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Breaking: California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman resigns

Despite midterm victory, internal firing squad aims at gay political operative

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Eric Bauman at the California Democratic Party Convention Feb. 2018. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Breaking: Eric Bauman, the first openly LGBT Chair of the California Democratic Party, announced his resignation Thursday following a story in the Los Angeles Times in which 10 staffers and political activists allege sexual harassment and misconduct by the longtime Democratic activist.

“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the Party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign my position as chair of the California Democratic Party,” Bauman said in a statement to The Times after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Controller Betty Yee and others, including Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur,  called on him to step down.

The Times did not indicate whether the investigation would continue or now be halted or what process might occur to replace Bauman.

The following is the cover story for the Los Angeles Blade filed Thursday morning before Bauman’s announcement:

In addition to the historic flipping of rock red Republican congressional seats and electing California’s first openly gay statewide official, Democrats virtually decimated the state GOP during the midterm elections. “It’s been decades since California Democrats had this much power at the Capitol,” blared a Nov. 26 Sacramento Bee headline.

Democrats, The Bee wrote, “are on pace to control three-fourths of the Assembly — 60 out of 80 seats — a feat has not been accomplished in 135 years, in 1883. In the Senate, Democrats are likely to grab 29 seats out of 40, which would be the party’s largest advantage since 1962 (except for a brief period in 2012).”

But Democrats seem to have a penchant for complicating victories, forming a circular firing squad to kill off or maim someone perceived to have too much power.  A rump group of House rebels—considered by some to be the Democratic equivalent of the Republican Freedom Caucus—is challenging establishment Leader Nancy Pelosi in her historic campaign to re-take the gavel as Speaker next year, despite Pelosi’s winning midterm messaging.

And in California, a handful of Democratic Party staffers and associates—some of whom were aligned with Kimberly Ellis, Bauman’s 2017 Berniecratic opponent for party chair—have alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault charges against Bauman, forcing him to take a leave of absence while Debra Henshaw Vierra from the outside law firm of Churchwell White investigates the allegations.

But given the publicity, the rush to judgment and societal interpretations of gay male gestures and flirtations by today’s #MeToo standards, it is very possible that no matter what the determination of the official investigation, Bauman—one of the key architects of the California midterm success—may not be able to shake the scarlet letter of misconduct.

So what happened? Is Bauman the political Kevin Spacey or California’s Al Franken or an old-fashion gay guy who talks sincerely about sexual harassment but hasn’t applied it to his own gay culture flirtations?

The story that may bring down a “kingmaker” burst into the open the weekend of Nov. 23-25 during the CDP Executive Board meeting. But it originated before the Nov. 6 elections, according to news accounts. Bauman was leading a statewide get-out-the-vote bus tour when “two young women on the bus reported alcohol was consumed and inappropriate sex talk occurred on Nov. 1,” out David Campos, chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, told the Associated Press. 

They were headed for a Nov. 2 event in San Francisco with Leader Pelosi but when “her campaign team and Campos learned of the incidents aboard the bus,” they told state party officials “that Bauman and the bus should stay away,” Campos told AP. The wire service added that “it appeared Bauman engaged in the misbehavior and did not intervene to stop others from acting inappropriately,” citing Campos as the source.

“We felt, and I felt, it was important for us, given we had serious credible allegations, not to have Chair Bauman attend this get-out-the-vote event in San Francisco,” said Campos, who first revealed the details to the Bay Area Reporter. 

On Nov. 28, the Los Angeles Times published interviews with the two young women. Grace Leekley, 21, identified as a temporary worker in the party’s communications department, who said she did not want to ride on the bus because of Bauman. But she met up with the tour Nov. 1 in Chico and joined the staff for lunch. She sat next to Kate Earley, 21, identified as having started about six weeks earlier as the party’s digital director.

“Leekley and Earley said that during the lunch, Bauman shushed the staffers at the table and then asked the women, within earshot of their colleagues, if the two were having an affair. When both women said no, Bauman pressed the issue, they said, telling them he would not mind if they were involved in a sexual relationship so long as it did not affect the workplace,” The Times reported.

Described another way—Bauman teasingly asked the two young women if they were a couple—it was OK if they were, just not at work. And herein lies a problem: Bauman may have thought he was warmly joking around but it was apparently perceived by the two new young staffers as sexual harassment and they felt intimidated.

CDP Chair Eric Bauman with Michael Andraychak, his husband of more than 30 years. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“I felt really embarrassed, almost ashamed, and uncomfortable,” Leekley told The Times. “I’m basically bottom-of-the-barrel staff — and he’s the most powerful man in the party. I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything.”

“A party staffer told The Times that he heard Bauman make the comments and said the two women told him afterward they felt deeply uncomfortable. Earley filed a complaint to her supervisor within 30 minutes of the incident and spoke with the human resources department later that day, she said. Her attorney said the complaint remains unresolved,” The Times reported Nov. 28. “As of the time he took a leave of absence on Monday, Bauman had not seen a formal complaint, according to a source close to the chairman.” As of Nov. 29, CDP spokeperson Mike Roth has not replied to inquires from the Los Angeles Blade about if and when any complaints have been officially filed and by whom.

It is not yet known what Earley’s supervisor or the human resources department did with her complaint. But here’s where things get murky.

The bus tour incident occurred on Nov. 1 but apparently nothing more was said or done until Nov. 23, the Black Friday after Thanksgiving, when party Vice-Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall suddenly circulated a “Statement of Charges” to members via email and on social media alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault and a call for Bauman to resign. But he apparently did not confront Bauman directly during the Executive Board meeting.

“This past weekend, I learned of multiple serious and credible allegations that Chairman Bauman sexually harassed, and in some cases sexually assaulted, individuals during party functions, and of at least one incident of Chairman Bauman tampering with witnesses. I have spoken directly with two victims, who confirm the allegations, and I spoke to the potential witness whom Chairman Bauman intimidated. I understand there are additional victims as well,” Larimore-Hall wrote. “ I believe the victims. Their stories illustrate a clear and escalating pattern of Chairman Bauman’s horrific and dehumanizing behavior.”

Larimore-Hall is not specific about the charges, doesn’t identify the victims and asks for respect for the victims’ privacy rights. In a second letter, he explains that he was approached “by a number of Party staff who confided in me their stories of sexual harassment and assault” by Bauman. He calls them “survivors,” and “young political professionals, many of whom are at the very beginning of their careers.” Obviously, he says, “it is completely unacceptable for Chairman Bauman to remain in office given these credible, corroborated and utterly heart-breaking allegations.” 

The first note sounds like Leekley and Earley and the party staffer who overheard Bauman talk to the young women at lunch. But when and how did the two turn into a “number of Party Staff” who came forward to share their experiences? This is before Rep. Ro Khanna (D-San Jose) broke the allegations wide open with a tweet on Friday, Nov. 23.

The allegations of sexual assault that @DarakaKenric is filing against @EricBauman are shocking. CalDems should replace him with @mldauber who is one of the nation’s foremost scholars on sexual harassment & led the Persky recall campaign. We need a bold feminist to lead for 2020.”

When Stanford law professor Michele Dauber said thanks but no thanks, others suggested that “a more fitting successor for Bauman would be Kimberly Ellis, who lost the election for party chair by just 62 votes after a contentious race in 2017. Dauber and Khanna agreed that Ellis—who represented the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party—would be well qualified for the role, if she still wants it. Ellis did not immediately respond to a request for comment,” sanjoseinside.com reported Saturday.

Were the Party staffers Ellis supporters who Bauman hired to try to create unity after the infamously contentious race for Party chair? Or were they staffers from former chair John Burton’s regime, when Bauman served as party vice-chair? If the latter, why did none of them come forward during that 2009-2017 time period when Burton was more intimidating than Bauman? And while there were rumors about Bauman being “handsy” at parties, as one gay person told the Los Angeles Blades, there were no official or registered complaints or leaked stories about Bauman during the 17 years he served as Chair of the LA County Democratic Party.

Bauman, a registered nurse, started his political career at Stonewall Democratic Club where he grew the club into a political powerhouse helping elect local, state and national candidates. His behind-the-scenes strategic political acumen resulted in senior-level positions in state government, including serving as Senior Advisor and LA Director of office services for Speakers John A. Perez, Toni Atkins and Anthony Rendon; Senior Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez; Senior Advisor to Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and when Garamendi served as Insurance Commissioner; Special Assistant to Gov. Gray Davis and Director of Davis’ LA Office. While some politicos complained about his gruff Bronx/Jewish style, he also served as a generous mentor to many and no credible complaint was leaked to the press or filed from a staffer or party-goer during this time.

Eric Bauman (on right) at event where Gov. Gray Davis (seated) signed domestic partnership bill. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

However, during Bauman’s unexpectedly heated race to become the first openly LGBT CDP chair in May 2017, a number of inaccurate accusations from the Ellis camp emerged. The worst was that he had engaged in “inappropriate behavior with 14- and 16-year-old boys,” an old but painful and effective trope used against LGBT people. “What they’re accusing me of is being a child predator! And I lost it. I started crying uncontrollably,” Bauman told the Los Angeles Blade (May 15, 2017). Then Bauman thought: “how many people are accused of things or are victims of abuse and they hide in shame and so it continues?”

He fumed in an email. “This is despicable! This is not the Democratic Party! These are Trumpian tactics and it has to stop! I’m a pretty tough guy and I can take the attacks, lies, distortions, and mud that has been slung at me pretty well,” Bauman wrote. “But to accuse me of child abuse, especially of this nature, is beyond the pale and 100% unacceptable.”

The Machiavellian rumor was apparently started by a gay Ellis supporter. Ellis denounced the tactic but references to the rumor have shown up in social media responses to the current allegations. It’s hard to un-ring a bell. 

Bauman seemed too politically savvy to cross lines of propriety. In Dec. 2011, in an unflattering LA Weekly story calling him the “L.A. Democratic Party Kingmaker,” the author describes Bauman’s arm-twisting as “machine politics at its finest.” To which Bauman replied: “I don’t make promises or ask people to do things in a quid pro quo format. That would be against the law. I’m way too high-profile, way too visible a guy to do that.”

The Los Angeles Blade spoke with numerous gay and straight politicos familiar with Bauman and his decades-long leadership in the Democratic Party. They requested anonymity for fear of being dragged into a controversy that might sully their own name or out of respect for the due-process investigation or not wanting to appear to attack the alleged victims. 

Two gay men independently said that years ago Bauman said hello with a lingering pat or quick grab of the butt at an event—but neither man considered the touch sexual harassment. They said Bauman never followed up with anything physical or with sexually explicit comments. Several people said they saw him drink but never saw him drunk. Others said he was often flirtatious, would give an unexpected shoulder rub and sometimes made lewd jokes and risqué gestures that made some people uncomfortable—but never to the degree that he should be reported for sexual harassment. No one ever experienced or witnessed him commit the crime of sexual assault such as grabbing or groping. 

But there were notes of hesitation, too. “I don’t believe any of it,” one politico told the Los Angeles Blade. “Except Larimore-Hall is too smart to use the term ‘sexual assault’ unless he had something behind it.”

“I take seriously any allegation brought forward by anyone who believes they have been caused pain,” Bauman said in a statement that did not include an abject denial. He announced the independent investigation “ensuring these individuals making the charges are treated with respect and free from any concerns of retaliation.” He added that he looks “forward to putting these allegations behind us and moving forward as unified Democrats.” Alex Gallardo-Rooker, another party vice chair, is serving as acting chairwoman during the investigation.

The story grabbed national headlines but seemed to disappear as other splashier news moved center stage. And then came the Nov. 28 bombshell, with The Times interviews of 10 party staffers and political activists who claimed Bauman “made crude sexual comments and engaged in unwanted touching or physical intimidation in professional settings.”

“People just didn’t know how to speak up about it,” Allan Acevedo, an activist with California Young Democrats told The Times. “There was a sense of loyalty. Not just to him, but to any advancement that any LGBT person makes in terms of us having representation at the table.”

“Eight current party staffers said that, while he was serving as chairman, Bauman would regularly make sexually explicit comments in the workplace to men and women, including remarks about sexual acts, his and other staffers’ genitalia, and being sexually attracted to staff members,” The Times reported, citing some accusers by name. “The eight staff members each said they also experienced or witnessed Bauman engaging in unwanted touching, particularly directed toward male staffers.”

The California Democratic Party’s handbook defines prohibited behavior, including sexual harassment and assault, and prohibits the use of alcohol while at work. On Nov. 28, Bauman, 59, said he’s going to rehab.

”I deeply regret if my behavior has caused pain to any of the outstanding individuals with whom I’ve had the privilege to work. I appreciate the courage it took for these individuals to come forward to tell their stories,” Bauman said in a statement. “In the interest of allowing the CDP’s independent investigation to move forward, I do not wish to respond to any of the specific allegations. However, I will use the time I am on leave to immediately seek medical intervention to address serious, ongoing health issues and to begin treatment for what I now realize is an issue with alcohol.”

What will the investigation determine? Was this a behind-the-scenes political coup by progressive purists who want to rid the CDP of the old guard? Are the allegations asserted by a new generation with internalized homophobia? Or might Bauman have been blind to his own bad behavior? In any event, there has been a coup—an overthrowing of the old gay cultural attitudes of physical and verbal coziness, which is unacceptable in today’s professional environment.

“Leading the California Democratic Party to historic victories has been the honor of a lifetime, and I look forward to continuing this important work upon the conclusion of the investigation and when my health allows,” Bauman said in his statement.

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LACCD’s Next Generation of Pride, looking to the future

LA Community College students are true heroes overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in pursuit of a college education

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

LOS ANGELES – Sofia C. Zaragoza is a 19 year old queer Latinx student from the LACCD’s LA Pierce College. Zaragoza, an English major, is transferring from the Pierce campus to University of California, Berkeley in the Fall of 2021.

She has also been recently accepted in to the Mellon Mayes Undergraduate Research Fellowship where she will continue her research in English through what she calls “an interdisciplinary feminist lens.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Blade on Wednesday, Zaragoza told the paper that her passion for social justice, equity and literature led her to hold various positions in her college including as a Student Senator, a Chair on a Student Government committee, where she has maintained inclusion as her top priority.

She believes that her intersectional identity has led her to provide a diverse and enriching perspective for any and all activities which she is a part of. Finally, she hopes to eventually provide this same supporting, enriching environment for future generations of students through her career, she says.

“In many ways I think I was privileged- in high school (Grover Cleveland Charter High School) with the program I was in- also the Gay-Straight Alliance,” she said.

Sofia C. Zaragoza

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District told the Blade that it is committed to providing a safe learning environment for all of its students, so that in the case of Zaragoza, that commitment becomes foundational later on as the students enter college or continue on into a work environment. She told the Blade she did feel that support while attending Cleveland.

While attending LACCD’s Pierce she says she very much felt the support for her identity as a queer Latinx. The only elements she felt represented a personal loss was the interruption of her academics by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The biggest loss was the in-person, oh! and social interactions,” she said. She credits the educational opportunities that LACCD provided her as making admission to UC Berkley a reality.

Haunted by carrying the weight of navigating an often intolerant society as a gay, woman of
color, Nadia Noemi Martinez channels these ghosts both as an academic and as a writer.

Touching upon experience, vulnerability, and romance based upon these identities, her writing
attempts to capture these difficulties through vulnerable emotives and the embodiment of her
own intimate transparency with her readers, Noemi tells the Blade.

Nadia Noemi Martinez

“The LACCD system prepared me,” she said. “I found my ground, discovered, upholstered in life by my professors- letting me reach for what I will now experience.”

In addition to her own personal life experiences, Nadia dedicates much of her growth and self-discovery to the narratives and work enacted by the queer activists before her–and certainly to those who will come after. With an acceptance into Hunter College in New York City as an English Literature major this upcoming Fall, she will continue the importance of challenging the literary canon and the structure of higher education itself in relation to marginalized identities.

Her central belief that through the outlet of creating art, such as prose and poetry, is one of the most profound ways to express what is foreign to those outside the confines of a queer body. While she hopes for her voice and her experiences to be heard, she wishes for the narratives of those closest and dear to her, to be heard, too.

“It was the discovery at ELAC in that Queer Lit class that gave me foundations,” Noemi said.

A thirty-six year old single mom, with a bright sense of humor even as she battles a bit of a physical challenge, Jamey Dee, who told the Blade, “I choose to use “queer” to be all-inclusive” is grateful to LACCD and Pierce college for drastically improving her quality of life.

“LACCD helped me with my extreme dyslexia and made it possible for me to graduate Pierce college, which has been a blessing in my life,” she said.

“I would love to continue to work to help LACCD and Pierce college in the future with my Law degree. I am starting Cal Lutheran in the fall and then plan to go to law school,” she added. [California Lutheran University is a private liberal arts university in Thousand Oaks, California.] “I also want to help battered women and the queer community with pro bono law, as a way to help and give back.”

Dee told the Blade that she went to school to help herself grow and expand her business opportunities. From her adolescence in Ventura County to bouncing around the Pacific Northwest and then back to California, Dee said that her journey was difficult. But when she was finally settled in and enrolled at Pierce, it was the Disabled Student Program and Services (DSPS) office and a kind staffer named David Phoenix who finally identified her severe case of dyslexia and then worked alongside her to ensure her academic success.

That sense of accomplishment coupled with a greater sense of stability, and a loving partner, led to her successful graduation from Pierce. “It’s been beneficial, it has helped me, myself as I navigate my journey,” she said.

Jamey Dee

Michael P Fuller, LACCD’s Director of Institutional Advancement pointed out, “LA Community College students are true heroes overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in pursuit of a college education.”

Fuller, also noted; “During the past year of unprecedented challenges, foundations and individuals have stepped up to make 2020 the most successful fundraising year ever for the Foundation for the Los Angeles Community Colleges.

In turn, the Foundation gave out more than 25,000 awards directly to students including laptops, grocery gift cards, food deliveries, internet hotspots, and grants for emergency situations.  These grants and awards change lives forever and affect generations to come.”

Troy Masters, publisher of the Los Angeles Blade said that the Blade Foundation, a 501C3 arm of the Los Angeles Blade and Washington Blade, will support an LGBT scholarship program through the office of Director Fuller aimed at developing the academic careers of LGBTQIA students who wish to pursue journalism.

“Supporting LGBTQIA youth who show promise as journalists and who value media for its ability to further social justice and the needs of our people is something dear to my heart. It’s time for my generation to pass the baton,” said Masters. adding “a scholars program to support community college students is the right way to go on so many levels.”

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Next Generation Pride; LACCD enacts LGBTQ+ student’s Bill of Rights

One of the important facets of campus life for an LGBTQ+ student is to ensure that the student feels safe and the environment is inclusive

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LACCD Trustee David Vela with students (Photo by Joshua Applegate Creatives)

LOS ANGELES – If a student’s life isn’t stable then they cannot be expected to learn and the immediate environment around that them is key says David Vela, the only openly LGBTQ+ Trustee for the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). One of the important elements of campus life for an LGBTQ+ student is ensure that the student feels safe and that the environment is welcoming and embraces a feeling of inclusion, he notes.

In the Fall of 2020, Vela worked hard to ensure that the entire Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees approved LGBTQ+ Bill of Rights resolution that calls on all nine of the system’s colleges to promote equity and equality for their LGBTQ+ communities.

This was made difficult, he acknowledged, by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet during a Zoom conference on Oct. 7, 2020 the Board of Trustees approved his resolution.

The student-led newspaper The Valley Star, from the Los Angeles Valley College reported the resolution called for the district and colleges to review anti-discrimination policies and procedures and determine changes that could better support LGBTQ+ students and staff.

It also called on the nine colleges to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month every October, plus host events that bring visibility to the community. It also provides for Cultural Responsiveness Training related to LGBTQ+ issues for faculty and administrators and ensure the success of clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance. LACCD also implemented gender-neutral language in official documents.

The coronavirus pandemic also added additional strain and stress for LGBTQ+ students. Many LGBTQ+ students are still not out to family for a variety of reasons, primarily because most live in non-affirming home.

LACCD has an estimated 10,000 students who self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, but a high percentage of that number rely on the safety and security of the colleges to be open about themselves.

Providing the sense of security for students is a priority for Felipe Agredano-Lozano,  the LGBTQIA Faculty Liaison for the Los Angeles Community College District.  Agredano-Lozano teaches Chicana/o Studies LGBTQ courses and Political Science at East Los Angeles college.

Agredano-Lozano told the Blade in an interview Tuesday that one of the many steps that were implemented to assist LGBTQ+ students at his home campus at East Los Angeles College was a simple symbol to let the students know that there were safe spaces and safe faculty members to talk to — a Monarch butterfly with Rainbow wings.

The Monarch butterfly Rainbow symbol represents important symbolism for trans people, representing metamorphosis. For gay men it is perhaps a little more poetic, evoking the glamorous beauty of the butterfly’s wings being hidden in a drab pupae, according to Meghan Hibicke, a Postdoctoral Researcher at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans.

But for LACCD students it is above all a symbol of safe spaces.

Agredano-Lozano noted that ‘wrap-around’ services is an absolute must. “Each student we have is different,” he said. “We need to account for LGBTQ+ students who are DACA students, or ex-offenders released from prison, or military veterans, or just homeless youth who wish to succeed.”

“We also need to adapt as a college community to the changing needs of our students. For example, on some campuses a ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ club is now a ‘Gender-Sexuality Awareness’ club,” he said.

Agredano-Lozano, who started with the LACCD in 2001, marveled at the ever evolving landscape for LGBTQ+ equality and rights along with a wider acceptance societally for LGBTQ+ people. For example he pointed to the end of ‘Don’t ask-Don’t tell which allowed for open military service for lesbian and gay servicemembers. Then the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges which made same-sex marriage a legal right, finally having President Joe Biden order the end to a ban on transgender military service as well as reestablishing other trans rights that had been eliminated by the previous presidency of Donald Trump.

But he cautions, there is still a long path forward such as one day having an Equality Act passed to protect LGBTQ+ Americans. He also acknowledged the challenges that he and other LACCD faculty and staff face in broadening the scope of their focus to be more inclusive of gender non-binary and gender fluid students.

Agredano-Lozano sees progress as organic growth, tracking from his earliest days dealing with no to limited visibility for LGBTQ+ students and his teaching just the one course of Queer Literature to encompassing a full slate- Chicano Studies, Queer Studies, LGBTQ+ history, and working hard to expand student clubs addressing multiple needs.

He is most proud of the ‘Butterfly’ safe zones for students which he sees boosting students academically as well as supporting their personal well-being.

Felipe Agredano-Lozano, LACCD faculty picture

“One of the areas that LACCD has really taken a leading role with is our Health Centers,” he said. Access to medical care for LGBTQ+ students is critical he noted. He also pointed with pride at the relationship that the LACCD has built with the Los Angeles LGBT Center which provides additional resources for the LGBTQ+ students.

In a return to the first part of the conversation Agredano-Lozano pointed out that the LACCD is the number one feeder for both the University of California and the Cal-State systems. “I think though, that we need to be looked at as more than a ‘last chance university’ or as just a basic college level 2 year degree,” he said. “For our students, we teach them to be resilient, that goals are attainable even with considerable adversity seemingly blocking a path. We teach them, and in our wrap around principles that success is achievable and that uniqueness is a positive trait.”

He pointed out that during the pandemic, even students forced to be at home in non-affirming environments still found creative ways to work around problems. “There were more than a few who attended class in the bathroom,” he wryly pointed out.

Last Fall when the LACCD’s LGBTQ+ Bill of Rights was passed, Trustee Mike Fong said; “The district’s LGBTQIA+ Bill of Rights resolution is just the first step. We need to make sure the district and the colleges fulfill the promises made to ensure diversity and inclusivity are not just words on a resolution, but action.”

Next, Part III: LACCD’s Next Generation of Pride

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Los Angeles

Next Generation Pride; LACCD plays critical role in their success

In its nearly eight decades, the Los Angeles Community College District has served as educator to more than three million students

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LACC Student Union building (Photo courtesy of LACC)

LOS ANGELES – It is entirely safe to argue that nowhere in the environs of higher education will a person find a greater reflection of the racial and ethnic diversity, jobless students, military-connected students, homeless and couch-surfing students, delayed-entry students, and older students than a community college. Also arguably a person seeking that diversity will also find a significant LGBTQ+ student body population.

As steadily increasing numbers students of color and first-generation students enroll in colleges, for many LGBTQ+ students a community college represents the first rung on the ladder of personal success by way of an attainable goal of a degree or certificate. A consideration of which is affordability which encompasses a whole person approach, especially for an LGBTQ+ identified student.

The First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden is a powerful education advocate and one who has on-the-job knowledge of the importance of higher learning having taught freshman English classes for a number of years in the Northern Virginia Community College system in suburban Fairfax County outside Washington D.C.. 

Earlier this Spring Dr. Biden, during a visit to Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Illinois renewed her call for affordable community college for all Americans who wish to attend, and also revisiting her support for free community colleges.

Speaking to students, faculty members, and staff, Biden noted that “Community colleges meet students where they are,” saying, “We can’t afford to exclude so many from continuing their education just because they come from certain areas or income brackets.”

“I am — first, foremost and forever — their writing professor, Dr. B,” Biden said. “In my class, my students don’t take anything for granted. Some are there for a head start on a four-year degree, others for a much-needed fresh start.” Biden said her students appreciate the affordability and flexibility of community college, and she understands the importance of education for overall economic growth.

According to research conducted by the American Association of Community Colleges, the average annual amount for tuition and fees for community college are $3,770, versus $10,560 per year for public, four-year college.

In its nearly eight decades, the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) has served as educator to more than three million students. Spread out over nine college campuses, LACCD educates almost three times as many Latino students and nearly four times as many African-American students as all of the University of California campuses combined.

The Los Angeles Community College District’s nine community colleges are located throughout an area of more than 882 square miles within the County of Los Angeles; Los Angeles City College, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles Mission College, ​Los Angeles Pierce College, Los Angeles ​Southwest College, ​Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, Los Angeles Valley College and West Los Angeles College.

Eighty percent of LACCD students are from underserved populations and more than half of all LACCD students are older than 25 years of age, with more than a quarter who are 35 or older. 

The very factors that Dr. Biden pointed out in her speech at Sauk Valley Community College are core tenets for the trustees, faculty, and staff of the LACCD. Importantly as the LACCD notes in its handbook, “Community colleges serve adults of all ages, meeting the needs of a society where “lifelong learning” is the rule and multiple careers and continual retraining are the norm.”

Beyond those factors are the complications that arose from the devastating affects of the global coronavirus pandemic, especially financial issues.  Yet that term according to Inside Higher Education has dual meaning.

“Financial issues” can be a euphemism for deeper mental and emotional problems. Colleges need to be sure faculty and staff members are informed about all the potential signs of mental distress, as well as about resources for students who need support and assistance. Commuter and other students would benefit from campus counseling services online in addition to safely distanced in-person sessions. To meet overwhelming demand, colleges should consider adding services by online providers that work directly with counseling centers, Inside Higher Education noted in a July 23, 2020 article.

LGBTQ+ students face greater challenges

David Vela, the first openly LGBTQ+ Trustee in the LACC district, chairs the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on LGBTQ+ Affairs. On Monday Vela spoke with the Blade about the unique circumstances that confront LGBTQ+ students across all campuses.

LACCD Trustee David Vela on the campus of East Los Angeles College
(Photo by Joshua Applegate Creatives)

“The main focus for me as well as all of our trustees, the faculty, and staff is to ensure that the primary mission of the LACCD is met with each and every one of or students,” Vela said. “The priority is ‘completion,’ whether it is a certificate, a two-year Associate degree or successfully transferring the student to either the UC system or Cal-State systems to finish out a 4 year degree.”

Vela stressed that all of the LACCD students are assisted in three major ways; Academic, Housing and Food security and financial aid. ” Our colleges are the number one alternative to the UC system and as such we are a critical element of ensuring a student’s personal success,” he said.

The LGBTQ+ students in fact, like most of the minority groups on the LACCD campuses, are faced with unique circumstances. But in addition, their status with their gender identity or sexual orientation often will complicate matters.

One of the primary considerations is housing, especially for students of color. A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law surveying a majority of providers of homeless youth services reported that youth of color reported to be disproportionately overrepresented among LGBTQ clients accessing homelessness services.

Respondents reported a median 31% of their LGBTQ clients identifying as African American/Black, 14% Latino(a)/Hispanic, 1% Native American, and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander.

Access to safe spaces is a priority for LACCD says Vela. Beyond Housing security comes accompanying issues of broadband access and addressing food insecurity he added.

Focusing on safe housing by partnering with the City of Los Angeles, the County, and the State of California is an ongoing mission Vela told the Blade.

One of the primary ways to address these issues he said is by a total embracing of a student’s experience within the LACCD system. Of special importance is to promote equity and equality for the LGBTQ communities across all nine campuses.

Next, Part II: LACCD enacts LGBTQ+ Bill of Rights

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