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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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Texas

ACLU asks investigation of Texas school districts anti-trans policies

Frisco ISD’s new bathroom policy & Keller ISD’s ban on books referencing gender violate federal rules prohibiting sex-based discrimination

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The ACLU of Texas is calling for federal civil rights investigations into the Keller and Frisco school districts for policies they say discriminate against transgender students. (Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune)

By Brian Lopez | DALLAS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is calling for civil rights investigations into two North Texas school districts over recently implemented anti-transgender policies.

The ACLU, which filed the complaints last week, wants the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate the Frisco Independent School District for passing a policy on Nov. 14 requiring students to use bathrooms that align with their gender assigned at birth. The district said it would make accommodations for students who ask to use a private restroom.

The ACLU said Frisco’s policy would allow the district to “challenge or second-guess students’ official birth certificates.”

“It is deeply invasive and unlawful for school administrators to interrogate students’ private medical information in this way,” the ACLU said in a letter to the Department of Education. “School districts have no right to question students’ sexual characteristics such as genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes.”

The ACLU also wants an investigation into the Keller Independent School District, which earlier this month passed a ban on all books that depict or reference transgender and nonbinary people.

“The policy attempts to erase the existence of transgender and non-binary individuals,” the ACLU’s letter said.

Keller ISD’s anti-transgender policy came about six months after three conservative school board members were elected onto the seven-member board. The new members, all of whom received large donations from a Christian political action committee, campaigned on issues like banning books about LGBTQ experiences from school libraries and banning critical race theory, a college-level field of study that explores the idea that racism is embedded in institutions and legal systems.

Public education advocates and Texas teachers have largely said the discipline is not part of the curriculum in Texas public schools but it has become a shorthand for conservative groups to criticize how history and current events are taught with regard to race.

The ACLU claims that Frisco and Keller’s policies violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school that receives federal funding.

Frisco and Keller are the latest North Texas school districts to have civil rights complaints lodged against them. Earlier this year, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a similar civil rights complaint against the Carroll Independent School District, based in Southlake, for failing to protect students from discrimination based on their race, sex or gender identity.

Southlake, located between Dallas and Fort Worth, came into the spotlight three years ago after a viral video of white high school students chanting a racist slur prompted community members to share stories of harassment, NBC News reported.

Neither Keller ISD nor Frisco ISD immediately responded to a request for comment.

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Brian Lopez’s staff photo

Brian Lopez is the Public Education Reporter for The Texas Tribune. He joined the Tribune in August 2021 after a covering local government at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a little over a year. The Star-Telegram was his first gig after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington in May 2020 where he worked for the student-run newspaper The Shorthorn. When not on the job, he’s either watching or playing soccer.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

Donation Link Here

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News Analysis

The political smear campaign to stop same-sex marriage bill

Liberty Counsel’s CEO amplified the lie that same-sex marriage would lead to “grooming” and child sexual exploitation

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Supporters of same-sex marriage gather at the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges 2015 (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – A procedural vote on the Respect for Marriage Act legislation (H.R. 8404/S. 4556) in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to succeed, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Nov. 28. Ahead of the Monday vote the major anti-LGBTQ+ hate organizations are executing a full court press to get Republicans Senators to derail the bill.

Listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Hatewatch‘ for lies, propaganda, and smearing of LGBTQ+ people, the Family Research Council, (FRC) based in Washington D.C., Liberty Counsel based in Orlando, Florida, The Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF) based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the National Organization for Marriage, (NOM) also based in Washington D.C., have escalated a publicity campaign smearing the intent of the law and labeling it ‘perversion and child sexual abuse.’

The president and CEO of Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver, sent out several email blasts to supporters urging them to contact GOP Senators to stop the bill. In a tweet Stavers said; “It doesn’t matter what courts, legislatures or voters say. They do not define marriage, God does.”

In one email Stavers wrote: “On MONDAY, senators are scheduled to vote on a sickening bill that will normalize child-bride, same-sex and pedophiliac “marriages” in every state. Several amendments will be debated, and then the Senate will need another 60 votes to proceed. We can stop HR 8404 if we let the Senate hear from us NOW!”

Stavers then amplified the lie that same-sex marriage would lead to “grooming” and child sexual exploitation: “Children have always been under demonic attack because they represent a new generation. But this evil attack is being unmasked now under the “Respect for Marriage” bill like never before. It will put a target on children in at-risk families to be groomed for abuse and makes this molestation legal—if done within the confines of “marriage.”

“This level of debauchery has always been the goal. Our nation is on the cusp of making sexual abuse against children legal,” Stavers said.

The ADF and FRC are raising alarm over the bill saying that the legislation poses a threat to religious liberty. A conservative right-wing religious journal, the official news media of the Missouri Baptist Convention, cautioned that both ADF and FRC, labeling those groups as faith-based policy experts, stated the bill “shows great disrespect for marriage, and intolerance for those who hold a traditional or biblical worldview.” The bill “is an intentional attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans with sincerely held beliefs about marriage, based on dictates of faith in God and His revealed Truth.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins released the following statement after the “Respect for Marriage” Act passed the first step in a full Senate vote for passage or defeat:

“The U.S. Senate is making a mockery of marriage as it tramples on a foundational right — religious freedom of the individual. Whether by the Court or by the Congress, truth cannot be altered. Regardless of the action of Congress, there are millions of Americans who will remain steadfast in their love for their fellow human being, by remaining committed to these truths: that marriage is ordained by God and men and women are created in His image.”

Stavers in his email and public statements noted: “Alfred Kinsey’s [See note below] work is being used to destroy marriage, replacing that honorable estate with perversion and child sexual abuse … just as Kinsey intended. This is their end goal—to legalize this perversion and to silence the opposition.

HR 8404 is built on the foundation of Kinsey. This bill that will expand child-bride, same-sex and pedophiliac “marriages” in every state—is scheduled for debate and more votes on MONDAY!”

The amplification of the hate-filled rhetoric comes as the LGBTQ+ community is coming to terms with another horrific act of violence, this time in Colorado Springs, resulting in the death of five people at the LGBTQ+ nightclub Club Q.

Incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson, in an interview with the Blade’s White House correspondent Chris Kane, cautioned:

“What we saw this past year is that our opposition gets intersectionality,” Robinson said. “They are coming for us, for all of us,” she said, citing as examples the Supreme Court’s decision revoking Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, the hateful rhetoric of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and recent spate of statewide anti-LGBTQ bills.

“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power,” she said. “And we are going to fight back together, because ultimately we are stronger together.”

One organization that had long opposed same-sex marriage had an abrupt reversal of its decades long held views. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints battled any effort to legalize same-sex marriage as a threat to society, one that ultimately could destroy families.

This week, however, the Utah-based faith issued a stunning statement, supporting a proposed federal law that would codify same-sex marriage, the Tribune reported.

In its news release, the church reiterated its doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman but embraced the Respect for Marriage Act, which includes “appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”

Editor’s Note: Alfred Charles Kinsey was an American sexologist, biologist, and professor of entomology and zoology who, in 1947, founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, now known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

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West Hollywood

WeHo Arts unveils new holiday street pole banner by Sophie Morro

The city has also installed annual holiday lights on street poles and around trees lining Santa Monica Boulevard to make the city festive

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Photo courtesy of the City of West Hollywood - Photo by Jon Viscott

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The annual holiday street pole banners went up this week throughout the city of West Hollywood. The City’s WeHo Arsts unveiled the new holiday artwork by artist Sophie Morro along Santa Monica Boulevard, San Vicente Boulevard, and Melrose Avenue.

A total of 29 of the new banners were produced this year and will become part of the annual collection of holiday street pole banners on display in WeHo to celebrate the holidays. Banners include past holiday artwork by Shag (Josh Agle) and Mosa Tanksley.

The city has also installed annual holiday lights on street poles and around trees lining Santa Monica Boulevard to make the city festive around the holiday and New Year’s celebrations.

Sophie Morro is an artist based in Los Angeles. Her oil paintings are largely informed by an autobiographical narrative with nods to spirituality, dreams and the otherworldly. Visit sophiemorro.com to learn more about the artist.

In April, 2022, the City of West Hollywood Arts Division made a call seeking a visual artist to provide artwork for the city’s annual winter / holiday card and street pole banner display. The deadline to submit their work to WeHo’s Performing Arts and Cultural Affairs Subcommittee was May, 2022.

Photo courtesy of the City of West Hollywood – Photo by Jon Viscott

The new artwork will also be used on the City’s annual end of year Winter / Holiday card, social media promotions along with the printed street pole banners. Artists were invited to submit existing work samples to demonstrate their style and technique.

The Request for Qualifications was open to artists who live in California. Artists who live in
West Hollywood and artists of color, women, artists with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ artists
were highly encouraged to apply. The artists who applied will remain eligible to be selected as semi-finalists for 3 calendar years without needing to reapply.

Photo courtesy of the City of West Hollywood – Photo by Jon Viscott

The City of West Hollywood’s Arts Division and Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission believe
that all people in the City of West Hollywood have the right to celebrate and engage in meaningful and relevant arts and cultural experiences.

Each member of the community should have access to the arts which reflect and nurture individual identities, affirm personal value, and foster belonging in the community. The right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community is recognized as a basic human right.

The Division and Commission’s definition of diversity includes all ways in which people
differ, including but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status,
education, age, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ability,
geography, citizenship status, religion, language, physical appearance, and the
intersection of these various identities.

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

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

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Los Angeles County

LA Mayor Garcetti volunteers at Project Angel Food’s Thanksgiving

For many of the celebrities joining Project Angel Food’s Thanksgiving Day volunteers the day was about sharing the experience with family

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(L-R) Ava Maybee, Trisha Cardoso and Mayor Eric Garcetti attend Lisa Rinna Joins Celebs Volunteering In Project Angel Food Kitchen on Thanksgiving at Project Angel Food on November 24, 2022 (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Project Angel Food)"

LOS ANGELES – In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Project Angel Food CEO Richard Ayoub, celebrity supporters and 225 volunteers and staff to prepare and deliver 7,400 meals on Thanksgiving Day to seriously ill and housing insecure people throughout 4,700 square miles of L.A. County.

“Mayor Eric Garcetti epitomizes what it is to be part of a community and lift one another through compassion and service. As he rolled up his sleeves and helped plate meals, he brought attention that while this is a day most of us are surrounded by people we love, we need to remember that some people don’t have that,” Project Angel Food CEO Richard Ayoub said. “He reminded us that no Angeleno should be alone and with a warm smile, a conversation and a meal, our volunteers can change the entire day for our clients, become angels in the City of Angels,” Ayoub added.

For many of the celebrities joining Project Angel Food’s Thanksgiving Day volunteer pool, the day was about sharing the experience with family. Volunteers included Lisa Rinna and husband Harry Hamlin; “Weird Al” Yankovic with his wife Suzanne and daughter Nina.

Also volunteering was Out actor and singer Cheyenne Jackson and husband Jason Landau with their twins Willow and Ethan. Jackson said the couple brought the children because, “I want to teach my kids to be grateful and thankful for everything that we have, and when you have the capability to give to other people, do it.”

He also talked about the death of friend Leslie Jordan, a Project Angel Food supporter who died exactly one month earlier. “He was one of my best friends and it hit me really, really hard like so many people,” he said.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 24: (L-R) Cheyenne Jackson, Jason Landau and family attend Lisa Rinna Joins Celebs Volunteering In Project Angel Food Kitchen on Thanksgiving at Project Angel Food on November 24, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Project Angel Food)

American Idol favorite Ava Maybee with her mother, and Melissa Rivers with son Cooper Endicott, continuing her mother Joan Rivers’ legacy of volunteering on Thanksgiving.

Avatar: The Way of Water star Trinity Bliss brought her parents just weeks before the December 16 release of the highly anticipated film. “I’m so honored to work alongside so many people to bring a warm, delicious, tasty meal to people in need.”

Of her much-anticipated film, Avatar: Way of Water, Trinity added, “Avatar was amazing, but I think Avatar: The Way of Water is going to be just so much more dramatic and be an experience people are going to need to experience in theaters.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 24: Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna attend Lisa Rinna Joins Celebs Volunteering In Project Angel Food Kitchen on Thanksgiving at Project Angel Food on November 24, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Project Angel Food)

Lisa Rinna reflected on the fact that Project Angel Food is the primary source of food for most of its clients. “It’s so important because that is going to be their only meal of the day.” her husband Hamlin added, “to have the opportunity to give back is amazing.”

Other celebrities included Eileen Davidson (RHOBH, Days of Our Lives), Peter Porte (Days of Our Lives), Juan Pablo Di Pace (DWTS, Fuller House), Olympian Tai Babilonia, Tim Bagley (Gracie & Frankie, Will & Grace), Michael Hitchcock (The Resort, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Lawrence Zarian (The Kelly Clarkson Show), Marc Malkin (Variety), James Wallington and Will Jardell (Amazing Race Season 32 winners), Romeo Escobar (Survivor 42 runner-up), and parenting author Donna Tetreault.

The 7,400 meals being delivered on Thanksgiving included 1,600 traditional turkey dinners to critically ill men, women, children and their caregivers, 5,600 Medically Tailored Meals and breakfasts regularly scheduled for Thursday delivery, and another 200 meals were provided to Project Angel Food community partner PATH for residents for two of PATH’s Interim Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing sites. 

Volunteers provided contactless “drive-by” pick-up of the meals which were then delivered to Project Angel Food clients. Traditional Thanksgiving dinners consisted of roasted turkey, root vegetables, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. Vegetarian meals were also provided.

The meal was sponsored by the Stanley and Joyce Black Family foundation with Glamazon (Amazon’s affinity group for the LGBT+ community) sponsoring the volunteer event.

Project Angel Food CEO Richard Ayoub noted that Project Angel Food strives to end food insecurity and improve health outcomes of critically ill men, women and children in Los Angeles with Medically Tailored Meals, delivered with care and compassion.

Over 2,500 clients are fed daily. Project Angel Food delivers 1.3 million meals each year.

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Russia

Russian Duma’s lower House passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

The legislation still needs the approval of the upper House and President Putin- introduces an expanded “all ages” anti-LGBTQ propaganda ban

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Russian State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма) parliament building Moscow (Photo Credit: Russian Government)

MOSCOW – A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma (parliament) on Thursday.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper House of the Duma and President Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” paedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked the Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader. Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ+ pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki, Finland, regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles practised by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life- make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

HRW noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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Colorado

Biden calls Club Q owners; community grapples with aftermath

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech

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Entrance to the Focus on the Family complex in Colorado Springs after the mass-murder at LGBTQ+ Club Q (Photo by Nic Grzecka/Instagram)

COLORADO SPRINGS – As the LGBTQ+ community continues to mourn the loss of the five people killed in last weekend’s mass shooting, focus is now shifting to a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement according to Nic Grzecka a co-owner of Club Q.

In an interview with the Associated Press, one of his first since the chaos of the aftermath created by the mass-shooting, Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the First Lady and family members in Nantucket, Massachusetts, called Grzecka and Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes.

The President and the First Lady offered condolences and reiterated their support for the community as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence. They also thanked the two men for the ‘incredible contributions they have made and will continue to make to Colorado Springs.’

The president told reporters enroute to Nantucket, reflecting on the mass-shooting at the LGBTQ+ club and then another mass-shooting Tuesday, at a Wal-Mart store when a night manager opened fire in a breakroom in Chesapeake, Va., killing six, and wounding at least half a dozen more, said he has plans to support a bill banning assault rifles during the lame-duck session before the next Congress is seated in January.

“I’m going to do it whenever — I got to make that assessment as I get in and start counting the votes,” Biden said

As the memorial outside Club Q grows, more attention is now being focused on the needs of the survivors and others in the LGBTQ + community in Colorado Springs affected by the mass-shooting.

An annual ‘Friendsgiving’ feast for the members of the LGBTQ+ community unable to spend time with relatives because of their being LGBTQ+ and which was normally held by the owners and staff of Club Q was shifted to a community dinner at the Colorado Springs MCC Church.

In an Instagram post, earlier in the week, Grzecka thanked Colorado Governor Jared Polis, state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and city councilmember Nancy Henjum whose district the LGBTQ+ club is located, “for your hard work to ensure there was a Crisis Center to service the Club Q and Colorado Springs community during the holiday.”

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ+ community see as targeted hate amplified by a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech online and by right-wing media outlets and far-right figures such as Fox host Tucker Carlson.

Colorado Springs is also home to Focus on the Family, one of the largest anti-LGBTQ+ groups in the United States. The Christian ministry group has opposed same-sex marriage, LGBTQ+ service in any branch of the U.S. armed forces and continues to advocate for the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

Late Thursday person or persons unknown vandalized the sign at the main entrance to the group’s headquarters complex. “We went out there to investigate if there was a crime that took place,” Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jason Ledbetter told the Gazette regarding the overnight incident. “There is no suspect information at this time.”

In a Instagram post, Club Q owner Grzecka displayed a picture of the vandalized sign with graffiti spray painted in black reading; “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.”

In his message accompanying the picture, Grzecka noted:

Focus on the Family moved to our city in the 90’s, was a large group behind pushing through amendment 2 along with Colorado for family matters. People such as Dr. James Dobson and Will Perkins have spread a nasty, false and hurtful narrative about our LGBT community.

Amendment 2 was passed in 1992, and Colorado Springs ( El Paso county) were the votes to pass the amendment, the same amendment that gave our city the nickname “hate city USA”

Words have consequences and your continuous false narrative about the lgbt community has consequences,
@focusonthefamily this message added to your sign has more truth to it than you may actually be able to understand.

This is not vandalism this is not an attack on Christian’s. This message is just that a message that was delivered in a way to ensure you receive it.

@cityofcos, Mayor Suthers when can we meet to discuss how this type of Anti Gay speech, is coming from our own backyard.

The Gazette also reported that people from around the nation are holding in-person and online fundraisers for victims and families of the Club Q mass shooting. 

While the state has an official online donation site, the Colorado Healing Fund, a private online drive, also has become one of the largest appeals.

Good Judy Garage in Denver, an LGBTQ business, raised $25,000 in two hours after starting a GoFundMe drive on Sunday. The initial goal was upped to $50,000 and now is at $750,000, as donations continue to pour in. As of Friday, the amount collected was $761,707 raised.

Link to the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-club-q-families-and-survivors.

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