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Alejandra’s story: ICE falsified documents against trans detainee, says her lawyer

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Alejandra Barrera (Photo courtesy [email protected] Coalition)

The whole world is watching as President Donald Trump decimates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including removing Ronald Vitiello, a former Border Patrol official who has been the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since June. Trump wants to go in a “tougher direction.” 

Asked by White House reporters Wednesday if he might put immigration hardliner Stephen Miller in charge of the sizable department, Trump said that while Miller is “a brilliant man…frankly, there’s only one person that’s running [DHS].  You know who that is?  It’s me.”

It is highly unlikely that Trump or Miller or any of the departing DHS staffers know or care about how tough life already is for trans asylum seeker Alejandra Barrera who fled violence in El Salvador and now faces deportation after 16 months in Cibola County Correctional Center, ICE’s for-profit contracted detention center in Milan, New Mexico.  Authorities failed to give her medical treatment for what has since become a serious condition. Cibola became the only detention facility in the country for trans women after the city of Santa Ana, California ended its contract with ICE in May 2017 and closed its specific GBT Pod.

Trump apparently lacks empathy for asylum seekers. “I think that the whole asylum rules, laws, and regulations have been taken advantage of by people that are very bad people, in many cases.  These are the people running the cartels.  They’re gaming the system; they have been for years.  The only difference is our economy is now so strong that more people come up,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Seeking asylum is a human right under international law for refugees fleeing torture and violence. But the apparent flagrant refusal to recognize asylum rules, laws, and regulations has resulted in the deaths of 22 immigrants in ICE detention centers over the two years since Trump’s been in power, according to an NBC News investigation, revealing a system “long riddled with problems. Within the last year, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued three reports finding poor treatment and spotty oversight in ICE facilities.”

The NBC analysis does not include the deaths of two Guatemalan children in CBP custody in December nor the March death of a 20-month old girl, Mariee Juárez, nearly two months after she and her mother were detained in Texas. NBC notes that “ICE has said deaths in detention are ‘exceedingly rare,’ involving a fraction of those detained by the agency.”

An LGBTI advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, honors Roxsana Hernández, a transgender woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on May 25, 2018. Autopsy results indicate Hernández was beaten before her death. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The death of Roxsana Hernández , a 33-year old HIV-positive trans woman from Honduras exposed the particular suffering endured by transgender asylum seekers.

An independent autopsy revealed she died of dehydration and AIDS complications after 16 days in Cibola—and she appeared to have been physically abused before her death in May 2018.

Though there is no data for LGBT people specifically, a 2015 survey gives some clue about what Roxsana was trying to escape. The survey ranks Honduras as one the five deadliest countries in the world for women. Official government statistics reported 380 Honduran women murdered last year, according to significant story in the April 5 Sunday Review of the New York Times  – not counting number of women who have “disappeared,” which continues to rise.

“Unlike in much of the world, where most murdered women are killed by their husbands, partners or family members, half in Honduras are killed by drug cartels and gangs. And the ways they are being killed — shot in the vagina, cut to bits with their parts distributed among various public places, strangled in front of their children, skinned alive — have women running for the border,” The Times reports.

Alejandra Barrera fled El Salvador, also one of the five deadliest countries for women, after being pursued by government officials for being a trans activist and by gangs for simply being alive. She followed all the byzantine procedures laid out for asylum seekers, only to be locked up in Cibola detention center, with ICE refusing her medical care or release while her asylum requests are on appeal, a standard procedure. Now, with four requests denied, Alejandra faces deportation back to certain death.

But the denials are all based on fabricated documents, Alejandra’s attorney Rebekah Wolf from Equal Justice Works tells the Los Angeles Blade, blatantly featuring a signature from an ICE official who was not in that position when the documented was dated, as well as other “falsified” information.

Alejandra is growing so weak from illness and so weary from the constant battle against cruelty, she’s close to giving up, Wolf says.

Wolf is desperately trying to catch the attention of a compassionate lawmaker who can stop the deportation process so Alejandra can get a fair, unbiased asylum hearing and review her evidence that “ICE falsified parole documents in her case.”

Alejandra, 44, was an activist, educator and a campaigner for trans and LGBT communities and for people with HIV in El Salvador, Wolf says. She also lived through the El Salvadoran civil war (1979-1992) and “had been targeted a number of different times by the El Salvadoran military at checkpoints who terribly abused her.” So Alejandra escaped with her trans niece, Zulay.

They fled through Mexico, where she endured threats and abuse from gangs, which she attempted to report. They arrived at the U.S. border in November of 2017, entered legally through a Port of Entry, but they were detained immediately and transferred to Cibola, some of the first trans women detained there.

At the time, the El Paso field office was denying parole to everyone in the El Paso district.

Rebekah Wolf (courtesy of Rebekah Wolf)

“Parole is release under ICE conditions and the regulations that state that once you get what’s called a positive CFI, meaning you’ve got a positive, credible fear of determination, you should be released on parole unless the government can demonstrate that you are a flight risk or a danger to the community,” says Wolf.

“What happened shortly after Trump came into office and started rearranging DHS was that there were certain districts around the country that clearly just had a blanket parole denial rule — an unwritten rule that they were denying everybody parole,” she says, noting there is an ACLU lawsuit currently pending about the issue.

Alejandra should have been released after maximum two months of detention. “She got a positive, credible fear determination,” Wolf says. “We requested parole five times. In the beginning they just told her there is no parole. So, she and Zulay both have their hearings and Zulay was granted asylum and has been out now for a year. Alejandra was denied.”

The federal government changed the asylum laws so that now judges can deny asylum based on a prima fascia credibility finding. Because Alejandra suffers from PTSD from her abuse during the civil war, as well as from her time as an activist, she did not provide a chronological account of her torture, as is required when applying for asylum.

“They did not believe Alejandra when she told a part of her story but not all about the persecution, so they denied the entire case,” Wolf says. “We argued and continue to argue that there’s no question that she’s trans. No one is suggesting that she’s not trans. No one is suggesting that she’s not from El Salvador.”

With PTSD, Wolf says, “you don’t remember things in a way that you would write them down in an affidavit, for example. So some judges in this country understand that and some do not. I believe that that was what happened in her case. The judge just couldn’t understand why she didn’t have memory recall in the way that he wanted it but that she just couldn’t recall in that way. Then when the ACLU filed the lawsuit against DHS for not granting people parole, we filed a new parole request. It was an emergency humanitarian parole request based on a medical care issue.”

Wolf entered serious Catch 22 territory. The emergency request was denied based on the supposed previous parole determination and a conclusion that there was no new evidence.

“There was tons of new evidence, medical records, et cetera. So when I challenged that determination by saying this is a first parole request that you’ve ever considered,” Wolf says, “they created a letter that they claimed was the original decision. So they said that in March of 2018, they made a determination and they sent me that letter in July of 2018.”

But Wolf never received the letter – because it was made up in response to the second request.

“The reason I know that they made it up is because it’s signed by someone who wasn’t in the role that was that actual position at the time that it was supposedly signed,” Wolf says.

“The other reason why we knew it was false was because they’re claiming that the original interview, for the original parole determination, happened on a day that happens to be my birthday (February 28, 2018), which is why I remember that she had court that day. So there’s no way that they did a parole interview on that day, because I was with her.”

Now it’s the Twilight Zone. “I have four parole denial letters. On those four parole denial letters, there are three different dates of when the original interview supposedly happened,” Wolf says. “This woman got screwed by an evil, evil ….It’s DHS at that time. They thought that they could do no wrong and that no one was going to check.”

Wolf brought the documents to the attention of the Assistant Field Office Director in the second to last parole request.

“I said, you have done this,” she says. “We kept thinking that rather than having this come out, they would just parole her. Because the only request that we have been making since June of 2018 is: ‘can she please just not be in a jail while she’s waiting for her appeal to be decided?’”

Parole happens in nearly every case at Cibola unless there is evidence or a record of a criminal history.

“Alejandra didn’t have a criminal history in the United States,” Wolf says, and the director “had her positive GFI findings. Their own rules say that she should have been released.”

The fourth request was denied because “she did not establish to ICE’s satisfaction substantial ties to the community,” as well as the previous decision on parole and no new information.

Not true. Alejandra has had multiple sponsors throughout the process, Wolf says, “multiple people willing to take her in, to house her, to make sure that she shows up for any ICE appointments. They could have imposed supervision conditions on her. They could have put an ankle monitor on her. They could have imposed a financial bond. They could have made her check in at the ICE office once a week. There were a number of different conditions that are very common, in fact, for people being released on parole. There are eight million different ways that they could have put conditions that would have alleviated some of those concerns. And they just didn’t. They just wouldn’t.”

Free on parole, Alejandra and her sponsors would be better able to collect evidence to back up her claim. “She was in a catch-22, where she was denied because, in part, she was in detention. And then they wouldn’t let her out of detention while her appeal was adjudicated,” Wolf says.

And then there’s the abject cruelty and incompetence.

“Another reason that she lost in the asylum proceedings, is because the same deportation officer that was sending me these parole denial letters, also, at the beginning of Alejandra’s proceedings, refused to give Alejandra a copy of her credible fear interview notes, which is standard practice. Everyone gets a copy of it. We had never seen anything like it.”

So Wolf requested and received a court order for the government attorney to turn over these notes. But the government attorney did not turn them over and instead used them in the proceedings to try to impeach Alejandra, as if she told a different story at the interview than during testimony.

When Wolf objected, the judge said: “Well, yes, you have a right to see them. So I’m going to let the government attorney ask these questions now. But you can give a written objective, and we’ll have another hearing after you get to see these notes.”

After the hearing was completed, she got the notes, wrote out her objections and requested another hearing, per the judge’s order. “And he denied the request for the new hearing.”

So now there is a due process issue in Alejandra’s case that is currently on appeal in the 10th Circuit. However, since all asylum requests have been denied, she may be deported back to El Salvador for the federal case is scheduled for a hearing.

“The 10th Circuit did not issue a stay of removal when they accepted the case. So they can deport her with the appeal still pending, which they are trying to do,” Wolf says. “It’s insanity-making.”

Wolf confirms but [email protected] Coalition founder Bamby Salcedo says – that Alejandra is close to giving up. Salcedo says she has been trying to lift up her spirits by phone.

“But she’s also letting us continue,” says Wolf who visited Alejandra Tuesday to say good-bye and to say “I’m so sorry” because she said that she was ready to go, because she just couldn’t …”

Wolf pauses, the silence poignant with dire possibilities.

 

“ICE is acting with total impunity in this country right now,” Wolf says. “Even falsified documents — it feels like spitting into the wind. And then I talked her this morning, and she’s like, ‘One last battle. One last battle.’ So that’s what we’re on.”

Wolf is sending evidence to Congressional offices of what they think are falsified DHS documents. The documents were also filed with an emergency request for a stay of Alejandra’s deportation. And she has filed documents with ICE that she believes indicate that Alejandra is “showing symptoms of a progression of a disease that not only is lethal but affects her cognition.”

That officials at Cibola didn’t treat her early treated with simple antibiotics is “very clearly a human rights violation,” says Wolf.

Wolf and the [email protected] are asking for the community’s help by calling or texting their own Congressional members, even if they’re not in New Mexico or Texas, and call the ICE office in El Paso and ask them to stay Alejandra’s deportation.

“We understand that this is one case in a ocean of human rights abuses and unbelievable violations of human rights and civil rights by the US immigration system,” Wolf says, “but we want to highlight it to just show how bad it really can be.”

Bamby Salcedo spoke with Univision about Alejandra’s situation.

They ask for help:

Correction: please note that an earlier version of this story indicated that the falsified documents were presented to immigration judges. They were not; they were included as part of the parol requests. My apologies. 

 

Congress

Speaker McCarthy confirms Santos faces House Ethics probe

“If ethics finds something, we’ll take action,’ McCarthy said. “Right now we’re not allowing him to be on committees”

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (L) with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) (Photo Credit: Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that GOP Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) faces an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

“Ethics is moving through, and if ethics finds something, we’ll take action,” McCarthy said.

For his part, Santos continued to lean into the defiant attitude with which he has recently treated the many scandals that have enveloped him since his arrival to Washington.

Santos told CNN he is “not concerned” about the Ethics probe and is eager to welcome the constituents from his district, New York’s Third Congressional, who are headed to Capitol Hill today to demand his resignation.

“Right now we’re not allowing him to be on committees from the standpoint of the questions that have arisen,” McCarthy told the network, following reports last week that Santos stepped down from the House Committees on Small Business and Science, Space and Technology.

Asked whether his resignations came at the speaker’s behest, Santos told reporters at the time: “Nobody tells me to do anything.”

Also last week came reports that the FBI was exploring allegations that Santos ran a GoFundMe scam, allegedly stealing crowdsourced money that was intended for oncology treatments for a homeless veteran’s treasured service dog.

Politico reported that on Tuesday, dozens of constituents from Santos’ district called on the beleaguered New York Republican to resign — or demanded House GOP leadership call a vote to expel him.

Gathering on Capitol Hill outside of congressional offices on the day that President Joe Biden is to deliver his State of the Union address, constituents waved a number of signs including those that read “I believe in Santa more than Santos,” “Scamtos,” and “Sashay away George.” They chanted: “Force him out!” The New York Republican has given no indication he’d resign.

One of his GOP constituents said he found Santos’ lie that his mother perished during 9/11 particularly offensive. “You have to be really psychologically impaired to throw that around like it’s nickels,” Ben Marzouk, a local Republican, said.

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Montana

Montana Republicans support anti-Trans medical conscience bill

HB 303, which allows medical providers to decline services based on moral or religious beliefs, cleared a key House vote Monday

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Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula (Photo Credit: August Payton Photography)

By Mara Silvers | HELENA – State lawmakers in the House of Representatives gave broad approval Monday to a bill that would allow medical providers, health care facilities and insurers to deny services based on “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles,” signaling the bill’s likely advancement to the Senate this week. 

House Bill 303, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, passed the Republican-majority chamber largely along party lines, with 65 votes in favor and 35 against, after roughly 20 minutes of debate.

Regier portrayed the bill as a “preservation and protection for medical conscience” in the state for practitioners and health care institutions that object to specific “lifestyle and elective procedures” such as physician aid in dying, prescribing marijuana or opioids, abortion procedures and gender-affirming medical care for transgender people.

“To be clear, this bill would not give the right to refuse to serve a person. It would only apply to the narrow circumstances where a nurse or physician cannot conscientiously perform a specific procedure,” Regier said.

A subsection of the bill says it is not meant to conflict with the federal emergency health care access law known as EMTALA as it applies to health care institutions, such as hospitals. But the bill does not provide a holistic exemption for emergency departments and emergency health care providers. When it comes to abortion, for example, the bill would require providers to opt-in to participating in those procedures in writing beforehand.

Similar legislation has had recent success in other states. For instance, a Medical Ethics and Diversity Act was signed into law in South Carolina last spring. The legislation in that state saw support from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious advocacy group that is also backing the Montana proposal. 

The opposition to South Carolina’s legislation, including from transgender patients and LGBTQ advocacy groups, echoes concerns now surfacing in Montana over HB 303. Medical associations and groups, including the Montana Hospital Association, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana Nurses Association and the Montana Medical Association, testified against the bill during a January committee hearing, saying it would put patients’ care at risk. 

During Monday’s debate on the House floor, Democrats reiterated that the bill includes no discrimination protection for patients, and does not guarantee that a patient has a right to access health care even if a specific provider declines to participate in those services. 

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, told fellow lawmakers the bill would mean transgender people like herself could be turned away from medical services they need.

“What is actually going to happen is it will be a denial based on diagnosis. Something like, I am diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Zephyr said. “And the thing is, that is inherently discriminatory because you cannot pass my diagnosis from who I am. To deny me based on my diagnosis of gender dysphoria is to deny me based on my being a trans woman.”

Republican moderates appeared to try and derail the bill by proposing a strategic amendment during Monday’s floor session. 

As written, HB 303 does not apply to a “health care institution or health care payer owned or operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state.” Some Republican representatives showed interest in striking that provision from the bill, an amendment that would have triggered a higher threshold for the bill to pass because of a specific provision of the state constitution. That amendment, proposed by Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon, failed in a 39-61 vote. 

Republicans who spoke in support of the bill on the floor said they hoped the bill would protect freedom of expression for medical providers, even those they disagree with. 

“I think in this increasingly lack of traditional values and conscience world, and oftentimes profit-driven world, that protection needs to be provided for providers and health care workers that do have those values and do have that conscience,” said Rep. Jerry Schilling, R-Circle. 

Other Democrats who considered the bill as part of the House Judiciary Committee urged lawmakers to consider the unintended consequences of the bill. Rep. Laura Smith, D-Helena, said she’d heard stories from parents of young children faced with challenging medical circumstances who feared that, had HB 303 been in place, their desires for care would have been trumped by the prerogative or ideology of their providers. 

“This is just one of many examples that I receive where medical teams have tried to deny parents’ rights to choose procedures for their children,” Smith said. “If the bill passes, it will take away parental rights, and your constituents’ parental rights, to make these life-and-death procedural and medical decisions for our own children.”

The bill ultimately passed with widespread Republican support and one affirmative vote from Rep. Frank Smith, D-Poplar. Four Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in opposition.

If the bill passes a third, non-debatable vote this week, it will then be transmitted to the Senate and assigned to a committee for a second hearing. 

Speaking to Montana Free Press Monday afternoon, Regier said she was pleased by the vote margin. 

“It’s what we all hope for,” she said. 

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Mara Silvers writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.

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The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

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Orange County

Huntington Beach could ban Pride flags on city property

The new rule would only allow the American flag, California state flag and the city of Huntington Beach flag to be flown

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The city first hoisted the Pride flag on May 22, 2021 (Photo Credit: City of Huntington Beach)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – A new ordinance that would only allow the American flag, California state flag and the city of Huntington Beach flag to be flown or displayed on city property has been proposed by Councilmember Pat Burns to be heard Tuesday at the regular city council meeting starting at 6 p.m..

The Republican councilman, a former Long Beach Police Department Lieutenant, told KABC 7 Eyewitness News: “Special flags or recognition flags of some sort that aren’t governmental or representative of the community, as one, I don’t believe has a space on our government flag poles,” he said.

Burns said the only exception would be the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action flag that honors those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country. “So many of the men gave all to give us the rights we enjoy today,” Burns said.

Although he did not specifically call out the Pride flag, Burns stated in a staff report explaining his reasoning for the request. “The City of Huntington Beach should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive. [We] are one community with many different cultures and people. All are equally valued members of our community, and none are to be treated differently or discriminated against.”

 “People have asked if we can fly other flags, whatever they may be, and I don’t believe that we should fly any other flags but equal flags that represent us all,” Burns added.

Many Republicans and conservatives view the display of the LGBTQ flag as divisive, some stating moral objections to affirming LGBTQ+ people as “represented” by display of the flag. According to Huntington Beach Public Affairs Manager Jennifer Carey, the Pride flag was previously approved is the only other banner approved by members of the council for civic display.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Carey told the Times that the city first hoisted the Pride flag on May 22, 2021— the birthday of former San Francisco supervisor and civil rights activist Harvey Milk, fatally shot in 1978 — after the City Council voted 6-0 in a May 3 meeting to keep the banner flying throughout the month of June to mark LGBTQ Pride Month.

Defending his proposed ordinance Bruns said: “We’re one community with different cultures, different people, and if anything, it’s a unifying measure.” 

KABC also reported that in a letter, Peter Levi, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach, asked the Huntington Beach City Council to reject the proposed ordinance to limit flag displays.

“Celebrating the rich diversity of the Huntington Beach community is not a political statement and prohibiting the display of pride flags because they are allegedly ‘divisive’ sends a dangerous message to the LGBTQ+ community and allies,” said Levi.

From KABC 7:

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News Analysis

Daily Wire host: Demons are “always trans”

“They’re never beautiful, truly gorgeous women with classical proportions- They’re always androgynous. They’re always trans”

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Michael Knowles Show (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Media Matters Staff | WASHINGTON – In his latest episode of his show, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles says the CBS network endorses Satan worship after the airing of the performance on the GRAMMYs Sunday night of Out Trans artist Kim Petras along side nonbinary artist Sam Smith singing their song “Unholy.”

Petras and Smith won a GRAMMY for Best Solo Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Unholy.”

Watch:

Transcript:

MICHAEL KNOWLES (HOST): So, Sam Smith gives an overtly satanic performance with all sorts of transsexuals and fire coming up. First point there, by the way — and I noticed this the other day even before Sam Smith’s performance — isn’t it odd how depictions of demons, how depictions of weird ghoulish devilish demonic figures are always androgynous?

They’re never super duper hyper-masculine chads. They’re never beautiful, truly gorgeous women with classical proportions and representations of beauty. They’re always androgynous. They’re always trans. And the reason for that is that the Devil hates human beings and sexual difference is, basically, at the very core of human nature.

The difference between man and woman, the complementarity of man and women, is right there at the heart of human nature. And the Devil hates humanity and so he tries to cut away at the very core of humanity.  

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California

Newsom calls for Federal investigation of high Natural Gas prices

California accelerating bill credits of $90-$120 starting next month to support with high gas and electric bills

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – As millions of California families experience soaring gas utility bills, Governor Gavin Newsom took action today urging the federal government to investigate the recent price spike affecting the Western U.S. and highlighted the state’s action to provide relief to Californians.

In a letter to the federal agency responsible for regulating wholesale natural gas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Governor requested that the agency “immediately focus its investigatory resources on assessing whether market manipulation, anticompetitive behavior, or other anomalous activities are driving these ongoing elevated prices in the western gas markets.”

Additionally, millions of Californians will soon see relief from high utility bills – with credits of $90 to $120 showing up on gas and electric bills as soon as next month. 

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to accelerate the California Climate Credit to help California families with high gas bills.

The $90-$120 credit will be applied to residential utility customer bills starting in March for customers of PG&E, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Gas Company. Customers of Bear Valley, Liberty, PacifiCorp, and Southwest Gas will also receive an accelerated credit of varying amounts. 

Tomorrow, the CPUC and the California Energy Commission will host an en banc hearing to examine the causes and impacts of the recent spike in natural gas prices. 

“Millions of California families are opening their utility bills to sticker shock – and we’re taking action now to provide relief to help with those high gas bills,” said Newsom. “We know this provides only temporary relief from soaring bills. That’s why I’m asking the federal government to use its full authority to investigate the spike in natural gas prices and take any necessary enforcement actions. We’re going to get to the bottom of this because Californians deserve to know what’s behind these exorbitant bills.”

California accelerating bill credits of $90-$120 starting next month to support with high gas and electric bills

Californians do not need to do anything to get the credit. Every spring and fall, millions of Californians receive credits on their electric and natural gas bills identified as the California Climate Credit. The California Climate Credit comes from the State’s cap-and-trade program managed by the California Air Resources Board. The credit on utility bills represents the consumer’s share of the payments from the State’s program.

The CPUC and California Energy Commission will hold an en banc hearing on February 7 to bring together market experts to examine the possible drivers behind the natural gas price spikes and explore potential state actions that can be taken. The hearing includes participation of the California Independent System Operator and market experts from across the country to discuss possible drivers and explore any state measure to protect California customers.

More information is available here.

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Politics

Victory Institute urges Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn for FCC

Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role

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Gigi Sohn (Screen capture via C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – The LGBTQ Victory Institute submitted a letter Monday with more than 375 signatories urging Senate leadership to confirm Gigi Sohn’s nomination for commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role where she would become the tie-breaking vote on the bipartisan-led commission.

“Gigi is one of the nation’s leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic
communications networks,” the Victory Institute wrote in its letter. “Gigi has worked across the country to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy. During this time, she has worked across the industry, notably as Counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler.”

Despite these qualifications – and the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to nominate her for a third time – Sohn’s confirmation has been delayed amid coordinated attacks by industry lobbyists, conservatives on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and right-wing media organizations.

Fox News, Breitbart, and the Daily Mail have recently focused on Sohn’s membership on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a respected organization that has come out against a pair of laws that were enacted in 2018 amid the panic over child sex trafficking.

The laws, according to the Los Angeles Times, “have proved to be largely ineffective for their stated purpose and rife with adverse side effects,” with the EFF writing that they “will not stop sex trafficking and will instead make stopping it harder.” Regardless, the matter has nothing to do with the work in which Sohn would be engaged at the FCC.

Nevertheless, these attacks on Sohn, an out lesbian, dovetail with efforts to link the LGBTQ community with child sexual abuse and exploitation. The EFF came out in support of Sohn, too, arguing that the attacks against her were “dog whistles.”

“Democrats can’t claim to support LGBTQ rights while failing to stand up to blatant bigotry targeting one of their own nominees,” Evan Greer, director of the digital rights organization Fight for the Future, told the Los Angeles Times. “If they remain silent and complicit, this will become a go-to strategy to tank LGBTQ nominees to any public position,” she said.

According to research provided by GLAAD, one of the groups that signed the Victory Institute’s letter, “These criticisms [of Sohn] have led extremists, especially those from the QAnon movement, to conclude that Sohn supports sex trafficking and is participating in a secret plot by Democrats and other ‘far left elites’ to silence conservatives.”

Former U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called Sohn a “she-male” and “fringe lunatic,” claims that prompted other users to make death threats against her, according to research provided by GLAAD.

Separately and in the past, Sohn earned criticism for her social media posts, including one authored by the acclaimed actor and comedian Issa Rae that Sohn shared, which read: “Your raggedy white supremacist president and his cowardly enablers would rather kill everybody than stop killing black people.”

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State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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Crime & Justice

Patrons of Gay bar in New York City robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to rob patrons at NYC gay bar:

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West Hollywood

WeHo hosts public hearing on PrEP & PEP February 23 at City Hall

Access to PrEP & PEP & adherence to recommended treatment are just 2 necessary steps in the efforts to reducing community transmission of HIV

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Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) pills (Photo Credit: San Francisco AIDS Foundation)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood will host a public hearing to gather input from community members about whether individuals at high risk for HIV transmission are able to effectively access medications approved as part of FDA-approved protocols for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis(PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

City staff and officials have become aware from anecdotal information in the community that there may be barriers to easily accessing PrEP and PEP at pharmacies in Los Angeles County and other regions of the state.

While statewide legislation, SB 159, authorizes pharmacists to furnish PrEP and PEP without a physician prescription and prohibits insurance companies from requiring prior authorizations to obtain PrEP coverage, there is concern that national pharmacy chains and local pharmacies may not be participating in ways the legislation intended.

City outreach to local pharmacists indicates that many local pharmacists have not taken the California State Board of Pharmacy (CSBP) training to dispense PrEP and PEP, and may not have been aware of the training at all.

The City’s aim in hosting a public hearing is to gather input from impacted residents and community stakeholders; findings will then be relayed to legislators and other key decision makers.

The public hearing is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers/Public Meeting Room, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard. Limited validated parking will be available in the adjacent West Hollywood Park five-Story structure.

Community members may view the public hearing live on WeHoTV on Spectrum Channel 10 within West Hollywood; by clicking on the ‘Watch Live’ link on the City’s WeHoTV website page www.weho.org/wehotv; or through City’s WeHo YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/wehotv.

It will also be live-streamed on streaming services such as AndroidTV, AppleTV, FireTV, and Roku. Digital streaming platform viewers can find programming by searching for “WeHoTV.”

Individuals who would like to provide comments but are unable to attend the hearing, or who would prefer to share their experience directly, can send their comments by email to Hernán Molina, the City of West Hollywood’s Governmental Affairs Liaison, at [email protected].

In January 2019, Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco introduced SB 159 HIV: preexposure and postexposure prophylaxis. The bill, which was signed by Governor Newsom into law on October 7, 2019, seeks to make PrEP and PEP more readily available to HIV negative individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection. SB 159 does so, among other things, by:

  • Authorizing a pharmacist to furnish PrEP and PEP in specified amounts and requires a pharmacist to furnish those drugs if certain conditions are met, including that the pharmacist determines the patient meets the clinical criteria for PrEP and PEP consistent with federal guidelines; and
  • Requiring a pharmacist, before furnishing PrEP and PEP, to complete a training program approved by the California State Board of Pharmacy.

Having easy access to PrEP and PEP and proper adherence to the recommended treatment are just two necessary steps in the efforts to reducing community transmission of HIV. PrEP is a key prevention strategy for ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports fewer than 25% of the approximately 1-million Americans who could benefit from PrEP are using this preventative medication. One of the goals of the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative is to have 50% of people who could benefit from PrEP using it by 2025.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a significant impact on the City of West Hollywood. The disease’s elevated infection rate among gay men caused a devastatingly high number of deaths in the City in the era following the City’s founding in 1984.

The City of West Hollywood was one of the first government entities to provide social services grants to local AIDS and HIV organizations. The City sponsored one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns in the country in October 1985 and the City’s response to the AIDS crisis has been recognized as a model for other cities, nationally and globally.

In 2015, the City of West Hollywood City Council adopted the HIV Zero Strategic Plan. The City Council directed staff to work with social service providers, community clinics, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and other governmental agencies to develop a strategic plan aimed at reducing the rates of transmission and slowing disease progression.

The City’s HIV Zero Initiative embraces a vision to “Get to Zero” on many fronts: Zero new infections. Zero progression of HIV to AIDS. Zero discrimination. Zero stigma. The City currently contracts with APLA Health, Healthcare in Action, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Men’s Health Foundation, and Planned Parenthood to provide biomedical interventions, such as PrEP and PEP to community members at risk of acquiring HIV.

For more information, please contact Hernán Molina, the City of West Hollywood’s Governmental Affairs Liaison, at (323) 848-6364 or at [email protected].

For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.

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Asia

Japanese Prime Minister sacks aide over anti-LGBTQ remarks

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience”

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President Joe Biden walks along the West Colonnade with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Friday, January 13, 2023, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

TOKYO – Masayoshi Arai, who until Saturday served as executive secretary to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was fired after he made anti-LGBTQ comments to reporters late Friday afternoon local time.

Arai told reporters in a gaggle at the prime minister’s office he would “not want to live next door” to an LGBTQ couple and that he does “not even want to look at them.”

He also said during an off-the-record conversation with reporters that if same-sex marriage is introduced in Japan, it would “change the way society is” and “quite a few people would abandon this country.”

At a press conference Saturday, a clearly agitated Kishida told reporters Arai’s remarks were “completely inconsistent with the policy of the Cabinet,” the prime minister adding, “We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society.”

Kishida acknowledged that he had fired Arai upon learning of the comments calling them “inexcusable.”

Tetsuro Fukuyama, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and member of the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet [Parliament] of Japan, took to Twitter writing:

“It’s an outrageous remark, even off the record. It would be a big problem if all the secretaries of the prime minister’s official residence had such a sense of human rights. “We respect human rights and values, but if same-sex marriage is recognized, some people will abandon the country.” Do you understand the meaning of respect? It deserves immediate dismissal.”

An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience” on Twitter and noted that Arai had also said that all of Kishida’s executive secretaries are against same-sex marriage.

The lawmaker, also a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called for the entire team of secretaries to be dismissed and said he would pursue the matter in Parliament.

Japanese media outlet  Kyodo News reported that Japan has not legally recognized same-sex marriage as many members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, have opposed the concept, emphasizing the country’s traditional values such as the role of women in giving birth and raising children.

The 150-day ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 23. The latest gaffes about LGBTQ people will likely prompt left-leaning opposition bloc lawmakers to grill Kishida over his views on family affairs in Japan, political experts said.

Late last year, LGBTQ issues in Japan drew fresh attention as LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita, the then parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, was pressured to retract past remarks against sexual minority couples.

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