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‘Conversion therapy’ fraud bill passed by California Senate

False claims have riled up evangelicals

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Screen grab of State Sen. Scott Wiener (courtesy Samuel Garrett-Pate, Communications Director, Equality California)

Gird your loins. California lawmakers just passed a bill to make it harder to entice shame-filled parents with advertised false promises of a “cure” for homosexuality. By a vote of 25 to 11, state senators passed Assembly Bill 2943 that makes “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts”—plugged by the religious right as “conversion therapy”—a violation of California’s consumer fraud laws.

Debate over the bill also boldly underscores why it is imperative to have LGBT elected officials at the table or on the floor arguing how legislation has a personal impact.

“This is a very personal issue to me,” Assemblymember Evan Low, chair of the California LGBT Legislative Caucus, said in introducing his bill before passage by the Assembly. “Growing up with so much hate, I, too wanted to find out if I could be changed and if anything could work because of the societal pressures that we have. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing that needs to be changed.”

The out members of the State Senate also offered personal stories in the last minute debate Aug. 16 before the bill passed. Out Sen. Scott Wiener introduced the bill on the Senate floor and outlined its merits.

“This critically important bill protects LGBT people from the fraudulent practice known as ‘conversion therapy,” he said. It prohibits fraudulent business practices “where people sell services that say, ‘if you pay me money, I can make you no longer LGBT.’ There is absolutely no medical or scientific basis to support the sale of these supposed healthcare or physiological services. Indeed, ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing short of physiological torture.”

Wiener noted that California already bans such harmful practices for youth. “This unacceptable rate of suicide happens because we are told by society that there is something wrong or sick or amiss about who we are. And that we need to change to be ‘normal.’ Well, we don’t need to change and we certainly shouldn’t allow people to commit fraud by selling services that harm people and that don’t work,” Wiener said.

Wiener squarely took on the false assertions made by the religious right. “I want to be very clear what AB 2493 does not do, contrary to some of the claims that have been made during this legislative process,” Wiener said. “This bill does not prohibit the sale of the Bible—that’s an argument that we’ve heard—that’s untrue. It does not in any way prohibit free speech. It doesn’t prohibit anyone from speaking with a counselor, including a religious counselor regarding their sexual orientation, as long as no money is exchanged, as long as no services are sold. Colleagues, this bill is long over due. We should be protecting people from fraud. That’s what we do in this legislature in this state.”

So-called “conversion therapy” has been thoroughly discredited by all major mental health organizations, with the American Psychological Association saying efforts to “change” sexual orientation through therapy have “serious potential to harm young people.” The bill to which Wiener referred was passed in 2012, authored by then-California State Sen. Ted Lieu. It prohibited state licensed mental health providers from practicing such “therapy” on minors under age of 18, calling it “psychological child abuse.”

Bill co-author Sen. Ricardo Lara also spoke on the floor. “Conversion” therapy implies there is something wrong with you, somehow you’re not normal,” he said, beliefs that led to the horrendous murders of 8-old Gabriel Fernandez and 10-year old Anthony Avalos at the hands of their parents.

Lara also referred to his bill, SB 524, signed into law by Gov. Brown in 2016, to regulate residential homes. The bill was intended to put a dent in the billion-dollar “troubled teen” industry, which feeds off unscrupulous promoters peddling “parental-rights” arguments to con concerned fundamentalist parents into sending their “troubled teen” to camps, advertised as providing “tough love” to change youth through abusive “reparative therapy.”

“We as legislators have a responsibility to protect Californians from harmful and deceptive practices. All Californians should be celebrated, cherished, and loved for who they are,” Low said after the bill passed the Senate. “I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for affirming their support for those in the LGBT community who need it most by voting for this bill.”

“For far too long, LGBTQ Californians have been psychologically abused by sham therapists who are supposed to be caring for their emotional well-being,” says Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “We’re deeply grateful to Assemblymember Low, Senate Pro Tem Atkins and Senators Wiener, Lara and Galgiani for their leadership today—and to every member of the Senate who voted to protect LGBTQ Californians from these dangerous, harmful practices.”

Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, has been challenging these harmful, unscientific practices for decades, as thriving business for unlicensed and unscrupulous evangelical and Catholic “reparative therapists” such as Joseph Nicolosi at the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), based on Encino, California.

“This bill will put both consumers and practitioners on notice that taking money for ‘conversion therapy’ is consumer fraud under California law,” Minter tells the Los Angeles Blade. “That is important to ensure that individuals who are financially harmed by false claims that therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity know that they are entitled to compensation under California law. It will also help deter these fraudulent practices by shining a spotlight on unethical practitioners who defraud vulnerable consumers by peddling quackery and lies.”

Nonetheless, AB 2943 is the new tip of the spear for political evangelicals who insist that the bill will prohibit the sale of the Bible and ban free speech. Even the once vaunted conservative Federalist.com challenged reliable watchdog Snopes as a “sneaky liar” after its explanation.
“Sure, it is virtually impossible that California will immediately attempt to ban the sale of the Bible itself. Not even the hard Left in California has that kind of chutzpah. But citations of Bible verses in the context of declaring homosexual practice and transgenderism to be morally debased could indeed get one into serious trouble with the law if it comes in the context of selling or advertising a product or service,” Federalist.com’s Robert Gagnon wrote.

“So you would be violating the law if you advertise that Christ can empower people not to engage in homosexual practice or not to identify as ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’ because such behaviors and self-identities are morally wrong, or if you offer to engage or actually engage in efforts to persuade people of Christ’s power to transform in this area, you will be in violation of California AB 2943, at least so long as your advertising or efforts involved in any way an exchange of money for goods or services,” The Federalist.com says.

“Consequently, selling religious or secular books (pamphlets, videos, audios, etc.), holding conferences, teaching courses in a college or seminary where tuition is paid, giving a speech at a paid venue, counseling people for a fee, or perhaps even posting online articles in a site that requires a paid subscription, in which it is asserted (in whole or part) that it is morally wrong for people to engage in homosexual practice or identify as “gay” or “transgender,” all could be treated as a violation of California Assembly Bill 2943,” asserts Gagnon.

In fact, an anti-LGBT panel in Washington DC July 26—“Parental Rights: A Matter of Religious Freedom?” —co-sponsored by the anti-LGBT James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International and featuring Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council—spent a lot of time talking about ways to circumvent Low’s bill through use of the “parental rights” argument.

Anti-LGBT James Dobson Family Institute Public Policy Director Jenna Ellis described “what’s at stake.”

“This is a very dangerous bill and essentially, any book, any counseling, anything that discusses same sex attraction and is against that or trying to counsel away from that would be under the consumer fraud protection element of California’s law,” Ellis said. “The people who are not interested in protecting religious freedom, who are not interested in protecting parental rights, they are very shrewd to not just openly say, ‘We don’t want you to advocate against same sex attraction. We don’t want to advocate against these worldviews and moral issues that strike at the heart of traditional values and the family,’ but they’re willing so far as to say that this is fraud. That’s what’s going on in the United States and then even globally.”

“They want to take away any effort that a parent has to place that [confused] child in any type of ‘counseling’ or ‘psychotherapy’ to deal with what they’re going through,” said JDFI Executive Director Dr. Tim Clinton.

Out California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman is “not worried about the GOP using” the bill in arguments before the midterms. “The people who will vote for [Republican gubernatorial candidate John] Cox and the rest of the Trump cronies are already poised to do so.”

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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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