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Gay Venezuelan ‘artivist’ fights homophobia, discrimination

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Daniel Arzola, gay news, Washington Blade

Daniel Arzola, gay news, Washington Blade

Daniel Arzola (Photo by Benjamin Araneda)

AMHERST, Mass. — A self-described gay “artivist” from Venezuela is using his art to fight homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

Daniel Arzola is behind the “I’m Not a Joke” campaign, which features a series of 50 posters that contain a sentence and a digital illustration.

The campaign — known as “No soy tu chiste” in Spanish — has appeared in the U.S., Venezuela, Brazil, Australia, Uganda, Russia and two dozen other countries around the world. Arzola’s posters have also been translated into English, Portuguese and 18 other languages.

“It’s about being different,” Arzola told the Washington Blade on April 14 during an interview at Amherst College where an LGBT student group had invited him to speak.

Katy Perry selected several of Arzola’s posters for Madonna’s Art for Freedom, a project for which she is a guest curator.

Arzola told the Blade that his life changed when Madonna tweeted a picture of one of them on Oct. 8, 2013.

“At that moment ‘I’m Not a Joke’ was not only for activists,” said Arzola. “I received a lot of interview (requests) from a lot of countries. And the people from Venezuela who hate me knew my work because Madonna made that tweet.”

“It’s a little cliché but Madonna changed my life,” he added.

‘They tried to burn me alive’

Arzola, 26, grew up in Maracay, a city that is roughly 70 miles south southwest of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

Arzola, who has an older brother, told the Blade that he was a “very shy” and “lonely” child. He said that he used “art to communicate with other people.”

“If I liked you, I preferred to give you (a drawing) than to talk to you,” said Arzola.

Arzola said he came out to his mother when he was 5, telling her that he liked a boy in his kindergarten class.

“I told her and she beat me,” said Arzola.

Arzola told the Blade that his mother, who is a teacher, is “not homophobic anymore.” He said she now wears a t-shirt that promotes his art in her classroom.

“She’s like my biggest fan all the time,” said Arzola.

Arzola said that three of his neighbors attacked him when he was 15.

He told the Blade that they took off his pants and shoes before tying him to a telephone poll with cables. Arzola said he was able to escape when one of his attackers tried to find gasoline to set him on fire.

He told the Blade that his assailants destroyed all of his drawings.

“They tried to burn me alive because that’s the way that some people in Venezuela react to the differences in another person,” Arzola told the Blade. “It’s not only if you’re gay.”

Arzola said he was unable to draw for the next six years “until one day I understood that my story is not the only story and I had the luck to escape and survive.” He told the Blade that an 18-year-old man from Maracay who was attacked because of his sexual orientation suffered burns over nearly 50 percent of his body.

“There’s a lot of people burning people alive or hurting other people in Venezuela for being gay,” said Arzola.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime notes that Venezuela has one of the world’s highest homicide rates. A deepening economic crisis has caused a shortage of basic goods, triple-digit inflation and growing political and social instability.

Tamara Adrián, a Caracas lawyer who is a member of Popular Will, a left-leaning party, in December became the first openly trans person elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly. Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remains pervasive in the South American country in spite of this historic election.

Arzola, who studied graphic design and art in Venezuela, told the Blade that he wanted to use art as a way to challenge anti-gay violence and homophobia in his homeland.

“This is the way that artivism burns in my head,” he said. “I need to fight violence with other things and in Venezuela being gay is always in the media. People laugh about being LGBT, so I was wondering (about) when we start to laugh about tragedy, about the pain of others. In Venezuela people are always saying that, ‘We’re so cool because we find a joke in everything.’ But that everything sometimes includes the pain of others.”

“That’s where the name ‘I’m Not a Joke’” comes in,” added Arzola. “I want to talk with people like you and me, so I’m not your joke. I’m not a joke.”

Threats forced Arzola to move to Chile

Arzola told the Blade that he began to receive threats because of his art and advocacy.

“I had to leave Venezuela because of threats,” he said. “When ‘I’m Not a Joke’ started to be so famous I had the opportunity to talk to so many media, so I exposed the government and the homophobia in Venezuela.”

Arzola met Jaime Parada — a Chilean LGBT rights advocate who became the first out candidate elected to public office in the South American country in 2012 when he won a seat on the Providencia Municipal Council in Santiago — in 2014 during a trip to Buenos Aires.

Arzola moved to Santiago, which is the Chilean capital, in April 2015. He now lives in Providencia — a wealthy Santiago enclave — and works for the municipal government.

“I like Santiago,” Arzola told the Blade. “It’s the first time in my life I have experienced peace…and for me it’s something new. For me it’s very weird being in my bed without fear.”

“For me coming from the chaos in Venezuela and being in Providencia is like, ‘Oh yeah. I create all the time with chaos and now I am in peace. I’m like, what should I do now?’” he added. “I don’t know what to do with so much peace. I’m still creating.”

Daniel Arzola, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Venezuelan “artivist” Daniel Arzola is behind “I’m Not a Joke,” a series of pictures that seek to combat homophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination. (Images courtesy of Daniel Arzola)

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DC Center to host Alzheimer’s awareness event

‘Seniors & Cognition’ talk to explore warning signs, healthy brain practices

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The DC LGBTQ+ Community Center, the DC Department on Aging and Community Living, and the Alzheimer’s Association are joining forces to host “Seniors & Cognition with the Alzheimer’s Association” on Thursday, July 25 at 2 p.m. on Zoom. 

Guest speakers will walk the audience through understanding Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, their warning signs, healthy brain practices, and more. The lecture series will consist of three 1.5-hour sessions, with the others set to take place in August and September. 

To register, visit the DC Center’s website

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Sports

Brittney Griner and wife celebrate birth of their son

Cherelle Griner gave birth to healthy baby boy earlier this month

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Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Instagram)

It’s a boy for Brittney and Cherelle Griner. The Phoenix Mercury center revealed the news in interviews with CBS Sports and NBC News. 

“Every minute I feel like he’s popping into my head, said Griner. “Literally everything revolves around him. And I love it.”

The couple officially welcomed the baby boy on July 8. He weighs 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

“That’s my man. He is amazing,” Griner told CBS Sports. “They said as soon as you see them, everything that you thought mattered just goes out the window. That’s literally what happened.” 

Griner, 33, corrected the CBS News correspondent who said, “You’re about to be a mom!” She told her Cherelle, 33, had already delivered the baby and that she preferred to be called,“Pops.” 

Griner told NBC News correspondent Liz Kreutz they chose to name their newborn son, “Bash.” 

The WNBA star said she is Bash’s biggest fan and is constantly taking photos of him. “My whole phone has turned into him now,” Griner told CBS Sports.

The baby comes as Griner gets set to play in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game and then head to Paris with Team USA to compete for their 8th straight gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games. 

“It kind of sucks because I have to leave, but at the same time, he will understand,” said Griner. 

Her time in Paris will mark the first time since the basketball star was released from a Russian gulag, where she was held on drug charges for nearly 10 months in 2022.

“BG is locked in and ready to go,” Griner told NBC News on Friday. “I’m happy, I’m in a great place. I’m representing my country, the country that fought for me to come back. I’m gonna represent it well.”

Griner also spoke with NBC News about her hopes the U.S. can win the freedom of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian maximum security prison on Friday. 

“We have to get him back,” she said. 

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Calendar

Calendar: July 19-25

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, July 19

“Center Aging Friday Tea Time” will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more details, email [email protected].

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Happy Hour” at 7 p.m. at Puro Gusto. This event is ideal for making new friends, professional networking, idea-sharing, and community building. This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, July 20

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ+ community, including allies, together for delicious food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

“LGBTQ People of Color Support Group” will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom. This peer support group is an outlet for LGBTQ People of Color to come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment free. For more details, visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Sunday, July 21

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Dinner” at 6:30 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. Guests are encouraged to come enjoy an evening of Italian-style dining and conversation with other LGBTQ+ folk. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Funday Social and Games” at 3 p.m. at Moxy. This event is ideal for making meaningful new connections and informal community building, or just to unwind and enjoy the group happy hour. There will be Monopoly, chess, checkers, Jenga and many other games. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

Monday, July 22

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected].

“Queer Book Club” will be at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. The club meets on the fourth Monday of the month to discuss queer books by queer authors. This month’s read is yet to be announced. For more details, email [email protected].

Tuesday, July 23

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Coming Out Discussion Group will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a peer-facilitated discussion group and a safe space to share experiences about coming out and discuss topics as it relates to doing so. For more details, visit the group’s Facebook page.

“Genderqueer DC” will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a support group for people who identify outside of the gender binary, whether you’re bigender, agender, genderfluid, or just know that you’re not 100% cis. For more details, email [email protected].

Wednesday, July 24

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit thedccenter.org/careers.

“Asexual and Aromantic Group” will meet at 7 p.m. on Zoom and in person at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. This is a space where people who are questioning this aspect of their identity or those who identify as asexual and/or aromantic can come together, share stories and experiences, and discuss various topics. For more details, email [email protected].

Thursday, July 25

Virtual Yoga with Charles M. will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. For more details, visit the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s website.

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