Anna DeShawn: [00:00:00] family. Welcome back to the show. You know, this is your favorite queer radio personality. Anna DeShawn here and I’m excited to be kicking off our summer interview series with Brandon Wolf. What’s going on, Brandon? Hey, how are you Anna? I’m doing pretty good today. I ain’t gonna complain and ain’t gonna fix nothing.

No way. Right. So I wanna start off with a few fun questions to sort of just lighten the mood. You know, we host the Queer News podcast on E three Radio, which is our queer radio station here in Chicago, playing queer music 24/7/365. So, I always wanna know, do you have a go-to karaoke song? There’s that one song.

Brandon Wolf: Oh my gosh, that’s a good question. I don’t have a go-to karaoke song. I feel like I try to avoid karaoke as much as possible, so it’s usually whatever I get roped into with the rest of the group and I’m like trying to sing background vocals if I can. 

Anna DeShawn: Okay. Okay, so we got something outta that. You’re the background vocal person.

Yeah, I’m good with that. I’m 

Brandon Wolf: good with background vocals. 

Anna DeShawn: Okay. Very [00:01:00] good. And then, uh, what song right now is in your playlist? Uh, that’s getting the most rotation. 

Brandon Wolf: So there’s always a lot of rotation for me. I like to go to the gym every day and so that means, you know, it’s like an hour and a half worth of music that I’ve got a switch up all the time.

But I have to tell you, I was really surprised by how good Ava Max’s new album is. Uh, I was not expecting it to be no skips, you know, front to back every song I love. But that for me is on repeat for sure. 

Anna DeShawn: Okay. Something for me to check out. I appreciate that. Um, apple Music here. I come and love it. And, and if you could sing and you love to sing out loud, if you could do a duo with anybody who would be the number one collab?

Oh, it’s 

Brandon Wolf: gotta be Whitney. So actually my birthday is August 9th and uh, that is the same day as Whitney Houston’s birthday. So I have this dream of us singing something together and maybe in another life we’ll get an opportunity to do that. I love 

Anna DeShawn: that. Come on Whitney. [00:02:00] I ain’t mad. And she family too. I mean, I think so.

There’s that, that part, that part, that part. Brandon, when I thought about doing this summer interview series and started making asks, uh, you were at the top of my list because Oh, thank you. I’ve been following your work for a while and I, and I mean, it really starts with Pulse, right?

So I think we should start there. So when I say, June 12th, 2016, what does that bring up for you? 

Brandon Wolf: Uh, I mean, you know, I, I think it won’t surprise people that it’s, it’s difficult, um, to think about even to this day, uh, that, you know, before June 12th, 2016, I. I was a person in search of normal as a queer black man in America.

I, I grew up wondering if the world would ever really be big enough for someone like me. Um, I grew up in a majority white, very conservative town in [00:03:00] rural Oregon. I have, uh, an all white family that I was adopted into, and so, There was this sense of isolation from my identity from a very young age. I, I always felt like I had to try to be black enough for some spaces, white enough for other spaces, and masculine enough to move through every space.

Without, you know, fear of violence or discrimination. And so, um, really before June 12th, 2016, that was all my focus was, you know, trying to, to find a place to exist in this world. And, uh, I found that, I found that in Orlando, I found that in Chosen family, I found it in spaces like Pulse nightclub, which as you know, are our in.

Important lifelines in our communities, right? These safe spaces. I know that term comes with baggage, but the truth is they’re refuges. We carve out for each other. They are little places tucked away where we can hide from, uh, a world that, you know, essentially threatens violence and discrimination against us every time we walk out the [00:04:00] door.

So that was life for me before the shooting of June 12th, 2016. And after that, everything changed. So when I think about that day, I. Now I, I think about the pain of losing my best friends. I think about the grief, I think about the way it shattered our community. I think about the anger that it filled me with knowing that this country had so let down so many people.

Um, and I also think about my newfound sense of obligation and purpose. Um, that up until that point, I didn’t see my purpose being, you know, advocating for civil rights or even understanding how the political process worked, but, In that moment, having the blindfold ripped from my eyes and seeing just how directly impacted we are by political inaction on gun violence by rampant anti LGBTQ bigotry.

I understood that I had a different kind of purpose on this planet.

Anna DeShawn: So, I talk [00:05:00] a lot on the show about living at the intersections and what it means when, on any given moment a part of your identity could be under attack. And you really do have to choose which battles you’re choosing to fight and be very clear about the war that you going after, right?

And then we see Florida today in comparison to Florida seven years ago. I guess my question is how do you think we got here today, seven years later in Florida?

From From Pulse to today? I mean, I feel like it’s night and day. Yeah, 

Brandon Wolf: so I moved to Florida in 2008 and what I tell people is, okay, I. I’m not a Floridian by birth. I’m a Floridian by choice, and I chose Barack Obama’s, Florida, not Ron DeSantis, Florida, and they are two very different places. Right? I moved to Orlando because I wanted a place that was much more diverse.

I wanted people that looked like me, people that loved like me, and I found that, and to this day, I think Orlando in many ways is the seat of the resistance. To the [00:06:00] DeSantis brand of right wing, you know, hysteria and extremist politics. But there’s a lot that’s, that’s taken us from Pulse in 2016 to this moment in 2023, not the least of which is, you know, electing Donald Trump.

As president of the United States and unearthing a lot of these things that were hidden just under the surface, that people would dance around and and call economic anxiety, when really there were just racism and homophobia and misogyny and all the things, right, with a different veneer on it. So I think that’s number one, is that electing Donald Trump President really brought a lot of those things to the surface.

They empowered a lot of the kind of bigotry and hate that now fuels the right wing in politics. Um, and they also gave rise to people like Ron DeSantis, who in 2018 was sort of an afterthought in the gubernatorial election. He was this kind of random, weird right wing congressman. Uh, and then Donald Trump endorsed him and he.

Skyrocketed in the polls. He won a nomination [00:07:00] and he barely, barely, barely won, uh, a general election. And so it’s sort of this like Trump ification of politics. And then the installation of Ron DeSantis, he sort of spends a year like trying to appear moderate even though he is never really been very moderate.

And then Covid happens and he uses real fears about school closures and masks and vaccines, um, to. Become the right wing extremist brand that he is. And now he has totally, like Donald Trump captured, uh, the, the political machinery in the state of Florida. He’s struggling on a national stage because first of all, he has the personality of a wet mop.

And second of all, his policies aren’t really very popular in general. Um, but here in Florida, he has managed to capture the imagination of a right wing that feels. Emboldened in the area of, of Donald Trump politics, um, that is hyper obsessed with easy access to guns that is found the boogeyman they need in the transgender [00:08:00] community.

It’s sort of all of these things mixed together. And Ron DeSantis is riding that train he hopes, uh, to the Oval office. 

Anna DeShawn: Yeah. And I’m sure all of his supporters are too. But then there’s y’all, right? There’s you. There’s Equality Florida fighting him every step of the way. And tell me, we hear a lot about what the extremists are doing in Florida.

I wanna hear about what y’all are doing in Florida. What does it look like to be queer in Florida right now? And, and how are y’all fighting back in all the ways? I, I would love to hear. 

Brandon Wolf: Yeah. You know, I thank you for asking because I, that’s the story that I wish I heard more about in terms of, you know, what Florida looks like right now.

Because again, as you said, you hear about all the extremists, you hear about Moms for Liberty. Uh, you hear about all of these anti LGBTQ policies, you hear about sort of the slide of Florida off the right wing cliff. But the truth is, there are a lot of us who live here who. Don’t support these policies, right?

There are a lot [00:09:00] of LGBTQ people and allies in the state of Florida. It’s important to remember too when you consider that although DeSantis won by 20 percentage points in 2022, Not very many people showed up to vote. So when you think about the, the amount of the voting population that actually elected him, it’s something like 25 to 30% of registered voters in the state of Florida elected Ron DeSantis.

And that means there’s a large swath of people that didn’t vote for him, right. Um, that are being subjected to these policies. So I think. In my view, the resistance is surging in the state of Florida, and it looks like you know a few things, and I’ll give you some examples. Number one, you know, Ron DeSantis agenda time and time again is proven to be a loser.

He continues to lose in court. I like to say everything DeSantis touches turns to a preliminary injunction because courts over and over again say, What you’re doing is deeply unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter if they were, you know, nominated by Donald Trump or [00:10:00] Joe Biden, or Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama.

All of these judges are in agreement that the things DeSantis is are doing, you know, in his assault on freedom, that those things are deeply unconstitutional. So I think that’s one, it’s a loser in the courts. It’s a loser in public opinion. His approval ratings have gone off a cliff. Uh, he’s really struggling to get out of the, like 15 to 20% polling range in a presidential, uh, nomination race.

So it’s a loser publicly. It’s a loser in the courts, and as a result, you’re seeing this energy on the ground to push back against him. We, um, Had a, uh, a town hall in Sarasota a couple of months ago, and, and it was really in response to all of these anti LGBTQ policies. We had about a hundred, 150 people RSVP for this town hall where we were gonna talk about how we pushed back against the policies in Florida The day of the town hall came in.

200, 250 people showed up. It was standing room only spilling out into the, [00:11:00] the foyer. We had a, an incredible conversation that went over time. Of course, it was like 90 minutes of us talking about what we were gonna do. We challenged people to show up to the Sarasota School Board. The next day, over 300 people were there the next day wearing rainbows, waving flags, saying, we live in this community too.

We deserve a voice. Those people have continued to show up at the Sarasota School Board meetings. They’ve continued to push back and when Sarasota school board members were, uh, selecting a new superintendent, those people put enough pressure on the school board that a right-wing candidate was defeated, and we got someone who may be a little more reasonable on the issues.

That kind of thing is happening around the state. Pride festivals are seeing their largest attendance ever. Um, people are sharing their stories or being more visible. We did a drag is not a crime mobilization where we did up people who are not normally drag performers. We had dozens of them show up. We actually had to turn off the signups because we didn’t have enough makeup artists to do them all up.

That’s happening everywhere. [00:12:00] And I’m really proud that whether it’s our Safe Schools program that’s working to make schools more inclusive, our Parenting with Pride program that’s now working with hundreds of families across the state to turn them into advocates in their communities, no matter what the program is, we’re seeing unprecedented energy in the resistance to this anti-free agenda of Ron DeSantis.

Anna DeShawn: I love to hear about all of this that’s happening because it is the stuff that I wanna report on. These are the stories I want to tell. I wanna hear about drag is not a crime. Come on. Who was up there that you would not have expected to be in 

Brandon Wolf: drag? Okay. My, my boss, our executive director, Nadine Smith, now officially has a drag persona.

It is Equality Turner and it is as ex no. Extra. As extra as you’re imagining it. Uh, and I knew she was gonna get in drag for this mobilization. I, you know, she, That’s really not her personality. She’s very low key. She’s still, she’s the executive director of our organization, has been for a long time.[00:13:00] 

Mm-hmm. And her announcement that she was participating was dropping into the, the like company group chat, this video of her in drag doing her whole voice and performance and everything. So that was my favorite moment probably of drag is not a crime, is our executive director as Quala Tina Turner, delivering a direct to camera address.

Anna DeShawn: I cannot wait to share that. I will figure out how to spell it, and I think that that is awesome. Um, I saw one of the ladies from the View, whose name I will never, I can’t recall, but she lives in Florida and she talks about going to the drag shows intentionally. Oh, Anna Ro. Okay. Anna Navarro. Okay. Yeah. So I saw her post, um, I saw Anna Navarro post about going to drag events in Florida and bringing her very conservative husband along, who also feels like things have gone too far.

Yeah. Um, you know, and I think that that’s really important. I feel like in this country, he, we have lost the, the coth to have [00:14:00] conversations across the lines I’ve had. Growing up, I had lots of conversations with conservative folks. I grew up in a very conservative community. We don’t have to agree, but we also saw each other’s humanity.

I think to your point, you know, electing the Orange man, cuz that’s what I call him around here, um, really did give these folks, um, the people who are filled with hate and fear. I think around erasure and around our identities, they found somebody they could look up to. Yeah. And who was gonna hold their fears and hold all of their hate and say that it’s okay.

And you know, I had the opportunity to hear Nadine Smith at Equality Illinois at the gala, um, earlier this year. And she talked about how she feels like at the end of the day, we’re gonna win. Yeah. And that we’re gonna be further ahead than when we started. How are you, how are you keeping hope around that, around that idea that we will definitely win this?

Brandon Wolf: Well, you know, there are a couple of things that make me [00:15:00] optimistic, that give me hope. Um, first of all, I, I appreciate you calling out, you know, the loss of the ability to have real conversations in this country. There are a lot of reasons for that. In fact, Barack Obama, uh, had a great interview where he talked about social media ecosystems and.

Living in a world where all we ever hear is we’re the smartest person in the room is actually really damaging to us, right? Mm-hmm. Um, and so there are a lot of reasons that we, we struggle to have those conversations, but what I’ve found over the last couple of years is that there are still common threads that bind us all.

And when you hear people like Anna Navarro’s husband saying, I think something’s off, something’s gone too far, we’re starting to pull at those shared American values. This, you know, we’re having this conversation on the same week that we celebrate. Some people celebrate July 4th, uh, and, and July 4th. You know, at its core is about freedom.

Right now, listen, we’re a country that has not ever really afforded freedom to everyone. Uh, and there are things we have to atone for and reconcile with, but at its [00:16:00] core, Americans. Still value freedom as something that is, um, you know, a value worth defending that it should be an unconditional value that we offer to everyone, that we’re striving to give everyone access to that freedom.

And so when we’re having conversations about these policies and the way that right wing politicians are showing up in our communities, Even conservatives begin to agree that this doesn’t feel like freedom to me. Free states don’t ban books about people free states. Don’t censor classroom curriculum free states.

Don’t erase AP African-American Studies because it includes conversations on intersectionality or queer theory, right? Free states. Don’t rip healthcare from people because you disagree with how they identify. That is not what freedom actually feels like. Um, and so as we start to have these conversations, that feels like a value, a thread that we can pull at that begins to bring people together across those lines.

In terms of what gives me optimism and hope in this moment, [00:17:00] I agree with Nadine. I think number one, right wing backlash is a lagging indicator of where society is. They are fighting so hard because they already lost the culture war. They are there. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, right?

There’s no world where young people can’t turn on, uh, go on TikTok or Instagram or even the new threads and see that there are queer people that exist, right? There’s no world where there aren’t books about queer people on shelves or movies with queer characters, and the right wing is fighting back fiercely against it, knowing that there, there is no winning that war.

That LGBTQ people exist will always exist. Uh, and there’s no way to erase us. And the other thing that gives me hope, I’ll, I’ll just close with this, is that we’ve been here before as a community. This is not the first time the LGBTQ community has been used as a cudgel. It’s not the first time our existence has been hypersexualized or demonized or politicized.

That actually has been our entire existence in this country and beyond. And guess [00:18:00] what? Every single time the right wing has used us as a punching bag, we’ve always found a way toward progress. We’ve always marched toward justice and freedom for all people. I believe that we’re gonna find that same sense of fight back right now, and we’re gonna do it with more allies and more resources than we’ve ever had.

Anna DeShawn: And that’s, and that’s the hope that I wanna give folks during this interview series is that there is, this is only the beginning and we are in this for the long haul. And I believe we are having a reckoning with democracy. And so when you talk about freedom, we are talking about at the heart of what democracy is.

And I agree that’s, I think most Americans believe in democracy. Right. I think United States of America is a great experiment, right? And we have failed numbers of times, but those who fight for freedom, right? Um, oh gosh. I think about, um, Ella Baker in this moment. I think about Ella Baker in this moment.

We who believe [00:19:00] in freedom cannot rest. Right? That is her quote, which then, um, turned into a wonderful song, sweet Honey. Um, on the Rock, I think about that because. Those who have always been underrepresented or on the margins have. Been determined to say, I, I will not settle for this. And it’s not everybody and it never is everybody.

Right. I think that’s another thing we have to think about is that everybody’s not gonna join us, but, but when we win, everybody’s gonna be happy about it, I feel like. Right. I feel like that’s been the sentiment. Um, that’s right. Throughout history’s, 

Brandon Wolf: you know, that’s another thing that Nadine says really well is, you know, we, our job.

Has always been to fight for an inclusive brand of freedom, right? A um, a welcoming brand of freedom, a truly American brand of freedom that tells everyone, no matter who you are, no matter who you love, no matter who you worship or don’t worship, it doesn’t matter. You should have access. To freedom [00:20:00] because that is our core fundamental American value.

And so it’s our job as we’re talking about the future of this country, to paint a vision of a freedom that is so inclusive, that is so boldly and audaciously welcoming to all people that even our fiercest opponents. Can’t help but see themselves in it. That is the, the task of our movement, because that’s what freedom really is.

That’s what it really means when it’s a value, not a campaign slogan. That’s what freedom looks like. Um, it’s a tough job to do. It doesn’t always mean we’re gonna agree with one another, but again, I think in conversations with people when they get to know their trans neighbor, when they get to know their, their queer neighbor, when they get to know the, the black and brown folks in their communities, the undocumented immigrants, what they learn is that that value still rings true for them.

That they believe their neighbors are human beings who are deserving of the same dignity, respect, and civil liberties as everyone else. 

Anna DeShawn: Period. Period. [00:21:00] Nothing else needs to be said on that. I mean, that is really, that is really at the heart of it and that’s why we, that’s really why I do what I do, right?

So we’ve got queer news telling stories, and then we just started The Qube, which is our podcast production company that tells the stories at the intersections of race and sexuality and a place of discoverability for the very best BIPOC and QTPOC podcast out here in the. Space because we have to be able to see representation in like a very tangible way.

And we also have to be able to tell the stories of folks who are on the margins. Because that is where we see their humanity. Mm-hmm. And storytelling, gives us the ability to do that in such a beautiful way and in a way that doesn’t elicit a response. It’s just like, Hey, here’s my story.

Get to know who I am. And if Absolutely, at the end of the day, if you still feel like I don’t deserve a right, then this is a conversation that I can’t help. I can’t help you [00:22:00] after that, but, When you know somebody, when you can hear their story, there’s just no way you can believe that they don’t deserve the same human rights as you’s.

We can. That’s right. We can disagree, but if you believe in democracy and freedom, there’s no way. I sitting here as a tax paying citizen should have anything less than what you have in your experience, walking the streets of the United States of America every single day. I mean, I think for me it’s just that simple.

Brandon Wolf: That’s right. And and by the way, yeah. Uh, regardless of what you hear about the rise of right winging extremism, A vast majority of people agree with you. That’s where a vast majority of the country is. A vast majority of the country are good people, kind people who want to do well by their neighbors. We are, you know, pummeled with poison, political poison every day.

Social media is rife with it. Obviously Twitter is rife with it. The, you know, cable news, media infrastructure is [00:23:00] rife with it. Um, we are ingesting that poison every single day, and it makes us act in ways that are, are, you know, Unnatural for us that are outside where we usually live. But again, when we break down those barriers, when we get past the talking points, when we move past these media ecosystems we’re living in and we see each other as human, we fall back on that idea that, you know what?

This is a human being who deserves exactly the same dignity and respect that I do 

Anna DeShawn: do. Absolutely. And now, Brandon, I can’t let you leave here. Uh, without talking about your new book, cuz now yes. You, you’re an author. Okay. A place for us, the memoir, right? No, a place for us, a memoir. Yeah. I don’t wanna be making up words here to your book.

How exciting is that? Congratulations. 

Brandon Wolf: Thank you so much. I am, I’m really proud and honored to be able to. Just capture a bit of my own journey and my story in these pages. And I honestly, the best part of it has been reading people’s response and [00:24:00] how it’s resonating with folks. It just, it warms my heart to read and 

Anna DeShawn: tell me why, why did you wanna write a book?


Brandon Wolf: There have been so many points over the last seven years that I’ve thought about whether writing a book would be right for me, and it never just felt like the right time. Right. Um, Then the summer of 2020 happened, and for so many people there was this reckoning. There was, you know, a deadly pandemic that was exposing the fractures in our systems, exposing the, the holes that people fall in, uh, where they’re left behind.

And there was the murder of George Floyd that, that rocked the conscience of the nation. And I was feeling something really particular in the wake of, of George Floyd’s murder. I was on a call with Nadine and she said, you know, you feel a little disconnected. It feels like there’s something off, uh, about your energy right now.

And we got to talking and I said, you know, I think I feel guilty. And I don’t know why I feel that sensation that is, [00:25:00] the emotion that’s coming up for me is guilt in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. And as we started to digest and process it, it was because I was feeling a sense of disconnect or isolation from.

My identity as a black man in America that I had spent so long trying to assimilate into the culture around me as a young person, that I’d been cut off from a lot of the things that helped me identify as who I am. And Nadine said it again very profoundly. That’s what she does. You know, she said that cutting us off from pieces of our identity, from communities.

That are like us, is a function of white supremacy. It is designed to isolate you and strip you of your collective power. Maybe it’s time for you to explore what that has meant for you. And so that was the first time that I really understood what the beginning of this book was. That it’s not a book about Pulse.

It’s not just a book about Orlando. It’s a book about being a queer black person in America, uh, who struggles desperately to find a place to belong. [00:26:00] To assimilate into the world around him, only to fall in love with chosen family and a community that looks a little more like him, that loves a little more like him.

So again, this book, I, I hope it speaks especially to young, queer people of color. Uh, I hope that it speaks to people living at the intersections of identities. And if you’re not one of those people, I hope it speaks to you because everybody knows what it feels like. To struggle to belong. Everybody knows what it feels like to have people in your lives that you love and lose, uh, to get past grief and pain and find purpose in the world.

I think it’s all around just a beautiful story that I’ve been honored to be able to share with people. 

Anna DeShawn: Yes, and I can’t wait to read it. So where can we get it? All the places we can get good and bad. Books. 

Brandon Wolf: All the places you can get good and very bad books. You can find a place for us. Um, you can also go on my website, Brandon

I have a whole page dedicated to it. Make it easy for you. Um, my only ask is that you share with me what you think of it. [00:27:00] That’s my favorite part of the process. 

Anna DeShawn: I love it. And if you visit Brandon, you’ll see all of the amazing reviews, okay. From some of your favorite people. Um, When I saw Joanne Reed’s review, I was like, child, you don’t need no other review for me.

Okay. I was getting a book anyway. Um, she, she says A story of race place and the struggle for belonging that will drive you to tears and expand your capacity for hope and expanding your capacity for hope. I mean, that is a whole lot. That’s a whole lot. It’s a lot. So you’re giving folks, you’re giving folks hope in this book.


Brandon Wolf: my hope. You know, I, that’s my, that’s my goal from writing this down. You know, part of, again, the journey that I wanted to take people on is, um, I’ve been through a lot over the last 34 years of my life, but especially over the last seven, um, there’s something. That just changes who you are when you lose people you love, not just [00:28:00] as friends, but as family.

Uh, and I lost family members at Pulse and, um, what I wanted to share with people, not just the story of belonging and finding a place to be in the world, but the story of, of how we learned to navigate through those things. Because as a globe, we’ve been through a lot. Over the last few years, we’ve suffered an extreme amount of loss and grief and pain.

There’s intense division in our society. You know, people have, if they haven’t lost family members, they’ve cut family members off because they’re just different these days than they were maybe five or six years ago. And my hope is that when people finish this book, their capacity for hope is expanded and, and they understand the value of.

Being in this thing together doesn’t mean we’re always gonna agree. Doesn’t mean we’re not gonna have our moments where we squabble or, or you know, that, that the tensions of our relationship are pulled at. But the only way we get through any of this is together with community locked arm in arm deciding we’re gonna [00:29:00] move society forward.

Anna DeShawn: couldn’t agree more. Brandon, can you tell folks where they can follow you? 

Brandon Wolf: Yeah, I’m on all social media. I don’t use TikTok very well, but aside from that, I’m on all social media. Uh, you can find me on Twitter.

You can find me on Instagram. I am on the new threads at Brandon J. Wolf. I’d love to stay in contact. There it is. 

Anna DeShawn: And with that, thank you Brandon for coming on the show. I appreciate 

Brandon Wolf: it. Thank you. Anytime. 

Transcript: Brandon Wolf interview with Anna DeShawn

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