Monday, May 28, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Amie Klujian and Christina Wiesmore, the co-founders of Back Lot Bash

Amie Klujian and Christina Wiesmore are the co-founders of Back Lot Bash -  the Midwest’s most-attended women’s festival taking place every Pride.

Now celebrating 15 years of producing events for and celebrating Chicago’s LGBTQ community, powerhouse duo, Kujian and Wiesmore-Roberts continue to be inspiring female daredevils and trailblazing local voices in their community. 

In 2017 HRC recognized Back Lot Bash by awarding the duo with an esteemed Chicago Community Service Award. The duo was also featured in GO Magazine’s 2017 list of 100 Top women influencers, tastemakers and trendsetters who are making a difference for the LGBTQ community. 

"Our goal is for our attendees and performers to leave inspired and to stay invigorated and involved in the community until they come back next year." -Christina Wiesmore. 

"We are motivated and driven by the positive energy Back Lot Bash creates. That energy is harnessed by all who attend and used to ignite momentum, engagement and advocacy of issues that matter to the LGBT Community," -Amie Klujian

Back Lot Bash has established itself as one of the nation’s top destinations during Pride Weekend celebrations. Founded in 2004 by Amie Klujian and Christina Wiesmore-Roberts, the hottest, most rockin’ festival for queer women spans over two weekends - June 15, and June 22-24 - in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.  

Showcasing local and emerging talent as well as established performers of different genres, Back Lot Bash highlights unity, equality and inclusiveness in an environment that is festive and celebratory of everyone in the LGBTQ community. 

Since 2004, the event has grown from a single-day event to a 4-day weekend party drawing immense crowds from all over the Midwest and across the US. Co-founders Christina Wiesmore Roberts and Amie Klujian strive to bring the community together and to be active citizens by raising money for community organizations.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Ji Strangeway

Ji Strangeway is the author of "Red As Blue” -  a hybrid graphic novel that combines prose and screenplay with illustrations.

The throwback tale of an angsty, teen girl who stumbles her way through her sexuality and the repercussions of a small town mentality is chock full of quippy one-liners, gorgeous graphic artwork, and edgy sex scenes.

Red as Blue offers a raw and realistic take on the Teenage experience for LGBTQ Youth and teenagers tackling a variety of relevant, current and very real issues that teenagers (still) face today: suicide, gender identity, love & sexuality, social classes and acceptance, and school shootings.

Ji’s story manages to feel both like a real reminder of the world we live in and as a freeing escape into a prior generation.  Unfortunately, the story is also a stark reminder that things haven’t changed all that much over the last three decades.

Ji’s immediate family lived in diaspora in Laos during the Vietnam War. They escaped a violent country and immigrated to America, only to be met with prejudice in Denver, Colorado. Torn between her Vietnamese and American identity, she also struggled with growing up gay. Her traumatic childhood left her with a soft spot for LGBTQ youth who don’t fit in or who experience bullying.

Set in a fictional Colorado desert town in the 1980s, the book follows 15-year-old June Lusparian, a Mexican-Armenian teen struggling to make sense of everything—her life, her sexuality, and her future.

“Red as Blue,” Strangeway explains, “is a story that was huge for me to write because it covers so many things that were burning in my heart. It covers the teenage angst I felt growing up gay in a conservative, violent, toxic, and closedminded environment.”

What makes Red as Blue different than most classic American Teen Dramas is that it is not frivolous nor juvenile, and offers a much more raw and realistic take on the teenage experience.

With a unique, genre-bending style that is sometimes lyrical, sometimes sharp as a razor’s edge, and always engaging;  Red as Blue, beckons LGBTQ youths and X-gens to beautifully come of age all over again.

The story world uniquely takes place in the Chicano culture in America...and that part of society is rarely illustrated in high school stories unless specifically written for the Hispanic community.

Raised in Colorado, Strangeway faced racism, bullying, and homophobia throughout her childhood. During that time there were few role models, as openly-LGBT characters were largely absent from books, TV, and movies.

 “When you don’t have anything to fit you into the picture of the society you live in,” she says, “you have no hope.”

Strangeway created Red as Blue to offer a beacon of light for those struggling to find meaning in life. 

At its core, Red as Blue is about the power of love rather than the love of power. Ultimately, she wrote the book as a healing journey for many generations of LGBTQ Youth.

“ Every young, inquisitive, soul-searching lesbian and bi woman should have Red as Blue on her nightstand, to serve as both a comforting reminder that she’s not alone and a zany escape from everyday life,” says Beth McDonough (

She hopes it will inspire readers, especially the youth to learn how to transform their creative and often destructive energy into something powerful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Michaela Mendelsohn

Michaela Mendelsohn can talk about her relentless work as a transgender activist, helping the restaurant industry become more inclusive and better tap the talent pool of transgender employees with her non-profit company.

Mendelsohn was selected to be the state and national recipient of the Face of Diversity Award and will be recognized amongst her peers at the NRA Public Affairs Conference on April 19 in Washington DC, and in Sacramento on April 24 at the CRA Restaurant Day (Lobby Day).

The annual award is part of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) celebration of the “best of the best” in diversity and inclusion, community service and hospitality leadership.

Mendelsohn, CEO of one of the largest El Pollo Loco franchises in the country and the first transgender member of the L.A. Workforce Development Board,  is the founder of the California Transgender Work Project (CTWP) - a program formed with the mission of promoting a trans positive work climate throughout the state of California and the US.

Mendelsohn's incredible story and professional endeavor continue to make headlines.
She was recently profiled in the LA TIMES:

Mendelsohn is in a unique position to teach on the subject and help others break barriers.

A longtime El Pollo Loco franchise operator and CEO of Pollo West Corp., with six restaurants in Southern California, her restaurant teams now include transgender employees including hispanic transgender women.

She’s also on the board of the Trevor Project, a national organization devoted to eliminating suicide among LGBT youth. And she served as a consultant to the series “Orange is the New Black.”

Mendelsohn is an amazing woman who has had a tremendous impact on the community.
This is an annual award presented by a leader in the restaurant industry, championing people from all backgrounds.

What makes Mendelsohn’s story so special and inspiring is that it shows the world that everyone can be their authentic self and succeed; and that everyone can overcome the challenges they are facing and find their voice.

"In being my best self and telling my story, I hope to create “ripples in the pond” to open the hearts and minds of one person at a time”, says Mendelsohn.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Susan Surftone

Surftone is a former FBI agent turned surf guitarist / singer / songwriter.

From her FBI years to the time she spent as an Attorney for the NYPD assigned to the Tactical Narcotics Team in Harlem, and her prolific career as a surf guitarist, the out artist has a lot to say and is never afraid to say it.

Susan’s endured more than her fair share of misogyny, discrimination, even physical assault; but throughout it, she’s stuck steadfast to her goals and refused to be intimidated. And although her musical genre tends to be straight-male-dominated, she's done hiding in the closet.

Whether engaging in espionage or breaking into music, this queer musician has always been fearless and lives out loud. Surftone is a fascinating woman who has continuously been breaking barriers.

Now the sixty-something year-old artist just released a new EP  “2nd To One”.

The album, an homage to Elvis Presley (Surftone’s idol) is a take-off on Elvis' collection of great B-sides called "2nd To None”. It features Darlene Koldenhoven, the nun with the tambourine from the "Sister Act” movies, who plays the piano on "One-Sided Love".

There’s probably not a single person who wouldn’t be inspired by the story of Susan Surftone.

She went from a career working in an government agency that is reputed to be very macho, to another profession known to be heavily male-dominated, namely “surf” music as a guitarist. Yet while the gender ratio wasn’t in her favor, she thrived in both fields.

In the early '80s, SurfTone (real name: Susan Yasinski) was an FBI agent in New York, chosen to monitor KGB agents assigned to UN headquarters. The Soviets weren't allowed to travel more than 25 miles outside New York City, so she would run surveillance and occasionally go undercover to sniff out their motives and next moves.

Fancy  job, but she became worried about her future within the bureau. For a lesbian, upward mobility was not going to come easily. Plenty of Hoover men were still in place at the FBI, and "don't ask, don't tell" was the prevailing attitude. It grew increasingly more difficult to make excuses for not dating, and she knew the rumors eventually would prevent a promotion, anyway.

But something other than the challenge of hiding her sexual orientation ultimately led to her resignation from the FBI. Leaving the FBI pushed SurfTone to form bands of her own.
Susan and the Surftones went on to record more than 10 albums, became breakout stars in Europe and even had a couple of their songs featured on a season of The Real World.

Through the years she has always been a strong advocate of encouraging girls to play guitar and start bands. She continues now to be a social activist for women empowerment and LGBTQ rights.

Ironically, with Russian espionage in the news lately, Susan’s found herself reflecting back on her FBI days with unexpected frequency penning more than a few op-eds about the political news of the moment, published in HuffPost, The Advocate and Curve.

Surftone has become an influential trailblazing voice in both the political arena and the LGBTQ community. She's using a lifetime of lessons and musical talent to encourage other queer young women to sing out loud and strong.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Mona Elyafi of ILDK Media

First, tell us about your business. What does your company do? What markets does it serve?
ILDK Media is a boutique PR company based in Los Angeles. It specializes in LGBTQ+ PR campaigns, Entertainment PR and special events. Staying at the forefront of change, ILDK has been instrumental in making LGBTQ agendas move into mainstream culture. Every LGBTQ PR campaign has, in its own way, aided in the empowerment of our community and contributed to changing the conversation about gays, lesbians, and/or transgender today. Some of our clients include: The Dinah Shore Weekend, Tello Films, ClexaCon, BackLot Bash, Rainbow Fashion Week, Brave Trails, social justice advocate and transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn, among many others.

ILDK’s message is particularly important at this moment in American history with a Trump administration that is continuously acting in a hostile way towards the LGBTQ community; and for those feeling demoralized by recent politics that seem to prioritize men’s contributions over women’s. I, as both a woman entrepreneur and a member of the LGBTQ community (married to my wife for the past 4 years), have continuously been committed (under the ILDK marquee) to amplifying women’s voices through pitches/stories; and supporting the LGBTQ community by championing campaigns focused on social & political causes directly affecting it. Working hand in hand with clients to champion social and political causes that directly affect our community, we cultivate long-term partnerships with a variety of associations including GLAAD, HRC, Equality California, The Trevor Project and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.

Next, tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start your own business and/or head down this path within your own company?
I was born in Beirut Lebanon and immigrated to Paris, France in 1975 when the civil war started. I was raised in Paris, benefiting from a mix of both a European and Middle Eastern culture. With a Muslim father and a catholic mother, I grew up exposed to both religions - its traditions, celebrations and beliefs. I moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to pursue a BA in Political Science. I then left LA for New York City, where I attended New York University to complete a Masters in Liberal Arts (with a minor in Journalism). Upon returning to LA, I started working at Sunshine Entertainment pushing and promoting the top 2 artists on the label: The Movement (“Jump”) and Grammy nominee Skee-Lo (“I Wish”). After years working for some of the top entertainment PR agencies in Los Angeles (including The Lee Solters Company), I took a leap of faith and launched my own PR firm, ILDK Media, in 2004.  I named my company ILDK after my grandmother’s initials because she was my role model and mentor; she epitomized the very definition of women empowerment and to this day, while she left us 15years ago, she continues to be my muse and inspiration.

The main objective in using my influence as a publicist, was and still is to not only empower women, but artists as well, exuding a genuine passion for their artistic craft and professional vocation. The saying that a publicist is a storyteller speaks volumes. The fact that you can pluck someone from near obscurity and thrust him/her into the spotlight with the right narrative is an immensely meaningful notion to me. My continuous goal is to be an inspirational trailblazing voice in my community by telling stories that act as a catalyst for change and move both the media and the public towards a more inclusive mentality.

I have been very fortunate to work on many LGBTQ projects that have focused on uplifting our community, teaming up with some incredibly talented individuals that I am proud to call my clients. From transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn (Transcanwork), Mariah Hanson (The Dinah Shore Weekend), Christin Baker (tello films), E. Jag Beckford (Rainbow Fashion Week), to Marlene Forte (The Fosters, Familia), among others, these are all LGBTQ PR campaigns that spark more than a dialogue about diversity and equality, they’re also leading the mainstream headlines making front-page news. To have media institutions – whether it be Forbes, LA Times,, NY Times, CNN, to name a few - give your LGBTQ clients a mainstream platform to tell their stories to the world helps pave the way toward acceptance because it puts a human face on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the end of the day, the most rewarding aspect of my profession is the knowledge that I, via ILDK, am involved in the very process of helping to change minds and hearts.

Do you have a project or goal you're working on now in order to take your business to the next level?
One of my projects is to connect with other mainstream entertainment companies whether in films, TV and/or music and work with them to make sure they have embraced a culture of diversity and inclusion.

What have been some of the challenges in achieving this goal?
The main challenge is time. It takes a lot of time to research these companies and make sure you get the right person to connect with. It's difficult but not impossible. I just need to find more time to do so while still pushing the PR campaigns of my clients.

What is the biggest mistake, if any, that your customers are making?
One of the common mistake clients make is not staying on message. it is a crucial element to every PR campaign - the art of communicating exactly what you set out to communicate in the first place.
It’s about consistency, clarity and focus. When clients stay on message, they are able to communicate exactly what they want their audience to know and are then able to deliver a clear, powerful and irresistible call to action. Ultimately staying on message ensures that your message gets across.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

LGBT Bold Introduces Samuel Cole from London, in Collaboration with Project Soaked

We had an opportunity to sit down with Samuel Cole from London, where we learned more about his latest film project, as well as his @ProjectSoaked stunning photography.

First, tell us about your business. What does your company do? What markets does it serve?
In short, my business is me. As a self-employed freelance performer you need to be a brand as you are the product. My role, I guess you could say, is creative director, if you need a title. One day I'm the writer, director, dancer and producer. I would say that a lot of my work is influenced by LGBT and equality as well as body image and the arts.

Next, tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start your own business and/or head down this path within your own company?
Like I said, I am a very creative and imaginative person and I'm constantly getting inspired by my surroundings. Mostly I try to use my brand to promote body image and a positive message as well as LGBT issues. There was a time when your sexuality would have to be hidden at work, but now I think it's important to not lead a double life. I'm not saying that you should use your sexuality as a business, it's more about celebrating it and knocking down stereotypes and boundaries. For me, the best thing about my work is that I get to bring my ideas to life, which is such an exciting process. But it can be stressful due to having a slight tendency to be a perfectionist. As well as my own vision, it's great to collaborate and help make someone else's idea a reality.

I became self employed quite soon after graduating which was and still is somewhat daunting. But it was the right decision, as I've know for a while that I want to use my skills and training to create and build a platform not just for myself but to spread a positive message through my work.

Do you have a project or goal you're working on now in order to take your business to the next level?
2017 is turning out to be a big year for me, as I'm really finding my voice and focusing on a film, which has been a real back burner and something that means a great deal to me. The plan is to really step up and push the limit to what a film can do. I'm bored of seeing videos and images that are not fresh and do not push the audiences imagination and mind.

What have been some of the challenges in achieving this goal?
The biggest challenge is sitting down and focusing on the one idea, biting the bullet and putting it into motion. Without any other ideas and concepts distracting me.

Overall, what have been some of the challenges to get to where you're at today?
I think some of the challenges are being heard and not getting lost in the crowd. It's amazing that this new generation of crowdfunders and independent brands are taking over, but now more than ever the competition is much higher. This can be construed as good and bad, as it will push people to make their business and brand better, but this also means it will be more difficult to have success. But don't let that stop you, people say everyone has a book in them, and the same goes for a business, everyone has one in them.

How does your business differentiate itself from its competitors?
I'm not afraid to develop and push myself, while others (individuals and brands) get comfortable. I will always research and develop, as at the end of the day, I don't want to miss out on an idea or opportunity.

And finally, tell us anything about yourself, your business and/or the business environment you're in that we may have missed in our questions above, and that you'd like to tell in your #LGBTBold story.
I believe we shouldn't settle! People might think I'm naive because of my age, but I have a goal and I'm not scared to work hard. I thrive on positive energy and open mindedness and giving people the confidence to believe they can do it. I do feel lucky to have collaborated with other creative people and to have had them help me with my success as well. It's all about doing favors and returning them. A business should give a sense of fantasy, otherwise why is anyone going to invest, participate and tell others it takes time and just like LGBT bold, you need to be bold.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

LGBT Bold Introduces Shannon Morrison of IM Creative from Columbus Ohio

We had an opportunity to sit down with Shannon Morrison of IM Creative, an LGBT-owned company that is part of the event and meeting planning world.

First, tell us about your business. What does your company do? What markets does it serve?
IM Creative is an experience design and production agency. We create branded experiences for companies in technology, pharmaceuticals, financial services, consumer goods and more. We believe that Being Together Matters, and because of that belief, we are laser-focused on creating compelling meetings, events, conferences, activations, on-boarding, and culture-building experiences for audiences from 50-50.000.

Next, tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start your own business and/or head down this path within your own company?
My husband Scott and I both have a strong background in theater. He is the one with the entrepreneurial and managerial instinct while I am a big idea and branding. Between the two of us, we found a potent chemistry both personally and professionally that helped us transform Scott's initial endeavor - Ihrig Productions - into IM Creative. We wanted to create a new kind of production company that was focused on ideas and creativity rather than gear. Our philosophy has always been when you own a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We would rather create a company where the great ideas come first, and THEN worry about the tools needed to realize it, rather than trying to shoehorn things you own into what you sell. The strategy has worked, taking us to #1326 on the INC 5000 and earning us numerous awards for outstanding work in corporate events, non-profit galas, sporting ceremonies, and more.

Do you have a project or goal you're working on now in order to take your business to the next level?
We have recently implemented a new strategic plan titled our 10-10-2020 plan, where we aim for $10M in revenue with a 10% Profit margin. We have identified strategies to help us get there that include both business development goals as well as the streamlining and optimization of existing processes.

What have been some of the challenges in achieving this goal?
Ten million in revenue won't be the challenge - it'll really be in the 10% part of the goal, because it will be the accumulation of many many small efforts on the part of everyone at the company. That means that we must make sure everyone knows what they can do to help us reach that goal, regardless of job function. Everyone has a role to play, and we must work doubly hard to ensure people understand how their role can fit in to this strategy, whether working in a support function or facing clients.

Overall, what have been some of the challenges to get to where you're at today?
Two major challenges have characterized our growth thus far. First, growing too fast. Once we hit the right positioning and marketing message and the economy recovered, business took off, and we weren't as well prepared for it as we should have been. Talent was hard to find, so in many cases we made compromises that hurt us in the long run. We've had to slow our roll of growth by taking on only 3-5 new clients annually. Secondly, we have been challenged to distill what makes the partnership and value proposition of our founders translate to our entire organization and our culture such that clients know that even if they aren't working with Scott or Shannon, they are still getting the IM Creative experience. We have met that challenge through intense culture building and a refined hiring process that helps us identify fits for both skills and culture.

How does your business differentiate itself from its competitors?
We provide value through our values of Maniacal Client Focus, Infectious Excellence, Refreshing Creative, Relentless Collaboration, and Fearless Authenticity. Additionally, we perform the work of a production company with the consultative and creative chops of an advertising agency. Finally, we are laser-focused on experiences. We don't do social, we don't do digital, we don't do pure video - there are others who do it better. We aren't jacks of all trades. We are specialists who do what we do better than anyone we know.

What is the biggest mistake, if any, that your customers are making?
Our customers are used to working with traditional production companies, and often ask for "stuff" rather than "ideas". For example, a client might ask for a show with 6 microphones and a sleek modern, minimalist set. A traditional production company might provide a price sheet for that and then deliver it. We, on the other hand, ask our clients "Why do you think you want that?". We want clients to tell us the PROBLEM they are trying to solve, not the solution they think will get them there.

And finally, tell us anything about yourself, your business and/or the business environment you're in that we may have missed in our questions above, and that you'd like to tell in your #LGBTBold story.
Mentorship has been extremely important to us. In particular, over the last few years we have targeted Pharmaceuticals as a key market that can benefit from our approach and help us grow. Through our involvement with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, we achieved a mentorship with Novartis that included a full year (and now, informal on-going mentorship) with Sheri Shafir, their head of Supplier Diversity, as well as staff members in procurement and other departments. That mentorship, along with our Supplier Diversity Certification, has helped us refine our marketing strategy and also identify inroads to companies where we might not ever even have a shot at getting noticed. We can't say enough about how Sheri Shafir and the team at Novartis - Todd Bittiger, Caitlin Mosco, Laura J Smith, and more, have helped. Mentoring is dramatically underrated, and will be a key part of the success story we tell years from now.


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