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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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California

California & New Zealand partner to advance global climate leadership

Governor Gavin Newsom & New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern establish new international climate partnership

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Governor Gavin Newsom and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Office of the Governor)

SAN FRANCISCO – Expanding California’s global climate leadership, Governor Gavin Newsom today established a new international climate partnership with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

California and New Zealand signed a Memorandum of Cooperation, (MOC) to tackle the climate crisis, reduce pollution, and bolster the clean economy, while emphasizing community resilience and partnership with indigenous leaders.

In the New Zealand Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, California and New Zealand outlined common objectives to achieve carbon-neutrality by mid-century, as well as their shared world-leading policies for zero-emission transportation, climate innovation, clean power generation, nature-based solutions, and zero waste initiatives.

The MOC furthers these common objectives through sharing information and best practices. A copy of the MOC signed today can be found here.

“Later is too late to address climate change, and California is taking aggressive steps to bolster the clean economy while reducing pollution in our communities – but we can’t do it alone,” said Governor Newsom. “This partnership with New Zealand, another global climate leader, will strengthen ties between our two governments to deploy critical solutions that are essential to addressing this existential crisis.”

“No country is immune from the impacts of climate changes, so it’s just common sense to collaborate with likeminded partners to meet our mutual goals,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “We both aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. This agreement means we’ll work together to share expertise and experience and collaborate on projects that help meet each other’s targets.”

Governor Newsom and Prime Minister Ardern establish new climate partnership
(Office of the Governor)

California’s world-leading climate policies have led the state to exceed its 2020 climate target four years ahead of schedule, and created partnerships across the U.S. and around the world. Governor Newsom has committed $47.1 billion to tackle pollution, build climate-resilient water supplies, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, ensure grid reliability and accelerate clean energy solutions, and protect communities from extreme heat.
 
California’s ZEV market is leading the nation in every category and the state is ending the sale of new gas cars by 2035, reducing demand for oil and spurring partnerships across the nation and around the world. Responding to the Governor’s nature-based solutions executive order, which identified California’s lands as a critical yet underutilized sector in the fight against climate change, California last month released the Pathways to 30×30: Accelerating Conservation of California’s Nature strategy and Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy.
 
Earlier this year, California signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Japan to advance cooperation on climate and clean energy priorities, and strengthen trade relations. Governor Newsom also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to accelerate ongoing initiatives to protect the environment, reduce carbon and air pollution, and promote clean technology development.
 
Last year, Governor Newsom and 24 governors from the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance committed to collectively achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. Governor Newsom and other Under2 Coalition partners announced the transition to become a net zero coalition, raising ambition for member states and regions. California also joined the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, which brings together national and subnational governments committed to advancing a just transition away from oil and gas production.

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Los Angeles County

Eric Strong angling to become LA County’s first Black Sheriff

“One of the most concrete things, other than changing the policies, are the mindset and culture. Otherwise we’ll continue to have it”

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Eric Strong (right) with his wife Sidra (Photo credit: Facebook)

INGLEWOOD – In an exclusive interview with The Los Angeles Blade Thursday, Eric Strong discussed his candidacy to be elected as the next Los Angeles County Sheriff and detailed reforms he would bring to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, (LASD) which has been beleaguered by scandal and corruption in recent years. 

Should incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who took office in 2018, fail to capture 50 percent of the vote in the upcoming primary election on June 7, he will square off against Strong and seven other candidates on the ballot in November.

Dramatic reforms within the LASD are necessary to effectuate any real change, said Strong, who emphasized that the LASD’s many problems did not start with Villanueva’s tenure.

“There’s a lot on the inside that needs to be changed,” he said, “to make the biggest impact on the outside.” 

As the county grapples with crises involving public safety, addiction and the unhoused, Villanueva has been accused of “running the LASD,” which is the largest in the nation, “like a prison yard.” 

Racially motivated violence by LASD deputies was described in a 2020 article by The GuardianUK as “a reign of terror.” That same year, Max Huntsman, the LA County inspector general, accused Villanueva of fostering a “code of silence” and stonewalling investigations of a tattooed gang of deputies called the Banditos, who have assaulted non-member deputies within the department and perpetuated a culture of favoritism, racism, sexism and violence.

Villanueva sent a cease-and-desist letter earlier this year demanding that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors stop using the term “deputy gangs.” During a press conference last September, the sheriff said that he worked alongside a group called the Cavemen when working on patrol in East LA and, “There was no difference between what I did and what they did.” 

In the 1980s and 90s, the Cavemen were known to sport tattoos that sometimes depicted house flies, each meant to represent a violent incident against a civilian. Villanueva’s undersheriff, Timothy Murakami, was also a member of the gang. 

Gang activity within the LASD by deputies has been associated with allegations of rigged promotions, pay-to-play schemes and other types of favoritism. Villanueva has also been accused of covering up an incident where a deputy knelt on an inmate’s neck, and he has attacked his critics and political enemies, including by baselessly calling Huntsman a “Holocaust denier.” 

Villanueva also sought to launch a criminal investigation into a Los Angeles Times reporter who had written an in-depth series of articles detailing some of the Sheriff’s questionable actions. He later walked that back in a public statement after protest by the Times and other LA Media outlets. 

Strong said he is the only candidate who pledged not to build additional detention facilities in response to the County’s homelessness crisis; the only candidate who pledged not to take money from the police union; the only candidate who led investigations of deputy gangs while working in internal affairs at LASD, and the only candidate who did not switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat before entering the race.

Strong has over 30 years of experience in law enforcement, having served in the Compton Police Department before joining the LASD, where he is currently serving as a supervisory lieutenant. He has been commander of multiple bureaus, as well as on multiple executive level committees, including as executive chairman of the Shooting Analysis Committee. “I’ve spoken out many times” about misconduct and corruption at LASD, he said. 

Strong added the other seven candidates in the sheriff’s race have baggage: some, like a former LASD deputy and the current LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, have close ties to the current regime, having done nothing to reform the LASD when serving in leadership positions under conditions where promotions are awarded based on loyalty and favoritism.

Others have disciplinary records over their unjustified use of force, including shootings. Bob Luna was formerly chief of police for the City of Long Beach, during which time gay men were entrapped in sting operations. (Dismissing the charges of lewd conduct and indecent exposure, an LA County Superior Court judge said, “The arbitrary enforcement of the law as seen in this case undermines the credibility of our legal system, eroding public confidence in our ability to achieve just results.”) 

Along with Rhambo, Strong is one of two candidates in the race who, if elected, would become the County’s first Black sheriff. Having grown up in LA County, Strong said he has “experienced law enforcement at its worst,” having been roughed up and having suffered the incarceration and deaths of family members at the hands of law enforcement.

A graduate of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Strong has received awards for his handling of some of the department’s most infamous internal affairs investigations, including the Quiet Cannon Case in 2010 involving a deputy gang known as the 3000 Boys.

Strong lives in Inglewood with his wife Sidra, who is also a deputy in the LASD. They have three grown children, ages 24, 22 and 21.

Strong proposes major reforms to LASD 

Deputy gangs have been allowed to persist at LASD for over 50 years, Strong said, because there has never been a message from the top that it needs to stop, let alone a sincere effort by a Sheriff or leadership at the department to investigate and disband them.

“My message is, this is going to stop,” he said. “Today.” Gang members’ abuse and harassment of non-members at LASD is not just an internal issue, Strong said. “How can we expect [officers involved in gang activity] to treat the community with respect, dignity and compassion when they can’t even do that on the inside to themselves?”

Another significant change he would implement is to change the conditions under which deputies are eligible for promotions to bring the LASD in line with the best practices utilized by other departments across the country, and then petition the Board of Supervisors to change the county charter so reforms cannot be undone by a future Sheriff.

This would mean adding educational requirements, leadership or managerial experience and a testing process administered by an entity outside the LASD, he emphasized. 

“I want somebody from the outside to be part of the review process. If I say ‘this person is qualified to be commander or chief,’” other people should have input, “whether it’s a board of supervisors, an oversight committee, the Office of the Inspector General, community stakeholders, or even a panel of other law enforcement executives.”

Strong added he would review promotions and, where necessary, have individuals step back from their duties until they receive adequate training to bring them in line with what’s required to serve in the positions to which they may have been promoted in the absence of requisite merit and experience.  

Current policies allow anyone who has served two years in their current position to be promoted in rank – an insufficiently high bar that, in many cases, was not met by the deputies promoted by Villanueva. The reason for Strong’s focus on this issue is twofold: the current system facilitates favoritism and gang culture, incentivizing LASD personnel to undermine each other and to never speak out against policies and practices of their superiors. And it also keeps deputies siloed off from exposure to new ideas, approaches and experience they would glean from training administered by other departments. 

Racism, and racially motivated use of excessive force, are also issues that stem from the messaging and culture at LASD, Strong said. He said changing the mindset and culture will be a top priority – coupled with civilian oversight “in every individual station” to keep the Department accountable.

Strong related a story of how, when serving as a unit commander reviewing civilian complaints, there was a case involving a black man in South LA who, pulling into his driveway after returning home from work, was threatened and treated with hostility by LASD deputies. Their justification, which was supported by a lieutenant, was that there had been shootings on that street. 

“I said, ‘what do you do when you get home from work and pull into your driveway?’” There was no apology by the officers, whose actions that day showed their lack of discernment, Strong said, which is reinforced by the higher-ups who have the same attitudes and biases. 

“One of the most concrete things, other than changing the policies, are the mindset and culture.” Otherwise, “we’ll continue to have it,” Strong added.

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New York

Governor Hochul: New Yorkers can use “X” as a gender marker

“Every person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves to have an identity document that reflects who they are”

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Courtesy of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles

ALBANY – New York Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday that New Yorkers will have the option to choose “X” as a gender marker on their driver license, learner permit, or non-driver ID card at all Department of Motor Vehicle offices statewide.

This change is being implemented in accordance with the State’s Gender Recognition Act, which goes into effect on June 24.

This landmark legislation provides expanded protections for transgender and non-binary New Yorkers through this change at the DMV and by making it easier for people to change their names, change their sex designation and change their birth certificates to reflect their identity.  

“As we prepare to celebrate Pride Month in a few days, I am excited to announce this historic change that represents another victory in our fight to help ensure equality and respect for the LGBTQ+ community,” Hochul said. “Every person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves to have an identity document that reflects who they are. My administration remains committed to ensuring that New York is a place of value, love and belonging for members of the LGBTQ+ community.” 

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder said, “Perhaps more than any other state agency, New Yorkers directly engage with their government through the DMV, so offering identity documents that are representative of all New Yorkers is a significant milestone. We are thrilled to implement this new option that we know will have a positive impact on the lives of so many of our customers.”   

NY Division of Human Rights Commissioner Maria Imperial said, “We applaud our state’s important action to ensure that these essential ID documents accurately reflect and affirm who we are. We will continue working to advance dignity and eliminate discrimination against transgender and non-binary people in New York State.”  

Deputy Chief Diversity Officer Priya Nair said, “As a transgender and non-binary New Yorker, this action means that I can now get a driver license that better reflects my identity. It’s not only the correct gender marker, but it’s also an action which demonstrates that New York State affirms and sees me for who I am. Thank you to Governor Hochul, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and all of the non-binary and transgender advocates who pushed for this important and inclusive change. As other states attack and roll back protections for transgender people, I am proud to live in a state that will continue to fight for our communities.” 

New Yorkers who have an existing driver license, learner permit, or non-driver ID will have the option to change the gender marker on their photo ID from “M” or “F” to “X”, and those who are applying for a NYS photo ID for the first time will have the option to choose “X”. This can be done by completing the Application for Permit, Driver License or Non-Driver ID Card (MV-44).     

Customers who do not want to visit a DMV office to change their existing ID document will have the option to change their gender designation through an online transaction beginning in July 2022.   

This announcement comes as part of the major advancements in LGBTQ+ equity Governor Hochul fought for and secured in the Enacted Fiscal Year 2023 State Budget.

The Budget includes $13.5 million for the Department of Health to support the LGBTQ+ community and more than doubles annual LGBTQ+ Health and Human Services funding. In addition, the Budget includes legislation requiring state agencies to provide an option for individuals to mark their gender or sex as a non-binary “X” on all state forms that collect gender or sex information.

Agencies are also required to include that information in data collection. The Enacted Budget also enables transgender New Yorkers to change their names or gender designations on marriage certificates without leaving their dead names on them.  

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