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Carl DeMaio: California’s gay GOP kingmaker

Gas tax repeal effort could foil Democrats in November

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Carl DeMaio with John Cox at a Gas Tax Repeal news conference. (Photo courtesy DeMaio)

During the only debate among the top gubernatorial candidates before the June 5 primary, Republican businessman John Cox and Assembly member Travis Allen sniped at each other over who was first to call for a repeal of the gas tax. “Ask Carl DeMaio,” Cox said, ending the argument.

Few knew John Cox until he hitched his political wagon to conservative talk radio host Carl DeMaio, the gay former San Diego City Council member who organized the online grassroots campaign to repeal the 12-cent per gallon tax hike and recall State Sen. Josh Newman for supporting the increase. Newman was the final vote needed by the Democrats to pass Senate Bill 1 last year to raise $5.4 billion for infrastructure repairs and transit projects.

DeMaio devised a three-part strategy: 1) recall Newman, depriving the Democrats of their super-majority in the state Legislature; 2) gather enough signatures to place a gas tax repeal initiative on the November ballot; and 3) increase the Republican voter rolls for the 2018 midterms.

Despite being heavily outspent by Democrats, DeMaio achieved all three goals—collecting nearly 940,000 signatures for the initiative, exceeding by 356,000 the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide poll released in May indicates he’s on to something: 51% of registered voters favor repeal.

Gov. Jerry Brown called the endeavor “devious and deceptive.”

“The test of America’s strength is whether we defeat this stupid repeal measure, which is nothing more than a Republican stunt to get a few of their losers returned to Congress, and we’re not going to let that happen,” Brown told Southern California transportation leaders at Union Station in Los Angeles last May, The Times reported.

Stunt or not, DeMaio has added 203,941 signatures to his electoral database from San Diego County alone. Overall, the USC/LA Times poll indicates that 64% of registered voters in Orange and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire support the gas tax repeal. And that is expected to dramatically impact GOP voter turnout in critical races statewide.

DeMaio’s targeting of Newman was strategic, employing “the gazelle strategy,” DeMaio told the Los Angeles Blade in a June 9 phone interview, referring to the Animal Planet series on the lions. “We’re going to pick the weakest state senator and we’re going to recall that person from office because of their vote on the gas tax. And by doing that, we end the Democrat supermajority and if we end the supermajority, they can’t raise taxes without a public vote.”

The third phase after recall and repeal, he says, is “replace,” actually fixing the roads by earmarking the existing gas tax for roads “and make a number of other reforms that have been long overdue.”

DeMaio explains that he used $250,000 from his super PAC with help from Republican State Sen. Pat Bates and a coalition that included Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and donor groups such as the New Majority and the Lincoln Club to place the gas tax repeal on the ballot.

“Some of our coalition members want this because in November of 2018, they need Republicans to show up,” DeMaio says. “My goal is to fix California.”

DeMaio credits California Democrats with “working their tails off,” while California Republicans “have been very afraid to speak out. They have Stockholm syndrome. A lot of the elected officials in Sacramento are worthless,” he says, giving them no credit for simply voting “no.”

That failure prompted DeMaio to step up, offering alternative ideas and taking on the “fundamentals of institution and capacity building,” including developing a volunteer list. He has a list of 20,000 volunteers statewide and 25,000 individual donors that have given an average contribution of $37, some monthly.

“We have raised $2.5 million from grassroots donors, no contribution more than $1,000. And the Republican Party in the last four years has only raised $200,000 from those sorts of donors,” he says. “We’re not going to write off any community. Jack Kemp once said ‘people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’…They don’t really pay attention to you unless you actually show up in their community” and share concerns such as the cost of living.

While gubernatorial candidate John Cox touts President Donald Trump’s endorsement, DeMaio is more independent, comparing Trump’s primary function to a plumber.

“Donald Trump is our first marriage equality-supporting president, elected,” he says. “But there are certain things that we can all celebrate. Things are not all black and white here. There is a whole lot of progress that we should acknowledge.”

Trump responded to “dissatisfaction” in the country.

“Yes, he’s rude, crude and unattractive. His behavior at times is abhorrent and certainly not what you’d want as a role model for your kids. However, the best analogy I can offer you is he’s like the plumber that you hire to unplug your toilet. I won’t even describe what the toilet looks like but you can imagine. The fact that the plumber comes in with no teeth, really bad body odor and plumber’s crack is irrelevant to you as long as he is honest, charges you a fair price and gets the damn toilet unplugged,” DeMaio says, skirting deeper questions about Trump’s record of lying.

“Our country—the issues have been festering for so long and people are so dissatisfied that they are willing to tolerate some bad parts of Donald Trump as long as the toilet gets unplugged. It’s unfortunate. I wish I could have a president where I would say, ‘look, this is someone who epitomizes on a personal level in their conduct the very best of our country.’ But that unicorn don’t exist,” DeMaio says. “My job isn’t to support Donald Trump or oppose him. My job is to call him out when I think he’s wrong and when I think he’s right, I’ll support him. But I don’t blindly give my allegiance to anybody. And I hope no one does….I’ve called him out for telling white lies and exaggerating. I’ve also done that with Democrats.”

DeMaio, who’s been with his husband Jonathan Hale since April 2009 and married since 2015, says he’s had Vice President Mike Pence on his radio show.

Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio holding hands with partner Jonathan Hale in 2014. (Photo courtesy DeMaio)

“I invited him on, he came on. He’s not had an issue on that front. So I know people continue to say how much of a homophobe he is. I know he’s a man of faith,” says DeMaio. “I’ve got a lot of people who I know have different religious views than I do and as long as they keep it out of the issue of public law, I’m fine. As soon as you start wanting to legislate morality, well we’ve got ourselves a problem. And this is what I’m trying to communicate to Republicans in California: if you are for freedom—as you say you are—then you need to be for all forms of freedom, not just the select few.”

DeMaio says he’s a “big proponent” of religious liberty. “I had a very conservative Jewish rabbi in 2014 come to me and he was considering endorsing me (in his congressional race against Democrat Rep. Scott Peters) and he was very nervous,” DeMaio says. “I got a lot of Jewish support in 2014 but this rabbi said, ‘Carl, you’re right on these issues—economic issues, fiscal issues, government reform issues. I think what you’re doing is great. You’re supporting Israel. But I don’t subscribe to your gay marriage point of view and I think it’s a sin.’

“And I said, ‘Well, Rabbi, I disagree with you on that.  However I will defend your right to be wrong.’ And he looked at me and he started laughing. And I said, ‘I’m never going to support a policy that says you can’t preach your point of view, that you cannot profess your faith, that you cannot counsel your parishioners in a certain way. But in a matter of public law, in the eyes of the law, we must embrace freedom of individuals to be who they are, to love who they want, to say what they want, to profess what they want. The First Amendment and our freedoms are a two-way street and so we have to respect that.’ So he then endorsed me, which was pretty shocking to some in the conservative Jewish community.”

DeMaio is hoping the LGBT community will be similarly open.

LGBT people have aligned with Democrats because Democrats have said—“and in large part, rightfully so”—that Republicans have been bad on gay issues and they’ve been good. But the world has changed.

“Thank God the world has changed and we can celebrate that. With rare exception, California Republicans are committed to full equality on LGBT issues. It’s a non-issue, all right? And it’s something we all should be proud of and celebrate,” he says.

But, DeMaio argues, Democrats have made it harder to afford to live and work in California.

“At some point, we’ve gotta look beyond the arguments of the past that no longer really exist and say, ‘wait a minute, hold on, nobody is being persecuted at this point,’” he says. “And for people to say, ‘Yes they are,’ it’s like, ‘Wait, so are you inventing persecution stories now so that you can continue to just keep my vote? Or have we moved past that?’ Thank goodness we’ve moved past that,” leaving Democrats nothing else to offer on other issues of concern. 

“I really think that the LGBT community needs to hold the California Democratic Party accountable for more than just hysterical rhetoric on LGBT issues, because when you do fact check their claims of persecution and plots, it’s just not happening anymore. It’s not and thank God it’s not,” he says.

The California LGBT Legislative Caucus and Equality California might disagree with DeMaio. “Equality California’s 2018 legislative package focuses on the most vulnerable in our community and is part of our continuing effort to address the disparities in health and well-being that LGBTQ people face as a result of longstanding discrimination and lack of acceptance,” Equality California says on its website. Some of the 15 bills included in that package address the fraud of “conversion therapy,” anti-bullying training in schools, LGBT older adults, and LGBT homelessness.

“Look, I can disagree with someone’s point of view but they have the freedom to express that, provided that they’re not taking government money,” DeMaio says. “So if you are for freedom, you have to be for freedom in all aspects. And sometimes freedom is messy and frustrating. But I would rather have it that way than any other way with government telling us who we can be, who we can love, how we can operate.”

DeMaio says he’s trying to “reposition the Republican Party on the side of freedom, dignity and equality for all,” by focusing on economics. “If I were a Democrat, if I were an LGBT member, I’d say, ‘Well, hold on a second. So you’ve got this whole movement in California, in my backyard, where Republicans are actually doing this? Maybe I should give them a chance because if they succeed, the National Republican Party will turn around and say, ‘Well, holy shit! Maybe we’re wrong nationally and maybe these California Republicans are actually right!’ That’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

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Southern California

Whittier Pride cancelled- Henderson, Nevada based non-profit steps in

Non-profit International Cultural Movement for Equality is sponsoring ‘Whittier Proud’ on September 25 at the Doubletree Inn

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Graphic via Whittier Proud

WHITTIER – A disagreement that led to a split in the organizing committee to host what would have been the second Whittier Pride Festival ended up canceling the event. Pride was set to be held Saturday, Sept. 25 at Central Park.

According to the Whitter Daily News, two years ago, the event drew between 5,000 and 8,000 people but was reduced to a car parade in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Another caravan was held in June, but a full festival was expected this year.

Reporter Mike Sprague from the Daily News noted that two groups — both calling themselves Whittier Pride — applied for a permit.  According to Sprague, one group, which reportedly split off from the original organization, filed first and received permission on Aug. 23 from the Whittier Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.

That final approval would have required the City Council to sign off on but in an email to the Daily News, Whittier Assistant City Manager Shannon DeLong said the group had withdrawn its application.

The second group’s application wasn’t considered due to a ‘first come first serve’ process the City Manager Brian Saeki told the Daily News in a telephone interview last Friday.

“We received two applications for the same event on the same day and time,” Saeki said. “For us, it was all procedural. We moved forward with the first application.”

There will be a Pride event this month as Henderson, Nevada based non-profit International Cultural Movement for Equality is sponsoring ‘Whittier Proud’ on September 25 at the Hilton DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Whittier.

Event organizer Richard Anthony Cortez, the creative director of ICME, told the Blade that his organization’s efforts are not tied to either of the two other groups at all and that ‘Whittier Proud’ is a separate partnership with the Whittier DoubleTree Hotel for a weekend of Pride events to celebrate diversity.

The ‘Whittier Proud’ has an Eventbrite page for tickets and a Facebook page for further information Cortez said.

Whittier City Councilmember Henry Bouchot, who told the Daily News by phone Friday that he has supported the festival without taking sides and he’s sorry the event will not be held this year.

“Hopefully, this is just a one-year hiatus that can come back,” Bouchot said. “I’m a supporter of the Pride Festival and would like to see it return to our city.”

Calls to the Pride groups by the Blade for comment were not returned.

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California

Lt. Governor Kounalakis establishes Transgender Advisory Council

“Establishing this council gives transgender leaders the space to have an open dialogue with key stakeholders […]”

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Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (center) attending SF Pride in 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor)

SACRAMENTO – Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced Monday that she has established a council of transgender leaders to create a dialogue between state leaders and the transgender community in California.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the council includes transgender activists, advocates, and elected officials from across the state. Its goal is to bring attention to the issues faced by the transgender community by inviting stakeholders in advocacy, government, and different industry sectors to hear directly from the council.

“Here in California, I’m proud we have enacted many protections for LGBTQ+ people, but we still have work to do, and that is especially true for issues facing our transgender and nonbinary family, friends, and neighbors,” said Lt. Governor Kounalakis.  “Establishing this council gives transgender leaders the space to have an open dialogue with key stakeholders who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to hear directly from them. I hope bridging this gap will help to amplify important issues and bring more understanding of the community. I look forward to the opportunity to listen, to learn, and to help elevate the voices of the members.”

“This California Transgender Advisory Council is historic,” said council member and California TRANScends Executive Director Ebony Harper. “I’m extremely honored to serve in this capacity and grateful for our Lieutenant Governor for seeing the need.”

“I congratulate Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis for her leadership in organizing the Lt. Governor’s Transgender Advisory Council,” said council member and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton. “At a time when so many political leaders see transgender Americans as a political opportunity to exploit and target, Lt. Governor Kounalakis is reaching out to help, integrate and provide opportunity.  I look forward to working with my colleagues within California’s transgender community and the Lt. Governor to advance employment, housing and healthcare opportunity and equity for all Californians.”

“This is historic for the state of California,” said the [email protected] Coalition President and CEO Bamby Salcedo. “Having an official body composed of trans people under the Lieutenant Governor’s office sets a precedent for other states to follow. I am so grateful to live in such an inclusive state!”

“I am beyond thrilled to work in partnership with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to create what will hopefully be the first of many Transgender Advisory Councils,” said council member and Equality California Program Manager Zizi Bandera. “To have a high-ranking state official show their solidarity with our community in this way means a lot. I am honored to continue the work of so many transgender advocates whose relentless passion for justice and liberation have made this possible.”

The advisory council will meet regularly and is comprised of transgender leaders from across the state, including the following people:

  • Ian Anderson, Legal Services Project Manager, Transgender Law Center
  • Zizi Bandera, Program Manager, Equality California
  • Blossom Brown, Activist
  • Ebony Harper, Executive Director, California TRANScends
  • Drian Juarez, Vice President of Training and Culture, Folx Health
  • Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilmember
  • Evan Minton, Activist
  • Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO, [email protected] Coalition
  • Rosio Leon Velasco-Stoll, Fresno Spectrum Center

In addition to establishing the Transgender Advisory Council, Lt. Governor Kounalakis co-sponsored several important measures in the California Legislature this year, including AB 378 (Bauer-Kahan), which was signed by Governor Newsom and eliminates gendered language referencing constitutional officers in California law, and AB 245 (Chiu), which is currently on the Governor’s desk and would ensure that California public colleges and universities allow transgender and nonbinary students to have their name and gender accurately reflected on academic records.

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West Hollywood

Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center for Los Angeles opens

First facility of its kind nationwide serving Trans and Non-Binary individuals and communities of, by and for Trans and nonbinary individuals

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Connie Norman Trans Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Friday Sept 10, 2021 (Photo Credit: Ged Kenslea)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – In a location that once housed the Aids Healthcare Foundation’s Linn House, a hospice for people dying from AIDS, the first facility of its kind nationwide serving Trans and Non-Binary individuals and communities of, by and for Trans and nonbinary individuals opened Friday, September 10.

Named for and dedicated in honor of Connie Norman, known as the ‘AIDS Diva,’ a fearless Transgender and AIDS activist who died of the disease in 1996.

The Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, will serve as a home for several Trans-led organizations including FLUX, a national division of the Aids Healthcare Foundation and the Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC). The center will focus on building capacity, advocacy and overall health and wellness of the Transgender and Non-Binary communities.

The 20,000 square-foot building has been repurposed to function as a sort of ‘WeWork’ space for Trans-led organizations to have a place to do their work, grow and be affirmed.

Named after a Diva like Connie Norman, supported by an institution like AHF and led by two respected Trans orgs like the UWC and FLUX—this is historic!  An entire building where trans people are at the helm, making decisions and innovating,” said Queen Victoria Ortega, Founder and International President of FLUX. “We are committed to making sure our community has a voice. Now, we have this incredible building as a home for those voices. I believe that great things are going to happen here, really great things!

The Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, 1001 N. Martel Street (Photo credit: John Johnston)

Norman was a force to be reckoned with according to Los Angeles based filmmaker Dante Alencastre’s 2020 documentary film AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman, which was released 25 years after Norman’s death.

In a short bio published by FLUX the group noted, “Connie Norman (1949 – July 15, 1996) was an AIDS and gay and transgender rights activist with ACT UP/LA. Beginning in 1991, she was the host of the first daily commercial talk radio show about gay issues in Los Angeles, and also co-hosted a television show. After her death from AIDS, ACT UP scattered her ashes on the White House lawn.’

Veteran LGBTQ journalist and the former Editor of the Los Angeles Blade, Karen Ocamb membered the formidable Norman in a March 31, 2021 commentary piece published to mark Trans Visibility Day.

“It was the late ‘80s and I was still new to “gay” journalism so I followed standard reporter practice of mingling with the crowd, getting a sense of what was going on, then asking to speak with the organization’s spokesperson. […]

For a bit I was stuck in my transition from old mainstream to LGBTQ/AIDS thinking. Luckily, Connie decided to educate me anyway. She invited me to her home — which she shared with her gay husband (who I recognized from 12 Step rooms) and LOTS of cats – and sat me in front of a video of her teaching a class of students about what it meant to be transsexual or transgender. […]

Connie and Rob Roberts during his hunger strike to draw attention to AB 101, the California gay civil rights bill, (Photograph from the collection of Karen Ocamb)

Connie was so generous with so many people- she made so many of us feel warm and loved and supported.

Curiously, after the video ended, Connie’s friend Harry Hay and his partner John Burnside (who turned out to be relative neighbors in WeHo) showed up and educated me about gays being Nature’s third sex. It was an amazing night. Connie was so generous with so many people. Most importantly for me – aside from being a reliable source of information so I could do my job properly — she smiled when she saw me. She made so many of us feel warm and loved and supported.”

When Connie Norman was living her final days at AHF’s Chris Brownlie Hospice, she bequeathed her childhood teddy bear to me, asking that I please help look after her Trans sisters and brothers she was leaving behind. I can think of no better way to honor that request than with this Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center that we dedicate today,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF and a good friend of Norman’s. 

Norman’s teddy bear will also now take up residence at the new facility in a commemorative plexiglass display case. In addition, September 10th 2021 will also be known as Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Day via proclamation by the City of West Hollywood.

The facility will also be home to a food bank opening onsite Monday, September 13th (12 noon- 2:00 pm). A ‘Clothing Closet’ to assist Trans and other individuals will also open onsite in the future and an AHF Healthcare Center serving the needs of Trans and nonbinary patients is set to open in 2022.

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