Leonard Lai

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Leonard Lai
Born Stephanie Lai
(1969-11-18)November 18, 1969
Evansville, Indiana
Died October 26, 2015(2015-10-26) (aged 45)
Indianapolis, Indiana
Residence Terre Haute, Indiana
Nationality American
Years active 1995—present
Spouse Daniel McClannahan (m. 1995; wid. 2015)

Leonard Lai (born Stephanie Lai; November 18, 1969–October 26, 2015) was an American LGBT rights advocate and out trans man. He was best known for being a "Male Moderator" on the popular and controversial web site franchise Vote for the Girls in the United States. He took up this role in 2014 and the sole male moderator on the site's United Kingdom and Australia counterparts in 2015.

Career[edit]

Lai began his television career in 1990 as co-host of PM Magazine on then ABC affiliate WATW in Terre Haute. PM Magazine was canceled and replaced by "Wabash Valley Afternoon", a program owned by WATW's parent company at that time. Lai produced and co-hosted that program until it was discontinued.


WFAZ (ABC 5)[edit]

Leonard Lai left WATW in 1994 and joined then Fox affiliate WFWV (channel 5, became CBS in 2004 as WFAZ, and now an ABC affiliate) first as a general assignment reporter, and then as a news anchor.

He and co-anchor Connor Sonslin created Wabash Valley Live at Seven, Terre Haute's first 7pm newscast in 2005, creating a two-man anchor team for its weeknight 7 and 11 pm newscasts. This had not been tried in other markets around the nation as late as 1993 and had never been tried in Terre Haute since 1970, yet WFAZ's sister station in Cleveland (WCOH, channel 10) did the same with Steve Baker and Gene Watts from 1985 until 1991. It caught on until Lai left WFAZ in 2011 in a move that made local headlines. WFAZ had just announced earlier in the year that it was dropping its eight year affiliation with CBS in favor of ABC since WFAZ's owners recently renewed their ABC affiliations (as of 2014, all of ATE Media's big three stations are all ABC affiliates). Lai was unhappy with ABC's programming as it conflicted with his family friendly focus.

WVTH (NBC 25)[edit]

In November 2011, Lai moved over to WVTH to be their weekday midday and early afternoon news anchor. Lai would become one of the Wabash Valley's most popular and highest rated noon news teams during his tenure, but in December 2013 WVTH named Lai as solo anchor of the noon newscast on WVTH, making him the first (and thus far) only trans man to serve in that role in Terre Haute.

In a June 2014 newscast closed out the station's midday newscast (NBC 25 Midday Action News) with "It’s good to be here on NBC 25. You know what NBC 25's call sign (WVTH) stands for? Women's Vaginas Taunting Holly & Frank (referencing Ava Zinn's previous name prior to her transition) The Villians," referencing the 2014 Vote for the Girls conflict and the brawl on Vote for Girls two months earlier, noting how Josh Kaufman participated in the "destruction" of Vote for the Girls. Kellie Rock, Lai's colleague from 2012 until her departure in December 2013 then called Lai the next morning to discuss the criticism, and at the end of the call, Rock suggested he come over and appear on Vote for the Girls (unbenknowst to Rock, Lai was already on Vote for the Girls). Lai was upfront with wanting to discuss the fiasco at hand, and upon his appearance (which was unaired), attempted to steer the questions that way: when asked about her role on Vote for the Girls, Rock responded, "I think the best part about Vote for the Girls was the fact my husband (Melvin, now Megan) realized he was becoming a woman like when you transitioned from Stephanie to Leonard and of course Ava Zinn. She's the reason Vote for the Girls is what made her one of the best transwomen in Indiana." Rock ascribed it as Lai attempting to score some publicity, but producers and managers at WVTH found Lai's comments offensive and degrading. Lai was fired from WVTH in August 2014 after two years.


Vote for the Girls[edit]

'He carries himself with all the pomp and majesty of a medieval king who's fully aware that he knows quite a lot more about several things than most transmen. He's a readymade cult hero like Thomas Beatie before him, he'll no doubt get his own show within the next couple of years, and he single-handedly elevates the whole thing to a level it wouldn't otherwise deserve. It may not be the perfect internet show but, thanks mainly to Lai, Vote for the Girls can be horribly watchable entertainment'

TV critic credits Lai for Vote for the Girls' Male Moderator success
Lai was one of the "Male Moderators" in the popular yet controversial web site Vote for the Girls, first broadcast in 2010 and hosted by Ava Zinn. In the show, his nickname was "The Tantrum Transman". He starred alongside fellow Male Moderators part of "Zinn's Villains" with Clark Jones (a.k.a. "The Dark Beast"), Archibald Coolranch (a.k.a. "The Devil Arch") and Lawrence Hedrick (a.k.a. "The Canadian Della Terra").

Lai also appeared as the only male moderator on the UK version of Vote for the Girls, also hosted by Zinn.

In addition to serving as host Ava Zinn's villan, Lai was a beloved and valued member of the cast. He warmed up the audience prior to taping; during taping, he often had on-camera exposure (occasionally bantering with Zinn) prior to the main result presentations (which was never aired); he also appeared in many of the shows' punishments.

His exhortations for Vote for the Girls villains became a Vote for the Girls tradition observed by his successor, Luka Runecraft (2016–present), and fellow Vote for the Girls villains Archibald Coolranch (2010-present), Clark Jones (2014-present), and Glenn Swaringen (2016-present).

Record as villain[edit]

Supported contestant won competition Zinn's Villain Victory Red Team victory
Season Supported Contestant Show Finish
Overall Villain
4 Vino Alan The X Factor 2 (2012) 7th Place Lost to Diamond White (Everman)
Arin Ray 10th Place Lost to CeCe Frey (Steele and Della Terza)
Lost to Beatrice Miller (Matthewson)
Nicholas David The Voice 3 (2012) Third Place
(Villain Loss)
Lost to Cassadee Pope (Zinn)
Lost to Terry McDermott (Coolranch)
Trevin Hunte 4th Place
Cody Belew 7th/8th Place
Dez Duron 7th/8th Place
Bryan Keith 9th/10th Place
Devin Velez American Idol 12 (2013) 8th Place Lost to Lazaro Arbos (Della Terza)
Paul Jolley 9th Place Lost to Amber Holcomb (Steele)
Curtis Finch, Jr. 10th Place Lost to Burnell Taylor (Coolranch)
The Swon Brothers The Voice 4 (2013) Third Place Lost The Voice 4 Finale - Michelle Chamuel and Danielle Bradbery (Zinn)
Kris Thomas 9th/10th Place Lost to Amber Carrington (Everman)
Josiah Hawley 9th/10th Place
VEDO 11th/12th Place Lost to Sasha Allen (Zinn)
Garrett Gardner 11th/12th Place
Justin Rivers Live Playoffs
5 Alex Preston American Idol 13 (2014) Third Place Lost American Idol 14 - Jena Asciutto (Zinn)
Josh Kaufman The Voice 6 (2014) Winner Won The Voice 6 Finale - Jake Worthington (Coolranch) and Christina Grimmie (Zinn)


Gender transition and personal life[edit]

In 1995, Lai began undergoing a physical and social gender transition. He had a bilateral mastectomy with nipple grafts performed the beginning of May 1995 before beginning hormone therapy in June. In July 1995, an Indiana Court granted his request for a name change and he legally completed his transition in October 1995, when he had his gender officially changed on all of his legal documents including his birth certificate. Because he wanted to have biological children and sterilization was not a requirement to undergo a valid sex change anywhere in the United States, he kept his internal reproductive organs intact.

Lai married then-son of long-time WVTH anchorman Jack McClannahan, Daniel McClanahan (now Danni McClannahan) in a legally (and proved controversial) same-sex marriage in Indiana on February 14, 1995. The couple resided in Terre Haute, Indiana, filed joint state and federal taxes and bought homes together as domestic partners. Lai was also listed as "male" on his health and life insurance policies. As a man, he conceived and gave birth to all three of his children from 1996 to 1998. He gave birth to daughter Laurisa Olivia McClannahan in 1996, a son, Leonard "Lee" McClannahan, in 1997, and a younger daughter, Lexi Lara McClannahan, in 1998.

Leonard also underwent bottom surgery in the form of a hysterectomy in 1999 and a metoidioplasty in 2000.

Death[edit]

Leonard Lai died on October 26, 2015, a month shy of his 46th birthday, in a road accident. CPR was performed on Lai, however, he was pronounced dead on arrival at Eskanasi Hospital in Indianapolis.

The staff and crew of Vote for the Girls learned of Lai's death as during Dancing with the Stars at NoSirGifts Fantasy Television Studios was being prepared for another taping. Production was cancelled for the rest of the week (Lai's picks for the ninth season of The Voice USA and the twelfth season of The X Factor UK were made several weeks beforehand). There was no on-air mention of Lai's death until November 1 when host Ava Zinn paid tribute to Lai in an attached segment that followed the end credits. In that segment, Zinn said "Since the Vote for the Worst picks were made, we've lost our good friend, Leonard Lai. You'll continue to see Leonard's picks that were already made. He was dearly loved by all of us and we will miss him." followed by a picture of Leonard with the caption "IN MEMORIAM 1965-2015". The last of Lai's picks were eliminated on December 8, 2015 in the United States and on December 13, 2015 in the United Kingdom. Lai's final picks were X Factor UK runner-up Reggie 'n' Bollie and The Voice USA semi-finalist Braiden Sunshine. Lai was entombed at Alexander Memorial Park in Evansville, Indiana.

References[edit]