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Portraits of Pride: 19 LGBTQ Game Changers You Should Know

Photography by Stefan Pinto | May 14, 2018 | People Feature

Portraits of Pride celebrates an illustrious group of people who make L.A.’s progressive and prolific LGBTQ community so powerful. Each June we take time to revel in the great strides and successes the LGBTQ community has effecutated, while reflecting on the important work that is still necessary to preserve and further the cause of social justice for ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors. Stefan Pinto, one of Los Angeles’ most accomplished photographers and visual artists, captures the strength, beauty and spirit of these gifted people who give our city its heart.



Laverne Cox is on the vanguard of our cultural conversation about LGBTQ visibility and human rights, especially as it relates to transgender people. Her remarkable career encompasses many firsts including being the first openly transgender person nominated for a Primetime Emmy for acting as Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black, the first openly transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy as executive producer of Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, the first openly transgender person to have a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s and the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. “To be clear, just because one or two or five transgender people become famous, doesn’t equate equality and justice for all,” says Cox. “Visibility is part of the story, but the true work is changing the culture by capturing people’s hearts and minds so that they support public policy. They have to go hand in hand.”

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Cox struggled in a community that rejected her attempts to discover and express herself. “I always knew I was a girl, but was in denial,” Cox shares. “When I was in third grade I was placed in “reparative” therapy, which was about shame and repression. It wasn’t until I moved to New York and met a transgender woman that I began to accept my womanhood. I, like so many others, come from a place of shame, so unlearning transphobia was a slow process for me because the whole culture is transphobic and we all internalize it.”

Cox found early success on VH1’s I Want To Work For Diddy, which lead to her producing and starring in TRANSform Me, both of which were nominated for GLAAD Awards. When Cox assumed the role of Sophia on Netflix mega-hit Orange Is The New Black, it took her to the next level and lead to the cultural milestone with the Time cover. “That was a turning point for me,” Cox says. “On one hand it was a wondrous experience, but on the other it freaked me out because I became aware of the responsibility of being the face of the trans community and the difficulty of taking on the weight of the world.”

Since that watershed moment Cox has embraced her role championing important issues that affect her trans siblings in the LGBTQ community. “When you consider trans immigrants fleeing countries where they are being murdered, gun violence, which effects so many trans folks, attempts to limit and reverse our civil rights through bathroom legislation and the military ban, it is important to understand that transgender rights are human rights and fight to build a better future,” states Cox. “One of my favorite quotes that sums up how I feel comes from Brené Brown, “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”



Intelligence, a fearless sense of adventure and an exacting eye for detail have provided Michael Bridges with an exceptional career in hotel operations, sales and marketing at numerous five star properties around the country. When Bridges assumed the General Manager role at Viceroy Santa Monica in January, it was a homecoming of sorts. “I’ve had the unique opportunity of opening five hotels in my career,” says Bridges. “One of these was Viceroy Central Park in New York. When I left there to join Fairmont in Santa Monica, the CEO was confident our paths would cross again. When the call came I jumped at the chance to helm this outstanding property.”

As a young man from Texas, Bridges dreamed of the big city, so when the opportunity to move to New York and work for The Ritz Carlton came in 2002, he took it. Since then Bridges has worked for some of the finest hotel brands and the lessons he’s learned along the way make him uniquely qualified to lead the team at Viceroy Santa Monica. “Hospitality is all about perception,” Bridges shares. “In order to create memorable experiences for guests, you need to make them feel special. Viceroy’s ideology starts with ‘we are hosts first and always’.

Since relocating from New York in 2015, Bridges has been inspired by L.A.’s LGBTQ community. “I grew up an awkward kid in Texas, where no one expects you to leave or be openly different ,” Bridges says. “Here you have a community fighting for gay youth, gay rights and giving a voice to those who didn’t have one. Organizations like GLAAD are creating opportunities for LGBTQ youth while celebrating those who have continued to support the community. Though I wish I’d had this community when I was young, I’m happy to be a part of it today.”



Listening, sharing and authenticity were principles that Ernie Carswell learned in childhood. As the Founder at Ernie Carswell and Partners, one of L.A.’s leading luxury property brokerages, the South Carolina native applies the teachings of his minister father to his life and work. “My father was my role model,” Carswell says. “He taught me to love people, to listen, to be the same man at home as you are in the world and that helping others reaps equivalent benefits. He was the real deal.” These lessons have served Carswell well, earning him the loyalty of his staff, innumerable repeat and referral clients and the industry’s highest accolades.

Since founding his team 15+ years ago, Carswell has continued to find joy in every aspect of his work. “First, I love the hunt,” Carswell shares. “It’s exciting to locate just the right property, but I’m careful not to oversell it; the discovery has to be the client’s. It is equally important to navigate diplomatic negotiations with skill, strategy and respect for all parties, so that everyone at the table feels like they’ve won. Finally, I love mentoring agents so that they learn to trust their abilities as their careers take root and bloom. The key is to extend a hand, not a handout.”

Since arriving here in 1990, Carswell has seen the LGBTQ community flourish. He attributes this to the multitude of caring and talented people who call Los Angeles home. ”Our community lives in a utopia because of the people who have congregated here,” declares Carswell. “Great benefactors like David Geffen and organizations such as APLA and Project Angel Food make L.A. one of the largest service centers for the LGBTQ community in the world and have inspired the entire city.”



Humanity and social justice have guided Dr. Shahin Ghadir throughout his life and had a powerful influence on his work. As a Founding Partner at the Southern California Reproductive Center, one of the country’s leading facilities dedicated to reproduction, the noted fertility expert helps a wide variety of people from across the spectrum realize their reproductive goals. “The idea of making a beneficial change for families was the ultimate decision maker for going into fertility,” says Dr. Ghadir. “I received my B.A. in Psychology from UCLA, so am uniquely qualified to guide fertility patients through the important medical and psychological issues they face.”

Throughout his groundbreaking career, Dr. Ghadir has worked with a large number of gay and lesbian patients and same sex couples striving to have children and has been a key supporter of the Family Equality Council. “I’m a firm believer in diversity and equality,” Dr. Ghadir shares. “Knowing the unique fertility challenges faced by the LGBTQ community makes me go above and beyond to help my LGBTQ patients experience the joys of being parents.” Because Dr. Ghadir understands the many layers involved in fertility for his LGBTQ patients goes beyond the state-of-the-art technologies and groundbreaking procedures he employs, he provides counseling and direction. “One of the largest obstacles to fertility is financial,” Dr. Ghadir states. “For example, male couples have to find an egg donor and a surrogate and there are legal contracts to consider, all of which is involved and expensive. And then there are the emotional factors of gathering eggs and sperm and undergoing IVF. This led me to start Fertility for All, a nonprofit that is still in development stages, but will soon provide assistance with these challenges. My daughter has a school friend I helped create with her mothers. Getting to be involved with and seeing such amazing parents is awe inspiring for me.”



The aura of infectious enthusiasm, boundless energy and deeply felt compassion that surrounds Matthew Hoffman is what makes him a natural host. With his signature interview style, Hoffman’s career has taken him from celebrity interviews to hosting a game show. Seen on ABC’s People’s List where he hosted the celebrity segment Greatest Interview Ever with Matthew Hoffman to Sit Down with the Stars for Regal Cinemas, and the trivia show The Games We Play. Hoffman moved to Los Angeles shortly after an onstage encounter with Hugh Jackman at the Tony Awards, where Hoffman was a guest of Anna Wintour. During a commercial, Jackman had Hoffman sing live at Radio City. The bit caught the attention of Liz Smith who wrote about it in The New York Post.

He has since interviewed hundreds of celebrities, including his cultural idol, Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah is everything. She champions goodness, compassion, and has the ability to make everyone feel heard,” Hoffman shares. “The prospect of interviewing her was daunting” At the end of their interview, Oprah screamed “MATTHEW HOFFMAN” in the iconic way that only she could. Hoffman’s response? “I literally fell out of my chair, onto the floor, and at her feet. How else was I supposed to react?!?“

Hoffman volunteers weekly with senior citizens, and is the founder of Tuesdays with Matthew. TWM recreates famous movie scenes with the Scene-iors starring as the leads. “I’ve been volunteering for 10 years,” Hoffman says. “My mission is to make the seniors I work with feel like movie stars” With the help of wigs, costumes and a green screen – Hoffman transports the Scene – iors from their center to places they never thought were possible. “100% of the money raised on our YouTube channel goes to Meals on Wheels. This helps us give back to seniors we will never meet. For me, it does not get better”



Star Trek is one of the most iconic series and franchises in television history where tens of millions of fans from every segment of society around the globe connect. Since the original series first aired in 1966, Star Trek has broken down cultural barriers and started a social conversation that continues to live up to its promise “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. When CBS All Access launched Star Trek: Discovery last fall, the show blazed a new trail when the first openly gay character in the franchise’s history, Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp, shared an onscreen kiss with Dr. Hugh Culber, played by Wilson Cruz. “The feedback has been incredible,” says Executive Producer, Aaron Harberts. “I’ve been out and working in television for 20 years, so it would be easy to take the importance of this for granted. We work in L.A. where being gay isn’t all that provocative, but in many places being gay is a risk, so this moment and the fact that these characters mean so much to so many is humbling.”

The kiss brought a tidal wave of response from Star Trek fans around the world that touched Cruz, the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character on My So Called Life. “I’m moved by the “Thank Yous” [and] deeply felt gratitude of fans who have waited decades to see fully developed queer characters,” Cruz shares. “I’m overwhelmed when a young person’s, especially an LGBTQ young person of color’s, eyes have been opened to the limitless possibilities their own lives could have.”

“I didn’t know my career would hold another peak experience,” confesses Rapp, the self-described queer veteran actor of stage and screen, “but as the variety of LGBTQ communities expand, so do opportunities for LGBTQ storytelling. With that said, there are still many thresholds to cross and I look forward to a lot more peaks.”



The continuing ascendance of the art and design community in Los Angeles inspired SenYon Kelly to partner with SOVO//MAGAZINE. “SOVO// is an art, culture and lifestyle publication presented as a tangible piece of art,” says Kelly. “With a mission statement “Know Yourself. Accept Yourself. Love Yourself. Curate Your Life” we are all about evoking empathy, inspiring introspection and cultivating community.” The premiere issue design mirrors the world in a storytelling platform, with nine sections that blend seamlessly into a uniquely individual poster.

Kelly brings 30 years of experience in finance, art development and curation to SOVO//. As the CEO & Founder of Nubian Video Archives and Collectibles, Kelly has collected and curated a vast catalogue of art and entertainment memorabilia and is Licensee of the original artwork of rock legend Jimi Hendrix. “Part of what made me an attractive partner to Founder Allen Sovory II is that I know what makes collectibles valuable,” Kelly admits. “That is why we made SOVO// a 500-limited edition piece of art that is full of enticing editorials and imagery, akin to a coffee table book.”

A deep fascination with the history of L.A.’s art scene and love for the LGBTQ community serve as a guide for Kelly’s life and keeps her on the cutting edge of today’s creative juggernaut. One of Kelly’s cultural heroes is Jewel Thais- Williams, Founder of Village Health Foundation clinic, former owner of Catch One - the legendary South Los Angeles club that served as a Mecca for gays and lesbians for over 40 years - and subject of a Netflix documentary airing May 1. “Jewel has been a pillar of the LGBTQ community since 1972,” Kelly shares. “When people had nowhere to sleep, were hungry, or were stricken with AIDS, Jewel was there to help. She’s a living example of what I live for and what SOVO// strives to do; accept and embrace everyone, while giving back to the community.”



It is a strong sense of empathy and community that informs Jennifer Kim in her life and work. As a Senior Partner at Signature Estate and Investment Advisors, a firm that manages $8.1 billion in assets (SEIA and its affiliates as of 3/31/18), Kim applies her remarkable intelligence, tenacity, and caring to advise her clients with the best guidance possible when it comes to estate planning, retirement planning, and corporate benefits.

Kim, along with her husband Mark, a Los Angeles County Attorney, are good neighbors and strong supporters of L.A.’s LGBTQ community. “I believe that diversity is what makes our community so dynamic,” Kim says, “And why Mark and I are committed to raising our four children in Los Angeles. If everyone has a voice and a sense of belonging—and is given the opportunity to thrive, we provide a brighter future for the next generation.”

At the heart of Kim’s work is the formation of lasting relationships with her clients so that she can help them prosper, gaining a stronger sense of financial security and a greater peace of mind. Over the course of her remarkable 26-year career, Kim has helped a large number of gay and lesbian clients plan their financial futures. “My LGBTQ clientele have the same financial goals and desires as everyone else,” Kim shares. “Over the years the community has gained greater visibility—particularly through landmark decisions, like the legalization of gay marriage and the integration of stronger civil rights. It has been my job to know how these positive changes are affecting their financial options so that I can advise them accordingly.

Kim sees how these great strides regarding acceptance and inclusion have created positive changes in her family. “It is wonderful that my children are growing up without being discriminatory,” says Kim. “They are not only accepting, but they also embrace diversity without question and that gives me great hope.”



Over the course of John Musella’s remarkable career he has served in every aspect of public relations and communications. As President of The Musella Group, a firm he founded in 2011, Musella has worked with an impressive array of clients, including a number of high-profile builders and developers, a field that is dear to his heart. “I got my start in PR at Playa Vista, which taught me to love community design and an appreciation for the smart growth development it brought to what is now Silicon Beach,” says Musella. “That’s why I work with good clients who provide much needed housing to SoCal in an environmentally sustainable way while working with neighbors and government agencies to create the best community possible.”

A sense of social consciousness and civic empowerment has been a major influence in Musella’s life and work. He was able to put these ideals into practice and hone his skills while working for a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. “In my four years there we established the L.A. County Arts program that requires all new county buildings and facilities to incorporate an arts component,” Musella shares. “Creating beauty in what would normally be utilitarian can inspire people in ways they don’t even realize for generations to come.”

As a native Angeleno, Musella has seen the LGBTQ community not only integrate into the fabric of the city and gain acceptance, but grow along with it. “We have all worked hard to bring a sense of enlightenment and understanding about our community in just a few short decades,” Musella says, “It is important for the LGBTQ community to be a part of L.A.’s social fabric as it builds a greater understanding of who we are and what we bring to the table. Los Angeles is at the epicenter of art, design, technology, sustainable development and innovation and the LGBTQ community’s contributions to this are fundamental.”



Bryan Peele is a connector, facilitator and entrepreneur. As the Founder and President of the well-respected, non-profit Estate Managers Coalition (EMC), Peele connects the industry’s most sought after estate managers with Hollywood’s A-List and high net-worth individuals worldwide and provides them access to the world’s finest luxury brands, cutting edge technologies and superior services. Peele and EMC work tirelessly to advance the industry by promoting strong professional and social networks, workshops, digital resources and by offering continuing education programs through EMC’s well known master classes. “My career in estate management began when a friend’s brother approached me to oversee his three properties,” Peele says. “I fell in love with the job, but over time realized that it can be isolating, so I started EMC over a decade ago as a way to connect people who do what I do. EMC has grown to provide a number of opportunities and services for our members and their discerning clientele.”

Leveraging his industry expertise and stewardship of EMC, Peele created an exclusive consultancy brand offering domestic staffing and training, property management and various other estate services. “In order to be successful you need to have a sense of urgency, a strong work ethic, an eye for detail and a desire to elevate the lifestyles of those you serve.” Peele shares, “I influence domestic decisions every day, so it is important to keep a finger on the pulse to bring the very best to my clients.”

California native and Los Angeles resident for over 25 years, Peele has a strong affinity for the history and vitality of L.A.’s LGBTQ community. “Gay men and women who trail blazed for gay rights and fought on the frontlines during the AIDS crisis are my heroes,” Peele declares. “Those who refuse to be silent today continue that legacy of progress and social justice.”



Damian Pelliccione is living proof that curiosity, knowhow and spotting a hole in the market is the basis of innovation. As the CEO & Founder of Revry, Pelliccione and his partners are providing LGBTQ digital content to 70 million homes in over 100 countries. “In October 2015, I bought an Apple TV and realized that there were no apps for the LGBTQ community,” Pelliccione says. “My partner Chris and my fellow co-founders, LaShawn and Alia, and I decided to create something like a queer Netflix, except we took it a step further by including all types of media from feature films and documentaries to shorts, series, podcasts, music and music videos.”

The fact that nearly half of Revry’s users are international is a point of pride for Pelliccione. “We created Revry with the plan that it would be global, but we had no idea that it would take off so quickly.” Pelliccione shares, “When we launched in June 2016 we had 2,000 downloads the first weekend. By end of this year we will reach more that 200 million homes around the world.” Revry’s global popularity created two particular needs, safe access and content that speaks to a diverse audience. “50% of our users come from oppressed countries where they can be jailed or even put to death for being LGBTQ, so we’ve made an investment in LGBT Token, a cryptocurrency that protects their identities and provides transparency,” says Pelliccione. “We’ve also made a commitment to curate and create content that reflects our viewers. Our original series The ‘Other’ Love Story is set in Bangalore in the 90s. It exploded and made India our number two market. Additionally, we are featuring over 50 hours of content from China in Mandarin. Because television, media and films have become a global experience, Revry is dedicated to holding a mirror up to our audience.”



Photographer and visual artist, Stefan Pinto, approaches his work with a wealth of experience from both sides of the lens. The former Wall Street web developer, graphic designer and model applies his life experiences to his art. In 2007, he went on expedition with NatGeo to Oaxaca, Mexico. It was there, Pinto learned the fundamentals of storytelling using photography, “It was the first time I ever shot using the Manual setting on a camera… a simple step, once mastered, became a career-changing decision. It was then that I learned I could control light,” says Pinto.

Light and shadow defines Pinto’s photographic style and makes his images true works of art. “I’ve studied the concept of light in depth,” Pinto shares. “It was something I needed to figure out and, once I did, my process — and style — dramatically changed. Photography becomes very intricate when working with light and I’ve labored to achieve an idiosyncratic quality so that when someone sees my pictures they know it’s Stefan Pinto.” Another key component to Pinto’s work is his skill with portrait subjects. “A great photographer can make any model look amazing. A mediocre photographer needs a great model to make him look amazing,” Pinto adds.

Pinto’s distinctive images are the creative foundation of Los Angeles Confidential’s Portraits of Pride profiles. The artistry that he brought to this project is not simply the images themselves, but in his interactions with each subject bringing out their best before exercising his talent as a visual artist to create all of the images in the profiles. “I enjoyed every aspect of this project and working with people who trusted me and allowed me to get close enough to capture their essence,” Pinto says. “It’s interesting, when I am working on photos, I lose all sense of time; I never feel hungry or tired or angry or bored, just a passion for creating something timeless, unique — and special.”



The power and influence of talent to elicit social change are a driving force in Anthony Ramos’ life. As the Director of Talent Engagement at GLAAD, Ramos is able to combine his passions, entertainment and social consciousness, to great affect. Ramos joined GLAAD last fall after a 15 year career as an Emmynominated producer and correspondent for Access Hollywood where he focused on the inclusion of LGBTQ performers and stories. “I served as the liaison for a lot of LGBTQ coverage,” Ramos says. “An amazing partnership we formed with the GLAAD Media Awards increased my hunger to channel my talents into good works. At that point GLAAD was looking to go all in with entertainment and I was excited for the challenge that was presented.”

Since joining GLAAD Ramos has connected the entertainment industry with GLAAD’s mission to shape the media narrative and change the cultural conversation about the LGBTQ community. “An initial challenge was that although many people in entertainment know of GLAAD, they are unaware of what we do,” Ramos shares. “My priority is to show them who GLAAD is and how they can use their celebrity to help. People around the world pay attention to celebrities and entertainment, so the power they bring is amazing. I’m very proud to have booked Britney Spears and Jim Parsons for this year’s GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles and I am very excited that I’m working on amplifying our big event this June in Nashville, the Concert for Love and Acceptance, and really taking it to the next level!”

Ramos has a particular hero amongst the celebrities he’s worked with over the years. “My cultural role model is Ricky Martin,” Ramos confesses. “He has been a leading advocate for the LGBTQ community every day since he came out. I’ve had the privilege to work with Ricky a number of times and find his mission to give back very honorable.”



Love of adventure and taking on new challenges has allowed Paul Sposare to rise to the top of his field. When he assumed the role of Director of Sales & Marketing at Montage Beverly Hills, Sposare and his husband, Michael, were excited for this next chapter in their relationship. Sposare was particularly eager to exercise the skills and experience he gained from working at a diverse portfolio of properties around the country over the last 30 years. “Every place I’ve been has formed who I am today,” Sposare says. “Having lived in places as paradoxical as Napa Valley and Manhattan has been great training for my current role. Montage Beverly Hills is the closest thing to an urban resort and is an important part of what makes Beverly Hills a world-class destination.”

Sposare has learned along the way that people and connections are paramount. “My grandmother was a great inspiration to me,” Sposare shares. “She taught me that listening to others would benefit my life. Though I’ve moved 12 to 13 times, I’ve made great friends who have become family to Michael and me. It is the same at Montage where the incredible mix of people is what makes the property exceptional. Some of my team have been here since Montage opened 10 years ago and provide a sense of continuity, while others, like me, are part of the new blood that keeps Montage on the cutting edge of service and hospitality.”

Sposare has achieved a great deal in his life, but what gratifies him most is his life with Michael and all of the good things it has brought him. “My relationship makes me the most proud,” Sposare confesses. “In the time that we have been together the LGBTQ community has made great strides, which allow me to have no questions, concerns or second thoughts when I say to people, This is my husband.”



The power of three is key to the success of Tie The Knot, a line of fun, fashion forward bow ties that support the advocacy of LGBTQ civil rights. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the award winning actor best known as Mitchell Pritchett on ABC’s Modern Family, created Tie The Knot in 2012 to champion the fight for marriage equality. Once that momentus goal was achieved, LGBTQ rights here at home and marriage equality worldwide became the focus. “Playing Mitchell provided me with a platform to champion gay rights and marriage equality,” says Ferguson. “Tie The Knot started off with the mission statement of achieving a more equal America. After we won the fight we shifted our mission to protecting those rights we worked so hard to win.”

Justin Mikita and Todd Hawkins are the talented twosome behind Hawkins Mikita, a social innovation firm that works with philanthropic, political and advocacy groups like Tie The Knot to develop impactful strategies as well as target and activate public policy engagement opportunities. Mikita, who is also Ferguson’s husband, has been fully invested in Tie The Knot’s important work from the beginning. “Tie The Knot was inspired by Prop 8,” Mikita shares. “Since then we have achieved full federal marriage equality, but the need is still there to fight for LGBTQ people in America and beyond.”

Hawkins is a fierce advocates of progressive change and social justice. He and Mikita first met as freshman roommates at UCLA and developed a lasting friendship based on their shared ideals that took on a whole new life after the the launch of Tie The Knot. “As a result of Tie The Knot’s success, we realized we needed to make it a business,” Hawkins says. “Hawkins Mikita works with some of the most influential people and organizations and allows us to bring our knowhow and their passions to fruition... and it all started out of friendship and teamwork.”


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