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Rep. Adam Schiff on surviving Trump, Pete Buttigieg and the Tom Perez obstruction

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Ten days before he appeared at the grand opening of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s $141 million housing and services project for LGBT seniors and youth, Rep. Adam Schiff was calling out President Trump over Special Counsel Mueller’s Report, released to Attorney General Barr.

“I say this to the President, and his defenders in Congress: You may think it’s okay how Trump and his associates interacted with Russians during the campaign. I don’t. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think it’s corrupt,” Schiff tweeted on March 28, clapping back at his Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee he chairs for supporting Trump and pushing for a highly redacted Mueller Report, denying the American people their demand for transparency.

Just hours before he was scheduled for the ribbon cutting ceremony in Hollywood on Sunday April 7, Schiff reiterated his position on CNN, defending his country against a would-be autocrat.

Schiff was a political rock star at the Center’s event—but having helped get funding for the campus that now occupies one full city block, he wanted to keep the focus on the building, not his fight with Trump.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti wasn’t about to let the bigger historic moment go unnoticed, teasingly mentioning Schiff as “a man who came here to release the Mueller report today – Adam Schiff – which I’m so excited about,” as the crowds of hundreds erupted into sustain appreciative applause.

LA LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean introduced Schiff as not only “the most brilliant member of Congress” but as the only member of Congress who has ridden the AIDS LifeCycle and he did every single mile” – 7 days, 545-miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Schiff joke that he couldn’t sit down for a week after that ride and thanked Jean and “the Los Angeles LGBT Center on the grand opening of this magnificent revolutionary Anita May Rosenstein Campus” and acknowledged those involved, those there, and the work the new facility would encompass.

Rep Adam Schiff attends the grand opening of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus on April 07, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for Los Angeles LGBT Center )

Then Schiff put the facility into perspective, remembering how two years ago, he joined the LGBT community at The Village “to consider what had just happened in the presidential election. And what it would mean for our country and what it would mean for the cause of equality. And we knew there would be tough struggles ahead and indeed, some of our worst fears have been realized. But we have stayed together, we have fought together, and we will prevail together. And we see just what we’re capable of when we see this magnificent new campus.”

Schiff also noted that post-election gathering in an interview after the Los Angeles Blade pointed out how poignant it was to have Trump’s nemesis present at the grand opening, a symbol of LGBT defiant success.

The Center appeared to have two objectives: be safe, but celebrate. A sign at the check-in point said “No weapons;” an LAPD recruitment booth was set up just past the entrance. Well-protected security guards were ever-present but not over-bearing. Other security tried to be invisible, unless one noted the observers on the roof and the seriously fit men and women with earpieces and intense gazes. Hate crimes and mass shootings have escalated under Trump and Schiff has received death threats for his courageous convictions.

LA LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, actress Joely Fisher, Rep. Adam Schiff (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

But no one expressed a concern for safety, despite the diversity of strangers packed together for the show. And Schiff shook hands and listened to each grateful supporter.

“In a way it feels like a bookend. I was here on the night after the election when hundreds of people gathered quite spontaneously to ask the most profound and worrying questions about what this means for the country, what it would mean for the community, what it would mean for all the hard-won progress towards marriage equality,” Schiff told the Los Angeles Blade.

“And this center, this beautiful new Campus is a testament that we march forward, that we will not be deterred. Our community stands united behind equality no matter who is in the Oval Office – we shall overcome. I think it’s just a wonderful celebration of what’s possible when people work together,” he said.

Schiff also confirmed Jean’s story about Tom Perez, the former Labor Secretary under President Obama and current chair of the Democratic National Committee.

In an extensive interview with Jean before the Campus opening, she explained the ups and downs they faced during their Capitol Campaign to secure the state-owned property across from The Village.

The whole time, “we’re talking to the state of California about how we want that property. And so finally they agree to give it to us for $1. We were getting it for free!” Jean said.

And then comes a twist. “We found out that the federal government had equity in the property. And because it was an Employment Development Department building, it was the Department of Labor – headed by Sec. Hilda Solis! So we worked with Hilda and she agreed to let the state give it to us for a dollar,” Jean said.

And then another twist. Hilda Solis steps down to run for the LA County Board of Supervisors — “before the deal was consummated. Tom Perez stepped in (as Obama’s new Secretary of Labor). He was brand new,” Jean said, “but we had a deadline running with the state that we had to fish or cut bait. And even though we got (Rep.) Adam Schiff’s help, Tom Perez did not have the guts to follow through on Hilda’s deal—and he had toured the Center!

“So I will always be very disappointed in Tom Perez for that decision,” Jean said. “So we had to pay $12.7 million for it.”

Schiff remembers. “We were trying to help get the Department of Labor’s green light on this and we were so close and it was a bitter disappointment that we didn’t get to yes. That would have saved a lot of time and a lot of resources,” Schiff says. And $12.7 million? “Yes. So that was a tremendous setback. But through the hard work of the people here – that obstacle was overcome in dramatic fashion. So today we celebrate. And look at all the community has achieved.”

Ribbon cutting (Photo by Troy Masters) 

Schiff is confident the Equality Act will eventually pass both chambers of Congress.

“We’re going to move it through the House, though I expect we’re going to run into the usual opposition in the Senate,” he says. “We will overcome that opposition. It’s just a question of how long it’s going to take us. But we are determined to press on. I know there are a great many people who thought it would be decades in the future before we would see marriage equality. But we overcome that opposition and we will make sure the Equality Act is passed as well.”

Meanwhile, LGBT people continue to be official second class citizens, able to marry but subject to being fired or evicted or denied services in many states where it’s still OK to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“That is tragically all too true,” Schiff says. “And you would think in this day and age in the United States of America – that you couldn’t be fired for who you are or who you love. And we’re going to make sure that equality is the law of the land in every state and with our federal government and I think those who oppose these efforts are going to be filled with shame when they look back and realize they were obstacles to progress.”

Schiff is also excited by the message of out Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who appeared at the Victory Fund event on Sunday as an out gay man “exploring” whether to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I think it’s tremendous,” Schiff says. “I just read an interview with him and I have to say, I was extraordinarily impressed. I can see why there’s such a tremendous buzz about him and this is a phenomenal new talent.

“And it just goes to show you that the country is filled with great people and talent who have a positive vision—that this sort of dark cloud that is descended on Washington isn’t representative of what’s best in the country,” Schiff says. “I always come back at the end of the day to something Bill Clinton once said: ‘There’s nothing wrong in America that can’t be cured by what’s right in America.’ And Mayor Pete is one of those great illustrations of what’s right in America.”

 

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California

Newsom signs bill making Vote-by-Mail permanent for registered voters

“The bill will permanently expand access & increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient”

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation on Monday to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections, including a bill to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot. 

In a move to increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters, the Governor signed AB 37 authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), permanently requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state.

The practice of sending vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter first began in California in 2020, and was extended through 2021, as a safety measure to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and resulted in record voter participation.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” said Newsom. “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election. I extend my thanks to Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Marc Berman for his leadership on this issue.”

“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” said California’s Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber. “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters. Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot.”

Newsom also signed SB 35 authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) making changes to the distance within which electioneering and specified political activities near a voting site are prohibited; AB 1367 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) increasing penalties for the egregious personal use of campaign funds to up to two times the amount of the unlawful expenditure; and SB 686 by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) requiring a limited liability company (LLC) that is engaged in campaign activity to provide additional information regarding the members and capital contributors to the LLC.

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Southern-Central Asia

Columbia University researcher helps evacuate LGBTQ people from Afghanistan

Taylor Hirschberg working with Belgian lawmaker

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Taylor Hirschberg (Photo courtesy of Taylor Hirschberg)

NEW YORK — Some of the 50 human rights activists that a Columbia University researcher has helped evacuate from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country are LGBTQ.

A press release the Los Angeles Blade received notes Taylor Hirschberg — a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar — has worked with Belgian Sen. Orry Vandewauwer to help 50 Afghan “activists leave the country.”

“The refugees included those who identify as LGBTQI+ or gender non-conforming and their families,” notes the press release.

The Blade has seen the list of names of the more than 100 people that Hirschberg and Vandewauwer are trying to evacuate from Afghanistan. These include the country’s first female police officer, the independent U.N. expert on Afghanistan and a number of LGBTQ activists.

“There are many more human rights advocates we are still trying to get out of the country,” said Hirschberg.

Hirschberg has previously worked in Afghanistan.

He and Vandewauwer were also once affiliated with Skateistan, an NGO that works with children in the Middle East and Africa. The documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” features it.

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge over the summer said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether the U.S. was able to successfully evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality earlier this month said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sept. 13 during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the Council for Global Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration have called upon the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans that includes prioritizing “the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people.” Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

Hirschberg on Monday told the Blade that he and Vandewauwer have charted an airplane to evacuate Afghans, but they have not secured a “third country” to which they can bring them.

“Currently, we are working towards a multi-country collaboration for resettlement,” he said. “Our work has now expanded to include election officials and women activists, including those from the LGBTQI+ community.”

Hirschberg also urged the U.S. and humanitarian organizations to do more to help evacuate LGBTQ people, human rights activists and others from Afghanistan 

“I understand that this is complicated and that I do not have all the working pieces but why does the United States ignore those who helped in building their agenda in Afghanistan. The same goes for multilateral organizations,” he told the Blade. “Why are neither funding charters and creating agreement with partnering states? If they are why have the not contacted the countries that we are creating collaborations with?” 

Editor’s note: Hirschberg is a Blade contributor.

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California Politics

It’s official- Rep. Karen Bass enters race to become the next mayor of LA

If elected she would be the first Black woman & second Black mayor after legendary Tom Bradley who served as 38th Mayor from 1973 to 1993

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Rep. Karen Bass (D-37CA) (Photo Credit: Bass campaign provided0

LOS ANGELES – Congresswoman Karen Bass officially announced her entrance Monday as a candidate to replace her fellow Democrat outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” she said in a statement announcing her candidacy. “Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this — together.”

If Bass were to win election she would be the first Black woman mayor and the second Black mayor after Thomas Bradley, the legendary politician and former police officer who served as the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.

KABC 7 noted that she would be the first sitting House member to be elected mayor of Los Angeles since 1953, when Rep. Norris Poulson was elected. Then-Reps. James Roosevelt, Alphonzo Bell and Xavier Becerra lost campaigns for mayor in 1965, 1969 and 2001.

The 67-year-old member of Congress currently represents the 37th Congressional District, which encompasses Los Angeles neighborhoods west and southwest of downtown including Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Miracle Mile, Pico-Robertson, Century City, Cheviot Hills, West Los Angeles, Mar Vista and parts of Westwood, as well as Culver City and Inglewood. Bass was a member of the California Assembly from 2004-10, serving as that body’s speaker from 2008 to 2010.

Bass is entering an already crowded field of candidates including Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and two members of the City Council – Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino – who have already announced their campaigns for mayor.

When speculation as to her running surfaced last week, Bass spokesman Zach Seidl told the Los Angeles Times that her running was due to the fact that “Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos,” Seidl said in a statement. “She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart. Los Angeles has to come together. That’s why the Congresswoman is considering a run for mayor,” he added.

That seems to be the focal point and whoever is elected will face the city’s massive homelessness crisis.

Bass acknowledged this in her candidacy announcement statement this morning, writing “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis.”

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