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Your space to help you get the most out of LGBTQ+ life in Greater Los Angeles. Queer LA is a long-term project to help you figure out things big and small — with a focus on joy.

LGBTQ+ Angelenos: We Want Your Stories Of Queer Joy

A collage of Caitlin through the years, mixed with brought colors. In the center is a current portrait of them smiling with glasses on. Around them is an old yearbook photo from elementary school, a 2018 photo of them posing at Pride, as well as a Mexican pride flag.
My story of queer joy has been years in the making. (Caitlin at different times over their life: elementary school, 2018 pride and today.)
(Erin Hauer
/
LAist Design)
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It all started with a conversation.

I typically cover stories for LAist that provide context when confusing things happen, offer practical information or explore history and change. I love doing that because I’m covering things that I hope my own neighbors will find useful or fascinating. But buried in me was a passion to do more, specifically with LGBTQ+ people in Greater L.A.

As a queer and nonbinary journalist, sometimes it can feel tough pitching stories about my own community because of how polarizing and demeaning the national conversation has become.

But I keenly remember when my editor, Suzanne Levy, asked me if I was interested in going all in on LGBTQ+ stories. It was a lightbulb moment for me that turned into Queer LA, a joy-centered project that launches today.

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What is Queer LA?

In a way, Queer LA is a response to a painful time. The mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs last year hit me hard. I remember walking in my neighborhood after the shooting feeling like I had to do something to help. The news cycle was (and continues to be) a nonstop rotation of depressing topics and stress. While it’s important to cover the hard things, Queer LA will focus on the opposite.

Throughout this year, you’ll see stories about queer life in this project — on LAist.com, LAist 89.3, social media and more — with a special focus toward joy, creativity and the arts.

You can expect it to highlight moments of happiness, and ways to connect with more LGBTQ+ people. You’ll get useful information to help you (or someone you know) navigate big life changes, and compelling features about how LGBTQ+ culture is changing. I’ll also look out for solutions behind problems and see how the movements in other states are affecting us locally.

Why call it Queer LA?

The name, Queer LA, was chosen with purpose. As the lead author of our newsroom’s public style guide, words are very important to me. I recognize that “queer” has a complicated history as a slur and that the long-term reclamation of the word may not be agreeable to all. In this case, queer was chosen because of its inclusivity. Many people, including myself, use it as an umbrella label to show that you’re unrestricted by a defined gender or sexuality.

About Queer LA
  • Queer LA is your space to get the most out of LGBTQ+ life in Greater Los Angeles. This long-term project helps you figure out things big and small with a focus on joy.

  • We chose "Queer LA" to demonstrate that this project includes everyone in LGBTQ+ communities. Find it here, on-air at LAist 89.3, social media and more.

Queer LA is more than just a one-off story focused on one identity. Queer LA is for everyone in the community — including transgender people of color — and those who want to learn more about the things that give us joy. You’re invited to get involved (more on that below).

My story of joy

A portrait of a person with a light skin tone standing in front of a fence at sunset. They have clear glasses on, a tan button up shirt and short black and gray hair.
Caitlin Hernández in Santa Ana in 2020.
(Courtesy of Caitlin Hernández)
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Journalists don’t usually share much of anything about their personal lives, but I’ve tried to always approach my reporting as a transparent conversation with you, our readers. Since this project is starting off by asking for your stories of joy, I’m going to share a bit of mine.

I’ve always been enthralled by Pride. But before I joined LAist, I worked in a religious place where I had to stay in the closet. I didn’t know what to do with being queer or what life would look like if I came out. In my mind, Pride was pinnacle acceptance and I wanted in.

Caitlin kneeling down with peace signs in the air next to a long line of people outside. In the background is a building with pride letters on it. Caitlin is wearing red tank top and pants.
Caitlin Hernández at San Francisco Pride in 2018, trying to be way cooler than they actually were.
(Courtesy of Caitlin Hernández)

FOMO is real, so I did something sneaky in June 2018. A group of friends and I went up to San Francisco for Pride weekend. I figured it was so far away from home in L.A. that I couldn't get spotted by anyone I’d know. Kehlani was performing at the festival, so these were can’t-miss stakes. I was prepared to stand outside for hours, despite the hot summer temperatures, because it paled in comparison to how excited I was.

We drove for hours to get to our AirBnB in Oakland and took the BART into S.F. everyday. My group had fun with our outfits, dressing more confidently than we’d usually do at home. I remember watching the sunset on the balcony while having those serious-but-fulfilling conversations about life.

Anywhere you went near Civic Center plaza was packed, including what felt like its own Pride gathering at Dolores Park. There were groups of people hanging out on the grass, listening to music and having drinks from the woman selling jello shots out of her ice chest. Even the trains were so full of people with Pride flags hanging down their backs there wasn’t any room to sit.

Gender Terminology
    • Sex: Infants are assigned a sex at birth, “male” or “female,” based on the appearance of their external anatomy. However, the development of the human body is complex and not strictly binary. (Click here to learn more.)
    • Gender Expression: External manifestations of gender, such as a person's name, pronouns, clothing, or haircut.
    • Sexual Orientation: This describes a person's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person.
    • Cisgender: This describes people whose gender identity is aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth.
    • Transgender: This describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
    • Nonbinary: This describes people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the binary gender categories of "man" and "woman."
    • Gender Non-Conforming: This describes people whose gender expression differs from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity.
    • Gender Expansive: An umbrella term used to describe individuals within the queer community who extend a culture’s commonly held beliefs about gender as it relates to a fixed binary. Gender expansive may include those who identify as gender non-conforming and non-binary.
    • Two-Spirit: This refers to people who identify as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.
  • Want to learn more? Check out Dialogue, our newsroom's style guide.

At the time, this was the most publicly queer setting I’d ever been in. I was so happy to be around people like me that any fear I had of getting caught by a coworker or family member was gone. Why? Because the sense of community was so strong that I felt invincible.

Since 2018, I’ve learned that going to events for Pride isn’t really the peak of acceptance — instead, a taste. For me, part of coming out is about purposefully putting yourself around people and places that will support you, and removing yourself from things that don’t.

I made the teary decision to tell my then-boss that I wasn’t straight. And when I was asked to quit my job or accept “treatment” — the choice felt so much easier. I made the decision to find more queer friends, so in many ways, I know I’m safe and free because I’ve chosen to pursue that.

Figuring out I was nonbinary — meaning my gender identity doesn’t conform to either a man or woman — started years later in the heights of the pandemic. All of a sudden, we were stuck at home and I no longer had to put on makeup, dress up or do other feminine things. I had time to think about how I wanted to portray myself and what I didn’t actually want to do (ironically, I should have known because I was a real tomboy growing up).

A black and white photo of Caitlin in their homeschool yearbook. They're smiling while missing two front teether, with a short bob haircut and overalls.
Caitlin Hernández when they were very young.
(Courtesy of Caitlin Hernández)

It can be a scary thing to think about gender. For me, being nonbinary is not conforming to societal expectations of who I should be. It’s a blank canvas for me to design. That meant cutting my hair, dressing masculine and using different pronouns as outward expressions.

When I came out early on at LAist, it wasn’t actually a big “coming out moment” like before. I don’t recall ever letting someone know about my new identity. It was just a fact about me that was accepted, like saying the sky was blue. Honestly, the difference between my old job and here was healing. (In fact I was in good company. It turns out a quarter of us are part of the LGBTQ+ community.)

This is all my story of joy because even the painful times led me to good. I have a fantastic partner now who sings TikTok songs loudly across our apartment. I get to hold her hand in public without caring what people think. I don’t have to hide or defend who I am. I have friends a phone call away who never doubt me. And I have this project, Queer LA.

Share your story

Now that you know a bit of mine, why not share some of yours? Do you have a memory that’s happily burned in your mind from Pride? Did you do something you’re proud of to create some change?

Send your stories (and any ideas!) to LAist using the following form. I'll read every one — and I may be in touch.

When have you experienced queer joy?

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