Happening in Phoenix
Trending around OUTvoices
By Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen
As the country tries to find a sense of normalcy within the pandemic, the struggle for the rights of transgendered individuals trudges on, rain or shine. Even with the social strides the LGBTQA+ community achieved in the last decade, many issues of inclusion, visibility, safety, and respect are left unanswered for our trans brethren, especially those within societally-disenfranchised minority groups.
In honor of the 2020 International Transgender Day of Visibility, we have compiled a showcase of transgendered-identifying individuals who have made an impact in their local community, alongside their opinions on the state of trans activism and identity:
Whether you’re a Tempe local or involved in the Arizona DIY arts and culture scene, you could have come across a dainty blonde femme and her gaggle of well-dressed confidantes at warehouse parties, house shows, and their own house venue tied to radical queer activism, titled Scum Haus. In the last year, the fiery, young femme socialist named Alex Vanguard (with the help of her fellow queer roommates) has cultivated a space in the heart of Tempe's Maple-Ash-Farmer neighborhood which caters to charity work targeted toward disenfranchised queer and transgendered individuals. Originally envisioned as a house venue for concerts with help from The Coven and Mutiny Phoenix, Alex Vanguard later repurposed the space to focus primarily on daytime events while directly serving her local area.
“I want to be a catalyst and a space maker; I
see myself with knowledge from my studies with wisdom from various people
who've guided me, and I wish to meet so many people [as I] continue to learn,
spread this needed information, [and] also leverage the resources I have,” says
Alex Vanguard on her work with Scum Haus.
Since then, she’s not only given a venue to locals like Andrew Webster who organized a tag sale benefitting charity Food Not Bombs, but also a home to the Red Cat Collective reading group, hosted by Seth Warna.
Alex Vanguard additionally says Scum Haus is a
collaborative effort to “organize with others to create spaces which reflect a
culture of radical queerness.” She says her goal is to become a community
organizer and event planner, but also “an adjustable playset:”
“I suppose I want to create the foundation or infrastructure [which] allow for queer possibilities to exist, which means creating a space for parties, political organizing, and healing,” Alex Vanguard continued.
Although Scum Haus opens itself to all ages, a quick peek will reveal its core audience to be younger queer and trans individuals, aged from late teens to late 20s. When Echo asked Vanguard on the cultural differences between younger and older queer folk, Alex was quick to argue the fallacy of the age binary, but highlight the ways we have moved forward with the changing conditions. Alex says she does recognize the strides the queer community has made to combat the violence and dis-inclusivity of trans folk, but much of the general societal improvements like technology and other resources assume transgendered individuals can access them without issue.
“As we queer/trans folk tend to be most marginalized, many [disenfranchised minorities] don’t have the ability to without experiencing violence, microaggressions or a lack of work and housing,” says Vanguard.
“When we look at age or even technology, we can see [many transgendered people of color] have always been in a position where they've had to come to terms with survival, regardless of age, whereas younger white trans folk have more privilege in accessing knowledge about themselves and their bodies.”
For young queer folk who wish to connect intergenerationally, Alex says the concept of understanding the other person’s multitude of experiences unique to the social circumstance is essential to affirming another’s intersectional identities: “It’s not only a case of learning wisdom but also learning survival.”
“We must be humble to each other and not
necessarily see that one generation can learn more from another; rather, we can
learn survival from each other.”
If there’s anything 2007's Echo Woman of the Year Regina Gazelle-Wells doesn’t have to prove, it’s her consistent track record and contributions toward the visibility and inclusion of trans and queer individuals of color within the drag scene and around Phoenix. Whether it’s performing in Cruisin' 7th’s Cotton Club Revue or helping young trans folk transition into sober living, Ms. Wells has been keeping herself busy and diversifying her avenues. Last month, Wells performed in “Culture Shock;” a bi-monthly venture hosted at The Trunk Space which promotes Phoenix drag and the budding DIY music scene simultaneously. Wells gave multiple performances and met young trans and queer youth, reminding Regina of her youth and remarking we “were young enough to be her grandchildren.”
Regina recalled to the crowd how much the area around Third Street and Roosevelt evolved, and how not too far away, she was once a young, homeless trans woman trying to survive. Even in that dire position, Regina says she remembers “people walking up to me and telling me how pretty I was.”
Seeing the young queer and trans folk
listening to her words at this event, she briefly recalled how the person who
once utilized the space before The Trunk Space came to fruition imagined
performances and the arts going on in that exact room.
When Echo asked Regina Gazelle Wells what advice she would give to the transgendered youth of today, she kept it curt and said individuals should “wait and see” in terms of personal growth and affirming their identity.
“There are many different identities and names
than we had in the past, and when you’re young, you’re still getting to know
yourself,” said Regina.
“Before you make any major life changes, wait
and see how you feel in the future,” saying that ten years in a person’s life
make a difference.
Foley AKA Blake Riley
Outside of drag, the 2018 inaugural Mister Stacy’s and the Forever Mister RipplePHX 2019 can be disarmingly calm and quiet when he isn’t donning a sharp two-piece suit while lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 20th century.
The former host of The Blake Riley Revue at Stacy’s @ Melrose can frequently be found checking out drag shows around the valley with drag-beau Lola VanHorn in tow, as they mix with the young and old of Phoenix drag royalty. Known outside of his drag career as Cameron Foley, the busy king spends in and out of costume rallying support for the burgeoning drag king community, which has struggled with visibility issues of its own within the past decade.
Cameron, who identifies and performs as a
male, told Echo one of the biggest issues facing trans male drag performers
like him are the lack of affirmation one can receive without being seen as
“Some people may still either consciously or
unconsciously see us as female since we are AFAB (a female at birth) but
performing as men, like a female were to perform as a drag king,” said Cameron
“I am as much a male performer as my cis
counterparts, and am fully male at the end of the day.”
Foley advises young trans male performers who
want to get into the drag scene to also have a personal life outside of their
“It is possible to have a successful drag career and [personal life] outside of drag [simultaneously], without it having to be a huge part of everything you do,” Foley continued.
He said most people outside of the community
who find out he does drag say they are more intrigued or supportive of the idea
of “knowing an entertainer.”
“Most of them are sometimes confused on what
exactly I do, but I’ve made a few new drag fans out of curious coworkers.”
Inside the aforementioned DIY music scene lie
a plethora of genres, but none which are more audibly polarizing than the music
known as harsh noise. While music scene regulars might claim punk and metal as
the most popular umbrella genres in Arizona, it would be a glaring omission to
exclude individuals like Scott Mitting, Briannin Gross (of Mutiny Phoenix and
The Coven) who have helped curate a safe space within Phoenix’s own Cardiff
Giant Tattoo for queer noise artists and fans like Xayla Doll.
Quick to the trigger with her beliefs and passionate about the noise and visual art she creates, Xayla says her project titled “Doll” is about “love, sex, vanity and autonomy over your body.”
“I have never intended for my project to directly address my identity, but it comes up in various ways for obvious reasons: Doll is a reflection of myself,” said Xayla. “Nothing is off-limits, I am not satisfied putting something out if it doesn’t make me feel naked.”
Her advice to other young trans women seeking
out the life of a noise artist is to “always experiment.”
“Make stuff you would want to listen to, [and]
do as much as you can with whatever you can get your hands on,” Xayla
continued. “Piss on people’s expectations [and] make something that will tear
into people, burn them, and make them remember they are human.”
In terms of her identity, Xayla said she feels
accepted by the Noise community “for the most part,” and cites the work of
collective Mutiny Phoenix and The Coven for their ability to organize events which
are all-inclusive and in-tune with the queer community:
“[Both groups] have played an integral part in
putting on great queer noise acts and [are] always supporting and assisting my
ideas,” said Xayla. “I am lucky to have a great DIY family.”
When Echo asked Xayla Doll what
self-proclaimed allies of the transgendered community could do better in their
individual interactions, she says “we don’t owe allies shit.”
“If you care [for transgendered individuals],
put yourself second and speak the fuck up when it matters.”
Palles AKA Eddie Broadway
Within the passionate voices of activism within Phoenix’s LGTQA+ community, few are louder and distinct as Elijah Palles, AKA Eddie Broadway, who currently serves as 2020 Mr. Trans USA. Holding past titles such as Emperor Reign XIII of The Imperial Court of Arizona and Mister USofA MI 2017, Eddie focuses on bettering the local community on stage through charity and performance while working by day as a therapist and helping others as Elijah.
Affirming his identity in 2014 and witnessing the last decade’s changes in queer rights, Eddie says the next important step for the LGBTQA+ community regarding the affirmation of trans individuals is to listen more closely to our trans comrades.
“The rest of the community can support us, but listen to us [better],” said Palles. “Sometimes, it’s okay to not know the answers, but [asking appropriate and engaging questions] can go a long way; let us converse with you about our experiences.”
In regards to the new generation of young
trans individuals, Eddie Broadway says he wants them to know they “genuinely
have a chance to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life.”
“When times get tough, there is a community
behind them they can lean on, [and] sometimes, all it takes is reaching out for
help and not being afraid to ask questions,” Eddie Broadway continued.
“It truly can, and does get better, [and] they can be their authentic self no-matter-what that looks like — gender norms are a fallacy and there is no ‘right way’ to be trans.”
Not far from downtown Tempe live a threesome of creatives dedicated to their multiple pursuits which dotted the local Phoenix music and art scene in the last few years. Briefly known as Stoked Haus, the collective energy of Sam Etling (of Sore Eyes), Matt Slusser (of podcast Getting Stoked), and his partner, artist, and musician Lou Cruz, have formed a solid friendship transcending the gender binary. In August of 2019, Lou Cruz would come out as trans, affirming their identity as male and never looking back.
Lou Cruz would go on to collaborate with Etling and Slusser on a hardcore punk project, fronted by Cruz, appropriately titled Femboy, “a project deeply concerned with queer issues, painful self-examination, and brute force honesty” and branded by “confrontational and personal lyrics matched by their punchy, confrontational music.” The success of Femboy’s debut single “Don’t Bother Me,” would bring Lou Cruz’s identity front-and-center of the local music scene.
“Coming out to everyone is exhausting, but I
am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive group of friends who made it
super comfortable for me to express myself,” said Lou Cruz.
“The biggest struggle for me [in the scene] is
having to come out to everyone I meet, and/or correcting people who have known
me for a long time.”
Cruz says gaining friends based on mutual
interests and finding other queer or trans people in the scene has been the
“Luckily, because of the people I surround
myself with, [finding queer and trans people with similar interests] have been
easy, but extending that trust to people outside of my group [can be hard], and
is something I’m working on,” Lou Cruz continued.
In regards to the affirmation of his own identity and others, the biggest thing Lou Cruz says individuals should consider is personal safety:
“I am still early on in my transition and I try to have a conversation with friends on when to affirm my pronouns, [and when not to]," Lou says if he is in a potentially dangerous situation with new people, he asks his friends to use their best judgment whether to correct the other party on their use of pronouns.
“I think the best way to affirm someone’s
gender is to make sure they’re in safe situations, able to express their gender
freely,” says the Femboy frontman. “Not everyone is in a place in their lives
where they can enforce it.”
“Have a conversation with your trans friends
and make sure you know what is going to be best on an individualistic level!”
So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:
- It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
- There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
- Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.
Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.
Transgender bathroom bills
So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.
Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.
So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.
Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.
By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.
The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.
Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.
This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.
Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues
- Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
- There is a rich history behind transgender issues
- Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
- 3(b). The facts
- 3(c).The confidence
- 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights
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Are you always wondering what to watch right now? These are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies streaming on Amazon Prime and available for rent on Amazon right now, and for good reason. They range from LGBTQ historical settings to romance to LGBTQ+ pure camp.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Sook-hee is a pickpocket living in Japanese-occupied Korea and is hired by a con man to be the maid of heiress Lady Hideko and convince her to marry him. Hideko has been living under the tyranny of her uncle Kouzuki and desires to leave. While both women have reasons and ways to deceive each other, many plot twists will guide them to a path of satisfaction. This movie is an erotic, historical, psychological thriller, set beautifully in occupied Korea, that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 71st British Academy Film Festival and was directed by Park Chan-wook.
Duration: 144 minutes
Country: South Korea
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Mark is a gay activist living in the ‘80s when he notices that the police have stopped harassing LGBTQ+ people; the target has in fact changed, and now the police have moved on to miners’ strikes. Together with gay and lesbian friends, he arranges a bucket collection to help the miners at the London gay Pride. This movie has won the Queer Palm Award at Cannes in 2014; it has received a standing ovation as well. It is directed by Matthew Warchus and is based on a true story.
Duration: 120 minutes
Photo courtesy of Rai
Chiron lives in Liberty City, Miami, and is bullied by his schoolmates; he is found hiding one day by Juan, a drug dealer, who mentors him from then on. Chiron’s mother, Paula, is a drug addict, and often takes her frustration out on her child, assuming that she knows why he is bullied. It will be Juan to tell Chiron that being gay is nothing wrong, but as Chiron grows up he will have to face harder days than the ones in his childhood. This movie has won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, becoming the first LGBTQ+, all-Black cast movie to win an Oscar. It is directed by Barry Jenkins.
Duration: 111 minutes
Country: United States
Viola di mare (Purple Sea)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Angela is a vivacious child in Sicily at the end of the 1800s; her father never wanted a daughter and tries to reform her through beating and controlling. But Angela is in love with Sara, and she will do whatever it takes to spend her life by the side of the woman she loves. This movie is heartbreaking at times, it sad and dramatic but also inspiring. It was nominated for two Nastro Argento Awards. The title refers to a type of fish, the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse, which is born female and turns male as it grows older. It is directed by Donatella Maiorca.
Duration: 105 minutes
But I Am a Cheerleader
But I'm a Cheerleader
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Megan is a high school senior cheerleader who is dating a boy named Jared when her parents and friends start suspecting she is a lesbian, with her being a vegetarian and interested in Melissa Etheridge. They stage an intervention calling ex-gay Mike, who works at a conversion therapy camp called True Directions, where Megan is taken and forced to confront her own sexual orientation. This movie is a camp statement, a funny take on a sad reality, and an invite to embrace oneself. It is directed by Jamie Babbit. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 85 minutes
Country: United States
Tell It to the Bees
Tell It to the Bees
Photo courtesy of the HotCorn
Lydia has an unsteady marriage and a young son when she becomes closer to the town’s doctor, Jean. Her son and Jean share an interest in common, which is beekeeping, and makes the move easier when Lydia starts staying at Jean’s. But they live in a Scottish village in the 1950s, and their bond is bound to be perceived wrongly. This movie is based on the book with the same title and stars Academy Award winner Anna Paquin. It is directed by Annabel Jankel. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 106 minutes
Photo courtesy of CarolFilm
Therese is an aspiring photographer, working as a sales clerk in Frankenberg's department store in Manhattan in the 1950s when she meets Carol, an older woman who is going through a divorce and is looking for a Christmas present for her child. The encounter leaves Therese with a pair of Carol’s gloves, which she intends to return, and an attraction towards this woman Therese cannot explain just yet. This movie is an LGBTQ+ cult film, nominated for six Academy Awards, and has been critically acclaimed over the years. It is directed by Todd Haynes. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 158 minutes
Country: United States
Photo courtesy of Youtube
Ben is a young bisexual man who doesn’t have a steady job or relationship; he is a hypochondriac that repeatedly goes through a set routine with his physician. When he meets Sam, he finally has the opportunity to share his trauma and feel understood. It was called by Indiewire 'A sexy and searching act of gay self-analysis'. It is directed by Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 93 minutes
Country: United States
Women and Sometimes Men
Women & Sometimes Men
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Sara calls off her engagement with a man when her feelings towards women become impossible to hide. She moves in with a friend and starts dating in the lesbian scene, trying to find a balance between what she’s always known and what her heart wants. This movie is campy and lighthearted. It is directed by Lesley Demetriades.
Duration: 87 minutes
Country: United States
To begin, a quick history lesson will keep you up to date with all the work transgender people have put forth in order to help Pride month happen in the first place. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights dates back further than one usually imagines but, in particular, is typically marked by the Stonewall Riots. Led by Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson, a transgender woman of color who helped the New York activist scene for over 25 years, the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 in New York. Alongside Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson led one of the most important queer liberations in history.
While the Riots remain a huge moment in history, many often forget those who played front-facing roles in it. Marsha was only 23 years old at the time but was a fearless, ferocious, brave leader who tackled injustice head-on in the riots. In addition to this, she was also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for homeless transgender youth; she was a big activist for the BIPOC and LGBT+ community, and STAR was revolutionary in many ways, including being the first-ever LGBT+ shelter in North America which was also the first organization in the US to be run by a trans woman of color. Marsha's contributions toward the first Pride parade preceded it by an entire year- the first pride parades came a year after the stonewall riots to commemorate it. Her legacy will live on through her acts and is celebrated by members of the LGBT+ community alike every pride.
With that out of the way, being trans during pride month can hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people, especially given the incomparable history led by transgender women that helped to shape the LBGT+ community today. Pride itself has a long history rooted in defying gender normalities and cisgender, heteronormative ideals. That, in it itself, is a lot to be proud of- let alone each individual's transgender experience that brings more color to personal pride. It is something to celebrate, our own continuation, contribution, and resistance to oppression. For those who are out as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, nonbinary, or identify anywhere outside of the cisgender binary, just being yourself and expressing your gender identity is a way of celebrating this. And it is momentous to do so! However, of course, it's not the only way; going to pride parades, celebrating with friends, or having your own celebration is just as good, if not more fun. Going to pride marches, participating in pride events or activities, and any form of activism are great ways of acknowledging and indulging in the history that brought us here.
Reaching out for helpPhoto by Stormseeker on Unsplash
But, of course, there is always the other side of the coin because this can be extremely difficult for some due to past experiences or traumas. And for others, this is not an option because (and unfortunately, more often than not) coming out is not a safe, viable option due to age, location, and often the stiff political climate that makes transgender people stay hidden. So while there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must also be prideful for those who are unable to be. Because in addition to the rich history of activism and change, there is still an extreme deficit and predisposition to suicide and murder. According to some of the most recent research, the transgender suicide rate is up to 43%, and once every three days, a transgender person is murdered, with transgender women of color being the most likely victims.
Efforts to calculate and track transgender murder rates are often hindered by laws and data collection, therefore reported numbers may not be the best representations. Alongside these statistics come very scary legislation, such as House Bill 151 and HF 184 that allow the 'inspection' of young girls' genitals in an effort to keep transgender girls from participating in sports. There are also bathroom bills, pronoun and name bills, and medical care acts that are trying to strip away our rights. The huge dark cloud of oppression still hangs heavily over many transgender people within the United States and is much worse elsewhere in the world.
But, these are all reasons to be more prideful as well. Trans people have historically risen above and fought to be themselves- and admit the oppression, we will continue to do so unapologetically. So despite all the sorrowfully realities we face, we must take them in stride and use them for our pride, We need to keep them in mind not just to remember the reality but to be able to say, "This is what we deal with and yet, we use it to fuel our pride." Because the reality is that we are all making history just by existing and that is something to celebrate. So take pride in everything and for everyone, especially for those who may not be able to themselves. Pride month is a time to celebrate ancestors, self-discovery, friendship, and much more, so if you are able to, do so!
Activism has always and will continue to be a huge part of pride until there is equity for every minority group. So consider using these resources to continue your activism of change towards trans rights and equality. You can do so by contacting your legislators regarding your local anti-trans legislature. Or if you are able, donate to funds that support transgender persons legally! And if you're unable to do either and are in need of support, here are a few resources that may help: The Trevor project; 1-866-488-7386 Trans Life Line; 1-877-565-8860.
Author's Note: It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge the deep-rooted history that transgender individuals had in creating equal opportunities and rights for the LGBTQ+ community but also recognize the deep-seated oppression that continues to plague the transgender community today, despite best efforts towards equality, justice, and freedom. When discussing Pride Month or any celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, give credit where credit is due.
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