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Los Angles city councilmembers bring food, supplies, and hope to asylum seekers

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Sam Garrett-Pate/EQCA, Rick Zbur/EQCA, Councilmember Curren Price, Yolanda Rocha, Director, Jardín de Las Mariposas, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and a number of Jardin clients. (Photo courtesy Equality California)

It was just a throwaway line at the end of a contentious interview about President Trump’s controversial emergency declaration to go around Congress to get funding for the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. “This is a deep intellectual problem that is plaguing this city, which is that we’ve had thousands of Americans die year after year after year because of threats crossing our southern border,” Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller said Feb. 17 on “Fox News Sunday.”

Except it isn’t true. There’s no evidence that thousands of Americans are killed by undocumented immigrants, especially in light of credible studies showing they commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. He earns Four Pinocchios,” wrote Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler on Feb. 21.

However, Kessler notes, “This is a good example about how a paucity of data allows political advocates to jump to conclusions.”

Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Curren Price represent districts highly impacted by the humanitarian crisis at the border caused by the Trump/Miller anti-immigration policies. On Feb. 15, the councilmembers teamed up with the Salvadoran American Leadership Educational Fund (SALEF), Clinica Monseñor Romero, CARECEN-Los Angeles, El Rescate, St John’s Health, and Equality California to go to Tijuana on both a fact-finding mission over Presidents Day weekend and to provide food, a myriad of much needed supplies, complicated legal assistance and medical services through St. John’s mobile medical unit to refugees and migrants seeking asylum at the United States border with Mexico. Many are living in squalor in make-shift shelters or on the streets or being bussed to crowded camps in various Mexican border cities as they endure long waits to be processed by U.S Customs and Border Patrol.

Councilmembers O’Farrell and Curren Price visit a shelter (photo courtesy O’Farrell’s office)

The LA delegation was also well-aware of the tortured death of HIV-positive Roxsana Hernandez, an asylum-seeker fleeing violence in Honduras who died May 25, 2018 while in ICE custody.  ICE said she died of cardiac arrest but the Transgender Law Center paid for a private autopsy that revealed that Hernandez most likely died from “severe complications of dehydration” on top of HIV infection, according to a CNN report last November. The autopsy “also found bruising on her body that suggests she was shackled tightly at the wrists and beaten on her back and abdomen, lawyers for her family said.”

The delegation was also aware of the Feb. 3 death of a trans woman named Camila who sought asylum after escaping from El Salvador but was deported back to her country. Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Camila, had been reported missing at the end of January. She was later found at Rosales National Hospital in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital, on Jan. 31 with multiple injuries. Camila passed away on Feb. 3.

“She migrated to the U.S. because of threats that she had received, but she was deported because they didn’t believe her,” Aislinn Odaly’s, an independent LGBTI rights advocate, told the Blade.

Camila is the second trans women reported killed in El Salvador this month.

What was surprising for some in the delegation was the danger and violence in Tijuana, which has a mythical reputation for accessible bars and cheap prescription drugs. In fact, Tijuana is a Catholic-centric conservative area of Mexico where the real danger for LGBT people—especially for trans women—is not the criminals of the Trump/Miller imagination but the public, the police, the city and state—and Mexican immigration officials. 

Before leaving, O’Farrell, who is the openly gay chair of the LA City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, introduced a motion to help fund a facility in his 13th District that provides emergency and long term shelter to minors under the age 18.

“The president has caused a humanitarian crises that is affecting thousands of immigrants,” O’Farrell told the Los Angeles Blade by email. “Trump’s border policy is a violation of the Refugee Act of 1980. Women, children, and members of our LGBT community who have fled persecution from their own countries are being victimized again while they seek asylum hoping for a better life in the United States. I am in solidarity with the members of this delegation, demanding we follow our own laws while fighting for common human decency and compassion.”

Like many others, O’Farrell thinks Trump’s emergency declaration is a political stunt. “The declaration of a national emergency is a cynical discriminatory falsehood,” he says. “Many of our local shelters can’t obtain Federal funding, so it’s critical for our local elected officials to remain engaged in this issue, and use whatever mechanisms possible to help those seeking asylum in the United States.”

O’Farrell is keenly aware that neither he nor the City Council has any authority over the border or federal immigration policy. But he is working with others to find solutions to this manufactured humanitarian crisis.

For instance, he says, “we can partner with our members in Congress and our local human rights organizations to accompany folks at the border. During this time, we can utilize and maintain the pipeline of support through our partners at SALEF, Clínica Romero, El Rescate and CARECEN-LA.  These organizations have the infrastructure in place to not only provide hope but also offer real assistance to reach those seeking asylum. The infrastructure in place provides nourishment, medical and legal services, and clothing to those in need and waiting at our border. Our collective focus includes the LGBT asylum-seeking community.”

O’Farrell also says the Council can “apply discretionary funding to create safe spaces for our most vulnerable youth that have fled their home country for a variety of reasons. Related to the trip, I introduced a motion in my role as Chair of Homelessness and Poverty Committee. The motion directs $175,000 in discretionary funding to assist Casa Libre, a facility in my district that provides emergency and long-term shelter to minors, including unaccompanied migrants and refugee children.  This temporary housing assists those minors waiting on their hearings, and provides social, recreational, and medical services for clients.”

O’Farrell also notes that he is working with Equality California—Executive Director Rick Zbur and Communications Director Samuel Garrett-Pate were in the delegation—to bring a statewide delegation of LGBT elected officials to the border in the coming weeks.  The fact-finding and missionary trip helped lay the groundwork for the possible Congressional trip.

Additionally, O’Farrell says, he will be coordinating with LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl “on a strategy to assist this population. I am also directing LAHSA and the city to focus on ‘vulnerable communities’ as part of Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy that will be heard in my Homelessness and Poverty Committee in March.”

While O’Farrell noted specific efforts to help, Zbur was just outraged in his email to the Los Angeles Blade after his visit to the LGBT shelter Jardin de las Mariposas where Director Yolanda seemed incredibly upbeat and positive despite the ever-present danger, poverty and deplorable living conditions.

“Thousands of asylum seekers — including LGBTQ people fleeing violence and persecution — are stranded in Tijuana right now because of the Trump-Pence Administration’s illegal and unjust asylum policies,” Zbur wrote. “As we fight to hold the administration accountable for their cruel, inhumane treatment of LGBTQ and other refugees, we thought it was important to meet with migrants experiencing the very real impacts of the president’s manufactured crisis first-hand. Equality California is committed to lifting up their stories and working with our partners to provide any assistance that we can.”

Zbur concluded with a plea for attention: “The conditions that we saw — that too many LGBTQ and other refugees are living in just across the border — are heartbreaking and require more attention from the LGBTQ community and the broader progressive movement in the United States.”

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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