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‘Conversion therapy’ resolution passes California Assembly with evangelical support

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Out Assemblymember Evan Low is trying something different. He wants to not only make law but also eradicate the harmful anti-LGBT stigma at the core of so-called “conversion therapy” through persuasion. On June 24, at the end of Pride Month and just days before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, he took a firm step toward that goal when his ACR 99 passed the California Assembly on a voice vote, with support from moderate Republican Chad Mayes, son of a pastor and graduate of Liberty University.

The non-binding resolution calls on all Californians, especially religious leaders and educators, to recognize the harm done to LGBT individuals who are forced to undergo the dangerous and disavowed practice of “conversion therapy” to try to change their immutable sexual orientation and gender identity into heterosexual.

But this is not the outcome LGBT politicos expected after he pulled a bill last year that was expected to have national repercussions and promised to produce stronger legislation. Low’s AB 2943 would have expanded the current California ban on “conversion therapy” by declaring it a fraudulent practice under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act  and extending certain consumer protections to individuals harmed by efforts to “change” or “repair” their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AB 2943 built on the LGBT youth protection bill authored by then State Sen. Ted Lieu to prevent state-licensed therapists from practicing “psychological child abuse” on minors under 18. Then Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in Sept. 2012, telling the San Francisco Chronicle: “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” Lieu’s bill became a national model with 18 states following with similar legislation.

Low, then chair of the California LGBT Legislative Caucus, spoke for many in presenting his case before the Assembly last year. “This is a very personal issue to me,” Low said. “Growing up with so much hate, I, too wanted to find out if I could be changed and if anything could work because of the societal pressures that we have. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing that needs to be changed.”

The Assembly also heard from survivors such as Ryan Kendall. “As a young teen, the anti-gay practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ destroyed my life and tore apart my family,” he said. “In order to stop the therapy that misled my parents into believing that I could somehow be made straight, I was forced to run away from home, surrender myself to the local department of human services, and legally separate myself from my family. At the age of 16, I had lost everything. My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of ‘conversion therapy,’ coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide.”

Low’s AB 2943 passed both chambers and was expected to be signed into law by Brown, despite a swarm of controversy. In fact, the conservative Federalist.com called fact-checking website Snopes a “sneaky liar”  after Snopes declared “False” some religious claims that the bill would make the sale of Bibles illegal.

That didn’t stop conservative media from spreading the inaccuracies.

This is essentially criminalizing religious beliefs. And I don’t mean to speak in hyperbole here, but if this bill were to pass, would this prohibit the sale of the Bible, that teaches these things about sexual morality?” One America News Network’s “Tipping Point” host Liz Wheeler asked Republican Assemblymember Travis Allen, a gubernatorial candidate (italization is by Snopes).

Well, literally, according to how this law is written, yes, it would. This is, you know, PC culture, politically correct culture, gone horribly awry. This is really directly hitting at our First Amendment rights as American citizens. Now the Democrat legislators in this building, right behind me, the California state legislature, they want to tell you how to think, what sort of books that you can read, write and purchase,” Allen replied.

Many were shocked when Low pulled the bill. But in building support for AB 2943, he saw something else happening. Traditionally anti-LGBT religious told him that while they still considered homosexuality to be a sin, they did not agree with “reparative therapy.”

“I was heartened by the conversations,” Low told the Los Angeles Blade last September. “A number of religious leaders denounced conversion therapy and recognized how harmful the practice is while acknowledging it has been discredited by the medical and psychological communities. I left those productive conversations feeling hopeful.”

After Low took a year to listen and dialogue, he introduced ACR-99. “We have a long road in the fight to remove LGBTQ stigma and discrimination from our culture,” he said. “While we live in one of the most politically divided times in living memory, ACR 99 demonstrates that it is possible for two seemingly divergent, but truly overlapping, communities to work together to address a controversial subject. We will continue to work together to build bridges and strengthen alliances in our fight against the harmful practice of conversion therapy.”

Some of his most unlikely support came from religious educators who were keenly aware of the depression and suicidal thinking of LGBT students.

“Believing that every person is created in the image of God, we support this call to equitable treatment of all people. We are glad to affirm your desire to see people as they are, protecting their autonomy, dignity, and to treat them with the respect that is due them as God’s creation. The call to compassion and caring treatment is consistent with our deep desire to reflect Christ in all we do,” Kevin Mannoia, Chaplain at Azusa Pacific University and former President of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a press release after the resolution passed the Judiciary Committee.

Low says meeting with evangelical leaders was like “going into the lion’s den.” But then he had an epiphany, finding “such a different contrast to what I had anticipated the reception would be when I met with them,” especially the expected hate.

“In fact,” Low tells the Los Angeles Blade, when I asked them point blank, ‘Do you believe in conversion therapy? And do you believe that it works?’—the answer was ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Do you agree that it’s harmful?’ And they said ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, why are you opposing this legislation, because it would appear, then, that we would be in alignment?’ And they said, ‘The unintended consequences for us is overreaching and too broad and could we have greater conversations collectively about that?’”

Low decided to introduce a resolution first, before bring back a stronger version of AB 2943. “I think progress takes time. Remember that saying: ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’ I think that this hopefully will be a transformative effort in which the evangelical community and the LGBT community can finally find something to which we can be in lockstep, hand-in-hand, in supporting collectively,” though he concedes that on individual issues such as marriage equality “we are on opposite sides.”

But, Low says, “on a fundamental issue like ‘conversion therapy,’ this, I believe, is historic. We have evangelical leaders putting their name to this resolution, coming to present in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, to stand by the side of the LGBT community in partnership in denouncing ‘conversion therapy’ as a harmful practice. And that is the first step for us. Then to build off of that relationship to hopefully look further as to how we can continue to advance the issues of inclusion, love, and respect for all people.”

But Low notes that there was some prodding that preceded evangelicals denouncing “conversion therapy” through ACR 99. Two years ago, Low and then Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced a bill that would strip Cal Grant funding of student financial aid from these religious colleges like Loyola, Azusa that discriminated against LGBT students. “Colleges in the state of California were kicking out and banning students based on sexual orientation and yet they receive public taxpayer dollars,” Low says. “That was my first entrée into sort of ‘battling’ evangelical and religious leaders with respect to LGBT rights and that of the religious community.”

But as he was trying to build a coalition of support for his bill, Low established “a number of genuine warm relationships” with some evangelicals who were also interested in finding a common ground.

“So that’s why I felt that, okay, we’re talking about conversion therapy, but this is much broader,” Low says. “The symbolism and the rhetoric and the narrative behind this is transformational. In other words, what can we now do from this resolution in which we have put ourselves on the front lines of this, and what can be build off of this? So yes, we will hope to then figure out what we can then codify and change into law with respect to strengthening our laws against conversion therapy.”

After that, Low says the coalition will look at “other things that we can do to help build bridges with the religious community on a number of things affecting our LGBT community.”

“I never thought that I actually personally would be in this position in which I’m actually thanking and standing hand-in-hand with evangelical and religious leaders,” Low says, the same leaders he’d see time after time on the opposite side. “Dialogue is so important. That’s what I think is very transformational.”

The Williams Institute at UCLA posted an update of their January 2018 report on “conversion therapy” estimates noting that 698,000 LGBTQ adults (ages 18-59) in the United States were subjected to “conversion therapy,” of which 350,000 LGBTQ adults reporting that they were subjected to the practice as adolescents.

The report notes that 16,000 LGBTQ youth (ages 13-17) will receive “conversion therapy” from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18 in the 32 states that currently do not ban the practice. An estimated 57,000 youth (ages 13-17) across all states will receive “conversion therapy” from religious or spiritual advisors before they reach the age of 18.

However, an estimated 10,000 LGBTQ youth (ages 13-17) live in states that ban “conversion therapy” and thus have been protected.

A number of prominent professional health associations—including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others—have issued public statements opposing the use of the therapy, saying it is harmful and ineffective.

The American Psychological Association previously released a finding stating that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are associated with poor mental health and tend to increase the risk of suicide, especially in LGBTQ youth.

ACR 99 now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then to the full Senate, where it is expected to pass. The resolution does not require Gov. Newsom’s signature. – Staff reports contributed to this story.

The photo of Assemblymember Evan Low testifying is courtesy Low’s office. 

 

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California

California voters give Newsom thumbs down on homelessness response

“I don’t think homelessness can be solved – I know homelessness can be solved,” said Newsom. “We are going all-in with innovative solutions”

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New Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell & Governor Newsom tour Folsom Lake reservoir (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

BOSTON – In a new poll released Friday 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.’

The poll of more than 1,000 registered voters has a margin of error of +/-2.9%  (Graphic via KTLA)

Newsom’s low marks comes after an announcement earlier this week at a Project Homekey site located in Sebastopol, West of Santa Rosa, where 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 head-on – helping tens of thousands of people off the streets while also demanding greater accountability and more urgency from local governments.

The new homelessness funding includes $5.8 billion to add 42,000 new housing units through Homekey – a national model for homeless housing. $3 billion of this investment is dedicated to housing for people with the most acute behavioral and physical health needs. This investment is the biggest expansion in decades in terms of clinically enhanced behavioral health housing in California.

According to the poll, homelessness ties with housing costs at 19% as the number one issue the state is facing today. COVID-19 ranks close behind at 16% (Graphic via KTLA)

“I don’t think homelessness can be solved – I know homelessness can be solved,” said Newsom. “We are going all-in with innovative solutions that we know work – with a focus on creating housing to support people with severe mental health challenges, and with more money than ever to move people out of encampments and into safer situations.”

California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless people with an estimated 161,000 people are experiencing homelessness, according to federal government data, and it has reached crisis proportions in many cities, especially in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in his annual State of the City address on April 19, 2021 that he will seek to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as allocate $235 million for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, intended to help up to 100,000 households and other critical needs.

There are deep disagreements in how to solve a problem that goes beyond economics, advocates claim they can’t house people quickly enough with a shortage of housing units and high rents. The issue is also further exacerbated by the complications of mental illness and addiction issues that require treatment and can make people resistant to accepting shelter.

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Politics

Assembly race candidate amasses significant war chest 11 months out

Openly gay, Zbur has collected critical endorsements in the race, including125+ elected, community leaders & progressive organizations

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Rick Zbur addressing attendees at an Equality California event (Photo Credit: Rick Zbur)

LOS ANGELES – The race for state Assembly District 50’s seat by Rick Zbur, the outgoing head of the state-wide LGBTQ equality rights advocacy group Equality California, saw his campaign amass a significant campaign funds war chest total this past week.

A financial disclosure report from the campaign this week disclosed that Zbur had raised more than $615,000 through June 30, 2021, and will report $530,000 cash on hand approximately 11 months out from the 2022 primary.

In the race for the seat which is currently held by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) who is running for the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, Zbur’s impressive fund raising could give him an edge over his fellow Democrat Sion Roy, a physician, who has not disclosed yet what his campaign has raised.

Openly gay, Zbur has been collecting critical endorsements in the race, including over 125 elected and community leaders, as well as influential progressive organizations. On Friday San Francisco Mayor London Breed added her endorsement of Zbur.  [A complete list of Zbur’s endorsements can be found here.]

There has not been an LGBTQ representative in Sacramento for the Western portion of Los Angeles County since 2008, when Sheila Kuehl left her Senate seat and later in 2014 ran a successful bid to become the Supervisor for the Third District on the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

“While it’s still early and this is only the first of many key benchmarks that we plan to hit during this election, the depth and breadth of support we’ve received for this first fundraising report serves as a validation of our message of bold progressive leadership and the important work that we’ve already accomplished,” Zbur said Wednesday.

  

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World

Puerto Rico activists condemn police raid on LGBTQ-friendly bar

More than 20 officers descended on Loverbar near the University of Puerto Rico

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Loverbar (Photo via Twitter)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Activists in Puerto Rico have condemned a police raid on an LGBTQ-friendly bar that took place on Thursday night.

Local media reports indicate more than 20 officers with the San Juan Municipal Police Department entered Loverbar, which is near the campus of the University of Puerto Rico, at around 11 p.m.

A video posted to social media shows that some of the officers who entered the bar were armed with what appear to be shot guns.

Media reports cite local authorities who said Loverbar did not have the necessary permits to operate as a bar, and the officers arrived there to fine them. San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero in a statement said officers fined Loverbar and seven other businesses in the city on Thursday for either not having the necessary permits or excessive noise.

“The Municipal Police of San Juan led by Miguel Romero intervened last night with a queer bar,” tweeted Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group. “This reminds us of a time when LGBTQI+ people were prosecuted, criminalized and villified.”

“We won’t tolerate homophobia and transphobia in San Juan,” added Serrano.

Comité Amplio Para la Búsqueda de Equidad (CABE), another Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, has called for an “exhaustive and independent investigation into the excessive use of force and intimidation by the Municipal Police of San Juan last night” at Loverbar.

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