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Vote as if your life depends on it

‘Pull the emergency brake,’ says HRC’s Chad Griffin

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Gil Cisneros, with Rep. Mark Takano and HRC’s Chad Griffin (Photo courtesy HRC)

Donald Trump put himself on the ballot this Nov. 6 hoping to crush the Resistance that has rejected his authoritarian presidency since Inauguration Day. Having remade the Republican Party in his own image, Trump, a self-declared “nationalist,” has also put white supremacy, racism, bigotry and the literal fate of the LGBT community on the midterm ballot, as well. 

Californians are particularly alert. Trump’s closing argument for voting Republican is a hateful anti-immigrant speech and a shocking video reminiscent of the racist 1988 Willie Horton ad for George HW Bush’s and Pete Wilson’s ugly Prop 187 ad that pictured undocumented immigrants running across the Mexican border as if they were cockroaches scampering after the lights were turned on.

But Trump has gone darker.

He intentionally misrepresents refugees, many women and children fleeing violence in Honduras as a Democratic-sponsored massive caravan of illegal aliens, hordes of criminal gangs and Middle Eastern terrorists diseased with leprosy, small pox, and HIV, threatening to invade America’s Southern border. He has floated ordering up to 15,000 military troops to stop the invasion, though the poor people’s caravan is many many, miles from the US border and poses no threat whatsoever.

The latest polls indicate that the “Kavanaugh-effect” – the swing to Republicans after the controversial confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—has worn off.

Undecided voters are apparently swinging more towards the Democrats after Trump’s inappropriate narcissistic response to the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a proud white supremacist who pointed to Trump’s caravan threat as inspiration for his actions.

But polls may be unreliable, given the incredibly powerful roller coaster of events and climate of hate fraying nerves and wearing out emotions.

Only recently were there two random murders of African Americans after a white supremacist failed to gain entry to a black church. Shortly thereafter, 14 pipe bombs sent by an extremist Trump fan to CNN and top Democrats, including former Presidents Obama and Clinton, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Holder, as well as Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein.

Trump never called any of the potential bomb victims to ask how they were doing, but he did fly to Pittsburgh, even though 50,000 people, including the mayor, asked him not to come until he renounced white nationalism, which to many sounds eerily like noises made by Nazis in the 1930s before the Holocaust.

Tone deaf, Trump went and then made a 2020 campaign commercial featuring he and wife Melania touring the crime site, soft music and all, with no mention of the murdered victims or why they were murdered.

To many in the LGBT community, this is no hyperbole.

Despite Trump’s promises to protect the LGBTQ community, LGBT rights and protections have been rolled back since Day One, not surprising considering Vice President Mike Pence’s long record of anti-LGBT hatred—he was the point-person on the executive order to ban trans servicemembers from serving openly in the armed forces, for example. Then on Oct. 21, The New York Times made the Trump-Pence agenda very clear: “’Transgender’ Could be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration” the headline blared.

The California LGBT community has responded by pouring out to help Democrats take back the House, providing an imperative check of accountability to this imperious president. But it’s still all about turnout.

Maria Roman and Bamby Salcedo (Photo by Yunuen Bonaparte)

“Vote for Our Lives, Trans-voting=Trans-cending Bigotry, Hate,” says longtime trans activist and housing/HIV specialist Maria Louise Roman. “This administration does not care about our people. The true power is with the vote. We have marched for Two years—we must take real action by casting our vote.”  

“It’s important that our community understands the importance of this election. Please vote! Understand that we must put people into office who understand what needs to be done for us to get to a better place in our society. We need people in office who will do the things that need to be done, who work for our people, who are unapologetic, and will not conform to corporations who marginalize all of us. Vote! Claim your power!” says Bamby Salcedo, founder of [email protected] Coalition. The trans activist organization is holding its annual fundraising fashion show—GARRAS FASHION SHOW 2018—on Nov. 10 to support The Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness (see translatinacoalition.org for more information.) 

Equality California has been on the ground, getting the word out, canvassing and fundraising money for the important congressional races expected to help Democrats win back the House. 

“There’s too much at stake in this election for LGBTQ voters and our pro-equality allies to sit on the sidelines. From transgender equality to affordable health care, commonsense gun safety to racial justice, every issue we care about is on the ballot. It’s imperative that we take back Congress and elect pro-equality champions across the state. That’s why Equality California is working night and day, talking to hundreds of thousands of pro-equality voters to make sure our community’s voices are heard on November 6,” Equality California President Rick Zbur told the Los Angeles Blade.

“We’ve sent more than 650,000 pieces of mail, reaching nearly 850,000 voters. In our four top priority Congressional races (CA-25, CA-39, CA-45 and CA-48), we’re knocking on 6,685 doors, making 57,200 phone calls and sending 60,000 text messages. We’re also launching more than 33 different robocalls, but they’re reaching over 300,000 California voters for out State Sen. Ricardo Lara (running for State Insurance Commissioner) and candidates in a number of targeted districts and have been sending regular emails to our members in California and Nevada. We also have two full-time organizers on the ground in Nevada, one in Reno and one in Las Vegas, working with the Nevada Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. We’re really focused on helping to elect Jacky Rosen to the U.S. Senate and Nelson Araujo as Secretary of State.”

Days away from Election Day, Nov. 6, the races look like this:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a lead over State Sen. Kevin de Leon who is seeking to replace the senior senator who was elected in the Year of the Woman, 1992.

Democrats in the House races the nation is watching are “Leaning Democrat” or “Toss-Up” within the margin of errors. Every vote counts here, since some reaces are expected to be as close as within a hundred votes and in fact may not even be finally decided on Election Night, considering early voting and mail-in ballots. In other words—don’t plan on surfing the Big Blue Wave until you see it coming.

One key race for the LGBT community is bisexual candidate Katie Hill’s race against anti-LGBT incumbent Steve Knight in California’s 25th Congressional District. The 31 year old just got a boost as media reports revealed that one of Knight’s most prominent TV endorsers is a proud racist.

“We’ve known for a long time that we have to put some kind of check on him and we’ve got to work towards getting him out as quickly as possible,” Hill told the Los Angeles Blade. “The first step in putting a check on him is flipping Congress. We’re not gonna be able to do anything about the problems with Trump and with the things that he’s been doing until we have a Congress in place that’s actually going to hold him accountable and right now we don’t have that.”

And, she notes, “Steve Knight is one of the many Republicans in Congress who, despite the fact that every single day a new revelation comes out about how problematic Trump and his administration are and how unethical and how much they go against the very values and core beliefs of our country, they refuse to do anything about it. So this is a perfect reason why we have to stay so focused on flipping the House and on winning these key swing districts.”

Another race the LGBT community is eyeing is the possible unseating of anti-LGBT Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in California’s 48th District. Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, individual LGBTs have been working hard on behalf of Democratic businessman Harley Rouda, who is in a toss-up going into the election. Rohrabacher’s notoriety as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman ties him directly with Trump, who is facing the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether he and/or his campaign colluded with Russian operatives to interfere with the 2016 election.

“Unfortunately, Donald Trump is a bad example, in so many ways, for our kids and also for elected politicians. I think what we’ve seen in the Senate with this breakdown in decorum—Donald Trump has to take some responsibility for that happening by creating an environment where that type of behavior is not only acceptable but it’s almost encouraged. Rouda told the Los Angeles Blade at an LGBT fundraiser in Los Angeles Oct. 3. “The role of the President of the United States is to bring Americans together. This is the first time in our lifetime that we have ever seen a president who purposely and systematically is pitting Americans against Americans.”

Once thought a long-shot, young Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, a former official with the Obama administration, is seriously challenging longtime anti-LGBT incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter, who’s been indicted on campaign fraud charges, in the 50th Congressional District.

Democrat Mike Levin looks like he will beat anti-LGBT Republican Diane Harkey to replace retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa in CD 49. Trump didn’t even want to stump for Harkey, already considering her a loser.

Democrat UC Irvine law professor and consumer advocate Katie Porter has been increasingly gaining ground on Republican incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters in CD 45 with Porter relentlessly tying Walters to Trump.

Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim are locked in a dead heat for CD 39, an open seat vacated by Ed Royce. Kim and the Republicans have been running a horrific ad against Cisneros, touting a sexual harassment charge by a woman who later retracted the allegation. HRC and EQCA have been strongly working on Cisneros’ behalf but Kim could be the first Korean elected to Congress, which remains a strong local draw in the district.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at California Democratic Party Convention (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

On the local front, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom looks like he will run away with the race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown and keep the progressive momentum going in the state Trump most loves to hate. His opponent, Republican businessman John Cox was trying to ride the coattails of out gay Republican politico Carl DeMaio’s Gas Tax Repeal, but that is floundering and Cox is too proud of his Trump endorsement for many voters.  The question is – will there be a Super Majority in the State Legislature with which he can work to implement progressive legislation.

Many establishment Democrats are backing Ed Hernandez for Lt. Governor—but many women are backing Eleni Kounalakis.

Alex Padilla is sure to win re-election as Sec. of State and Democratic state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra is widely expected to win over his Republican challenger Steven Bailey. Becerra has been incredibly prolific in filing lawsuits to protect California from Trump—including joining the lawsuit to stop Trump’s trans military ban. Another longtime LGBT ally, Betty Yee, is also expected to win re-election as Controller, as is Treasurer Fiona Ma.

Out State Sen. Ricardo Lara’s race for State Insurance Commissioner has been complicated by a flurry of ads touting his opponent, Steve Poizner, who re-registered as an independent but still presents Republican-style policies. Not enough media attention has been paid to that point so Lara must depend on the Latino and LGBT votes, in particular.

The race for Superintendent of public instruction has gotten expensive and nasty. But much of the LGBT community supports LGBT ally Tony Thurmond, since Marshall Tuck is believed to be Republican-lite. 

There has been a massive amount of money poured by real estate developers and landlords into misleading ads to defeat Prop 10, a measure that would return restrictions on rent control to municipalities, not the market place. The measure, lead by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is endorsed by the LA Times, the ACLU, the California Democratic Party and the City of West Hollywood.

Finally, out LA County Assessor Jeff Prang is up for re-election and though he is expected to win, his opponent distributed some dirty trick material in the last days of the campaign that Prang had to try to fix. Votes will be needed for him.

HRC President Chad Griffin says that based on research, there are 1.4 million eligible LGBT voters in the state of California. If LGBT voters turn out en mass, we could insist that we not be erased.

“I think we will look back at this moment two years from now as one of the great awakenings of our democracy. In some ways, what Prop 8 did to a generation – the hatred that Mike Pence and Donald Trump spew on a daily basis – I believe is being responded to by folks standing up, stepping up,” Griffin told the Los Angeles Blade. The enthusiasm “is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The only thing I can compare it to is my time in this state 10 years ago, after the aftermath of Prop 8. While times are dark, I’m also incredibly optimistic. This is our opportunity to pull the emergency brake. These elections – that is where we have power over them.

“All of us have been told our entire lives that it’s the most important election of our lives,” Griffin said. “But with the future of our democracy on the ballot, and it is – and the equality of our future generations on the ballot – this election IS the most important election of our lives.

“This has to be the election of no regrets. There is not a single person, especially LGBTQ people – who wants to wake up the day after the election asking could I have done more? No one wants to have that regret that’s why I urge all LGBTQ people and their allies—we have to turn out in force this election.”

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World

Draft of draconian anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana leaked

Activists and allies could face up to 10 years in prison

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(Public Domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

ACCRA, Ghana — A draft of a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana has surfaced online.

The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” draft is 36-pages long and contains clauses under which LGBTQ people and allies could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for supporting and advocating for LGBTQ rights in Ghana. The Guardian newspaper described the proposed measure as “one of the most draconian and sweeping anti-gay laws proposed around the world.”

The draft, which has yet to be introduced in the Ghanaian Parliament, details a plethora of behaviors between LGBTQ individuals that would be banned. They include “gross indecency,” which is defined as “the public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex.” This act, labeled a misdemeanor, can result in “a term of imprisonment no less than six months and not more than one year.”

The bill in its current form would additionally propose strict media censorship that would ban media entities and creative individuals from producing content that promotes LGBTQ advocacy. Failure to comply with this provision would result in “not less than five years and not more than 10 years” of imprisonment. 

The draft’s release follows the May arrest of 21 activists and paralegals who attended a conference on how to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

Rightify Ghana, one of Ghana’s most prominent LGBTQ rights groups, released portions of the bill on its Twitter page.

“This bill is a homophobe’s dream law,” Rightify Ghana’s Danny Bediako told Reuters. “The community is shocked at how wide-ranging it is. People are even scared to go out now and some members say they will leave the country if the bill is passed into law. Even those who want to help us will be afraid.”

A State Department spokesperson also commented on the situation.

“In Ghana, we are concerned by the increasing anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric and actions that undermine the human rights of members of that community. We are monitoring the situation closely,” the spokesperson told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday in a statement. “In his video address to the [African Union], President Biden affirmed the United States policy to promote the human rights of all individuals, including women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, persons with disabilities, and persons of every ethnic background, faith and heritage.”

The World Congress of Families, a queerphobic organization, hosted an anti-LGBTQ conference in Ghana in 2019.

“It is clear that this [is] an imported bill with a signature of [the] World Congress of Families (WCF). It is a combination of bills from Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and other places where the WCF [has] been. It’s the worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever,” says Rightify Ghana on Twitter. 

The Human Rights Campaign notes the World Conference of Families during their 2019 conference advocated for the adoption of public policies supporting so-called conversion therapy and attacked sex education and women’s rights in Ghana. 

The World Conference of Families is an anti-LGBTQ organization based in the U.S. that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. The World Conference of Families has supported efforts that have further criminalized LGBTQ identity and activity in Russia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Uganda. 

“[The WCF] has a long history of exporting its anti-LGBTQ narrative to many parts of Africa, often by framing LGBTQ people and the protection of their human rights as somehow foreign and un-African, a fundamentally inaccurate characterization,” says HRC in its report. 

The proposed Ghana bill is not unlike other measures on the African continent.

The Nigerian Senate in 2014 passed the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill,” under which anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage or relationship faced up to 14 years in jail. The measure also criminalized witnessing or supporting LGBTQ-related activities and public displays of same-sex relationships. 

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West Hollywood

Federal Jury convicts Ed Buck in the drug deaths of two Black men

Also convicted on charges of maintaining a drug den, distributing methamphetamine & enticement to cross state lines to engage in prostitution

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ED Buck at the time of his arrest by a Federal Task Force (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – Barely four and a half hours after being handed his case for deliberations, a federal grand jury convicted the former West Hollywood resident and Democratic political activist/donor Ed Buck on the nine-count indictment of charges he supplied the methamphetamine that killed two Black men during ‘party-and-play’ encounters at his flat.

Buck was also convicted on charges of maintaining a drug den, distributing methamphetamine and enticement to cross state lines to engage in prostitution.

The conviction could mean that Buck, 66, will be facing a sentence where he could spend the rest of his life in prison for his actions that killed Gemmel Moore, 26, in July 2017, and Timothy Dean, 55, in January 2019. The convictions for supplying the meth that resulted in death each carry a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The verdict concluded a two-week trial that featured harrowing testimony of Buck’s accusers and victims which was shocking. Prosecutor’s use of Buck’s seized videos offered jurors a disturbingly graphic look at the chilling indifference displayed by Buck as he victimized those unfortunate to enter his flat.

Buck would solicit his victims on social media platforms, including Grinder, and on Adam4Adam, a gay hook-up site. Buck’s profile solicited men who shared his underwear fetish and wanted to “party and play.” His profile also contained a ‘Rose’ emoji which symbolized that he was generous or in plain terms, willing to pay cash for his “party and play.”

Jurors heard testimony from several of the Black men victimized that Buck’s preference was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims to let him do so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree to an injection or additional injections. At other times, Buck simply injected victims while they were unconscious.

“I know this has been an arduous, lengthy and difficult process,” U.S. District Judge Christine A. Snyder told jurors after she read the verdict shortly after 2 p.m. Pacific.

Christopher Darden, a lawyer for Buck, told the jury his client was on trial “for conduct that millions of people engage in.” He dismissed the witnesses against Buck as manipulative escorts and drug abusers who used Buck for his money, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The evidence is going to show that these grown men made a conscious decision to go to Ed Buck’s apartment for whatever reason,” Darden said in his opening statement.

Ludlow Creary II, another of Buck’s attorneys, argued that his client did nothing more than enjoy party-and-play sessions involving drugs and sex with men he met online. Buck could not be held responsible for the serious medical conditions that caused the deaths of the two men at his apartment 18 months apart, Creary argued in court.

“This is a subculture, a lifestyle that may be shocking to some of us,” Creary said during his summation. “Everyone involved was there voluntarily.”

The Times noted that Assistant U.S. attorney Chelsea Norell called the defense’s strategy “despicable victim shaming.”

Buck showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder did not set a sentencing date, but scheduled post-trial motions on Aug. 9.

“It was a tremendous honor to vindicate the rights of the victims,” Norell told reporters after the verdict was read.

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National

U.S. Appellate Court rules against anti-LGBTQ website designer

In the 2-1 ruling, the court said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups.

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U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Byron White Courthouse Denver Colorado (Photo Credit - Library of Congress Collections)

DENVER – A three judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled against a Lakewood, Colorado based web designer who sued to challenge the state’s anti-discrimination law, claiming that it would force her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples which violated her ‘Christian’ beliefs.

Lorie Smith, represented by anti-LGBTQ legal group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF)- listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group, claimed in court filings that the Colorado law violated Smith’s freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

In the 2-1 ruling, the panel said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.

The law that is being challenged by Smith and ADF is the same one that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and decided in 2018, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., Petitioners v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al., in the case of another Lakewood business and individual, Jack Phillips.

The high court in the Masterpiece Bakeshop case narrowly ruled in a 7–2 decision, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not acted employing religious neutrality. In the decision Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court majority on Monday, said it is “unexceptional” that Colorado law “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public,” but at the same time, “the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

The high court however did not rule on the broader intersection of anti-discrimination laws, free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech, and whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBTQ people.

In a statement the ADF’s senior counsel, John Bursch noted that the group would appeal Monday’s ruling. “The government should never force creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree. That is quintessential free speech and artistic freedom,” Bursch said.

“This really isn’t about cake or websites or flowers,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Jennifer C. Pizer said in a statement. “It’s about protecting LGBTQ people and their families from being subjected to slammed doors, service refusals and public humiliation in countless places – from fertility clinics to funeral homes and everywhere in between.”

Lambda Legal, is a legal group that fights for the civil rights of LGBTQ people and had submitted a brief supporting the state’s anti-discrimination law in the case.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she had not started offering wedding websites yet, the Associated Press reported.

But if she did, Olson said, her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite-sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Judge Mark Beck Briscoe wrote in Monday’s majority opinion (303 Creative, et al. v. Elenis, et al.) that “we must also consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, `essential’ to our democratic ideals.”

In his dissent, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote that “this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.”

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