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Los Angeles LGBT Center making more history visually

The new Anita May Rosenstein Campus is scheduled to open on the Center’s 50th anniversary

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The LGBT Center of Los Angeles continues to evolve from its first home in a rambling Victorian building on Wilshire Boulevard to it’s futuristic new home on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Photos provided by the LGBT Center of Los Angeles)

You can’t raise the roof over LGBT equality without first having a firm foundation. There is perhaps no greater visual symbol for that than the progress the Los Angeles LGBT Center has made from it’s first headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in 1973 to the wide city block it has taken over in Hollywood today.

On May 24, the Center took a moment for a sort of secular blessing as the final steel beam was positioned in the grand building of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, a first-of-its-kind complex with comprehensive multi-generational services, including 100 beds for homeless youth and 99 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, for whom there are already several programs, including an oral history project. The new two-acre Campus across the street from the Center’s arts, cultural and educational facility—The Village at Ed Gould Plaza—is expected to open in early 2019.

Anita May Rosenstein Campus.

The audacious project is a prime example of how oppressed and stigmatized minorities must often take care of themselves when shunned, ignored or diminished by the more powerful majority. That’s especially true for LGBT people, who have only recognized themselves as a distinct minority since Harry Hay’s “third gender” theories in the 1950s.

“One of the interesting things about our LGBTQ minority is that where many minorities grow up with people who look like them, who sound like them, who have the same experience and life experience as they do, for the most part, we don’t. It’s very isolating. A lot of us are runaways, many more are throwaways,” out LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told The Chronicle of Social Change last January after the Board voted unanimously to direct the county’s child welfare, probation, and health agencies to better serve LGBT youth.

A  2014 report from the Williams Institute found that LGBT youth are “overrepresented” in the county’s child welfare system and experience significantly worse harm than straight foster care youth.

But homelessness for LGBT youth can be overshadowed by the massive homeless problem daunting LA. “A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in plain sight in virtually every corner of Los Angeles County: Nearly 58,000 men, women and children are homeless on any given night. Homelessness knows no boundaries and affects people of all walks of life,” says an LA County website devoted to the Homeless Initiative.

The Center’s Campus is expected to better serve an estimated 6,000 youth experiencing homelessness—of which 40% in LA County identify as LGBTQ. And on the other end of the age spectrum, while Gov. Jerry Brown signed a “bill of rights” for LGBT seniors in long-term care, many seniors still face the indignity of possibly having to go back in the closet if they move into a homophobic low-income complex.

While the Center cannot serve all LGBT youth and seniors in need, its new Campus is at least offering some respite from the cold reality of the Trump era. Additionally, when the new facility is completed, the Center intends to officially move its administrative headquarters to the new complex, turning the McDonald/Wright Building into a health and medical center. Over all, the Center expects to serve about 65,000 LGBT people in LA County.

The original Gay Community Center. (Photo courtesy LGBT Center Los Angeles)

The timing is ironic. The new modern complex is due to open on the Center’s 50th anniversary—and it’s providing services and fighting now as it did then.

The Gay Community Services Center (GCSC) was founded in 1969 by Don Kilhefner and Morris Kight and other lesbian and gay activists, some of whom were also part of the LA Chapter of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). They rented a rambling Victorian building on Wilshire Boulevard where they espoused a post-Stonewall resistance movement and provided legal help for anti-Vietnam War protesters. They also provided peer rap groups, and testing and shots at the STD clinic.

At a time when homosexuality was a crime, the founders posted a huge sign announcing the facility as a “Gay” community services center.  And according to co-founder Don Kilhefner, it was precisely the word “gay” that allowed them to incorporate as a non-profit in 1971. Government officials asked if their mission was to promote homosexuality. Tongue firmly in cheek, Kilhefner said they eschewed homosexuality (a government definition) and instead intended to raise gay awareness.

The GCSC social service mission also extended to housing gay homeless in four bungalows they called “Liberation” houses, and in 1973, they facilitated the founding of the Van Ness Recovery House and the Alcoholism Center for Women.

The Center moved to 1220 North Highland Avenue in Hollywood and in 1979, became one of the first organizations to recognize what became the AIDS crisis when regular visitors to the STD Clinic appeared with strange Kaposi Sarcoma spots or lingering flu, then disappeared, then died. Rep. Henry Waxman held the first federal hearing on AIDS in that building.  Just as the Highland building became synonymous with the painful and hard fight against AIDS, the building at 1625 N. Schrader Boulevard—ironically, a former IRS headquarters—signaled new political and financial power, as did the cultural complex at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza.

The significance of the arc of history is not lost on LA LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean.

“As I stood in the midst of the construction site, surrounded by towering steel girders and watching donors sign the beam with such excitement, I realized that a number of us were on the verge of tears,” Jean tells the Los Angeles Blade. “We knew our Center was achieving another pioneering ‘first’ for our worldwide movement.  It was as if the span of nearly 50 years of organizational history was condensed into that moment.  For centuries, our people hid in the shadows.  Then in 1971, the Center founders rented the first headquarters–an old clapboard house on Wilshire. They refused to hide, boldly putting our uncloseted name on the front for all to see (which some LGBTQ centers today are still afraid to do!). Now we’re in the final stretch of constructing the Anita May Rosenstein Campus which, combined with the Village, will occupy more than a city block.  Moreover, it sits visibly and proudly along of our nation’s most iconic boulevards: the famed Route 66. We were teary-eyed because we knew not only that we were witnessing history being made, but that we were a part of it making it possible.”

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Africa

Botswana attorney general seeks to again criminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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California

H.S. students steal Pride flag, defecate on it & post video to TikTok

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community and a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely”

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Paso Robles High School via Google Earth

PASO ROBLES, Ca. – Earlier this school year two students walked into a science teacher’s classroom at Paso Robles High School, they proceeded to rip down the LGBTQ+ Pride flag hanging in the room and fled out the door. The theft took place as there was a classes break and as science instructor Evan Holtz took out after them he lost them in the throng of students in the hallway.

Holtz, who is a chemistry teacher, tutor, and swim coach, has been teaching at Paso Robles since 2019. In an interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Holtz told the paper he had displayed the Pride flag to show solidarity with the school’s LGBTQ students, making sure that they knew they were welcome and safe in his classroom.

What happened immediately after the theft has left the high school’s LGBTQ+ students angered and alarmed. First, the Tribune reported, a video surfaced on TikTok of students attempting to flush the rainbow Pride flag down a toilet. Then, the video showed one student defecating on the flag in the toilet, according to those who had seen and heard about the video.

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” Geoffrey Land, a social sciences teacher told the paper. “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.”

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District said that administrators at the high school had taken “disciplinary action” after being alerted to the situation and the TikTok video by students. The next action undertaken on October 1st by the school district has left LGBTQ+ students disillusioned and further upset.

District Superintendent Curt Dubost sent a memorandum letter to faculty that read:

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has received multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms, including those that are large and distracting and those that alter the American flag.

I want to start by reiterating my statement from last year that rainbow flags mean different things to different people but to many are a symbol of safety, inclusion and equity. All students deserve protection against bullying and harassment. A safe, caring learning environment is essential if students are to achieve their academic potential.

We have a duty as a school district to ensure that hate speech and bullying conduct does not create an unsafe campus environment. Students in protected classes are often among the most vulnerable and susceptible to bullying and discrimination.”

Superintendent Dubost then laid out the new district policy: No flags bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet may be displayed in classrooms, and no flags that are “alterations of the American flag” may be displayed in classrooms.

In a follow-up interview with the Tribune Dubost justified his actions telling the paper, “We don’t want to turn it into a politicized issue where a student enters a classroom and looks up, ‘Oh, there’s a rainbow flag here, or there’s a blue lives matter flag here — that determines what the partisanship is of my teacher.’ We think that that’s a real slippery slope. And so we continue to believe that this is a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason.”

In an op-ed written by PRHS students on National Coming Out day last week, they expressed their dismay over Dubost’s actions.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people can celebrate support for LGBTQ equality. But in Paso Robles, where we attend high school, we cannot celebrate. Too often, LGBTQ students feel unwelcome, unsafe and targeted by hate.

After briefly mentioning the theft, video, and the action to ban flags other than a U.S. National flag taken by Superintendent Dubost they added:

Eventually, the school imposed minor discipline upon the offenders, and nearly two weeks later issued a policy statement that includes a ban on rainbow flags larger than 2’ x 2’. As the standard flag size is 3’ x 5’, the school purposefully banned the very flag that was desecrated. What message does this send to students? The flag ban means the school has allowed the haters to win, while LGBTQ students feel punished for wanting to be seen and supported.

The students cited a 2018 oral history project at PRHS which interviewed students in the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District area high schools of Templeton, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

They found that offensive slurs and open hostility directed at LGBTQ+ individuals were commonplace in classrooms. LGBTQ+ students reported not feeling included in their school culture. Students interviewed reported that teachers who wore rainbow colored pins or posted supportive flags or posters in their classroom walls helped create welcoming, safe spaces. Over the years, PRHS has witnessed loss of life, violence and intimidation — all in the name of anti-LGBTQ hate.

In their call to action the students stated that; “Enough is enough. How many more students will be traumatized by systems and people who fail to embrace the beauty and diversity of their students? The school’s response is a collective slap in the face of all LBGTQ students at PRHS. From our perspective, the school’s flag ban means they’re more interested in appeasing the bullies than protecting the safety of the victims of hate.”

There is a community forum event scheduled for Wednesday, October 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the PRHS performing arts center. Organized by students, the event, “Coming Out Against Hate,” is an opportunity for students to “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” and it’s the first forum of its kind in Paso Robles, according to a news release sent out about the event.

With the forum, we’re hoping that things change and they stop normalizing hate against us,” a senior told the Tribune, “I’m really proud of the fact that so many people are brave enough to come up against the adversity that is very obvious here. We might get a ton of hate for this. We might get hate-crimed ourselves.

But we can’t let this continue. We have a culture of homophobia here. We literally have no other option than to put ourselves kind of at risk and in danger. Because we can’t let this continue.”

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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