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Lara could become first LGBT candidate elected statewide

Insurance commissioner hopeful spotlights core values

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Sen. Ricardo Lara at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit. (Photo courtesy Lara)

Ricardo Lara has an easy smile, a warm, embracing smile that puts the uncomfortable quickly at ease. It’s a smile that may lure cynics into thinking the handsome 43-year-old gay man is tangoing his way into the California Insurance Commissioner job.

But when Lara’s smile fades and he gets serious, politely but intensely explaining how this position would be his next step in helping marginalized minorities like his immigrant parents and his poorer friends with HIV/AIDS and children in need of healthcare—attention must be paid.

“I’m running to be California’s next state insurance commissioner because I believe at my core that California needs a strong defender, and a counterpuncher, who will stand up to fight our bullying president, Donald Trump, and his increasingly reckless federal government on issues from healthcare access to economic security and more,” Lara said in a statement on March 21, 2017.

This is no small next step; Lara is a fervent fighter for human rights stepping up to protect his extended family. And while he would become the first openly LGBT person elected statewide if he wins, the job itself is historically critical to LGBT people. 

Prior to 1988, the state insurance commissioner was a political appointee of the governor. That year it was Republican George Deukmejian, the governor who in 1986 vetoed a bill seeking AIDS non-discrimination in housing and employment because “the provisions of this bill dealing with discrimination are unnecessary. They establish an inappropriate precedent of placing a physical condition in statute that is better left to a more flexible administrative process,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

And in November 1988, Deukmejian endorsed Prop. 102, a radical right-wing initiative that would require doctors and blood banks to report anyone they have ”reasonable cause to believe” is infected with HIV to state and local authorities and require the HIV positive person to identify their sexual partners.  

In that November 1988 election, voters rejected Proposition 102 but approved Proposition 103, making Insurance Commissioner an elected position, expanding the areas of regulation and giving the commissioner new powers, including “prior approval” of any insurance rate increase. Accustomed to unfettered power in a Republican-controlled marketplace, the insurance companies challenged the measure in court. Pro-gay Attorney General John Van de Kamp won his case before the California Supreme Court and pro-gay Democrat John Garamendi won the post in 1990, becoming the first elected commissioner in 1991. It was an important victory: 1991 was the year Republican Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay rights bill AB 101 and the California State Legislature turned even more deeply red and anti-LGBT.

The non-partisan office has changed political hands, with current progressive Democrat Dave Jones succeeding Republican businessman Steve Poizner—who is trying for a comeback against Lara. This time, however, Poizner is running as an independent, though his policy positions still smell of GOP potpourri. And while Lara may be winning voters with his smile, he cautions that Poizner is seducing no-party preference and Republicans disinclined to vote for a Democrat.

“Recent polling shows that this race is actually tighter and it’s gonna be tough,” Lara told the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “The fact is—Poizner has essentially gone back in the closet, hiding his true Republican ideals, and is running now as an independent. And in many counties, San Diego County, for example, there is a larger bloc of non-party preference voters than there are Republicans.”

This is “a new Republican strategy,” Lara says, “to run people as independents or no-party preference because they know they can’t win otherwise statewide as Republicans. It’s truly sad but we can’t assume that this is a done deal. We can’t rest on our laurels.”

Lara says he’s going up and down the state “reminding our voters how Poizner “has flip-flopped back and forth on a woman’s right to choose” and “wanted to deny immigrant children health insurance.” Lara, on the other hand, passed legislation “to insure that any child, regardless of where they come from, their economic income status, or their immigration status, will have access to full scope Medical health insurance in California.”

That’s the big difference between them, Lara says: “I get things done. I make sure that we help our most vulnerable Californians instead of trying to spread hate and divisiveness, which is no longer a part of our tenor here in California.” In some states, he notes,  “insurance companies are denying access to PrEP to our community because they consider that risky behavior.”

The Insurance Commissioner position “is one of the most vital positions in the state because it touches every aspect of your life. And some people can even argue in utero, if your mother doesn’t have access to health insurance while she’s pregnant,” Lara says.  “And when it comes to privacy, when it comes to data breeches, when it comes to cannabis regulation, autonomous vehicles—these are all regulations that are pending through the Department of Insurance. And the most important thing is that we keep our insurance industry honest and accountable so that they can pay out the claims to make sure people can move on with their lives. That is the basic work of the Insurance Commissioner.”

It was the unexpected fate of a Lara bill that prompted him to run for Insurance Commissioner. He was working on a bill to allow immigrants to pay into the Affordable Care Act since the more people that pay into the system helps stabilize premiums for everyone.

“We know that immigrants are younger, they’re healthier and are working—so why not allow them to pay into a system to make sure that we continue to offer the services to folks who actually need it now? It’s an important investment,” he says.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill. But while Lara was working on the waiver with the Obama administration, “unfortunately President Trump got elected and one of the requirements under that administration was that—if we moved forward—they wanted the names and addresses of the people who were going to be paying into the Affordable Care Act,” Lara says. “I had to withdraw the waiver.”

On that plane ride back from D.C., “I was so angry and felt so defeated, that that’s when I decided to leave the Senate early and run for Insurance Commissioner,” he says, “because I have to continue to fight to get a single payer system, that we get universal healthcare in California. I want to be part of those discussions as Insurance Commissioner.”

Lara says the issue with SB 562, the bill he co-authored with out Sen. Toni Atkins to provide policy goals for a universal healthcare plan, ran into deadline issues while they were waiting for a study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst — experts on health care funding — to get back with funding formula. They needed to “keep the momentum going” while they worked on a separate bill to get federal waivers, discussed constitutional amendments with the nurses regarding Prop 98 requirements and figure out spending limits. SB 562 was part of a not quite fully-cooked four-part plan that was sent to the Assembly to start discussions.

State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins promoting their universal healthcare bill. (Photo courtesy Lara)

“Unfortunately, we fell victim to the legislative timeline of having to move this bill or else it would’ve died. But there is no doubt in my mind that the work that Toni and I started really has been the emphasis of now the Assembly engaging in a way that they’ve never engaged before, in terms of talking about healthcare,” Lara says. “Hopefully I’m going to be part of those discussions as the Insurance Commissioner.”

As commissioner, Lara would also have oversight of some fraud-related issues, including investigating the “troubled teen industry.” In 2015 and 2016, Lara worked with the LA LGBT Center and Survivors of Institutional Abuse to pass SB 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”— a bill with no religious exemptions that Brown signed in Oct. 2016.

“To the victims that have been victims of this type of abuse in these so-called ‘troubled teen’ camps or through ‘conversion therapy,’ we are going to be very vigilant as the Insurance Commissioner to make sure that we not only investigate but we seek out these individuals who are causing our community harm and hold them to justice,” Lara says. “We’ll work with our Attorney General to make sure that we bring justice to so many victims and we weed out these shams that we know only serve to harm our community.”

But first Ricardo Lara must be elected.

“To our LGBT community in California, we have come a long way in such a short amount of time because we remain vigilant, we remain steadfast and more importantly we remain united. The work that we’ve been able to champion in the state senate, through our LGBT Caucus and through my work is really a testimony to how diverse we are and how much influence we yield to make positive change for the next generation in our community,” Lara says.

“It’s time now for us to unite—to make sure we can elect somebody statewide that comes from our community, that understands our issues, and most importantly, understands where we need to be in the future to continue to protect our community and insure that the next generation of LGBTQI individuals have an opportunity to thrive and succeed in California, regardless of who is in the White House.”

For more, see ricardolara.com.

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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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