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Guardian of veterans — and of LGBT rights

Mark Takano is just third out gay to chair a full congressional committee

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Rep. Mark Takano holding the gavel as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee (Photo courtesy House Creative Services)

Mark Takano couldn’t contain himself. Jubilant is too tame a word to describe how he felt that Friday, May 17 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.   

Takano, the first openly gay man of color elected to Congress, likened it to the day that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.

“I remember being at the Supreme Court steps and being interviewed after the decision was handed down and I said, ‘You know, I feel fabulous. I feel every gay word I can think of. It’s a great day to be gay,’” Takano tells the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview.

He’s beaming through the telephone. “I feel very similar to that day. It’s a great day to be gay — passing the most comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation in the history of our country,” Takano says. “Of course I felt fabulous and every gay word I could think of. I didn’t understand how animated that I would become at the press conference.”

Takano, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, worked with out Rep. David Cicilline, who took the lead on the legislation, “talking to members of our caucus about making sure we refrain from amending the legislation that was very carefully crafted so as not to upset the delicate balance that it was. What we were doing was doing a very, very sensitive thing, which was to open up the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We did so with the cooperation and enthusiasm of the Congressional Black Caucus and we certainly didn’t want to do anything that undermined the sacredness of that important law. There was certainly potential for innocent amendments being introduced that would become poison pills for the legislation.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ranked passage of the Equality Act number five on her list of top 10 legislative priorities. Nonetheless, as someone who remembered the difficulty in getting the bill a hearing, Takano was somewhat surprised that it sailed through the Education and Labor Committee and Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the Financial Services Committee, actually waived having a hearing.

What Takano took away from the hearings in his committee and the Judiciary Committee was that the opposition was focused not on the validity of LGBT protections but “on things about trans athletes,” he says. “They were raising the specter of people manipulating sporting competitions and gaining unfair advantages through their trans identity. At times, it seemed to me that the Republicans were embarrassed or not even trying to put up an argument.”

Takano attributes the less-than-stellar opposition to the overwhelming acceptance by the American public “that LGBT people should have basic protections in the workplace. And they shouldn’t be discriminated against in housing and they should be able to go to school without being bullied.”

So on the House floor after defeating the final Republican amendment, “as we saw the ‘yes’ votes put up on the board and when the gavel came down declaring that the bill had passed—with eight Republican votes and no Democratic vote against it—when it passed the 218 mark, there was an unexpected jubilation and joy from members. There was hugging. There were tears coming down. Caroline Maloney of New York hugged and kissed me on the cheek. Our straight allies were so proud of what we had done.”

The joy of this civil rights victory was so strong, some ignored House protocol. 

“Maxine Waters, myself and David Cicilline said I want a picture with you,” Takano says. “We’re not supposed to take pictures on the floor. I’m admitting to a crime. But I said, ‘Take one quickly before the Sergeant of Arms looks.’ We can’t publish it because I would be subject to a fine. But I wanted it for history. Maxine, myself and David took a photo on the floor at that moment, and we captured the vote tally sign behind us.”

Takano noted that in addition to the eight Republicans who voted for the Equality Act, 16 Republicans didn’t vote at all. But since this was a bipartisan vote, all the more reason for Mitch McConnell, “The Grim Reaper,” as he calls himself, to bring it to the Senate for a vote.

Takano says the LGBT community should let the importance of this vote sink in that “the people’s House voted to affirm their dignity, our dignity.” But the task is now to move the bill to the Senate. “Public sentiment, the power of the people is what is going to get equality across the finish line,” he says. “What we can do is begin to marshal the power of the people,” because as momentous as passing the Equality Act is, it gets drowned out by the Mueller report,” and the miasma in Washington.

“As angry as people are about who’s in the White House, they need to take inspiration from this accomplishment and then use that to build the momentum to get it through the Senate, to affect senate elections,” he says.

Takano names vulnerable senators he thinks McConnell is protecting from having to vote on the Equality Act: “Sen. Gardner of Colorado is square one,” he says. “Sen. Collins of Maine would be another. Even Sen. Rubio when you think how mobilized South Florida could be. Sen. McSally from Arizona is another one.” And there are also vulnerable senators in states like North Carolina, there were efforts to pass statewide measures that really were discriminatory against trans people” or try to overturn LGBT equality.

“There are many states where I think it would be very, very unwise for the Republican incumbent senator to be anti-LGBT, anti-equality,” he says. “And now that it’s passed the House, our activists need to be out in those states, dogging these candidates if they’re running for re-election, asking: will you stand in the way or are you going to lead on LGBT inclusion?”

Rep. Mark Takano with then-congressional candidate Katie Porter at an Equality California event. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“Inclusion” isn’t just a political buzzword for Takano who uses his family history as inspiration and reminders of the cruel ease of injustice.

My immigrant grandfather and my American-born grandparents were forced into Japanese internment camps during World War II. I use their struggle as motivation to fight for humane immigration reform and be an advocate for justice,” Takano tweeted with a video about his own history for Asian Pacific American History Month.

His family fought, too. “Every generation in my family has had people who served in the military. My great uncles served in World War II as part of the well-known 442nd infantry battalion, with all segregated Japanese-Americans fighting in it. They stepped forward.”

Additionally, his brother served in the Army and at age 10, he was aware of a neighbor across the street who served in Vietnam and committed suicide when he returned. And as a teacher in Riverside County—which has the eighth largest population of veterans in the country—he saw many students in ROTC go off to war post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

That connection made him keenly aware that the Veterans Administration is “more than healthcare. It’s about education and the GI bill. And it really made me angry to see veterans who were defrauded out of their GI benefits by for-profit colleges,” Takano says. “So I wanted to be on the committee that could start to hold those for- profit colleges accountable. And I care about healthcare. So one of my big responsibilities will be to lead the efforts against privatization by ideological forces that seek privatization of medical care as their ‘reason for being.’ Plus, politically my district has March Reserve Base.”

Serving as chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee—the only LGBTQ chair of a full committee and the third LGBTQ chair in the history of the Congress—Takano gets to set agenda priorities, including steering the VA to adapt to serving an anticipated influx of a more diverse population of veterans, including more women, more LGBT vets, and greater numbers of people of color.

And Takano is taking hard issues head-on. “I’ve declared suicide prevention as my number one priority this Congress,” he says. “And of course I’m interested in knowing how many of our veterans—their LGBTQ status, how it’s affecting their likelihood of coming to crisis. That will be one of the things that I will insist that we look at and that the VA is taking into consideration.”

Serving as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee also answers a family call to military service that he had to stifle.

“I actually did take the ASVAB, (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test) and I did have the thought that I had this secret at the time as an 18 year old,” Takano says. “I was interested in serving. I did have offers from top universities—but it just goes to show you that the kinds of discrimination that occurred in the last several decades is not a good thing for our military. It deprives the military of the best possible people who want to serve.”

The experience makes him appreciate even more the struggle of transgender service members and veterans. “The Williams Institute had an interesting statistic: 135,000 veterans are estimated to be trans. I think that’s amazing. And we think that 15,500 trans individuals are currently serving in the military,” he says.

“So,” Takano concludes, “I’m going to do my utmost as the guardian of veterans—as the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee— to make sure that all veterans get healthcare, all veterans get benefits. I’m here to be the guardian.”

After the interview, Takano’s committee passed nine bills to help veterans:

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Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats, including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the drag queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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FBI joins investigation into murder of LGBTQ Atlantan

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in the deadly stabbing of a woman asking that anyone with information to please come forward

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Katie Janness and her dog Bowie via Facebook

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Police Department’s murder investigation into this past Wednesday’s stabbing death of 40-year-old Katie Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, located about 1 mile northeast of downtown between the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods, has been joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI).

WXIA 11 Alive news reported that the FBI is assisting the Atlanta Police Department, (APD) however a spokesperson for the APD told WXIA the department wouldn’t provide any specifics about the FBI’s involvement with the investigation, nor did the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI comment. 

The Georgia Voice, the local LGBTQ newspaper, reported that Janness, a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed.

Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after Clark tracked her with her phone’s GPS.

“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”

A vigil was held for Janness on Thursday evening at Piedmont Park.

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly stabbing of a woman in Piedmont Park

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Janness’ murder is believed to be the first homicide inside the park in 12 years and according to family members of Janness’ longtime girlfriend, a security camera at an intersection near the park’s entrance captured the last known picture of Katherine Janness and her dog before the two were killed.

But other cameras in the area weren’t working, including one facing the entrance. As of Friday the AJC also reported, as of Friday afternoon, Atlanta police had released few details about the murder investigation that has left city residents and parkgoers on edge.

Atlanta Police are asking that anyone with information to please come forward, and tipsters can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

APD detectives are also asking those who live in this area to review footage from their security cameras and contact the police if they find anything that may be pertinent to this investigation. The timeframe for review should be between 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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The CDC’s eviction moratorium ending at midnight Saturday stoking fears

CDC’s eviction ban expires at midnight tonight, millions of primarily lower income Americans are facing losing their homes

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Graphic via NBC News YouTube Channel

LOS ANGELES – As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) eviction ban expires at midnight tonight, millions of primarily lower income Americans are facing losing their homes. Hopes of a federal extension approved by Congress failed this week and now lawmakers are on a six-week recess.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that he would let the current CDC eviction moratorium expire instead of challenging the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extended the deadline to tonight. The high court ruled to extend moratoriums to the end of July but made it clear it would block any further extensions unless there was specific congressional authorization.

A White House official said that President Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus which is highly contagious. However, the official conceded there were also concerns that challenging the high court may lead to a ruling that potentially could restrict the Biden administration’s ability to take unilateral actions in future public health crises.

On Friday, Missouri Democratic Representative Cori Bush angrily denounced House colleagues for adjourning for the August recess without passing an extension of the CDC eviction moratorium.

“The House is at recess. People are on vacations. How are we on vacation when we have millions of people who could start to be evicted tonight?” Bush told CNN’s Jessica Dean. “There are people already receiving and have received pay or vacate notices that will have them out on tomorrow. People are already in a position where they need help, our most vulnerable, our most marginalized, those who are in need,” she said, adding, “How can we go vacation? No, we need to come back here.”

The CDC’s eviction ban was intended to prevent further spread of the coronavirus by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress had approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but that funding has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments. According to persons knowledgeable of the assistance system structure, one of the reasons for the delays are over complicated administrative requirements for renters seeking help.

The President had pleaded with local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds. “There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” he said in a statement released late Friday.

While the Senate was in a rare Saturday work session on the president’s infrastructure package during a floor speech Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, “We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis. We have the tools, and we have the funding. What we need is the time.”

The President’s apparent action angered many lawmakers in his own party on Capitol Hill some who expressed anger furious that he expected Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters that they were unable to deliver.

Representative Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.” Waters quickly produced a draft of a bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban through Dec. 31. At a hastily arranged hearing Friday morning to consider the bill she urged her colleagues to act, Stars and Stripes reported.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass Waters’ bill extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation. Landlords are opposed to extending the CDC’s eviction moratorium and are also urging local and state governments to speed up disbursement of the funding designed to hep renters from losing their homes and landlords to meet their obligations.

When House Democrats failed to garner support for Waters’ legislative efforts, they then tried to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, but House Republicans objected.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as of March of this year, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent and as of July 5, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey showed that in the next two months approximately 3.6 million Americans will face immediate eviction proceedings.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.

The Biden administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households.

The departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums through the end of September on households living in federally insured, single-family homes late Friday, after the president had asked them to do so.

In Los Angeles, the threat of a spate of evictions will greatly exacerbate the greater LA region’s homelessness crisis. This past week in a 13-2 vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to stop people from camping in public spaces including the areas around parks, schools, homeless shelters, bridges and overpasses, and other similar structures.

A spokesperson for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he will sign the ordinance.  Once signed, the measure will go into effect 30 days later.  Opponents of this ordinance are decrying it as another effort to criminalise the homeless population.

Homeless and civil rights activist Eddie Cruz told KTLA, “this ordinance is targeting a specific group of people in the unhoused community. We believe that this is an irresponsible attack from the City Council and an irresponsible way to deal with the homelessness crisis that is occurring in Los Angeles,” Cruz said.

In a new poll released last week conducted by Inside California Politics and Emerson College of more than 1,000 registered voters, half rated Governor Gavin Newsom’s response to the homelessness crisis in California as ‘poor.’

Newsom’s low marks comes after he signed the largest funding and reform package for housing and homelessness in California history as part of the $100 billion California Comeback Plan. The package includes $10.3 billion for affordable housing and $12 billion over two years towards tackling the homelessness crisis including $5.8 billion to add 42,000 new housing units through the states’ Project Homekey .

Another $3 billion of this investment is dedicated to housing for people with the most acute behavioral and physical health needs.

However, say activists, there is no sense of urgency in assisting people navigate through what most people see as an overly complicated application process matched with tens of thousands who will be immediately impacted and without a time cushion to work through the assistance process once the moratorium is lifted.

Eviction Moratorium Ending

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