The LGBTQ community is rediscovering itself in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic we’re slowly emerging from. As LGBTQ rights continue to be challenged across the country, and pop culture undergoes a transformation sparked by gay, lesbian, bi, and trans artists, one diligent observer of it all has become prominent. Meet broadcaster, author, and entrepreneur Jess Branas, a Philadelphia-area native who has been speaking out on her popular radio program, Drinks With Jess for over a decade. “Drinks with Jess started randomly.  I used to meet a friend of mine out for happy hour once a week while we were both going through the endings of our long-term relationships.  This was around 2008 which is also when Twitter was still new,” Jess recalls. “We would have random but honest conversations, and every time I said a sarcastic yet logical opinion, he would tweet it out, beginning with “Having Drinks with Jess”.  It got to a point where people wanted to come meet us out to hear and participate in these conversations.”

Jess Branas/Courtesy Jess Branas

That was the genesis of what later became today’s podcast. Over the years, Jess has hosted luminaries from TV, film, the political arena, and fashion, including celebrity cook Rachael Ray, gender-non-conforming model Rain Dove, “gaylebrity” Dwight Allen O’Neal, film star Tym Moss, and out, proud Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. Along the way, Jess developed her signature brand, Be The Voice, part of her company, Branas Enterprises. “This is actually a production company, mostly specializing in podcast and vodcast (video) development and production,” Jess tells The Hollywood Digest, “as well as prerecorded and live virtual events.” The former schoolteacher is committed to building communities “of like-minded people that offers a safe and positive space for their listeners, viewers and readers.” This continuity of purpose has always been a hallmark of Jess’ work: she has penned the bestselling Seeking Her, Knowing You dating book series, and Jess was recognized as one of the “100 Empowering Women In The World” in Dr. Shellie Hipsky’s critically-acclaimed Common Threads Trilogy in 2014.

Jess remains engaged in her local Philadelphia community, organizing virtual events in localities such as LGBTQ destination New Hope, PA. “During COVID, with the Pride events being cancelled, we were able to produce virtual Prides for various cities and towns such as New Hope,” Jess says, “and [I] helped my local city council create virtual job fairs for many that lost their jobs or businesses.” Not one to sit by on the sidelines, Jess entered the politics this year, as a Democrat running for Judge of Election. “This is an important local office for the foreseeable future, as much as I am a staunch democrat, I will facilitate a free and fair election,” Jess underscores. “However, what I believe is most important is that everyone has a voice and a right to cast their vote without fear, whether it be at the polls or via mail.  This is especially important to stop the recent attempts at voter suppression.”

Looking ahead, Jess is contemplating taking Drinks with Jess further afield.  “I’m highly considering travelling to other towns and cities to do live recordings in their local establishments while also promoting their local celebrities and entertainers.” You can find Jess Branas pushing forward at her website, including Drinks With Jess episodes, DWJ merch, and upcoming public events and appearances. It’s all part of Being the Voice in the LGBTQ community!