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Meet the LGBT staffers — the power behind the lawmakers

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January 20, 1961. Thousands of young people gathered around their television sets to watch John F. Kennedy, America’s second youngest President, deliver his stirring Inaugural Address. 

“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” said JFK, 43, glowing in that cold winter day. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Awakened to the heartbeat of patriotism, young people rushed to join the Peace Corp or find or create other noble ways to be of public service. Everything felt new. Splashes of color emboldened the counter-culture movement to wiggle like a butterfly out of the black and white conformity of the 1950s and indulge in a fresh freedom of expression.

Almost 57 years later, a new generation—including LGBT youth—is emerging out of stultifying siloes manufactured by the privileged to contain thousands of young people straining to be free from biased rules and outmoded definitions of progress. Many of these young people seem invisible – and yet they are the power behind the lawmakers and being of service in a country in which everyone, theoretically, is equal under the rule of law. And in California, the next generation of lawmakers is welcome.

“Engaging millennials in the political process – whether through voter registration and participation, or by promoting them to senior leadership roles in our government is good for the future of California. I’m fortunate to have talented, hardworking advisors whose diverse backgrounds and perspectives make me a better Secretary of State,” Sec. of State Alex Padilla tells the Los Angeles Blade.

Out State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins introduce Healthcare for All bill (Photo via Facebook) 

And today, young new heroes like Ricardo Lara—who came out at San Diego State “ready to fight”—have worked hard and risen through the ranks, proudly representing both the LGBT and Latino communities. On Nov. 6, he made California history becoming the first openly gay man elected statewide as Insurance Commissioner.

“Growing up when California Republicans like Gov. Pete Wilson were leading the charge against people who looked and loved the way I do was a rude awakening,” Lara tells the Los Angeles Blade. “My parents had come to the U.S. without papers and became citizens. I felt like this was my country, but the hatred made me feel like a stranger. As a student I joined the campaigns against laws to deny undocumented immigrants the place in our society they had earned through their contributions to our state. That led to me to seek out mentors who stood against bigotry, and when I had my chance to run for Assembly, I took it.”

There was never a question that Lara would run for office “open and unabashed. As Harvey Milk said, ‘burst down the closet doors once and for all, stand up and start to fight,’” Lara says. “I had the opportunity to work with brave leaders like Marco Firebaugh, who wrote the law treating undocumented students the same as Californians in college admissions. He proudly represented people who had never had a voice, making sure that gender or immigration status was no obstacle to their success. After I was elected I got to go back to school as a David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow, where I met other young leaders dedicating themselves to serve.”

Sen. Ricardo Lara’s SB 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act,” regulating the “troubled teen” industry was signed by Gov. Brown in Oct. 2016 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Lara now gives back what he received. “I am always excited when a new leader is elected who has never served before, at whatever level. As those who have walked this path, it’s our job to remind them that being courageous in their actions is the way to be true to the people who elected you,” he says.

“I didn’t grow up knowing about Bayard Rustin or Harvey Milk. But when I finally did, the lesson I took was that we can’t treat our history as separate from others’. We have to intertwine our efforts for LGBT equality with those of immigrants and their children, women, people living in poverty, African Americans. That’s how we will achieve justice,” Lara says.

Lara is humble about his own achievements. “Making history as the first LGBT leader elected statewide in California history is humbling. It tells me we have a long way to go to deliver on our values. We will truly make history when that is no longer a question any LGBT person has to answer,” Lara says.

Alina Hernandez, Carrie Holmes, Jesse Melgar (Photo courtesy JZSquared Photography)

Today, young LGBT staffers include Deputy Secretary of State Jesse Melgar, 31, Legislative Director Carrie Holmes, 39, and LGBT Legislative Caucus consultant Alina Hernandez, 32. LGBT staffers also work in the executive branch, the state senate, the state assembly and as advocates — out government operatives who work on the inside of California’s halls of power, with over 100 bright LGBT minds influencing public policy across the golden state each day.

Melgar is already a political veteran. A former communications director for Equality California, the California Latino Legislative Caucus and Lara in 2016, Padilla appointed him Deputy Sec. of State and Chief Communications Officer to serve as a key player advancing Padilla’s voting rights agenda.

Jesse Melgar (Photo courtesy JZSquared Photography)

“If we don’t step up, we get stepped on. When we think about immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights – they are all won or lost depending on how active and engaged our communities are,” Melgar tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I saw this growing up, studied civil rights and inequality in college, and decided to turn my passion for social justice into a career in public service. Having diversity in all levels of leadership is important, particularly considering the current national political climate.”

Melgar was inspired by mentors. “I am where I am today thanks to the support of my family, my partner and incredible bosses and mentors who have supported me throughout my career. I’ve had a front row seat learning from bold leaders like Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Insurance Commissioner-elect Ricardo Lara, Riverside Assemblyman Jose Medina and so many others. It’s inspiring to see leaders who look like you, from similar backgrounds, defy odds and obstacles and lead with authenticity, heart and purpose. It’s humbling when bosses take the time to show you the ropes and help you realize your own potential.”

Melgar recognizes his responsibility to mentor others. “Someone pushed the door open for us so it’s on us to keep those doors open,” he says. “This is particularly true for LGBTQ staff who maybe weren’t comfortable being out at home or in their communities or at previous jobs. By fostering an open, accepting environment that values diversity, we invite younger staffers to bring their full selves to work. We show them that their perspectives matter and that they are valued members of our teams, as they are.”

Carrie Holmes (Photo courtesy JZSquared Photography)

Carrie Holmes, Legislative Director for Sen. Jim Beall and President of the Capitol LGBTQ Association, says she’s a couple of years too old to be a millennial. “But I got a late start in my career so I’m generally in the millennial peer group.” Two personal goals: “I want to get my deadlift up to 300 pounds this year, and get a full night of sleep (I’m not joking, I have an 8-month old baby).”

Holmes says the Capitol Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Association, founded in 2017 by Bish Paul, an Assembly staffer, is the first non-profit LGBTQ staff association in the country. “Any individual who has expressed an interest in public policy and is-or wants to be- engaged in statewide policy is welcome to join. Our membership includes legislative and administration staff, lobbyists, and policy stakeholders. Our purpose is to recruit and retain LGBTQ individuals, and provide professional development and networking opportunities.”

The Association hosts a number of events, provides an immediate support system for new LGBT staffers, started the Rainbow mentors program “to connect seasoned career folks with those either looking to start working in policy or looking for a career change.”

“I think, within the LGBTQ community, we must take the time to reach out and open doors for others,” she says, “especially in the policy and political realm. It can feel like a very exclusive space and those of us working here need to look around, see who isn’t represented, and make the changes needed.”

Holmes was motivated to get involved in politics by working in non-profits and educational settings. “I kept running into problematic state laws and funding streams,” she says. “I realized how much it mattered who was in power, and became interested in being part of the process of shaping the laws. I got into this path as part of the Capital Fellows program in 2010, and I was the only queer person in my fellowship class. Every one of us has been in the position where we are the only person around who can speak to how a vote, a law, an amendment could impact the queer community or other vulnerable populations.

Holmes intends to step back from the Association this year and is encouraging younger board members to take leadership roles.

“I want to see the influence of queer people of color grow. We want to create a paid internship or fellowship program targeted to the LGBTQ community,” Holmes says. “Too many people have to work for free to get their foot in the door, and that just re-enforces existing privilege and power. I want to see Trans women of color hired in the Capitol. And elected. We are chipping away to make the culture more inclusive—we collaborated with the Caucus and leadership in the Legislature to get changes to the dress code and include pronouns on business cards. These are small steps. We want to make our reach broader to include folks working across the state, not just Sacramento.”

Alina Hernandez (Photo courtesy JZSquared Photography)

Alina Hernandez, 32, is the fierce, funny, former techie consultant to the California Legislative LGBT Caucus whose primary goal is to live a happy life.

“I’m a professional gay,” Hernandez says. “I am the manager/agent of the most badass group of openly LGBT elected officials California has ever seen. I’m a little biased.”

In 2018, she staffed numerous LGBT specific legislative bills and resolutions, managed listening tours, appointment workshops, and “I helped to facilitate obtaining the option for capital staff to choose to add their preferred pronouns on business cards. At the end of the day, I will go to battle for what is right and inclusive,” which she sees as a community effort.

How Hernandez got into politics is a funny question to answer.

“Short answer, Trump! Long answer, after high school, I started to study graphic design with a heavy focus on typography. That soon turned into a career in tech as a hardware/software support technician. After many years of fixing computers, cleaning dirty keyboards, and truly enjoying life as a techie, I was searching for something new,” she says.

“Fast forward to January of 2016, I am sitting at a bar in Vegas by myself while I was waiting for a friend to get off work. I sat next to this guy who ordered the exact same sample beer selection as I did. We bonded over this and soon our conversation turned from beer to life,” Hernandez says. “He gave me this great idea to create a political app. I wasn’t heavy into politics, but I did know technology. I pondered this idea for a while and searched for people to help with this project. I ended up putting that on the back burner.

“In the meantime,” she continues, “I created another small business helping baby boomers bridge the gap between technology and themselves. It was great! You would not believe how excited people get when they learn how to use emojis or FaceTime for the first time. I could feel the ground starting to move under my feet and I was looking around for my next big adventure.”

Hernandez doesn’t know where she’ll be in 10 years. “I’ll always end up where I am supposed to be,” she says. “A great friend once said to me, ‘treat everyone like a celebrity because they are.’ Truth be told, I received a text message that said, ‘California Legislative LGBT Caucus Consultant? You were made for this job.’ I put aside my fear of attempting something I had no experience doing and went full speed ahead. I had no idea what I was getting into or what to expect, but I knew the universe brought this position my way for a reason.”

Hernandez’s Caucus job means she takes lots of meetings, including with “conservative activists who think my very existence is a sin in the eyes of God,” she says. “I also take meetings with people who are struggling to come out or want to share their experiences about being LGBT in this political climate. People trust me with their secrets that they have sometimes not even told their own family. In no way is this an easy job—it takes time and patience. This job cannot be defined by a duty statement.”

Jo Michael (Photo courtesy Jo Michael)

Jo Michael, 32, Equality California’s legislative manager, knows these stories, having helped shepherd through more than 25 successful pieces of sponsored legislation that included educating lawmakers and the public about LGBT policies, especially regarding the transgender community.

“It’s particularly challenging in the context of doing legislative work in the Capitol,” Michael told his alma mater, McGeorge School of Law. “That can be a significant hurdle…to make clear there is no ‘gay agenda.’ It’s about making sure people are not discriminated against and not excluded from the places other people enjoy access to on a regular and daily basis. It’s about equality and being able to have justice as opposed to being able to have anything that’s special or different.”

Michael, named one of the Best LGBT Lawyers under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association in 2015, has been working to advance social justice and LGBTQ civil rights since he co-founded his high school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance.

“The roads to many of the advances the LGBTQ community has achieved show that LGBTQ people being open and visible helps change hearts and minds. I’ve been so inspired to see and to be a part of the impact of openly LGBTQ staff in the Capitol community and to advance Equality California’s legislative program in Sacramento for 6 years,” Michael told the Los Angeles Blade on Dec. 7, his final day at Equality California.

Elle Chen (Photo Elle Chen)

Elle Chen, 23, Legislative Aide to Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, has also served as a Senior Fellow in the State Senate, consulting on public safety and other policy areas. She has a sense of both the fresh perspective young LGBT staffers can bring to public service, as well as the passion creating the arc of history that led them to the Capitol.

Chen is an Association member for whom intersectionality and interest in a diversity of issues is a given. She is among the new LGBT generation to whom the torch is being passed, answering the call to serve her country, her state and the people.

“You stand on the shoulders of those who come before you,” Chen tells the Los Angeles Blade. “Let history inform your policy perspective and acknowledge the narratives that still have yet to be heard.”

For more information about the Capitol Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Association, visit their website at CapitolLGBTQ.org. Here are just some of their members. (All photos provided by the Association or from their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CapitolLGBTQAssociation )

Capitol LGBTQ Association Board

President: Carrie Holmes

Vice President: Deepen Gagneja

Communications Director: Nicole Restmeyer

Treasurer: Brandon Bjerke

External Affairs Director: Biswajit “Bish” Paul

Membership Director: Sean Connelly

Events Director: Sage Warren

Community Outreach Director: Erica Porter

Operations Director: Monica Montano

Fellows & Intern Liaison: Elle Chen

Deepen Gagneja

Age: 24

Senior Legislative Advocate, California Immigrant Policy Center

“It is vital that we acknowledge the intersectionality of the LGBTQ community and advocate for all who face injustice. As a former Capitol staffer, I learned that it’s so important to infuse your personal experiences into policy and earn a seat at the table where decisions are made.”

Bish Paul, PhD.

Age: 33

State Policy Manager, TechNet

“As an immigrant, gay, scientist and person-of-color, I have found that often times intersectional voices are missing in our LGBTQ and policymaking communities.  I was the founding President of the Capitol LGBTQ Association since I believe that to be given a seat at the table we need to step up, organize, and demand equity.”

Sean Connelly

Age: 29

Capitol Director, Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez

“Working in public policy is a great privilege, every day presents a new set of challenges to tackle and problems to solve. It is humbling to know that your work will, hopefully, have a positive impact on someone’s life. As LGBTQ+ people, we are acutely aware of how critical politics and public policy is to building the world we want to live in, not necessarily the one we have today.”

Sage Warren

Age: 29

Victim Services Case Manager, Sacramento LGBT Community Center

“As a social worker, a parent, and an LGBTQ policy advocate, I have learned the importance of fighting for my community’s values and protecting its integrity with every opportunity that arrives.”

Erica Porter

Age: 27

Committee Assistant, California State Senate Judiciary Committee

“It’s really important for queer folx in politics to stay connected to our community and our history. What’s the point of being in the room where it happens if you can’t bring your community with you?”

Monica Montano

Age: 29

Graduate Medical Education Director, Physicians for a Healthy California

“It was an absolute humbling experience working within the Capitol and knowing that your work directly impacted all Californians and sometimes the nation.”

Chris Miller

Age: 23

Press Assistant, California Secretary of State

“Decades of struggle and hardship have made it possible for me to be out in the workplace. While this is not the case in every state, I am proud to serve the State of California as an out gay man. I know that being out at work sends the message that it’s okay to be who you are, and I hope to serve as a mentor to those young gay people entering the workforce.”

 

 

 

 

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State Department

U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

WASHINGTON — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for Transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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San Francisco

Padilla, local leaders celebrate passage of Respect for Marriage Act

“There’s no better place than San Francisco to celebrate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act & affirm lives of millions of LGBTQ people”

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Senator Padilla officiated a vows renewal ceremony of Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez, a local lesbian couple, at San Francisco City Hall Dec. 2, 2022 (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

SAN FRANCISCO —  U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Friday hosted a press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang, and local leaders following the Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Senator Padilla also officiated a vows renewal ceremony of Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez, a local lesbian couple, at San Francisco City Hall to mark the historic occasion.

The Respect for Marriage Act requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 61-36.

“There is no better place than San Francisco to celebrate the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act and unequivocally affirm the lives of millions of LGBTQ people and interracial couples across our country,” said Senator Padilla. “We celebrate the progress that we have made today, but recognize the work still left undone to fully protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans. I’ll continue working to build on our efforts until we ensure that every American is treated equally under the law, free from discrimination.”

“I was proud to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act over the summer, and I’m even more pleased that the bill passed the Senate this week with strong bipartisan support,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “The Respect for Marriage Act will guarantee legal protections for millions of marriages in the United States. Simply put, Americans should be free to marry the person they love, regardless of sexual orientation or race, without fear of discrimination or fear that their marriages will be invalidated. This was a historic vote and one that every proponent of equality can be proud of.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act is an important step forward in the continued fight for LGBTQ and racial equality in America,” said State Senator Scott Wiener. “Today, we celebrate this victory for our civil rights, and tomorrow we recommit to fight even harder against the right-wing Supreme Court’s efforts to legalize discrimination in this country.”

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Friday hosted a press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang, and local leaders following the Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.
(Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

“San Francisco’s history is inseparable from the history of the LGBTQ community and the movement for marriage equality locally, at the state level, and nationally,” said Mayor Breed. “As we celebrate the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, we honor those who have endured discrimination and hate, and the many who lost their lives in the quest for equality. We recommit ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of all people regardless of who they are or whom they love. Thank you to Congressional leaders, especially Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, and Speaker Pelosi for their leadership to pass this historical legislation.”

“Equality California applauds this historic vote and the critical leadership of Senators Baldwin, Feinstein and Padilla, in getting this bill across the finish line,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “While this is an important step in affirming the dignity of the LGBTQ+ community, it will not end all discrimination against LGBTQ+ people or erase the hateful rhetoric of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and extremists. Equality California will continue to fight for full, lived equality for all LGBTQ+ people until the work is done.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act removes an ugly, discriminatory stain on our federal law books – the 1996 so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” – and replaces DOMA with a rule requiring government at all levels to treat all married couples equally nationwide,” said Jenny Pizer, Chief Legal Officer, Lambda Legal. “We hope we never need it.  But if the U.S. Supreme Court were, outrageously, to erase the constitutional protection for the freedom to marry, this law will substantially reduce the harms. Yet, even if the Respect for Marriage Act were to become necessary, it would not be sufficient. We still urgently need the Equality Act to become law, to protect LGBTQ people from the widespread discrimination that persists in the commercial marketplace and in public services with harsh, unacceptable consequences.”

“It is a historic moment for the advancement and preservation of basic civil rights for all Americans, but by no means is our work done,” said Kris Perry, Prop 8 Plaintiff & Nonprofit Director. “Our family and thousands of families like ours can breathe easier tonight knowing our fundamental rights are protected.”

“After the Supreme Court overturned a woman’s right to choice, we feared same-sex marriages were next,” said Cyn Wang and Tessa Chavez. “The Respect for Marriage Act gives our family clarity and a sense of relief that our marriage, and those of all married couples regardless of sexual orientation or race, will be protected in this country.”

The Respect for Marriage Act now goes to the House of Representatives for passage and then to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Senator Padilla is committed to pursuing equality for the LGBTQ community, including in employment, housing, and credit lending.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced the LGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act, legislation that would protect the 1.4 million LGBTQ-owned businesses in the nation from lending discrimination to ensure equal access to economic opportunities. Padilla also joined Senate Democrats in introducing a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month to highlight the work of the LGBTQ community in fighting to achieve full equality, including for marriage.

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Southern California

Triple A: Gas price averages drop below $5 & may move lower

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $4.90, which is 21 cents lower than last week

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Screenshot/YouTube ABC 10 News Sacramento

LOS ANGELES – Most areas of Southern California now have average gas prices of less than $5 a gallon after additional hefty price declines in the last week, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch.

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $4.90, which is 21 cents lower than last week. The average national price is $3.47, which is 12 cents lower than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $4.97 per gallon, which is 21 cents lower than last week, 63 cents lower than last month, and 26 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $4.94, which is 21 cents lower than last week, 63 cents lower than last month, and 28 cents higher than last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $4.95, which is 20 cents lower than last week, 62 cents lower than last month, and 31 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $4.84, which is 20 cents lower than last week, 60 cents lower than last month, and 21 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.28 average price is 11 cents lower than last week, 50 cents lower than last month, and 63 cents higher than a year ago today.

“Despite a record number of Southern California travelers hitting the road for Thanksgiving, average pump prices have dropped below $5 a gallon for the first time since early March,” said Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Oil Price Information Service reports a substantial drop in demand statewide and high unleaded gas inventories. This week Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices reached their lowest level of 2022, and if that trend holds, we should see additional pump price reductions. The least expensive gas station prices today are about $4.10 a gallon, so it’s possible we will see stations charging less than $4 a gallon soon.”

The Auto Club reminds drivers of the following tips to save money on gas:

  • If you use premium unleaded fuel, make sure it is required for your vehicle, not just recommended. The Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center found that vehicles with recommended premium fuel performed safely with regular unleaded gasoline.
  • Make sure your tires are properly maintained and inflated to the correct level.
  • Maintain your car according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular service will ensure optimum fuel economy.
  • Avoid “jackrabbit” starts and hard accelerations. These actions greatly increase fuel consumption.
  • Slow down and drive the speed limit. Fuel economy peaks around 50 mph on most cars, then drops off as speed increases. Reducing freeway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by as much as 14%.
  • Use cruise control on the highway to help maintain a constant speed and save fuel. However, never use cruise control on slippery roads because you could lose control of the vehicle.
  • Minimize your use of air conditioning.
  • Avoid extended idling to warm up the engine, even in colder temperatures. It’s unnecessary and wastes fuel.
  • Remove unnecessary and heavy items from your car.
  • Minimize your use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use.
  • Download the AAA App to find the cheapest gas prices near you. 

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on Dec. 1, averages are:

120122 chart
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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR shows ‘what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ+ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Transphobic Fox host: Trans people are “Deeply Anti-Human”

Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

By Media Matters Staff | NEW YORK – On her show last night, Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming among other things that those on the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism.

Then she pivoted to the transgender community:

“Crusaders for climate change, abortion, euthanasia, gender fluidity, they all lead — eventually, their thinking — to the devaluing of human life.

“At its core, being anti-human means being anti- truth because it involves the questioning or denying of objective facts, including those at the very heart of our existence. 

“The cult of gender deviancy collapses into meaningless slogans and blather. None of it makes any sense, but it’s deeply anti-human.” 

Watch the Media Matters for America video clip:

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Minnesota

Minneapolis felon charged in Gay Bar brandishing incident

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm

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Booking Photo: Conell Walter Harris/Hennepin County Jail

MINNEAPOLIS – A Minneapolis resident is facing federal charges for illegal possession of a firearm during a criminal brandishing, uttering threats and homophobic slurs at a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the downtown area of the city.

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm.

In court documents filed in Hennepin County, on November 28, 2022, Minneapolis Police officers responded to a call that a person at 19 Bar, located near downtown Minneapolis, had pulled out a gun after being asked to leave.

When officers arrived, several people pointed at a man, who was later identified as Conell Walter Harris, 29.  Harris resisted arrest and tried to reach into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Officers recovered a stolen .45 caliber Glock model 30 pistol from Harris’ pocket. Officers spoke to bar employees and customers and learned that Harris had become upset after an employee asked to see his identification, which Harris refused to show.

The employee then asked Harris to leave the bar. Harris became combative and pulled out a pistol. An employee attempted to deescalate the situation but Harris became more aggressive and made multiple threatening statements. Harris then left for a short time but returned to the bar before law enforcement arrived.

Screenshot/YouTube KARE 11

Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE 11 reported:

The complaint and affidavit outline the events that allegedly took place at Minneapolis’ 19 Bar the night of Nov. 28, claiming officers first responded to the bar around 11 p.m. on reports of a person with a gun.

When officers arrived, prosecutors say, bar patrons identified Harris. The complaint says Harris “resisted arrest and kept reaching into his hoodie pocket,” leading police to recover a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.

Court documents allege that based on eyewitness accounts, police were informed that Harris was “acting strangely” when he entered the bar and became upset when an employee asked to see his ID. A 19 Bar bartender then asked Harris to leave, according to the complaint, and Harris refused, telling the bartender, “I ain’t going nowhere,” while pulling out the firearm.

Prosecutors say Harris then began yelling profanities and slurs at the bartender before leaving for a short time and then returning.

When Harris later reentered the bar, court documents allege he began playing pool until officers arrived.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris is charged in a criminal complaint with felon in possession of a firearm. He made his initial appearance today in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung. Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing scheduled for December 5, 2022. 

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Minneapolis Police Department.

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