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Los Angeles City Hall honors LGBT trailblazers, introduces new initiatives

Kicking off Pride Month at Los Angeles City Hall

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Just as the 2017 LGBT Heritage Month kicks off June 1, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin joined Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin and other members of the City Council at City Hall to honor four trailblazers in the LGBTQ community.

Honorees proceeded into the John Ferraro Council Chamber accompanied by the voices of the Celebration Theater, who accompanied them in a soulful rendition of “This Land is Your Land.”

This 7th annual Heritage Month honored the work of actress Alexandra Billings, known for her role in “Transparent,” Michael Kearns, recognized as Hollywood’s first openly gay actor in the 1970s and a longtime advocate of awareness for those with HIV/AIDS, actress Sara Ramirez, known for her role on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and 80-year-old Alexei Romanoff, a Ukrainian-born immigrant, heralded for his historic civil rights work.

This year’s theme is “The Art of Resistance.”

“Everyone should be free to live their truth, love who they choose, and find acceptance in the place they call home,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said to those gathered.

“LGBTQ Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the long march to justice and tolerance, and to honor those who have devoted themselves to building a world that is free from hatred and safe for all — no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Los Angeles takes pride in the activism and accomplishments of our LGBTQ community, and we will always stand with every Angeleno who is fighting for equality, respect, and dignity for all people.”

Councilman Mike Bonin talked about the LGBTQ community’s need for celebrating its heritage and passing along the rich history to its young people.

“We don’t have a kind of Passover, where we can get together every year and share our stories of what our community has done and how our community has struggled, and survived. So, our younger generations don’t have the benefit of that built in heritage, so young people today don’t know that our brightest times in LGBTQ history proceeded the darkest times – WWII. There are young people today who don’t know the horrors and ravages of the AIDS epidemic or how the lesbian community banded together to save their sick and dying brothers,” Bonin said.

Singer, actress and activist, Sara Ramirez, acknowledged the many in the LGBTQ community those who’ve inspired her and help to keep her steadfast in her fight for equality.

“With our current political climate it’s hard to maintain hope these days. But, sharing space in a way that celebrates my community and all its intersections gives me hope. I’m proud to be a Mexican, Irish American-immigrant, queer and bi-sexual woman. The LGBTQ+ community has never been about just one person, and one experience and identity. Our struggles are shared and our resilience unrelenting,” Ramirez said.

Michael Kearns’ speech was about inclusion, encouraging those in the LGBTQ community to make sure to “shine their lights” into neighborhoods they’ve never gone into, taking paths rarely traversed, and daring “to ruin a pair of shoes.”

“This honor serves as my marching papers,” Kearns said.

Actress Alexandra Billings made the suggestion that the crowd assembled “gather their strength and reach across the aisle and talk to each other.”

“This room is easy. What’s happening here is a room filled with great love and great joy? It’s a safe place, but now we have to go out of the safe place and go to the unsafe place. That’s the real meaning of revolution. When we can gather together and talk to the people who don’t agree with us. Who do want us dead? Who do want us marginalized? Who don’t believe in equal rights. Who believe we should be rounded up like cattle and taken to an island and forget about us. Those are the people who’re ill informed and spiritually bankrupt. We have to help them the best way we can, with education with compassion, kindness, and a revolutionary spirit that bore the LGBTQ community from the beginning of time… this is who we are. It’s in our cells. You would not have art were not for the queer community,” Billings said.

LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice M. Girmala, Director, Office of Special Operations and Department LGBTQ Outreach Program Coordinator talked about bringing a safety initiative to Los Angeles similar to one recently launched  in Seattle.

The “Safe Space Program,” will ask participating businesses, located in Hollywood and East Los Angeles to place decals on their windows and doors, as a way of announcing themselves as a place open to LGBTQ community members in need – aimed at creating a safer community.

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Los Angeles

Black AIDS Institute appoints Toni Newman as interim CEO

As Toni Newman steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation

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Toni Newman (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – The Board of Directors of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) announced the appointment of Toni Newman as its Interim Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Kemal M. Atkins as Managing Director this past week.

Newman is currently the Interim Executive Director at LYRIC – a non-profit in San Francisco, California that focuses on advancing the community and creating social change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth through education, career training and health advocacy. 

Dr. Atkins has been engaged to help further build infrastructure and management processes at BAI. Dr. Atkins, who will serve as a consultant on a temporary basis, has an extensive background in higher education and non-profit leadership where his expertise in crisis management, such as leading institutional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and expertise in building national wellness health models will provide much-needed program direction for BAI.

Founded in 1999, the mission of BAI is to stop the AIDS epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals to confront HIV. In its mission statement, the organization states that “BAI envisions a world where all Black people are free and flourishing without HIV and AIDS, free of stigma and shame, where Black health and well-being are paramount. With a foundation in advocacy and policy work, BAI works towards improving the health and wellness of Black people through research, community efforts, and clinical work.

As she steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation.

Ms. Newman is a distinguished Faculty Member at the Transgender Strategy Center in Los Angeles, where she advises non-profit organizations on engagement with transgender and nonconforming communities. In addition, she is the Chair of the Board of Directors for TransCanWork based in Los Angeles.

“Ms. Newman has a wealth of knowledge in non-profit management, budget and finance, and human resources and operations,” BAI stated in its statement. “We’re excited that she has agreed to serve as our Interim CEO as we continue implementing our transition plan to find a permanent, innovative executive staff leader.”

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Los Angeles

LGBTQ+ ally City Councilman Kevin de León announces run for mayor

De León currently represents Council District 14 that takes in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and El Sereno

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Kevin de León from campaign advert (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – Standing in front of a group of enthusiastic supporters Tuesday at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León announced that he was joining the mayor’s race for next year’s city elections.

Councilman de León, a Democrat, is the third city elected official to announce his intention to seek the mayor’s chair after current Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was elected for a four-year term in 2013 and again in 2017- who’s limited to serving no more than two terms, was picked by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to India on July 9, 2021.

Born in Los Angeles of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, raised by a loving, hard-working single mother, de León, 51, got an education and spent 12 years in Sacramento, rising to become the President Pro Tem of the California Senate, authoring and passing legislation and making history. It was his bill that then Governor jerry Brown signed into law making California a “sanctuary state”—a law that was upheld by a federal appeals court.

In an August 2018 interview with former Los Angeles Blade Editor Karen Ocamb, he reflected on his relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’ve always been very close to the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community even before I even knew all the initials that keep growing,” de León says with a laugh during an extensive phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade. “It’s always been my core set of values that every human being deserves a real opportunity to succeed, regardless of who they love and regardless of the hue of their skin and regardless of their legal status. That is embedded in my DNA.”

De León learned to care about LGBT people as a child from his mother and aunt around the kitchen table.

“My mother got a third grade education and my aunt even less,” he says. “I was very young and they were talking about a gay friend, a colleague of theirs. I didn’t understand. Obviously, they didn’t understand themselves. But they spoke with such affection, such tenderness. And here were two immigrant women with limited formal education and the way they spoke so lovingly, tenderly, beautifully about their gay friend. I could deduce the person they were talking about was gay—they kind of spoke in code around me when I was just sitting there listening to them at the kitchen table. And it transcended ethnicity and legal status and poverty—that we’re all human beings and we deserve dignity and respect. That had an ‘Ah Ha’ impact.”

De León’s LGBT education continued as he picked his mother up from her work as a housekeeper at convalescent homes. “She had quite a few gay colleagues with her and I just remember they were just so beautifully nice with my mother and my mother with them and that had a huge impression on me of the universal values of treating everybody with dignity and with respect. So when there is a discriminatory blow against anyone in the LGBTQIA community, I feel that blow equally.” 

De León, 54, is by far the most prominent Latino running. Fluent in Spanish, he represents a district that takes in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and El Sereno, as well as much of downtown, where a development boom has fueled huge growth over the past decade, KTLA reported.

Two other candidates — Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Atty. Mike Feuer — have been campaigning for several months. The race also features two business leaders: Jessica Lall, who heads the downtown-based Central City Assn., and real estate broker Mel Wilson, who has been involved with several San Fernando Valley business groups.

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Los Angeles

Hermosa Beach Pride Lifeguard Tower is here to stay

“The rainbow tower is beautiful and has become a symbol of this community’s love and support for LGBTQ rights,” said Supervisor Hahn

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

Hermosa Beach — Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is announcing that the Pride Tower in Hermosa Beach is here to stay.  The 13th street Los Angeles County Lifeguard Tower, which was painted rainbow in June, was originally meant to be repainted its original blue color at the end of summer.  The rainbow paintjob will now be permanent. 

“The rainbow tower is beautiful and has become a symbol of this community’s love and support for LGBTQ rights,” said Supervisor Hahn, whose support paved the way for the project. “None of us wanted to see it painted over and I am proud to announce that the Pride Tower is here to stay.”

The idea to paint the tower originally came from lzzy Bacallao, a local non-binary teen. Izzy, who uses the pronouns they and them, was responding to the burning of rainbow-painted Pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach in March. The rainbow-painted tower was unveiled at the Hermosa Beach Pride event June 26, 2021.

The new Pride Tower’s rainbow paintjob will be maintained by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors which maintains all LA County Lifeguard Towers.   The Department of Beaches and Harbors also maintains another permanent Pride tower in Venice. 

Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles
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