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What’s next after the Democratic House victory?

Bisexual Katie Hill wins over anti-LGBT Rep. Steve Knight

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Katie Hill (Photo courtesy Equality California)

LGBT ally Steve Schmidt, the former Republican strategist turned political pundit, repeatedly cautions that President Donald Trump, whom he calls the “greatest demagogue” in US history, is inciting a “cold civil war.”

“Trump has stoked a cold civil war in this country. His rallies brim with menace and he has labeled journalists as enemies of the people,” Schmidt tweeted after a lone-wolf mass mail-bomb assassination attempt against Trump’s Democratic hit list was uncovered. “That someone would seek to kill their political enemies is not aberrational but rather the inevitable consequence of Trumps [sic] incitement.”

That was when Republicans held the White House, the Senate, the House and the majority on the US Supreme Court and the administration had no qualms in publicly rolling back protections for LGBT people. In fact, after the New York Times announced that “Transgender Could be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump,” the LGBT community and many allies responded with outrage, becoming deeply invested in winning back the House of Representatives during the Nov. 6 midterm elections, while realizing that the Senate may stay in Republican hands.

Despite hard work and millions of dollars—the Human Rights Campaign alone invested $26 million in a massive grassroots campaign deploying 150 HRC staff to more than 70 congressional, targeted senate and key statewide races across 23 states—the dreamed- about massive big blue wave didn’t materialize and many of the progressive leaders that LGBT and ally supporters hoped would win big to stick it to Donald Trump either lost or were artificially deprived of winning.  

HRC President Chad Griffin with Harley Rouda volunteers (Photo courtesy HRC)

There were big wins, however—including out bisexual Katie Hill, 31, who won in California’s 25th District against longtime anti-LGBT Rep. Steve Knight in Northern Los Angeles County and part of Ventura. Hill was leading by roughly 5,500 votes, or 52.2 percent just past noon on Wednesday—and Knight decided to concede. “The voters have spoken and they want a new congressman — or a congresswoman, for this district,” Knight told KCBSTV. “We wish her the best.”

She’ll need it. At a Nov. 7 news conference in the East Room of the White House, Trump took a victory lap for personally having staved off the Democrat’s Big Blue Wave and weirdly praised House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to take back the gavel as House Speaker, promising to work with her on “a beautiful bipartisan-type situation.” He’s promised bipartisanship before—then bailed, most notably with California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was just handily re-elected, on the issue of gun violence.

But Trump also threw down the gauntlet, promising to assume a “Game of Thrones”-like “warlike posture” if the House dares investigate him or his administration.

“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said, referring to the Republican Senate which just gained two seats but is actually a separate branch of government run by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I could see it being extremely good for me politically because I think I’m better at that game than they are, actually, but we’ll find out.”

For her part, Pelosi told Democrats at their victory party that the House would focus on “restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration,” as opposed to immediately following up on LGBT fan favorite Rep. Maxine Water’s repeated calls for Trump’s impeachment.

Adam Schiff (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

LGBT ally Rep. Adam Schiff of Los Angeles, meanwhile, must most feel the burden of the sane free world on his shoulders as he considers assuming the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He told his supporters at a Burbank restaurant on Election Night, that the era of one-party rule is over.  It’s a message he’s been pushing while campaigning for others.

“We’ve had a Congress completely unwilling to do its job, to be a co-equal branch of government, unwilling to push back against the basic indecency of this person in the Oval Office,” Schiff at a rally for Katie Hill, the Los Angeles Times reported. “And it is this combination of unethical president and a cowardly, rubber-stamp Congress that has our republic trembling, and why so much rides on our ability to flip the House.”

Now flipped, Schiff is expected to investigate Trump’s finances, Trump’s campaign and the administration’s possible links to Russia, intentionally ignored by his Republican counterpart, California Rep. Devin Nunes, who was also just re-elected after a briefly close race.

“As long as Donald Trump is the president, it will be a poisonous atmosphere because he’s all about division. Nonetheless, we need to do our best in Congress to get the people’s business done. We need to show that we are more than just being about being opposed to him. We are not going to abuse our power the way the Republicans did. We are going to be responsible and tenacious in pursuit of our policy,” Schiff said.

House Republicans have trouble brewing in-house, according to The Hill. With Speaker Paul Ryan retiring, the race is on to become the next leader of the House GOP. California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, often seen glued to Trump, has been widely expected to assume the mantle of House minority leader. But shortly after Democrats had re-taken control, far right conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio announced that he intends to challenge McCarthy.

“In 2016, the American people elected Republicans to come here and change this town. I think the president is doing just that, but I don’t think they see the same intensity from folks in Congress, folks in the House of Representatives,” Jordan told Hill TV.  “Have we replaced ObamaCare yet? Have we secured the border yet? Have we reformed welfare yet? No.”

Jordan promised rigorous debate with the Democrats, as opposed to a possible bipartisanship approach Trump mentioned in his remarks. “Now that we’re in the minority, that’s about all what we can do is debate, but fight hard in the debate for the principles, for the things that we know the American people sent us here to do in 2016. Show them that we deserve to be back in power in 2020,” he said. 

One of those fights is expected to be with the Justice Department over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into what US intelligence agencies have called interference by Russian operatives in the 2016 election. Trump calls the investigation a “witch hunt.” Jordan, co-founder of the proudly anti-LGBT disruptive conservative House Freedom Caucus, will no doubt engage his Freedom Caucus co-founder, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Meadows has introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been overseeing the Mueller probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. 

All of this came before Sessions resigned Wednesday—at Trump’s request. Trump has often slammed Sessions since the recusal, suggesting he would fire the Attorney General—the first member of Congress to endorse Trump—right after the midterms. Promise made, promise kept.

Schiff and the Democratic House leadership can now shift their thinking to the multitude of possible clashes that may come in the approaching lame duck session of Congress.

Another check on Trump’s power will surely come from the 113 newly elected women, including 28 first-time House members, many who ran inspired by the resistance movement such as Democratic activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, of New York, the youngest member of Congress, now Hill, 31, and Sharice Davids, a lesbian Kansas Democrat and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation..

Both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California raised massive amounts of money and inspired and organized thousands of volunteers. They targeted California races to not only flip the House to Democrats but also ensure solid pro-equality victories up and down the ballot in California.

CNN’s exit polling had LGBT voters at 6 percent of the turnout and voting 82 percent for Democrats / 17 percent for Republicans. Re turnout: with 113 million voters overall, that’s roughly 6.8 million LGBT voters that turned out nationally. Since mail ballots are still being counted, it looks like LGBT voter turnout was at or above the turnout recorded in 2016 exits (7 million). While exit polling can be fickle, it’s impressive that LGBTQ turnout in the midterms matched a presidential cycle,” Olivia Alair Dalton, HRC’s Sr. Vice President of Communications & Marketing, told the Los Angeles Blade.   

We do not yet know the percentage of turnout from the LGBT community in California or Los Angeles. However, gauging by the levels of enthusiasm in each of the campaigns, social media and just walking down the street in West Hollywood, the engagement was very high. Not enough, however, to pass AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Prop 10, which would have returned rent control regulation to municipalities instead of developers and landlords.

What will happen now, after the perceived losses in such key progressive races such as Beto O’Rourke in Texas to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and Andrew Gillum and Stacy Abrams running to be the first African American governors of Florida and Georgia, respectively? It is unclear if those races will be subject to recount or will face a legal challenge because of voting irregularities—but the immediate reaction has been one of deep disappointment in the progressive community, even with the historic “rainbow wave” and election of so many women.

“While the outcome of yesterday’s midterm elections did not result in securing a safer and more just future for all, it did go a long way toward that goal,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Executive Director Kate Kendell in a statement. “More young people and women showed up to vote and more women and LGBTQ candidates won. We may yet save our nation and repair a U.S. Constitution in tatters. 

“At NCLR we will do our part, fighting in court and engaging these elected officials to demand that our community, especially the most vulnerable, are free to live their lives fully, safely and with full dignity,” she concluded.

In statewide elections, the view was a bit more optimistic. Longtime LGBT ally Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, best known for helping start the nationwide opposition to then-President George W. Bush’s push for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, handily won his race to replace longtime ally Gov. Jerry Brown as California’s next governor. Equality California-endorsed candidate Eleni Kounalakis won a spirited race to become the next lieutenant governor.

Less clear, is whether openly gay California Sen. Ricardo Lara won his race against Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner. Poizner was a high hope for Republicans who don’t much like Trump but like old fashion Republican policies, which Poizner espoused through coded campaign commercials. Lara seemed to rely less on earned media than on other means to reach voters, especially reaching out to the under-media-served Latino community.

While Poizner used to be Insurance Commissioner, he has not be visible for years. Lara, in the meantime, has not only been visible as a State Senator, but has taken on issues such as protecting undocumented immigrants, including LGBT people seeking asylum, and opposing efforts to bring back so-called “conversion therapy. Lara told the Los Angeles Blade that he would, in fact, look at such efforts as “consumer fraud” under his jurisdiction, if elected Insurance Commissioner. If his election is certified, Lara will make history as California’s first openly LGBT statewide official. As of Wednesday morning, he was leading by more than 105,000 votes.

“With millions of ballots left to be counted across the state, it is already clear that Californians sent a clear message to Washington, rejecting the politics of fear and division, and electing leaders who will work to unite us and fight for full equality,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said. “The LGBTQ community has much to celebrate this 9Wednesday/Nov. 70) morning — with openly LGBTQ and pro-equality candidates making history across the country last night, a new pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and a historic number of women elected to the House, too. We congratulate and look forward to working with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor-elect Eleni Kounalakis and pro-equality leaders in the Legislature and new Congress to continue making progress toward a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ people.”

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, took these midterms seriously, campaigning as if this was a presidential election. The organization ran a $650,000 voter engagement and get-out-the vote program that included a direct mail campaign reaching approximately 740,000 voters — including targeted mail supporting Lara and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond’s campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He appears to be losing to an even better-funded campaign by charter schools enthusiast, Marshall Tucker.

Equality California also vigorously supported  eight pro-equality candidates for the California Legislature and pushed out robo-calls to approximately 520,000 voters supporting Lara, nine pro-equality Congressional candidates, 14 pro-equality state legislative candidates and 12 openly LGBT local candidates.

Right now, HRC and Equality California-supported candidates Harley Rouda (CA-48) and Mike Levin (CA-49) lead their anti-LGBT opponents by slim margins, with the races still too close to call. The other pro-equality Congressional candidates the LGBT worked hard to elect—Josh Harder (CA-10), Gil Cisneros (CA-39) and Katie Porter (CA-45)—are currently trailing their anti-LGBT opponents but the numbers can easily change as the thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots are counted in each race in the next week or two.

Equality California says that they partnered with NextGen America and the California Labor Federation to target the Hill, Cisneros, Porter and Rouda campaigns in what have been considered new swing districts. They knocked on 7,200 doors and contacted more than 123,000 voters through live phone calls and peer-to-peer text messaging, EQCA says in a press release.

“Other priority races for Equality California included the contest to become California’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction and the effort to reelect Legislative LGBT Caucus Member Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes,” EQCA says. “Equality California-endorsed candidate Assemblymember Tony Thurmond currently trails Marshall Tuck by a slim margin in the Superintendent’s race, while Cervantes leads her challenger Bill Essayli by three votes. Equality California also strongly supported openly LGBTQ legislative candidates Joy Silver (SD-28), Jovanka Beckles (AD-15) and Sunday Gover (AD-77), who ran strong races and are currently trailing their opponents in races too close to call.”

One heart-breaking loss is that of Ammar Campa-Najjar to indicted Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. in Orange County’s 50th District. While the race seemed like a long shot from the beginning, there were moments when he broke through and actually ran neck-and-neck, ahead or within the margin of error. History may look back and question whether Trump’s angry, fearful and inaccurate closing argument at campaign rallies about the supposed caravan of diseased and crime-filled immigrants (mostly women and children) who want to “invade” the southern border might have had an impact, as well as Hunter’s disgusting racist and unethical campaign ads implying Campa-Najjar, a devout Christian, was a foreign terrorist. As of Nov. 7, Hunter has 54.33 percent of the vote to Campa-Najjar’s 45.67 percent.   

“The days of attacking LGBTQ people for political gain are over, and the American people will not stand for lawmakers who try to drum up votes by trafficking in hate,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Thanks to millions of Americans who stood up and fought back, we have succeeded in restoring a sane, pro-equality majority to the House and placing a check on this administration’s hateful agenda.”

California

Newsom calls for Federal investigation of high Natural Gas prices

California accelerating bill credits of $90-$120 starting next month to support with high gas and electric bills

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – As millions of California families experience soaring gas utility bills, Governor Gavin Newsom took action today urging the federal government to investigate the recent price spike affecting the Western U.S. and highlighted the state’s action to provide relief to Californians.

In a letter to the federal agency responsible for regulating wholesale natural gas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Governor requested that the agency “immediately focus its investigatory resources on assessing whether market manipulation, anticompetitive behavior, or other anomalous activities are driving these ongoing elevated prices in the western gas markets.”

Additionally, millions of Californians will soon see relief from high utility bills – with credits of $90 to $120 showing up on gas and electric bills as soon as next month. 

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to accelerate the California Climate Credit to help California families with high gas bills.

The $90-$120 credit will be applied to residential utility customer bills starting in March for customers of PG&E, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Gas Company. Customers of Bear Valley, Liberty, PacifiCorp, and Southwest Gas will also receive an accelerated credit of varying amounts. 

Tomorrow, the CPUC and the California Energy Commission will host an en banc hearing to examine the causes and impacts of the recent spike in natural gas prices. 

“Millions of California families are opening their utility bills to sticker shock – and we’re taking action now to provide relief to help with those high gas bills,” said Newsom. “We know this provides only temporary relief from soaring bills. That’s why I’m asking the federal government to use its full authority to investigate the spike in natural gas prices and take any necessary enforcement actions. We’re going to get to the bottom of this because Californians deserve to know what’s behind these exorbitant bills.”

California accelerating bill credits of $90-$120 starting next month to support with high gas and electric bills

Californians do not need to do anything to get the credit. Every spring and fall, millions of Californians receive credits on their electric and natural gas bills identified as the California Climate Credit. The California Climate Credit comes from the State’s cap-and-trade program managed by the California Air Resources Board. The credit on utility bills represents the consumer’s share of the payments from the State’s program.

The CPUC and California Energy Commission will hold an en banc hearing on February 7 to bring together market experts to examine the possible drivers behind the natural gas price spikes and explore potential state actions that can be taken. The hearing includes participation of the California Independent System Operator and market experts from across the country to discuss possible drivers and explore any state measure to protect California customers.

More information is available here.

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Politics

Victory Institute urges Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn for FCC

Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role

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Gigi Sohn (Screen capture via C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – The LGBTQ Victory Institute submitted a letter Monday with more than 375 signatories urging Senate leadership to confirm Gigi Sohn’s nomination for commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role where she would become the tie-breaking vote on the bipartisan-led commission.

“Gigi is one of the nation’s leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic
communications networks,” the Victory Institute wrote in its letter. “Gigi has worked across the country to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy. During this time, she has worked across the industry, notably as Counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler.”

Despite these qualifications – and the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to nominate her for a third time – Sohn’s confirmation has been delayed amid coordinated attacks by industry lobbyists, conservatives on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and right-wing media organizations.

Fox News, Breitbart, and the Daily Mail have recently focused on Sohn’s membership on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a respected organization that has come out against a pair of laws that were enacted in 2018 amid the panic over child sex trafficking.

The laws, according to the Los Angeles Times, “have proved to be largely ineffective for their stated purpose and rife with adverse side effects,” with the EFF writing that they “will not stop sex trafficking and will instead make stopping it harder.” Regardless, the matter has nothing to do with the work in which Sohn would be engaged at the FCC.

Nevertheless, these attacks on Sohn, an out lesbian, dovetail with efforts to link the LGBTQ community with child sexual abuse and exploitation. The EFF came out in support of Sohn, too, arguing that the attacks against her were “dog whistles.”

“Democrats can’t claim to support LGBTQ rights while failing to stand up to blatant bigotry targeting one of their own nominees,” Evan Greer, director of the digital rights organization Fight for the Future, told the Los Angeles Times. “If they remain silent and complicit, this will become a go-to strategy to tank LGBTQ nominees to any public position,” he said.

According to research provided by GLAAD, one of the groups that signed the Victory Institute’s letter, “These criticisms [of Sohn] have led extremists, especially those from the QAnon movement, to conclude that Sohn supports sex trafficking and is participating in a secret plot by Democrats and other ‘far left elites’ to silence conservatives.”

Former U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called Sohn a “she-male” and “fringe lunatic,” claims that prompted other users to make death threats against her, according to research provided by GLAAD.

Separately and in the past, Sohn earned criticism for her social media posts, including one authored by the acclaimed actor and comedian Issa Rae that Sohn shared, which read: “Your raggedy white supremacist president and his cowardly enablers would rather kill everybody than stop killing black people.”

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State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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Crime & Justice

Patrons of Gay bar in New York City robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to rob patrons at NYC gay bar:

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West Hollywood

WeHo hosts public hearing on PrEP & PEP February 23 at City Hall

Access to PrEP & PEP & adherence to recommended treatment are just 2 necessary steps in the efforts to reducing community transmission of HIV

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Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) pills (Photo Credit: San Francisco AIDS Foundation)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood will host a public hearing to gather input from community members about whether individuals at high risk for HIV transmission are able to effectively access medications approved as part of FDA-approved protocols for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis(PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

City staff and officials have become aware from anecdotal information in the community that there may be barriers to easily accessing PrEP and PEP at pharmacies in Los Angeles County and other regions of the state.

While statewide legislation, SB 159, authorizes pharmacists to furnish PrEP and PEP without a physician prescription and prohibits insurance companies from requiring prior authorizations to obtain PrEP coverage, there is concern that national pharmacy chains and local pharmacies may not be participating in ways the legislation intended.

City outreach to local pharmacists indicates that many local pharmacists have not taken the California State Board of Pharmacy (CSBP) training to dispense PrEP and PEP, and may not have been aware of the training at all.

The City’s aim in hosting a public hearing is to gather input from impacted residents and community stakeholders; findings will then be relayed to legislators and other key decision makers.

The public hearing is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers/Public Meeting Room, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard. Limited validated parking will be available in the adjacent West Hollywood Park five-Story structure.

Community members may view the public hearing live on WeHoTV on Spectrum Channel 10 within West Hollywood; by clicking on the ‘Watch Live’ link on the City’s WeHoTV website page www.weho.org/wehotv; or through City’s WeHo YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/wehotv.

It will also be live-streamed on streaming services such as AndroidTV, AppleTV, FireTV, and Roku. Digital streaming platform viewers can find programming by searching for “WeHoTV.”

Individuals who would like to provide comments but are unable to attend the hearing, or who would prefer to share their experience directly, can send their comments by email to Hernán Molina, the City of West Hollywood’s Governmental Affairs Liaison, at [email protected].

In January 2019, Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco introduced SB 159 HIV: preexposure and postexposure prophylaxis. The bill, which was signed by Governor Newsom into law on October 7, 2019, seeks to make PrEP and PEP more readily available to HIV negative individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection. SB 159 does so, among other things, by:

  • Authorizing a pharmacist to furnish PrEP and PEP in specified amounts and requires a pharmacist to furnish those drugs if certain conditions are met, including that the pharmacist determines the patient meets the clinical criteria for PrEP and PEP consistent with federal guidelines; and
  • Requiring a pharmacist, before furnishing PrEP and PEP, to complete a training program approved by the California State Board of Pharmacy.

Having easy access to PrEP and PEP and proper adherence to the recommended treatment are just two necessary steps in the efforts to reducing community transmission of HIV. PrEP is a key prevention strategy for ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports fewer than 25% of the approximately 1-million Americans who could benefit from PrEP are using this preventative medication. One of the goals of the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative is to have 50% of people who could benefit from PrEP using it by 2025.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a significant impact on the City of West Hollywood. The disease’s elevated infection rate among gay men caused a devastatingly high number of deaths in the City in the era following the City’s founding in 1984.

The City of West Hollywood was one of the first government entities to provide social services grants to local AIDS and HIV organizations. The City sponsored one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns in the country in October 1985 and the City’s response to the AIDS crisis has been recognized as a model for other cities, nationally and globally.

In 2015, the City of West Hollywood City Council adopted the HIV Zero Strategic Plan. The City Council directed staff to work with social service providers, community clinics, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and other governmental agencies to develop a strategic plan aimed at reducing the rates of transmission and slowing disease progression.

The City’s HIV Zero Initiative embraces a vision to “Get to Zero” on many fronts: Zero new infections. Zero progression of HIV to AIDS. Zero discrimination. Zero stigma. The City currently contracts with APLA Health, Healthcare in Action, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Men’s Health Foundation, and Planned Parenthood to provide biomedical interventions, such as PrEP and PEP to community members at risk of acquiring HIV.

For more information, please contact Hernán Molina, the City of West Hollywood’s Governmental Affairs Liaison, at (323) 848-6364 or at [email protected].

For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.

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Asia

Japanese Prime Minister sacks aide over anti-LGBTQ remarks

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience”

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President Joe Biden walks along the West Colonnade with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Friday, January 13, 2023, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

TOKYO – Masayoshi Arai, who until Saturday served as executive secretary to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was fired after he made anti-LGBTQ comments to reporters late Friday afternoon local time.

Arai told reporters in a gaggle at the prime minister’s office he would “not want to live next door” to an LGBTQ couple and that he does “not even want to look at them.”

He also said during an off-the-record conversation with reporters that if same-sex marriage is introduced in Japan, it would “change the way society is” and “quite a few people would abandon this country.”

At a press conference Saturday, a clearly agitated Kishida told reporters Arai’s remarks were “completely inconsistent with the policy of the Cabinet,” the prime minister adding, “We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society.”

Kishida acknowledged that he had fired Arai upon learning of the comments calling them “inexcusable.”

Tetsuro Fukuyama, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and member of the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet [Parliament] of Japan, took to Twitter writing:

“It’s an outrageous remark, even off the record. It would be a big problem if all the secretaries of the prime minister’s official residence had such a sense of human rights. “We respect human rights and values, but if same-sex marriage is recognized, some people will abandon the country.” Do you understand the meaning of respect? It deserves immediate dismissal.”

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience” on Twitter and noted that Arai had also said that all of Kishida’s executive secretaries are against same-sex marriage.

The lawmaker, also a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called for the entire team of secretaries to be dismissed and said he would pursue the matter in Parliament.

Japanese media outlet  Kyodo News reported that Japan has not legally recognized same-sex marriage as many members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, have opposed the concept, emphasizing the country’s traditional values such as the role of women in giving birth and raising children.

The 150-day ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 23. The latest gaffes about LGBTQ people will likely prompt left-leaning opposition bloc lawmakers to grill Kishida over his views on family affairs in Japan, political experts said.

Late last year, LGBTQ issues in Japan drew fresh attention as LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita, the then parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, was pressured to retract past remarks against sexual minority couples.

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Florida

DeSantis targets Orlando non-profit over holiday drag show

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The Plaza Live venue, Orlando, Florida (Photo Credit: Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation)

ORLANDO – Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis escalated his war on the state’s LGBTQ+ community ordering a state agency to launch a complaint against a Orlando non-profit over a drag holiday event it hosted in which children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed the complaint on Friday against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation alleging the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old. 

“A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the foundation on Dec. 28 and during the performance sold alcoholic drinks at its Plaza Live venue. In the complaint, the agency states that the foundation used “Christmas-themed promotional materials” that did not give advance notice of the “sexually explicit nature” of the show’s contents. 

The complaint also states that the division sent the foundation a letter ahead of the show saying “sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance” and the foundation’s license could be subject to penalties if it did not ensure minors could not attend the event. 

In its capacity as a regulator of alcohol, the division attempting to revoke the foundation’s liquor license for six alleged counts of violating Florida statutes. 

When asked about the move by the DeSantis administration targeting the non-profit, Bryan D. Griffin, the spokesman for DeSantis said “Governor DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something.”

Orlando Weekly writer Matthew Moyer noted that The Plaza Live — besides serving as the performing home base of the Orlando Philharmonic — hosts a robust slate of touring bands, comedians, YouTubers and, yes, drag performers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani released a statement to Orlando Weekly late Friday afternoon, condemning the state’s actions in no uncertain terms. “Governor Ron DeSantis’ culture wars are destroying people’s jobs and livelihoods. The very notion of shutting down a small business over a drag show is insane and extreme,” said Eskamani. “In the United States we do not allow the government to determine what we can read, see or hear or who we can gather with. Targeting drag performances limits everyone’s freedom of speech and is all a part of the Governor’s sick anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”

DeSantis previously filed a complaint against a popular restaurant and pub in the Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, alleging that it violated a public decency law in allowing children to attend a drag show.

The R house, is a unique casual fine dining establishment and lounge with an integrated gallery right in the heart of the vibrant Miami-Wynwood arts district named for Rocco Carulli, the executive chef as well as creator of the restaurant. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches! Make some time to check us out and experience R House.”

The complaint was filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on asking that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”

The department cited multiple incidents of inappropriate drag performances with kids in the audience, including one in which a child “between the ages of ten and twelve” was “seen recoiling and turning away in her seat as a Brunch performer climbed on the back of the child’s bench, squatted, and gyrated a couple of feet above the child’s head.”

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West Hollywood

WeHo to consider making restaurant OutZones permanent

The Chamber of Commerce says businesses expressed concern over the limited applicability of using on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining

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Outzone in front of Stache (Photo Credit: WEHO TIMES)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The West Hollywood City Council will discuss and debate the process, guidelines, and policies regarding making the restaurant OutZones permanent in the city.

Its Agenda Item 5.A. will be under review and is slated to be taken up at the regular city council meeting scheduled for Monday, February 6, starting at 6pm.

City Staff is recommending the City Council adopt an ordinance amending Chapter 11.28 regarding outdoor dining in the public right of way, authorizing the Director of Finance & Technology Services to allocate $25,000 from unallocated reserves in General Fund for the development of the Outdoor Dining Eligibility and Site Design Guide and related costs.

City Staff will provide any feedback, if necessary, on the proposed updates, including the eligibility criteria and design standard.

Restaurant OutZones 2020-2021 WEHO TIMES
Restaurant OutZones as of January 2023 – WEHO TIMES
OutZone at Larrabee Street – WEHO TIMES
Abbey Road Outzone 2020
Abbey Road Outzone 2023 – WEHO TIMES
Abbey Road Outzone 2023 – WEHO TIMES

According to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, City Commissions, Boards, and Staff met with the Chamber numerous times and then attended a number of the chamber’s standing meetings with business leaders. Overall, there was support for developing new standards to convert the temporary OUTZones into permanent outdoor dining.

An email from the The Chamber states that businesses expressed concern over the limited applicability of using on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining. As outlined in the report, the use of on-street parking for outdoor dining would only apply to businesses fronting a narrow sidewalk condition.

There were also concerns around the inability for a business with a limited frontage to expand dining areas in front of neighboring businesses. Because this item is addressing outdoor dining on the public-right-of-way and not outdoor dining on private property, the current proposal does not allow the business to establish separate arrangements with neighboring businesses for use of their adjacent public right-of-way.

“We are grateful to the Staff and Council for moving this issue forward, allowing us to keep this critical element for our restaurants and bars to continue to recover and help us to thrive,” reads a statement by WeHo Chamber CEO Genevieve Morrill.

OutZones 2020 – WEHO TIMES

In July 2020, the City began its Temporary Outdoor Expansion Permit (TOEP) program by offering streamlined approval for businesses to use sidewalks, on-street parking spaces, and private parking lots as areas to expand operations.

In August 25, 2020, the city had a soft opening for the first phase of the new OUT Zones program.

On August 31, 2020, the installation of protective k-rail barriers were completed in time for National Eat Outside Day, which is a day when people are encouraged to enjoy a meal, picnic, or snack in the outdoors.

Community members and business owners are encouraged to make comments, express concerns, and provide suggestions.

Editor’s Note: To participate by public comment via phone:

1. You are strongly encouraged to e-mail the City Clerk at [email protected] no later than 2:00 p.m. on the City Council meeting day, to be added to the Zoom Public Speaker List for the meeting. Please include your name, the phone number from which you will be calling, and which item you would like to speak on.

2. Dial-in 10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting (the meeting begins at 6:00 p.m.)
• Dial-in #: 669-900-6833
• Meeting I.D.: 847 9061 1250, then the pound # key

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Iowa

Iowa Governor notes ‘parental rights’ at anti-LGBTQ+ town hall

Reynolds and Republican lawmakers pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools

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Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed a town hall hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty Feb. 2, 2023, discussing “parental rights” legislation in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

By Robin Opsahl | DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators speaking at a “parental rights” event Thursday pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools and policies allowing students to socially transition without their parents’ consent.

“School choice” supporters gathered at Franklin Junior High School  in Des Moines Thursday evening for the town hall event, hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty. Reynolds cheered the passage of her private school scholarship plan in the first weeks of the 2023 session, and promised they were not done with education legislation.

“The last few years have provided so many reasons to be in this fight in the arena for kids,” Reynolds said. “And maybe for you it was how they were kept out of school wearing masks for no good reason. Maybe it was demonizing our country. Or an obsession with race in the classroom … I guess my message to you is, stay involved because parents and freedom still matter in Iowa.”

 A demonstrator yelled over Gov. Kim Reynolds speech while holding up a transgender pride flag at a Moms for Liberty Town Hall at Franklin Junior High School Feb. 2, 2023.
(Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Protesters tried to shout over Reynolds’ speech, with one demonstrator holding up a transgender flag. Others in the room cheered and shouted “USA” as police officers removed protesters from the room.

Supporters celebrated approval of the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, which gives students an account of $7,598 each year to use for private school tuition and associated costs. The national co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, said she was excited to hear about Iowa successfully passing ESAs, but said that’s just “one small little portion of issues that are facing public education.”

For years, she said, politicians were not paying much attention to education. But in Iowa and other states across the country, Descovich said parents are putting the issue “front and center” in their state’s policy agendas, and lawmakers in states like Iowa are listening to their requests to let families decide the best educational path for their children.

“I think I think parents want that now, you know, everything in society is more custom made, and so education should be a little bit more accessible and custom made,” Descovich said.

Seven Republican legislators answered questions from attendees about Iowa’s education system. Many questions were focused on class material and discussion around gender identity. Reynolds and parents brought up Linn-Mar Community School District as an example of what’s wrong with modern schools.

The school district has a “gender support policy,” which allows a student to meet with the school to discuss socially transitioning by using a different name, pronouns and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The district allows children to choose who is involved in those meetings with the school, and lets the child decide whether to involve their parent or guardian.

Lawmaker calls gender-affirming policies a ‘slippery slope’

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said school board members claimed the school could not reverse this policy because it would violate state and federal civil rights protections given based on gender identity.

House lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday banning school districts from letting a student use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth without written parental consent. House File 190 was also introduced Thursday to remove gender identity as a protected category from the state’s civil rights act.

“Mental illness should not be accommodated as a civil right,” Shipley said Thursday.

When a teacher asked the legislators at the forum about studies that showed the use of a transgender child’s preferred name and pronouns lowers suicide rates, Shipley said there were conflicting reports how to help transgender children with mental health problems. But he said policies like Linn-Mar Community School District’s are a “slippery slope.”

Using a child’s preferred name and pronouns without their parents’ knowledge could lead to them undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender-affirming surgeries without their parents consent, he said. How to best support transgender people is a conversation the Legislature will be discussing a lot going forward he said.

“I know other states have done things to prohibit these therapies,” he said, referencing conversation therapy. “So I think this is a conversation we’re going to have to have as a state to really decide what is the best standards of practice of therapy, what do kids need to alleviate the dysphoria and form actual identities that can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”

Lawmakers address concerns about lack of choice access for special-needs students

Multiple parents also brought up concerns about how the ESA program will impact their special needs children. Legislators said they hoped to see expanded private school options for children with special needs, and were in discussions about potential future legislation to encourage more private institutions to special education students and offer more specialized educational programs.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he believes some private schools have not accepted special-education students because they didn’t have the resources. “And this bill was going to give them a lot more resources,” he said. “And so I’m hopeful that that alone is going to allow them to take a lot more special needs children.”

The conservative legislators assured the crowd that they would continue to provide parents more options for their children’s schooling going forward. Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, said Iowa’s decision to desegregate schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education shows the state has always been committed to school choice.

“And that is all we are asking, and yes, demanding, that we have the ability to educate our children in the best way at the best school that is appropriate for my child’s success. To prepare my boy, my girl, your child, for success,” Andrews said. “And that’s all school choice.”

Moms For Liberty: Giving Parents A Voice Town Hall – IOWA

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Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations.

They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register’s Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa’s 4th District elections.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

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California

Newsom honors CHP officers w/Medal of Valor, names CHP head

Governor Newsom recognized CHP officers Ryan Ayers & Kenneth Weckman for their bravery & names Sean Duryee to head the agency

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CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee, Calif. Attorney General Rob Bonta, CHP officers Ryan Ayers & Kenneth Weckman with Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom recognized California Highway Patrol officers Ryan Ayers and Kenneth Weckman for their actions that went above and beyond the call of duty by awarding them with the Governor’s Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor – the highest state award for valor presented to a public safety officer.

“The heroes we are honoring today are men who showed extraordinary compassion, bravery, and sacrifice,” said Newsom. “Officers Ayers and Weckam are examples of the California spirit, our dedication to each other, and to doing the right thing. I am proud to recognize their heroic efforts and work.”

On August 6, 2021, Officer Ryan Ayers was off duty driving on US 101 in San Luis Obispo, California, when he observed a crash involving a semi-truck which ran off the road. Ayers climbed down the hillside to access the cab of the truck and found the driver unconscious. As the vehicle began to fill with smoke, without regard for his own safety, he cleared debris to access the driver. He was able to safely remove the driver seconds prior to the vehicle becoming fully engulfed in flames.

On December 6, 2021, Officer Kenneth Weckman was dispatched to a vehicle blocking the roadway in Marysville, California. As Weckman investigated the abandoned vehicle, he found a woman in crisis in a canal, attempting to smother a small child in the dirt and water. Weckman immediately attempted to rescue the child from the woman, as she violently resisted. After a struggle, He was able to save the child from the muddy waters. With the assistance of other officers who arrived on scene, the woman was safely taken into custody.

“Officer Ayers’ and Officer Weckman’s heroic actions undoubtedly saved the lives of these individuals” said CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee. “Their bravery, character, professionalism, and willingness to serve with such extraordinary valor exemplify their commitment to the communities they serve.”

On Friday Newsom announced his appointment of Sean Duryee as Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, where he has been serving as Acting Commissioner and has held several roles since 1998. 
 
“A veteran of the CHP, Commissioner Duryee has dedicated his career to serving the people of California, starting as a Cadet decades ago,” said Newsom. “His leadership, extensive experience and dedication will continue to serve California well and I thank him for taking on this new role.” 

Governor Newsom with CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee
(Photo Credit: Office of Governor of California)


Duryee, 48, of Galt, has served as Acting Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol since January 2023. He served in several positions at CHP from 1998 to 2022, including Deputy Commissioner, Executive Assistant to the Commissioner, Special Representative to the Legislature, Commander of the Department’s Commercial Vehicle Section, Academy Instructor and Cadet.

He is a coach for the Liberty Ranch High School Girls Varsity Basketball Team. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $315,348. Duryee is registered without party preference.

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