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Lambda Legal announces resignation of CEO Rachel Tiven

Tiven says she came to the organization “with a mandate to make big changes”

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Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Rachel Tiven has resigned as executive director of Lambda Legal. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Amid staffer discontent as the organization pursues legal challenges in support of LGBT rights against President Trump, the executive director of Lambda Legal has resigned, the organization announced Friday.

In a statement, Tiven — who has served as head of Lambda Legal since 2016 — said she came to the organization “with a mandate to make big changes” and is “proud of how much we’ve accomplished,” but will take on a new position to work on the mid-term elections with the Leadership Now Project, a progressive non-profit of business professionals.

“I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had at Lambda, and will remain a strong supporter and donor,” Tiven said. “We need Lambda Legal more than ever, and I’ll be rooting for them.”

Tiven’s resignation comes at the same time as Lambda Legal spearheads efforts to stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other Trump judicial nominees. Lambda is also pursuing litigation against Trump’s transgender military ban, which resulted in one of several preliminary injunctions against the policy and is scheduled to go to trial, and a lawsuit against the U.S. military’s ban on service members with HIV.

According to Lambda Legal, the executive committee and board will discuss about interim leadership and next steps shortly.

Although Lambda Legal continues to have success in court in favor of LGBT rights, Tiven’s resignation comes amid discontent from staffers, who have complained about attrition, an edict-based management approach and cuts to benefits. Last year, the organization voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild.

Lambda had lost key staffers through attrition. One staffer cited more more than 50 departures from the organization since April 1. But Lambda also had key hires, such as Diana Flynn, who came to Lambda as litigation as serving more than three decades at the civil rights division of Justice Department.

In a June letter to staffers, Nancy Marcus, who served as a senior staff attorney for Lambda, announced her resignation nearly two years on the job and detailed her discontent with management practices as “dizzying and disturbing.”

“The top-down ever-changing vague edicts and references to new priority lanes and buckets, and the elimination of key work (and positions) from departments and priority areas…along with the elimination of livable retirement and health benefits, merit raises, and the feeling of a supportive and stable work environment have been dizzying and disturbing,” Marcus wrote. “These developments, coupled with the apparent apathy of senior management regarding the exorbitant attrition rate of the past two years, signal that retention isn’t a priority at Lambda Legal. And that, in turn, perpetuates and aggravates the severe attrition and morale problems permeating Lambda Legal.”

Key among the concerns Marcus cited in her letter was unhappiness with workers as they continued to leave Lambda.

“The truth is that nearly every staff meeting has started to feel like a memorial service as more and more Lambda Legal employees give up,” Marcus wrote. “Something has to change. And it can. We’ve changed the world for the better; we (you) can make Lambda Legal better too. And maybe, just maybe, that means restoring much of what it used to be not so long ago, not destroying it.”

The letter was obtained by the Washington Blade and verified as accurate by several Lambda staffers familiar with the missive.

Marcus, who still works as an attorney in the Los Angeles-area, told the Blade the failure of leadership at Lambda was squarely on Tiven’s shoulders and the organization should improve after her departure.

“When I was referring to senior management, I was really referring to Rachel Tiven,” Marcus said. “I think that Rachel was not a good fit for the organization, but I think the organization is as strong as ever and the problems that I described, I think, are problems that are going to be largely alleviated when Lambda Legal moves forward with new leadership.”

Marcus emphasized she wasn’t concerned about remaining management for the organization and had high hopes for Lambda moving forward.

“I’m excited about the next chapter for Lambda Legal because it remains an organization filled with brilliant lawyers and advocates for LGBT rights, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their work continues to progress,” Marcus said.

A spokesperson for Lambda referred to the Blade to the initial statement when asked for additional context about Tiven’s departure amid staffer discontent.

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California Politics

Kick Big Tobacco OUT of California Political Campaigns launches

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES — The OUT Against Big Tobacco coalition supported by Equality California Institute launched a pledge last week urging California legislators and candidates to voluntarily refuse campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

A total of sixteen legislators and candidates have taken the pledge thus far, with more expected to sign on as the 2022 campaign season gets underway.

The pledge was launched in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a national day in recognition of tobacco users who are looking to quit tobacco for good. LGBTQ+ people are more than TWICE as likely to smoke as our non-LGBTQ+ peers, and nearly 30,000 LGBTQ+ people across the country die every year of tobacco-related causes.

Initial signers of OUT Against Big Tobacco’s pledge not to take tobacco industry campaign contributions include:

  • Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach)
  • Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine)
  • Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)
  • Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) 
  • Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas)
  • Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach)
  • Annie Cho, candidate for Assembly District 38
  • Supervisor Matt Haney, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Daniel Hertzberg, candidate for Senate District 18
  • Mayor Christy Holstege, candidate for Assembly District 42
  • Bilal Mahmood, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Mayor Lily Mei, candidate for Senate District 10
  • Caroline Menjivar, candidate for Senate District 18 
  • Andrea Rosenthal, candidate for Assembly District 36
  • Rick Chavez Zbur, candidate for Assembly District 50

“For decades, Big Tobacco has used their profits to place themselves as friends of our community. This year we are kicking them OUT; out of our Pride, out of our organizations, and out of our politics,” said Equality California Program Manager, Dr. Shannon Kozlovich. “We are calling all 2022 California State legislative candidates to stand with us and pledge to run tobacco free campaigns.

“The tobacco industry is killing our children, killing people of color, killing people that have underlying health conditions. We have to take a stand by not accepting tobacco contributions!” said Senator Lena Gonzalez.

In California’s 2020 Senate and Assembly election cycle, tobacco companies spent $6 million on campaign contributions, while spending millions more lobbying against legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products — products disproportionately targeted towards LGBTQ+ people, people of color and our young people. 

“The tobacco industry serves no purpose other than to make people sick. Tobacco money is not essential for people to win” states Senator Scott Wiener. 

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California Politics

California voters in a new poll say society will completely break down

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime

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Graphic courtesy of Probolsky Research

NEWPORT BEACH – A new poll released last Thursday by Probolsky Research found that a near majority of California voters think that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in the next couple of decades or so where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

The results are even more dramatic among Republicans, 69% of whom say they are worried, and those fifty and older who say American society is on the brink. Black voters too.

Full majorities in Los Angeles County, the Central Valley and Northern California also believe Californians are doomed, as do a majority of those who prefer to speak Spanish.

The multi-mode poll was conducted by telephone and online among 900 California voters from November 12 – 18, 2021. A survey of this size yields a margin of error of +/-3.3% and a 95% confidence level. This survey question was not sponsored by a third party, the results are being released for public interest.

Probolsky Research which conducted the poll is a non-partisan Latina- and woman-owned research firm with corporate, election, government, and non-profit clients.

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California Politics

Assembly Speaker strips Evan Low of committee chair- no reason stated

Speaker Anthony Rendon under fire from LGBTQ, diversity groups for sidelining one of California’s top gay legislators

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Assemblymember Evan Low (Screenshot via KGO-TV 7 ABC News Bay Area)

SACRAMENTO – The Speaker of the California Assembly Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles)  abruptly stripped Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) of both of his positions as chairman and member of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee Wednesday without a stated reason.

In a letter to Sue Parker, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly, Rendon named Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) as Low’s replacement without explanation. Low, who has served as chair of the committee for the past five legislative sessions, offered no direct comment instead stating in a release via his office; “It has been an honor to serve as chair of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee, where my colleagues and I crafted legislation to help small businesses, combat the opioid crisis, implement a system to regulate legal cannabis, and work with Governor Newsom to protect patients and health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Low serves as Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and Vice Chair of the California API Legislative Caucus, his removal brought immediate condemnation from groups aligned with those marginalised communities.

We are deeply disappointed to see Assemblymember Low removed as Chair of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee without any explanation. At a time when the API community faces a surge in hate, violence and discrimination, and state legislatures across the country relentlessly attack the LGBTQ+ community, Assemblymember Low has provided critical representation for our communities in Sacramento,” Equality California said in a statement. “He has chaired the B&P Committee for the last five years with policy-driven and solution-oriented leadership. Removing Assemblymember Low as chair is an unfortunate example of people of color — especially API people — being sidelined from leadership roles despite demonstrated success and a commitment to strengthening and diversifying the Legislature.”

The Washington D.C. based non-profit OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, a 48 year-old group that has chapters in all 50 states, dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tweeted their displeasure:

Assembly sources told the Blade over the past two days that Rendon’s actions appear to be politically driven retaliation stemming from several factions who had approached Low to campaign for the Speaker’s gavel this past summer, unhappy with Rendon’s handling of the legislative calendar as well as his handling of certain matters on the Democratic agenda.

One source pointed out that “stripping him [Low] of his chair was ridiculous and a petty move that smacked of revenge on the Speaker’s part given that he [Low] has held a personal fundraiser for Rendon and raised $120 thousand for the Speaker.”

A legislative staffer speaking to the Blade on background Friday said that the optics of the Speaker’s action was terrible. “You remove the gay lawmaker who heads the LGBT caucus and vice-chairs the Asian-PI caucus without reason? Look its clearly revenge- but Evan told those people he wasn’t going to do an end run on the Speaker and he didn’t.”

“Speaker Rendon has the right to replace any committee chair, but he also has the responsibility to explain why. To remove Evan Low – the only out LGBTQ AAPI committee chair in the Assembly – from his position without explanation is problematic, especially with no other LGBTQ people serving as chairs. At a time when the LGBTQ community and the AAPI community face increasing harm, we need more bold leadership like Evan Low’s, not less.”

Annise Parker, LGBTQ Victory Institute President & CEO

Movement is afoot inside Assembly circles as disbelief is turning to anger. Another source speaking to the Blade on background said that the Speaker’s action looks like it will backfire. “I’ve heard that some are saying they will go on the record in the next week- and some are really pissed off. He’s [Rendon] annoyed the Black caucus, now the Asian caucus- the people thinking about to go on the record, that momentum is building.”

The Speaker is not commenting nor making public statements as of Friday. One source told the Blade that a prominent non-profit leader had texted Rendon expressing grave concerns over what appeared to be a capricious move in removing Low and received no answer other than “Message received.”

One of oldest LGBTQ non-profit political groups, The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC) a four-county LGBTQ political action committee (PAC) which has been advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ people since 1984 in the central coast counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey, took to Twitter expressing its outrage.

The Bay Area Reporter noted that the Sacramento Bee first reported about Low being stripped of his chairmanship. His being removed means he no longer chairs any committees, as per Assembly rules its members are only given one chairmanship per legislative session. Low remains a member of the communications and conveyance; elections; governmental organization; and higher education committees.

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