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Harvey Weinstein gets arrested and Morgan Freeman apologizes

Latest revelations show the power of the #MeToo movement

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Harvey Weinstein and Morgan Freeman. (Photos Wikipedia)

A week of major developments in the ongoing Hollywood sexual harassment scandals culminated on Friday morning in New York City, where former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was arrested and arraigned after turning himself in to Manhattan authorities. He has been charged with first- and third-degree rape and with committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree.

Weinstein walked uncuffed into a New York police precinct through a crowd of media, who called out questions such as, “Is this an admission of guilt?” and “Why did it take you so long?”

Weinstein made no comment, but his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, later told reporters outside the courthouse that the disgraced film executive plans to plead “not guilty” to the criminal charges.

Weinstein left the precinct in handcuffs but free on bail, thanks to an agreement between Brafman and the District Attorney’s office stipulating that the ex-mogul’s bond be set at $10 million, he required to wear a GPS monitoring system and could only travel between and New York and Connecticut.

The arrest comes after months of investigation by New York prosecutors into multiple allegations of sexual assault dating back to 2004. The charges filed Friday stem from incidents involving two separate women that allegedly took place in 2004 and 2013, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.

A source told CNN that the criminal sex act charge stems from a case involving Lucia Evans, a once-aspiring actress who claims that Weinstein forced him to perform oral sex on him in his Tribeca office.

Evans spoke out about the alleged incident in New Yorker magazine in fall of 2017.

The alleged victim in the rape case remains anonymous, and further details of that investigation are unknown.

A grand jury continues to hear testimony in the state’s case and more charges are expected.
Weinstein’s arraignment comes after dozens of women came forward following 2017 reports in the New York Times and New Yorker. Those women – and Bill Cosby’s accusers — gave courage to numerous others to come forward alleging sexual harassment and abuse, including men alleging harassment by other men, including actor Kevin Spacey.

Many of the accusations against Weinstein have come from high-profile actresses with whom he worked, including Rose McGowan, one of the first to come forward.

“I, and so many of Harvey Weinstein’s survivors, had given up hope that our rapist would be held accountable by law. McGowan said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Twenty years ago, I swore that I would right this wrong. Today we are one step closer to justice.”

Weinstein is also under investigation for alleged sex crimes in Los Angeles and London, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that Federal prosecutors in New York have also begun a sex crimes investigation involving the former studio head, who has been accused of rape, assault and other sexual misconduct.

Weinstein has said through a representative that he sought treatment after the accusations, and that he “unequivocally denies” any allegations of non-consensual sex.

Developments in the Weinstein case come on the heels of allegations by eight women of sexual misconduct by actor Morgan Freeman that took place on movie sets, during film promotions and at Revelations Entertainment, the actor’s production company.

These accusations include stories that the 80-year-old Freeman looked at them in a sexual way and made comments with “sexual undertones” about their bodies or clothing.

One of the allegations comes from a woman who said the actor had “repeatedly tried to lift her skirt,” and stopped only because a costar had said for him to “knock it off.” Another accuser claims she was the victim of “repeated unwanted touching” while working with Freeman on a recent film.

The eight women’s stories are supported by eight witnesses who have also come forward; however, due to fears of repercussions in their work, only one of these accusers – CNN reporter Chloe Melas – was willing to go public with their identity.

Melas says her encounter with Freeman took place during a press junket last year for the film “Going in Style.” She claims that he continued to hold her hand after shaking it, looked at her in an obviously sexual way and made various sexually provocative comments. She was pregnant at the time, and the actor repeatedly said that he “wished he was there” when it had happened, she said. Melas later reported the encounter to her supervisor at CNN.

In a statement released Thursday, Freeman apologized for his behavior, saying, “Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”

In the wake of these revelations, SAG-AFTRA said on Thursday that it is reviewing the possibility of “corrective actions” in relation Freeman’s lifetime achievement award, which was presented to the Oscar-winning actor at the SAG Awards ceremony in January.

The actor’s union statement reads: “These are compelling and devastating allegations which are absolutely contrary to all the steps that we are taking to [ensure] a safe work environment for the professionals in this industry. Any accused person has the right to due process, but it is our starting point to believe the courageous voices who come forward to report incidents of harassment.”

In February, the union adopted a new code of conduct, which prohibits “unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and which creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.” They have also created guidelines for locations in which industry meetings should take place, meant to avoid “high-risk locations” such as hotel rooms. Many of the allegations that have emerged from the #MeToo movement stem from incidents that took place in these environments.

The actions of SAG-AFTRA, along with today’s arrest of Weinstein, can be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement, which has spurred a heightened awareness of sexual misconduct not only behind the scenes in Hollywood, but within other workplaces as well. The movement has given voice to hundreds of women and men who have been victims of harassment and worse at the hands of employers and others who have abused their positions of power to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior. The resulting scrutiny has led to the downfall of dozens of powerful figures within the entertainment industry, from executives like Weinstein to news personalities like Matt Lauer and actors like Kevin Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor.

Last year’s wave of sexual misconduct stories brought viral attention to the decade-old #MeToo movement – which began (without the hashtag) in 2006, when social activist Tarana Burke used the phrase in support of a grassroots campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse. This awareness reached its height during the early 2018 awards season – when many ceremonies, including the SAG presentation, actively sought to project solidarity with the movement.

This week’s events show that it remains relevant. The movement continues to empower women and men to come forward with their stories of unwanted sexual treatment from people who hold power over them in their work places; its prominence in the public eye has resulted in growing pressure on industry and law enforcement to take actions against those who perpetrate such behavior, and to eliminate the culture of silence that allows it to exist.

Friday’s arrest is evidence that it’s working, and the revelations about Freeman show that the #MeToo story is not going away.

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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