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West Hollywood Mayor John Duran issues statement with apology and explanation

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The Los Angeles Blade received a statement from West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran from his hospital bed just hours before a protest and what may be a contentious city council meeting Tuesday night. Here is the statement in full:

To my community and colleagues in West Hollywood:

First – thank you for all the kind wishes regarding my health.   This has been a challenging week dealing with the blood clots in my legs and the threat that they posed for me.

I am truly sorry for the place where we find ourselves today.   A House Divided against itself – can not stand.   Those are the words of Abraham Lincoln after a civil war that pitted family member against family member.   And that is how this feels as long time community members pick a side while others wish it would all go away.

I have been taught to always  look for my part in any dilemma. I have to identify my part in the situation and own it.

I am always quick with a punch line or a joke.  Humor is my defense mechanism.   I often say  things that some people say are off color, ridiculous , racy or bawdy. People laugh or stammer. Some cringe. Some wish I wouldn’t. But it is who I am and when I say something improper—I am always quick to apologize if I went too far.

It seems to me that the current angst has been created by things I have said—one comment sounding to some as racist—and other comments as sexually inappropriate and beneath the dignity of an elected official.

The comment I made about an Asian-American man who made accusations against me recently in the Los Angeles Times, was not meant to single out his race.  It was a rude and hurtful comment about someone’s appearance and for that I owe him and the community an apology.   Some of you know that my family is composed of mixed Latino and Asian heritages.   My sister married a Filipino-American and my nephews and niece are beautiful mixed race Latino and Asian.  My nephew married a Korean-American woman who is presently  pregnant with their first son who will be mixed Asian, Latino, and white.  I don’t have any racist feelings towards my own immediate family or anyone else.   But my words spoken in anger and haste were wrong – and for that  I am truly sorry and I would like to apologize to anyone I may have offended.

The issue of sexual harassment at the Gay Men’s Chorus was initiated by a local blog who took an internal matter at a non profit where I sing with 280 other men and decided to print a story with only partial information.

In my 20 years at GMCLA , there has been only one claim filed against me.  That occurred 5 months ago by a member who claimed I touched the waistband of his underwear in an inappropriate way.

I have still never met or spoken to this person.  The chorus hired an independent investigator who interviewed him, me and the 5 other witnesses in the immediate vicinity who said nothing occurred.   This was in a common dressing area with 150 men putting tuxedos on.   Not one person could substantiate the person’s claim while there were 5 bystander eyewitnesses who told the investigator that they did not see anything occur.  That claim was found unsupported and was thus closed.

The second claim was about something I said that was vulgar and inappropriate to a fellow singer 4 years ago.   When it happened , I apologized to him for my comment.   He did not wish to pursue the issue further and the comment only came to light now as part of the LA Times Story.

The third supposed claim has never been filed with the chorus,despite repeated requests that he do so.  This is a person with a personal grudge against me who has chosen to attack me in the press, but yet to file a formal complaint with the Chorus against me so due process could be followed.

That’s it.  One claim unfounded.  One claim on vulgarity 4 years ago not pursued after my apology.  And one claim never filed.  Out of that – came  a misrepresented narrative that I was “sexually harassing chorus members.”

I flirt.   I crack dirty jokes.  I often say  things that make some cringe.   But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone.  Not ever.  It is not in my DNA. I will own my human flaws for being and saying inappropriate things. But I will never admit conduct that never occurred. That would be dishonest and done for expediency rather than truth.

Unfortunately, people are now piling on a false narrative that is untrue, misunderstood, and driven by the current mood of the country rather than the rule of law and due process.

It is the sin of Salem. Admit that you are a witch – and you will be an ostracized pariah separated from the community. Deny that you did it – and we will burn you at the stake publicly and impose a sentence without investigation or verdict.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue and every accusation must be received and taken seriously.  But pending investigation and process, opinions and reactions should stand in abeyance until truth is revealed.   Judging someone guilty by accusation is NOT a progressive value.  It was a past political condition that extended from the Inquisition to Salem that was such an affront to justice – that the Founders put a due process clause in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.

It is time for a little less heat and a little more light. If we are demanding transparency and process as community core values – than we must extend and exercise those values with patience and forbearance.   Or we subject ourselves to the rule of the the mob over justice.

Thank you.

John Duran

 

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Pennsylvania

Moms for Liberty member, others block Maulik Pancholy’s speech

“It clearly sends a message to our staff, our students, and our residents that identify as LGBTQ+ that they’re not welcome”

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Maulik Pancholy (Screenshot/YouTube MSNBC)

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Penn. — On Monday the Cumberland Valley District school board, a large, rural and suburban public school district located in Central Pennsylvania, voted to cancel an appearance and event on anti-bullying by openly gay actor and author Maulik Pancholy.

Pancholy, best known for his work on NBC Television’s 30 Rock and who authored “The Best at It,” a semi-autobiographical debut novel that explores the queer main character’s journey to self-acceptance and self-love in the 7th grade in a small Indiana town, was set to attend an anti-bullying school assembly scheduled for May 22 at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists including newly elected board member Kelly Potteiger, who is a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s listed extremist group Moms for Liberty along with board member Bud Shaffner and board chair Greg Rausch in an off agenda discussion brought up the event and strongly objected to Pancholy’s presence.

WPMT Fox 43 reported that Rausch asked Shaffner: “My only question is, do we even have any idea what he’s going to be talking about? I know he’s a homosexual activist and what have you and has written books and things like that but do we even know what he’s going to be talking about?”

Potteiger weighed in: “It’s not discriminating against his lifestyle, that’s his choice, but it’s him speaking about it and it did say that’s not the topic, but that’s what his books are about and he will probably talk about his pathway because he talks about anti-bullying and empathy and inclusion so part of that is his journey as an individual,” said Potteiger. “And as a self-proclaimed activist, that’s where it gets concerning I think.”

“If you research this individual, he labels himself as an activist, he is proud of his lifestyle and I don’t think that should be imposed upon our students at any age,” added Shaffner.

The board ended up in a unanimous 8-0 vote to rescind permission for Pancholy to visit the school.

The result of the vote led one former student, Tony Conte, to publish an open letter to Shaffner on Facebook, recalling his experience as a closeted gay teen and his struggles with suicidal ideation because of it, Entertainment Weekly reported.

On Thursday, Pancholy released a public statement on his Instagram regarding the controversial vote.

“On Monday evening, I learned via social media that the school board of the Cumberland Valley School District in Pennsylvania voted 8-0 to cancel my scheduled author visit with the students of Mountain View Middle School due to concerns about my ‘activism’ and what they called my ‘lifestyle.’ My heart goes out to the entire Mountain View Middle School community, and particularly to the students.” 

His statement continues, addressing his books and growing up without a representation of South Asian-American or LGBTQ+ characters in media. 

“When I visit schools, my ‘activism’ is to let all young people know that they’re seen. To let them know that they matter. When I talk about the characters in my books feeling ‘different,’ I’m always surprised by how many young people raise their hands- regardless of their identities and backgrounds- wanting to share about the ways in which they, to, feel different,” Pancholy continued. 

In a phone interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shaffner denied the claim that Pancholy’s sexual orientation was the reason for the vote.“That’s absolutely unfounded,” he said. “That wasn’t even part of the discussion. We simply voted to uphold the [school] policy of no political speeches, no political activism.”

He added, “We just cannot allow political speeches within our school. And he identified himself as a political activist.”

“I thought it was outrageous and very concerning,” Trisha Comstock, a parent who is behind a petition now circulating online, asking the board to reverse its decision told Fox 43. “It clearly sends a message to our staff, our students, and our residents that identify as LGBTQ+, that part of the community, that they’re not welcome, they’re not seen, they’re not respected.”

The full April 15 school board meeting can be watched here.

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Politics

Support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

70% of all LGBTQ respondents and 81% of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

SAN FRANCISCO — A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

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European Union

LGBTQ+ activists demand EU sanction Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act

Yoweri Museveni signed law on May 29, 2023

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Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, speaks at a protest in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States’s offices in D.C. on April 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — More than a dozen activists who protested in front of the European Union Delegation to the United States in D.C. on Thursday demanded the EU to sanction Uganda over the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist, and Global Black Gay Men Connect Executive Director Micheal Ighodaro are among those who spoke at the protest. Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell also participated in the event that her organization organized along with GBGMC and Convening for Equality Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights group.

(Washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The country’s Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

A press release that Health GAP issued ahead of Thursday’s protest notes EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen on March 6 announced more than €200 million ($212.87 million) for Uganda in support of “small business owners, young female entrepreneurs, agribusinesses as well as vital digital infrastructure projects in full Team Europe format with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and several member states.”

“These concrete initiatives will make a difference to aspiring entrepreneurs, Ugandan businesses and create jobs in multiple sectors,” said Urpilainen in a press release that announced the funds. “This is a perfect example of how Global Gateway can make a tangible difference for citizens and businesses and unlock the full potential of a partner country by working together.”

Convening for Equality Uganda on Tuesday in a letter they sent to Urpilainen asked the EU to review all funding to Uganda and “pause or reprogram any funds that go via government entities.” The protesters on Thursday also demanded European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “to hold Ugandan President Museveni’s government accountable for this attack on human rights.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, in a statement he released after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act said the law “is contrary to international human rights law and to Uganda’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including commitments on dignity and nondiscrimination, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.”

“The Ugandan government has an obligation to protect all of its citizens and uphold their basic rights,” said Borrell. “Failure to do so will undermine relationships with international partners.”

“The European Union will continue to engage with the Ugandan authorities and civil society to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are treated equally, with dignity and respect,” he added.

Urpilainen last September in a letter to the European Parliament said the EU would not suspend aid to Uganda over the law.

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Politics

Court docs raise concerns over right-wing TikTok investor influence

Federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S.

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Jeff Yass (Screen capture: Susquehanna International Group/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The role played by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass in the creation of TikTok might be far greater than was previously understood, according to new reporting that raises questions about the extent of the right-wing megadonor’s influence over matters at the intersection of social media, federal regulations, and electoral politics.

In 2012, Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, spent $5 million for 15 percent of the short-form video hosting platform’s Chinese-owned parent, ByteDance. In the years since, as TikTok grew from a nascent startup to a tech giant with 1.5 billion active monthly users and an estimated $225 billion valuation, Yass and his firm pocketed tens of billions of dollars.

Beyond the size of Susquehanna’s ownership stake, little was known about its relationship with ByteDance until documents from a lawsuit filed against the firm by its former contractors were accidentally unsealed last month, leading to new reporting by the New York Times on Thursday that shows Susquehanna was hardly a passive investor.

In 2009 the firm used a proprietary, sophisticated search algorithm to build a home-buying site called 99Fang, tapping software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming to serve as its CEO. The company folded. And then, per the Times’s review of the court records, in 2012 Susquehanna picked Yiming to be the founder of its new startup ByteDance and repurposed the technology from 99Fang for use in the new venture.

Importantly, the documents do not provide insight into Yass’s personal involvement in the formation of ByteDance. And Susquehanna denies that the company’s search algorithm technologies were carried over from the real estate venture — which, if true, would presumably undermine the basis for the lawsuit brought by the firm’s former contractors who are seeking compensation for the tech used by ByteDance.

Questions about Yass’s influence come at a pivotal political moment


In recent weeks, federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S. altogether, citing the potential threats to U.S. national security interests stemming from the company’s Chinese ownership.

The bill was passed on March 13 with wide bipartisan margins in the House but faced an uncertain future in the Senate. However, on Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced plans to fold the proposal into a measure that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, likely bolstering its chances of passage by both chambers.

Last month, shortly after meeting with Yass at his home in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump changed his longtime stance and came out against Congress’s effort to break up or ban TikTok. The timing led to speculation about whether the billionaire businessman was behind Trump’s change of heart, perhaps by contributing to the cash-strapped Republican presidential nominee’s electoral campaign or through other means.

Meanwhile, Yass has emerged as the largest donor of the 2024 election cycle. A coalition of public interest and government watchdog groups have called attention to the vast network of right-wing political causes and candidates supported by the billionaire, often via contributions funneled through dark money PACs that are designed to conceal or obscure the identities of their donors.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, Make the Road, POWER Metro: Faith in Action, Free the Ballot, and Little Sis launched a website called All Eyes on Yass that features research into the various causes he supports, along with insight into the networks connecting the entities funded by his contributions.

Broadly, in Pennsylvania they fall into five categories: Advocacy against reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights via the Pennsylvania Family Institute, lobbying on behalf of oil and gas industry interests by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, anti-union groups supported by Commonwealth Partners, a privately owned registered investment advisory firm/independent broker-dealer, the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, which seeks to privatize public schools and defeat proposed increases to the minimum wage, and the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocates for lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

Additionally, All Eyes on Yass reports that the billionaire has given massive contributions to Club for Growth along with direct spending to support the electoral campaigns of right-wing Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Josh Hawley (MO); U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.).

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Michigan

Michigan State University investigating alleged hate crime

MSU’s interim vice president and chief safety officer notes that the incident occurred during the school’s LBGTQ Pride Month

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Photo Credit: Michigan State University Police and Public Safety Department/Facebook

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University Police and Public Safety officials confirmed that a group of seven suspects assaulted two victims on Monday, April 15, 2024, at the MSU Main Library, potentially selecting the victims because of the perpetrators sexual orientation bias.

According to MSU police, a warning was issued to all MSU students, faculty and staff on Monday, and the suspects were identified on Tuesday. None of the suspects are affiliated with MSU. The investigation into this incident is ongoing.

Once the investigation is completed, it will be submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office with a request for charges against the suspects.

MSU Vice President and Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said two MSU students were followed into the library by seven non-MSU students who appeared to be of high school age, the Lansing State Journal reports. The suspects continued to follow the two MSU students to the third-floor study area. A video posted to an anonymous messaging board shows a physical altercation ensued.

Fox 47 News in Lansing reported that a student at MSU and a member of a group dedicated to advocating for transgender and non-binary students told the station: “I was shocked and appalled to see that happened on this campus,” said Lyra who asked that only her first name was used.

MSU’s Gender and Sexuality Campus Center is offering online and in-person support for students following the incident.

“It is important to recognize that crimes are never the fault of a victim,” the school wrote in a statement. “Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against or harassed is encouraged to report the incident(s) to the MSU Office of Institutional Equity.”

Doug Monette, MSU’s interim vice president and chief safety officer, and Vennie Gore, the senior vice president for the school’s student life and engagement department, addressed students and faculty in a separate statement on Tuesday, according to NBC News. The statement notes that the incident occurred during the school’s LBGTQ Pride Month and that it was also based on the students’ “racial identities” in addition to their sexualities.

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

L.A. County is investing millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan funds for paid early education apprenticeships. The Early Care and Education Assistant Teacher Apprenticeship Program aims to bolster the education career pipeline and bring relief to those hoping to avoid financial debt.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

April is “Sexual Assault Awareness Month”

This April marks the 23rd observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a chance for each of us to think about the role we can play in preventing sexual abuse, assault, and harassment.

Violence is preventable. Stopping sexual abuse, assault, and harassment before they happen requires us to work together to support healthy, safe, and respectful behaviors and environments. To build truly connected communities, we must start with community accessible services and support and expand the network of service providers. When it comes to sexual violence, everyone has a role to play to help build a community that is safer, inclusive, and equitable. Below are some resources and ways for you to get involved:

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.

Learn more at lacounty.gov/sexual-assault-awareness-month/.

At Your Service

Commercial Acquisition Fund Program

The Los Angeles County Department of Economic Opportunity recently launched the Commercial Acquisition Fund to provide grants to qualifying nonprofit organizations to support the acquisition of vacant or abandoned land and buildings in designated communities that were most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commercial Acquisition Fundis funded by the County, with $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds and will be awarded as recoverable grants, ranging from $500,000 to $2,000,000. Acquisitions and funding must occur before December 1, 2024.

To learn more, apply, or sign-up to attend a community webinar, visit lacaf.info.

Out and About

April 21 – April 27th is “National Crime Victims’ Rights Week”

Join District Attorney George Gascón, the LA District Attorney’s Bureau of Victim Services and the LA District Attorney Crime Victims Advisory Board for this special National Crime Victims’ Rights Week panel discussion: “Pathways to Healing: Supporting LA’s Crime Survivors.”

This hybrid event will be on Thursday, April 25 at 6 PM, with doors opening at 5:30 PM. Click here to register to attend.

Photo Finish

Photo Credit: Los Angeles County/Mayra Beltran Vasquez

Celebrate the 4th year of SOAR at the South Coast Botanic Garden when butterflies return May 1!


Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is hosting a Public Safety Open House

The open house is an opportunity to engage as a community to prioritize safety and well-being along with WeHo Public Safety partners

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WeHo Times/Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Paulo Murillo | The City of West Hollywood is partnering with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, Block By Block Security, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Public Safety Commissioners for a Public Safety Open House on May 1, 2014, beginning at 6:00 p.m. at Plummer Park, Room 5 at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard. The open house is an opportunity to engage as a community to prioritize safety and well-being along with our Public Safety partners.

The event is being billed as an informal meeting to interact with Public Safety partners and Commissioners, learn about available resources, and discover ways to actively contribute to keeping West Hollywood a safe place for everyone. The event will also be serving pizza, salad, and refreshments, with vegan options available.

The Public Safety Commission was created on September 18, 1989 and is comprised of five (5) members, appointed by individual Councilmembers, and two (2) members appointed by the Council as a whole (at-large). Each member of the Commission shall serve a two-year term commencing March 1st following a general municipal election. Members shall be residents of the City and shall not be officers or employees of the City. The Commission shall meet no more than once monthly, and if a member of the Commission is absent for any reason for more than three regular meetings in any twelve-month period, the office of such member shall be vacated.

The Public Safety Commission shall evaluate and recommend mechanisms involving public safety issues, assist the City Manager’s office and City Council in strengthening community response to emergencies, evaluate and make recommendations to City Council regarding neighborhood livability and domestic violence prevention.

The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station is part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and provides essential law enforcement services for the community. If you need to file a crime report online, you can do so through the SORTS system. Captain William Moulder leads the station, ensuring safety and security for residents and visitors alike.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) provides firefighting and emergency medical services for the unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County, California, as well as 59 cities through contracting, including the city of La Habra, which is located in Orange County and is the first city outside of Los Angeles County to contract with LACoFD

Block by Block Security Ambassadors is a program in the City of West Hollywood that provides a highly visible uniformed presence at the street level. The program was first established in 2013. The ambassadors are deployed on bicycles or on foot along major streets, alleys, City parking lots, and residential neighborhoods. They work in collaboration with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station to provide supplemental safety services. The ambassadors provide safety escorts, conduct foot and bicycle patrols, and offer helpful guidance to community members and visitors.

******************************************************************************************

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. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, which include the “Hot Topic” column in Frontiers magazine, where he covered breaking news and local events in West Hollywood. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

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Southern California

Triple A: Gas price increases slow down

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.45, which is four cents higher than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Southern California gas prices are still up for the week, but are not increasing as quickly as they were earlier this month, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.45, which is four cents higher than a week ago. The average national price is $3.67, which is also four cents higher than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.39 per gallon, which is three cents more than last week, 43 cents higher than last month, and 44 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.38, which is four cents higher than last week, 44 cents higher than last month, and 44 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.35, which is four cents higher than last week, 41 cents higher than last month, and 43 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $5.32, which is five cents higher than last week, 49 cents higher than last month and 46 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.31 average price is seven cents more than last week, 48 cents more than last month, and 42 cents higher than a year ago today.

“According to Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), yesterday’s U.S. Energy Information Administration report showed that West Coast gasoline inventories are at their lowest level in two years,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe. “However, OPIS also reported that imported gasoline should be on its way to California in the next few weeks, which should help ease the upward pressure on pump prices.”

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on April 18, averages are:

041824 final chart

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Politics

GOP AGs abused power demanding trans medical records

U.S. Senate Finance Committee says GOP attorneys general of Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, & Texas used “abusive legal demands”

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U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing room, located in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Photo Credit: U.S. Senate Finance Committee)

WASHINGTON — In a 10-page report released on Tuesday by staff for the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the Republican attorneys general of Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Texas are accused of using “abusive legal demands” to collect the medical records of transgender patients in furtherance of the AGs’ “ideological and political goals.”

According to the document, which is titled “How State Attorneys General Target
Transgender Youth and Adults by Weaponizing the Medicaid Program and their Health Oversight Authority,” the AGs used specious or misleading legal pretexts to justify their issuance of civil investigative demands to healthcare providers.

For example, the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti framed the request as part of a probe into the potential misuse of Medicaid funds, while the offices of Indiana AG Todd Rokita and Missouri AG Andrew Bailey cited suspected violations of consumer protection laws. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which demanded records from “at least two hospitals located in Texas as well as at least two medical providers” in Washington and Georgia, did not disclose why the requests were issued.

The report found that information requested by the AGs’ offices included “invasive items such as unredacted physical and mental health records, photographs of children’s bodies, correspondence to hospitals’ general email addresses for LGBTQIA+ patients, and lists of people referred for transgender health care.”

In response, and in what the committee called “a grave violation of patient privacy and trust,” some providers turned over “near-complete, patient-identifiable” information while others used legal processes available to them such as privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to share fewer details with the AGs’ offices.

The report noted that Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville had “failed to object in any material manner to the Tennessee Attorney General’s sweeping request and then caused undue terror to young patients and their families by supplying the Tennessee Attorney General with some of the records requested and then, again, by erroneously notifying some patients of medical record disclosures that had not occurred.”

News concerning Vanderbilt’s receipt of and compliance with the demands from Skrmetti’s office was made public in June, sparking widespread concern and panic among many of the center’s trans patients and their families. Some, according to the report, experienced suicidal ideation and emotional distress including depression and anxiety.

A plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed in July over VUMC’s failure to redact personally identifying information from the medical records. The following month, the center disclosed plans to comply with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

In a statement to NBC News, Michael Regier, the medical center’s general counsel and secretary, said the hospital disputes the findings published in the committee’s report and had submitted “a detailed letter outlining our concerns about its proposed findings before it was released.” 

“We made every effort to both protect our patients and follow the law,” Regier said, adding that “At no point did we violate privacy laws, and we strongly disagree with any suggestion that we did.”

However, the committee’s report notes that by contrast, providers in other states like the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis refused to turn over patient records, citing privacy concerns and HIPPA regulations. And after staff for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee chair, had requested and reviewed copies of correspondence between VUMC and the Tennessee AG’s office, they concluded that the documentation “sheds light, for the first time, on the full extent of VUMC’s acute and repeated failures to protect its patients.”

For example, the report explains that after Skrmetti’s office issued the initial request to VUMC, it followed up with two additional civil investigative demands for “confidential information across 18 categories without any bounds on the number of patients or people implicated” ranging from “employment contracts for physicians to volunteer agreements for the
VUMC Trans Buddy Program to communications to and from a general email address.”

In response, the hospital shared “65,000 pages of documents, including the medical records of 82 transgender patients.” The information that was provided pursuant to receipt of Skrmetti’s office’s third civil investigative demand is unknown.

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Los Angeles County

UCLA survey says quality of life in L.A. County is way down

High cost of housing is the most important factor impacting the annual Quality of Life Index, particularly among renters

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(Photo: Los Angeles County/Mayra Beltran Vasquez)

LOS ANGELES – Affordable housing, groceries and consumer goods that have all spiraled upward in cost has lowered the quality of life for Los Angeles County residents this past year according to a survey conducted by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Interviews were conducted with 1,686 L.A. County residents between Feb. 22 and March 14, both in English and Spanish.

The Quality of Life Index, or QLI, is a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs measures county residents’ satisfaction in nine categories. The overall rating fell two points from last year to 53 on a scale from 10 to 100, marking the second time in three years it came in below the survey’s 55 midpoint since the index launched in 2016. That means a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives.

Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the study at UCLA said renters, who make up nearly half of survey respondents, are being disproportionately affected by the economic and inflationary pressures facing the region. More than half, or 59%, cited housing as the most important factor in their rating.

“Housing costs have gone up,” Yaroslavsky said. “And incomes have not gone up anywhere near commensurate with what’s happened to housing.”

Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

While 61% of homeowners feel optimistic about their economic future in Los Angeles County, 51% of renters report being pessimistic. Only 23% of renters think they will be able to buy a home where they would want to live at some point in the future.

KTLA reported that according to data released by the National Association of Realtors earlier this year, parts of L.A. County rank 8th highest in the nation for highest housing prices. Just 23% of the renters that responded to the survey believed that they’d be able to buy a home in an area they find desirable in the future.

Homelessness problems are worsening

This year’s survey also produced striking results on the issue of homelessness.

“We discovered very little optimism about whether the current programs and efforts to eradicate homelessness will work,” Yaroslavsky said.

More than half, or 60%, of respondents said homelessness in their area has gotten worse over the past year, with only 10% saying it has gotten better. Just 20% are more hopeful than they were last year that the homelessness situation in Los Angeles County will improve.

Respondents were also asked whether they worried about becoming homeless themselves, with the highest levels of anxiety expressed by people living in households earning less than $60,000 annually at 44%, renters 37% and African Americans 33%.

“Despite the best efforts of state and local officials, the public is more negative and less hopeful about solving homelessness,” Yaroslavsky said.

In an email to the Blade Wednesday, Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Lindsey Horvath said:

“Watching my neighbors struggle with affordability or be on the brink of homelessness is what calls me to be of service to our community. We need to urgently address our overlapping homelessness and affordable housing crises by expediting production of all forms of housing, expanding tenant protections, and ensuring fair wages to address rising income inequality.”

Dissatisfaction with the government

Noting the fact that this is an election year Yaroslavsky, a former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from December 1, 1994 – December 1, 2014, said: “It feeds an overall sense that things aren’t working well.”

He framed this year’s results in the context of nearly a decade’s worth of research showing positive results for neighborhood quality and racial/ethnic relations, but low marks in categories commonly associated with decisions by public officials.

“A main theme over the last nine years is that Angelenos love the neighborhoods where they live. We appreciate diversity and get along with others better than some people think. And the quality of life for most of us is pretty good,” he said. “But at some fundamental level, people think our governmental institutions are letting them down.”

The last year has seen a modest decline in most ratings for elected officials.

  • Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna is viewed favorably by 34% and unfavorably by 26%. Last year was 37% favorable and 21% unfavorable.
  • Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is viewed favorably by 42% and unfavorably by 32%, a drop from 46% favorable and 23% unfavorable in last year’s QLI.
  • Respondents had a slightly favorable view of the city councils in their cities: 37% favorable and 32% unfavorable. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is viewed more negatively: 27% favorable and 35% unfavorable.

The Quality of Life Index in issues regarding the environment found that 25% of respondents said climate change had a major impact on their quality of life in the last year; 38% saw a minor impact.

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