page and my website a broadcast that I've been on and help get the word out about all the work you're doing in Houston as well.

Speaker 5:

The night is long and the path is dark. Look to the sky for one place where the dawn will come.

Speaker 1:

This is Queer Voices.

Speaker 4:

This is Deborah Moncreef Bell, and tonight I'm talking with James Martinez. James is Mr Prime Choice 2023. He was born in Houston and grew up in Louisiana on his grandparents farm, where he rode horses and helped with cattle and grew an affinity for goats as really wonderful pets. We might have to talk a little bit more about that. Be a capricorn and all you know, I'm have an affection for goats myself. James, first of all, for someone who has really not a clue about the leather community, explain what it is and what it means to be Mr Prime Choice.

Speaker 7:

Thank you, deborah, for that lovely introduction. Yeah, we will talk about goats, that is something else. But you're absolutely right, as far as the leather community, it is a whole. You know our gay community is very complex and diverse. There's several aspects of it, you know. There's the leather, there's the kink, there's all these other, but as far as the leather, the other title that I represent is Mr Prime Choice. I'm honored to be in this legacy of so. For instance, you have to be at least 35 or older to be in this to qualify for Mr Prime Choice. So, as I call it, a gentleman's club. And so they're looking for people who have experienced the leather world and want to enhance the leather world and also teach others and mentor others about the leather world leather world, not leather society, and things that, how we contribute daily to it or even just how it is incorporated into our daily life. So, as Mr Prime Choice, I'm honored to be this year's Mr Prime Choice.

Speaker 7:

There is also what goes with. It is obviously a love for leather, but, like I said, the lifestyle and what I like to tell people is everyone tells their leather story. Mine is relatively new, but I say I've grown up in leather because growing up on the farm I had saddles, bridles, dealing with horses. I wear boots every day, everyone wears their leather belt, so we're all bound by leather. So there's, and you want to bring awareness to your causes. You also want to take causes that are there and enhance them and, as a title man, you have a voice. I tell people we have the microphone right now. You don't need a title to have a voice or to be a community leader, and that's another aspect is being Mr Prime Choice as a community leader.

Speaker 4:

You have not really been doing this for very long. Your first contest was in 2022. And you kind of unexpectedly won. You thought you were the least qualified person, but you put your all into it and were selected. Leather has been part of your life for a long time, but what was your segue, I guess, into living as a gay man and being part of the leather community and then competing?

Speaker 7:

As a gay man, you know. I remember I lived in Atlanta in the 90s and I remember I walked into the Atlanta Eagle and just seeing men in full leather, I was always intrigued and I just thought, oh, that's just honestly. At first I did some asking around everything and there is a lot of protocol that goes along with it. But you know, it's any organization, there is protocol in it and you have to learn and educate yourself. There's so many levels here in our leather community. When I say this was my assessment when I stepped on the stage for Mr Prime Choice I had two weeks to prepare. I had kind of.

Speaker 7:

My partner is very much in the leather community. He's Mr Missouri Leather. He was also a producer, he's been to IML, so very much in the leather community and has much more experience than I do. But for my personal self I felt I'm on this stage I'm looking at my I called him title mate brothers. These people have been in the community much longer than I have and been doing community work and known in the community. That way I felt the least qualified and I said you know I'm going to give it my all upon winning. You know I would do diligence to learn and to grow into it, and that's what I've done, so I'm really excited about that just to be able to learn and grow.

Speaker 4:

What is involved in one of these competitions?

Speaker 7:

There's three categories. There's bar wear, which is just something. You know what you're going to wear to the bar. In our leather world we call it high cow COW, which means you know that's so cute it is and you know it's so high cow would be like the tuxedo world. And so you're in your good leather. It is polished, it is conditioned. There are no nicks and tears because at a competition, you know, for instance, let's just say you're wearing something and just like I'm just a beauty pageant, you're wearing something and you missed a belt loop. Well, 10 points off. So they judge you harshly. And also you have to be able to connect to the audience and project what your message is. For instance, I remember there's the meet and greet, which is what I just attended last night here.

Speaker 4:

We should say that as we're recording this, james is in the Rio Grande Valley for our competition, so that's what he's referring to.

Speaker 7:

Yes, and so we were at the meeting greet last night. And this is an opportunity where you talk to the judges. You let them know who you are, don't wait for them to come to you, you go to them. Hi, my name is James Martinez. I'm contested. At that time I was contested number four, contested number four.

Speaker 7:

And they ask you tell me about yourself. They wouldn't know your leather story, what your plans are if you were to win the title and what do you feel you would contribute to our community and also this title. It can be brutal. I remember Riley, which was my toughest critic, and Riley came up to me the minute after I was announced. I want to talk to you, I want to know your story. And he said by the way, you're being judged at this moment, tell me your story. No pressure, yeah, no pressure, but hey, I'm like you know two hours. He took me to the side. He goes tell me about you. Well, I'm James Martinez, I love to ride horses. He goes, okay, because tell me about you, like. Well, you know I'm a burko Tip of the world, please. No, tell me about you.

Speaker 7:

What they want to know is the person you. They want to know you, not what you're putting out on stage. We got to that and he's like tell me something about you, tell me about your childhood. Personally, I don't like speaking on my childhood. I came from a very abusive father. I left on the 17 and been on my own ever since then. So we've talked from that story and he goes that's what I want to know, what shaped you and what made you who you are today? So that's what these judges are looking for who are you? And they're bold enough to say you're pretty. You look the part, but are you the part? And so these judges. They, I mean, depending on the contest. You know there's four to five judges.

Speaker 7:

The international contest that I'm going to end the end of May, there's eight judges, and this is international, some the IML, but you are a judge. They want to know who you are as a person. Don't give me this cookie cutter world peace, no. But even in that, you are an ambassador for your community. You are an ambassador for the people who look up to you. And so, personally, for myself, I don't want to disappoint these people. I want to give them a voice. I want to, you know, shed light on their causes and, you know, be a person of integrity is one thing. It's not a popularity contest. It is not because these judges judge you and, like I said, my other classmates have been doing much longer than I have and this wasn't their first contest that you entered and I felt very unqualified. But you know, I said, if they can learn it, I can learn it too.

Speaker 7:

And so, growing into this role, you learn and you have to find a platform what, what speaks to you? What speaks to you, what, what, what is important to you? So I looked around. I was like, okay, we could do this, we could do that. So what I found is I created my own, and we'll probably speak on this one too.

Speaker 7:

So one being a gentleman growing up with a well, not growing up, but having HIV since the 90s, I've got this platform now. So now we've created group the positive force, which is a social mentoring group to help people living with HIV, to help them deal with the stigmas that are attached to it, to give them a positive place where they can talk about and and have any questions, for instance, how to read your labs. What does that mean? There's a stigma with getting your medication, you don't want to be at the pharmacy and all of a sudden first check HIV medicine, all five notes. That's why it's personal, but so I put myself out there. Personally, I consider it my positive outing, but I get it to help those who maybe haven't had time with it.

Speaker 4:

The positive force that's for anyone that's HIV positive.

Speaker 7:

Yes, it is not. You don't necessarily have not HIV. In other words, support the HIV lifestyle. For instance, you may have a sister, a brother, a friend. As long as you are supportive of that person, you don't have to be positive to be in the group, just be supportive. There's been such a. I was surprised when I first put it out there because I didn't have a platform and it started with my partner. He is not positive and I was explaining to him what it's like, the things that I've had to face growing up. Well, not just growing up, but growing into this. There was a time they would say, if you're HIV, they would say you're dirty and think of what that does to your self-esteem. You're dirty because you're positive. Well, we've come a long ways, but no, it is just for people who are supportive of the lifestyle. That's all we ask. Male, female, straight, whatever color, straight by twisted.

Speaker 4:

You don't have to be someone in the leather community.

Speaker 7:

It is not a gay, straight gender thing. It is a people thing. We don't care what nationality you are, it is a people thing.

Speaker 4:

You talked earlier about being pretty and you are. James is a pretty man. Wendy Taylor and I took a vote and we agreed. Part of what led you into bodybuilding was one you love to eat, but was your health? Being HIV positive, having diabetes, trying to control your blood pressure when did you get started doing that work?

Speaker 7:

I hate to say this, but we're genetically predisposed to our bloodline. In my family my father was a diabetic, so there's diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems all running in my family. I started fitness because I said I'm not going to be like that. I started working out, really taking it serious, when I was like 35. I wanted to live a better life. I wanted to have better health. I've done the gym thing and the gym helps me with my mental health as well. I call it my reset In the day. I go in there and I throw some weights down, I'm on the treadmill and it's my reset. Never it really really is. But also it helps control my blood sugar. I need taking all this medication, so I'm going to try to do as much as I can without it. But then I accepted the fact that your body needs help.

Speaker 7:

I had a heart attack in April. I had 90% blockage on one and then I have two stits right now. I was mad because I had a heart attack. I was like damn it. I go to the gym, I work out, I eat, I burn it off. And here I am, same as my dad, same as my mother, same as both of my brothers. The doctor says you just can't outrun your genetics. I embrace that. I'm predisposed for this, but you've got to do your part. Like I said, deborah, I love to eat. I will work out the extra just so I can have more pot.

Speaker 4:

Is everyone who is involved in the leather community into bodybuilding.

Speaker 7:

No, it is so. I'm I said by myself as a muscle bear. We come in all shapes and sizes and colors and flavors and twinks and pinks and pinks. I classify as a muscle bear. There's not a certain body type. For instance, I'm here today, I've been hanging out with. His name is Chris Gonzalez. He is a first runner up for Mr IML Large gentleman Jolly, and he ran for IML just to show that you don't have to look a certain way to be in a leather contest, and that's.

Speaker 7:

Back in the day there was a certain look they wanted for the Leatherman. Well, we've gotten all over that and our community is much more diverse and people are much more diverse now. So when you look at the Leatherman, now there's the older tradition was more okay, everyone wears black and this is your leather look. Well, I challenged that because I call myself cowboy leather. I'm a cowboy, so I've adapted leather into and created this cowboy leather look. There's so many different looks, but it is the look is one thing, but it's the heart of the person, is what makes I call them the leader. That's what really resonates with it. You can buy flashy outfit, but if you got no substance, you will agree.

Speaker 4:

Who gets to judge? Who are the judges for these competitions? Most of the judges.

Speaker 7:

They are seasoned judges. For instance, these are people not just in your community but in other communities and they fly here, there and everywhere. You may have a judge from Florida. It depends on the producer who puts together the event Exactly. For instance, right now, here in the Rio Grande Valley, marcus is here. He's Lee Judge, but he's also the IML winner, so he's California. There's his friend, chris. Chris is from California also. There's four or five judges here.

Speaker 7:

I haven't met them all yet, but who gets to judge? It is a qualified person that has to have proven theirself in the leather community and have set a standard or a presence which gives him the right to have a voice and judge accordingly Jeff Tucker, which I'm very blessed because Jeff Tucker was my Lee Judge and actually he's right up there with the IML, the international organization. But also Pedro of Colorado, he's here in the Rio Grande Valley. He was one of my judges and now a great friend and a huge supporter of what I do, boy Beacon he's Mr Texas. He was one of my judges and, again, a supporter, and they're here to help you. But to answer your question, who gets to judge you? I'm going to say qualified people who have proven theirself in the community and are a person of excellence in the leather and community involvement.

Speaker 4:

You started a group called Texas Men of Leather, which is a social group for all things leather and what takes place within that group.

Speaker 7:

This is my fun group. Of all I do, this is my fun group, the Texas Men of Leather, my friend Buck Russell. We would meet out, we'd get up in our leather. We're here in Houston, we go to Austin, let's go to San Antonio. We carried ourselves as leathermen, we'd take these pictures and we just had a blast. Well, I like that lifestyle and, honestly, the word leatherman I'm not a huge fan of it. I prefer person of leather. That way it's not just a male thing, it is just a people thing. So the idea of starting the Texas Men of Leather is to get a bunch of my friends together and hang out in our leather, smoke cigars, get your boot polished and camaraderie and just hanging out. We don't have an agenda other than show up, appreciate leather and have a good time. Actually, I'm having my our second meeting February 24th at the Ripcord. Texas Men of Leather will be meeting there. Also, it's going to be my calendar release party Going on the 24th.

Speaker 4:

You talked about the importance of. I think you said you don't need a title, but it helps and the way that that helps is what you choose to be something that you support, A cause or a project that you think speaking about it and being an ambassador for it is helpful. You've chosen food, not bombs. Could you tell me a little bit about that group?

Speaker 7:

This is my latest venture. I've jumped into this one. Wendy Taylor. I got to say here's a prime example. You know, wendy, I mean we love Wendy. Wendy Taylor is a prime example.

Speaker 7:

You do not need a title to be involved in the community or to even get things done through the community. Wendy has touched so many parts of our community and when you and I were having a discussion after a photo shoot, we were talking about getting involved in organizations and everything. She told me about food, not bombs. So I did some research on it. She's cause, james, you know this is so. What they do is they clothe the unhoused, but also they offer them a hot meal every Monday, wednesday, friday and Sunday at 7 30.

Speaker 7:

That really resonated with me because this is something immediate, you can do immediately. For instance, when I go to donate clothes to whatever, I didn't want my stuff to set in the warehouse of Goodwill. I wanted you to be used that night because it was cold. I woke up one morning. I looked at my partner. I go we have to do something. There's people out there and it's cold. So we took six bags of clothing, went to cobalt coffee, met with William. It's love, lovely wife Amber. She's such a doll. But Wendy Taylor is an example of someone doesn't have a title but works in our community and gets so much done. The food, not bombs. I am proud to be at this because it's the underprivileged and helping them out. My God, how many times, deborah, have we all needed to hand?

Speaker 4:

Food, not bombs, provides food for anyone whose food insecure. You do not have to be unhoused. You mentioned Kava coffee. Where is that located?

Speaker 7:

Kava coffee is at 2617 Bissonnette, so you can take. And here's another thing, too, so you can take any clothing. If you want to make a donation, you'll ask. Just speak to William there, he'll take care of you. But also things that we're collecting right now are personal hygiene items, Things like I just put together a kit. My partner and I went to a family dollar and we got the little travel size of toothpaste, deodorant, soap, personal hygiene stuff. So the things that they are needing is things of that nature soap, deodorant, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, things of that nature. One thing to mention about the food that they offer to it's not vegan, but it's.

Speaker 4:

They have vegetarian and I think they do offer some vegan meals.

Speaker 4:

So that it is accommodating to everyone's diet without the expense of having meat. None of it is meat based and they've been in the news quite a bit because, for some reason, the city of Houston has this ordinance that prohibits people from serving food. I don't quite understand that. We're talking with James Martinez. He's Mr Prime Choice 2023, a person of leather and also a landscape designer, so that keeps you outdoors. What has been the most significant thing to you in this journey towards being a title holder?

Speaker 7:

Being in a capacity to serve has been so rewarding. And not just serve but participate has taken it to just a whole other level. For instance, taking goods down to food, not bombs. Supporting a fellow title holder who's doing a fundraiser for another organization, for instance, I went to San Antonio to help out my friend Kevin Hamley he's Mr Fire Dancer, he does the fundraisers for Tony's Place. So we did this Rock the Jock. We're title holders and some other people. We got up there and had jocks and got auctioned off. I was $450.

Speaker 4:

And a bargain at the price. You know I understand that Judy Reeves actually won you in an auction.

Speaker 7:

She absolutely did. And you know I love Ms Judy Again, a voice of the community, much like yourself. I love hearing her stories because I grew up love listening to my grandpa's stories. I love hearing about back in the day. Judy Reeves she is wow with GCAM and everything she does. I've gone to visit right now since storage, but you know she has the pop-up museum and what I love about that is she can tell you just about every single piece that's in there. These are people who have moved through our community. They are no longer with them with us, but, yeah, they still have a presence. So I love working with Judy.

Speaker 7:

In NLA, which is National Leather Organization, did a auction. My partner and I we jumped in, we helped out and we went for $350 there. Judy Reeves, I was like okay, who bought me? That's laying over there and I'm like, so she's sitting in the corner and, if you will, just because she's low profile, she's sitting in the corner. You know it's kind of dark corner. I'm like hello, and there's this smile about her. Have you ever met Judy? But she's also very direct, absolutely love it. I said, well, thank you, she goes. I'm Judy Reeves, nice to meet you. I work for GCAM and I said but Miss Judy, how can I help you? She goes. I want a podcast for you. I'm going to use your big voice, I'm going to use your mouth.

Speaker 4:

I'm like okay, now that was your first venture into radio. Yes, yes. And then you and I represented the Boomer generation on Wendy Taylor and Joel Tatum's little gay talk show, and that was so much fun. There's about 10 years difference in our ages I'm the older one, james. Thank you so much for being with us today on Queer Voices. Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you think it's important for people to know?

Speaker 7:

First of all, I never thank you for having me. I love to come back again. But for people I would just say don't be afraid to get involved and don't think that you have to do something elaborate to get involved. Just get involved. Offer your time. Maybe. If you don't have a time, maybe offer what you can, but the thing is just get involved. That's really what I hope for, for using this big mouth is to motivate people to get involved, because there's so much work to be done out there to have her, you know, but that would be it.

Speaker 4:

Well, that's plenty. We forgot to talk about the goats. Let's save that for another day. We'll leave it at that. I'll let you get back to your activities there. We'll talk to you again, hopefully.

Speaker 7:

Thank you, david. You guys have a great day. Thank you for having me, okay.

Speaker 8:

I'm Marcos Nahira and.

Speaker 8:

I'm Kailin Hardman with News Rep a summary of some of the news in or affecting LGBTQ communities around the world for the week ending March 16th 2024. England's National Health Service cut off access to puberty blockers for transgender minors. The March 12th announcement claimed that there is not enough evidence that the medications are safe or effective for people under the age of 18. Interim restrictions on puberty blockers for trans minors were first announced last June. In general, puberty blockers will only be available as part of a continuing independent review of their efficacy. Clinicians can still ask the NHS to fund drugs for minor patients on a case-by-case basis. According to the BBC, puberty blockers have been widely studied for almost 40 years. The physical effects are clearly reversible, but the NHS maintains that the psychological effects are unknown.

Speaker 8:

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's conservative Tory administration has angered LGBTQ activists for being less than supportive of transgender rights since they took power in 2022. Health Minister Maria Caulfield welcomed what she called a landmark decision and said it was in the best interests of the child. Economics may also be behind the policy change. The number of referrals to the NHS-funded gender identity development service had climbed to more than 5,000 in 2021 and 22. There had been less than 250 in the previous decade.

Speaker 8:

The transgender youth support group, mermaids, called the denial of treatment deeply disappointing and a further restriction of support offered to trans children and young people through the NHS, which is failing trans youth. On the positive side, mermaids statement noted those currently prescribed puberty blockers won't see any changes to their treatment and this is a pause on prescribing, not a ban. It's also important to note that puberty blockers can be just one possible part of a young person's gender journey. However, this news still comes as a blow and will deeply affect our communities. Everyone deserves access to health care and to live happy and healthy lives. Trans youth are no exception.

Speaker 6:

A Uganda appeals court has upheld the denial of legal recognition for queer advocacy group sexual minorities Uganda, or SMUG. The Registration Services Bureau had said that the group's defense of illegal sexual acts was disqualifying. That decision was upheld by the nation's High Court in 2018. Smug challenged the ruling in Uganda's Registrar Court of Appeal, which affirmed the denial on March 12th. Veteran activist and SMUG executive director, frank Magisha, is unfazed. He said his group is fully committed to elevating this challenge to the next level, presumably the Supreme Court. Uganda's Constitutional Court heard a challenge in December to the latest version of the East African Country's Anti-Homosexuality Act. President Yoare Musevani signed it into law last May. It includes the death penalty for what it calls aggravated homosexuality. That was one of the most contentious provisions in the 2013 version of the Act, which the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional in 2014 on procedural grounds. It's not clear when there may be a ruling on the latest iteration of the law.

Speaker 8:

Two more Japanese district courts have declared the denial of civil marriage to same gender couples unconstitutional Courts in Tokyo and Sapporo reached the same conclusion this week in separate cases. The Tokyo Court suggested that civil unions might suffice. The Sapporo decision called the denial of full marriage equality discrimination that lacks rationality. It found that enacting same sex marriage does not seem to cause disadvantages or harmful effects. Japan is the only G7 nation without marriage equality. Courts in several jurisdictions across the country have been ruling for equality over the past few years. Japanese courts cannot change federal civil marriage code laws. However. Only parliament can do that. Recent polling shows close to three in four Japanese citizens support opening the institution to same gender couples. But Prime Minister Fumio Koshida's conservative liberal Democratic Party is lagging behind. Its spokesperson asserted that Japanese society still isn't ready for it.

Speaker 6:

The US Supreme Court will not intervene in a case pitting a queer supportive student group at West Texas A&M University against the school's president. Spectrum WT has wanted to put on a PG-13 rated drag show fundraiser for suicide prevention. Since last March, president Walter Wenler refuses to authorize it, citing the Christian Bible and other religious texts, although it's a public university. They moved the event to an off-campus facility in 2023 but have been trying to come back to campus this year. Judge Matthew Kuzmerick of the Federal District Court in Amarillo rejected the request for a temporary injunction based on First Amendment grounds. In September, he wrote it is not clearly established that all drag shows are inherently expressive. The court's unsigned March 15th refusal upholds Wenler's ban.

Speaker 6:

Jt Morris is with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the legal group representing the students. He told the New York Times the show is not over Because the case is continuing in a lower court. The New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals expects to hear oral arguments in April. Judge Kuzmerick's name rings a bell. He's the same Trump-appointed federal judge who's ruling banning the abortion bill myth of pristone is under review by the Supreme Court.

Speaker 8:

Gender variant driver's licenses are no longer an option in Kansas and Arkansas. Kansas District Judge Teresa Watson ruled on March 11th that the state can refuse a trans person's request to change the gender marker on their official state documents. Watson sided with far-right State Attorney General Chris Kobach. He ordered the Kansas Department of Revenue to only issue licenses based on a person's biological gender at birth. The judge claimed that the policy does not violate the constitutional rights of transgender Kansans. It was Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's decision to allow trans people to update the gender identity on their licenses. The ACLU argued against Kobach's policy. It's not yet clear whether either of them will file an appeal.

Speaker 6:

In Arkansas, it was the Department of Finance and Administration announcing that residents will no longer be able to choose an ex-gender marker on state-issued driver's license and other government documents. The March 12th policy reversal means that trans, non-binary and intersex people are deprived of an alternative designation that they've had since 2010. If the change gets final approval from an Arkansas General Assembly committee, all previous documents with the ex-designation will remain valid until their expiration date. People with those documents will then be forced to choose a male or female marker. Far-right Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed the reversal. In her words it's just common sense. There are only two genders. As long as I'm Governor, arkansas state government will not endorse a nonsense, as Trump's former press secretary Sanders should be accustomed to endorsing nonsense.

Speaker 8:

Finally, students and teachers in Florida can now say some gay. The administration of failed Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has settled a lawsuit challenging his cherished don't say gay laws. Discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity issues are now permissible in public school classrooms as long as it's not part of what's considered to be formal instruction. The settlement also frees students and allies to form gay straight alliance groups and allows LGBTQ anti-bullying policies to remain in effect. Lesbian legal powerhouse Roberta Kaplan represented the plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge to the don't say gay laws. Her victory statement proclaimed every kid in this country is entitled to an education at a public school where they feel safe, their dignity is respected and where their families and parents are welcomed. This shouldn't be a controversial thing. Kaplan's other recent conquest was the crushing of Donald Trump in Eugene Carroll's defamation lawsuits.

Speaker 6:

That's News Wrap, global queer news with attitude for the week ending in March 16th 2024. Follow the news in your area and around the world. An informed community is a strong community.

Speaker 8:

News Wrap is written by Greg Gordon, edited by Lucia Chappelle, produced by Brian DeShazer and brought to you by you.

Speaker 6:

Thank you. Help keep us in ears around the world at thiswayoutorg, where you can also read the text of this newscast and much more. For this Way Out, I'm Kaylin Hartman.

Speaker 8:

Stay Healthy and I'm Marcos Najera Stay Safe. For this Way Out. I'm Glenn Holt.

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