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Warren wins among LA Democratic 1st debate watchers

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It was a loud Tuesday night at Jalapeño Pete’s in Studio City with families watching an LA Dodgers comeback on huge TV screens on one side and on the other side members of Stonewall Democratic Club,  San Fernando Valley Young Democrats and Los Angeles County Young Democrats holding one of several parties around Los Angeles County watching the first of two Democratic debates on CNN.

Though the past several days have seen Democrats distraught over President Trump’s overt racist attacks against beloved Rep. Elijah Cummings and more House members calling for impeachment inquiries, the 10 Democrats onstage in Detroit, Michigan focused on differences in policy and fighting for a viral moment than giving Trump any precious air time.

Out South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg embodied LGBTQ issues by his sheer presence, if debate watchers caught moderator Jake Tapper’s reference to Buttigieg’s husband Chasten. Otherwise, there was only one reference throughout the night to the LGBTQ community—when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioned that Trump is a “homophobia” in his list of the president’s hateful characteristics.

That was not a particularly big deal among the crowd of debate watchers at Jalapeno Pete’s. What mattered more among these Democrats, most of whom were millennials, was who could take on Donald Trump and win. And while Sanders appeared to excite the audience in Detroit, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won the room in Studio City. Buttigieg stood his ground, landing some erudite punches. But perhaps the biggest surprise was former LA-based self-help guru Marianne Williamson who prompted laughter and nodding heads with her “yada, yada, yada” Seinfield reference and her lightsaber slashing of the tangled policy back-and-forth of her rivals.

“She’s a little kooky but she makes some good points,” says Michael Colorge.

                                  Michael Colorge (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

At 37, Colorge aged out of his longtime association with Stonewall Young Democrats but he’s still deeply involved in Democratic politics. He says he’s gravitating more toward the women candidates, especially Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris—but he wants to see how all the candidates handle themselves and who has the most staying power before making a commitment. He expects at least half of the 20 contenders to “disappear” after the two CNN debates.

Harris will be onstage Wednesday night, along with former vice president Joe Biden, who is currently leading in most of the polls. While pundits are expecting a rematch between Harris and Biden, who clashed in last month’s debate in a painful moment about racism, it is actually New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker who has virtually announced he’s going to take on Biden, the author of the crime bill that is believed to have led to the mass incarceration of African Americans and divisive criminal justice policies.

Former housing secretary Julián Castro, who gained some much needed notice in the last debate by going after Trump on immigration, may also make some waves Wednesday night. But Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and businessman Andrew Yang need more than just oxygen to survive to make the next debate stage in September.

Though several pundits gave the Tuesday night crowd some applause, very little attention was paid to Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Even one-time Texas shooting star, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar failed to rise above the restaurant din unless they were challenging Buttigieg, Sanders or Warren.

Delaney, a rich, moderate, former health-care executive, looked like a white, bald bobble-head doll up against Warren.

“I’m the only one on the stage who actually has experience in the health-care business, and with all due respect, I don’t think my colleagues understand the business,” he said during what seemed like an endless debate over Medicare-for-all and the end of private insurance.

“We are the Democrats. We are not about trying to take health care away from anybody. That’s what Republicans are trying to do,” Warren said, to the approval of the crowd in Studio City.

While Warren and Sanders appeared on the same page about many issues, the LA party watchers were not as excited by Sanders, who some felt sounded much the same as he did in 2016. A residue anger that he subsequently failed to help Hillary Clinton after she secured the Democratic nomination hung over comments about the candidate who is second in the polls behind Biden.

Stonewall Democratic Club President Lester Aponte and Stonewall’s Community Outreach Vice President Drexel Heard (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

But, says Stonewall Democratic Club President Lester Aponte, there were many reasons Clinton lost, including that she talked about Trump every day. Sanders and Biden are at the top of the polls now because people who wait until the last minute to get engaged recognize their names.

“In 2018, candidates won by talking about the issues,” he says. “The economy may be ‘great’ but it’s not ‘great’ for everyone. People are having a hard time making ends meet. They want to know what these candidates will do to help them.”

Aponte agrees with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that a House vote on impeaching Trump before the 2020 elections “plays into his hands. It’s important to let the public know what Trump has done—that [Special Counsel] Mueller did not exonerate him— and build public support. Democrats should talk about his illegal acts and [the investigating committees] should bring in witnesses with personal knowledge” about his wrong-doing.

“Trump has no sense of decency,” Aponte says. “Even the Republicans of the 1970s had a certain level of civic responsibility,” when it came to the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. “Now witnesses are not even responding to subpoenas and will not testify” before Congress, on orders from the White House.

“In a way, this is exposing weaknesses in our political system,” says Aponte, pointing out that the governor of Puerto Rico resigned after the territory’s House of Representatives, controlled by members of his own party, started preparing articles of impeachment. “His party abandoned him. Here, [South Carolina Sen.] Lindsey Graham rolls over for Trump.”

Buttigieg expressed a similar sentiment during the debate, spinning a question about whether age should matter in choosing a candidate. He said it didn’t matter, as long as a candidate’s vision isn’t “back to normal,” an oblique reference to Biden.

“It’s the only reason we got this president. That normal didn’t work,” said Buttigieg, 37, the youngest candidate. It is the duty of leaders to not only take on Trump but also the president’s “enablers.” Today the Republican Party is supporting Trump’s “naked racism.” But 20 years ago, when former KKK Grand Wizard and avowed white supremacist David Duke ran for office, the Republican Party “ran away from him.”

Buttigieg then looked directly into the camera and, as if speaking for moral people everywhere, said: “If you are watching at home, and you are a Republican member of Congress, consider the fact that, when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story, of all the good and bad things you did in your life, the thing you will be remembered for is whether, in this moment, with this President, you found the courage to stand up to him or continue to put party over country.”

              Michelle Elmer (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

It was a moment. And millennials such as Michelle Elmer, 37, who volunteered for now-Rep. Harley Rouda in 2018, like Buttigieg as the first viable gay and millennial to make the debate stage. But while he is on her list of top three candidates, she still prefers Warren, whose plans resonate with her, and Harris. “I want to see a woman elected president,” she says, definitively.

And Warren did not disappoint. “You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for President of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she said in another slam against Delany.

It was another moment that got heads nodding in the affirmative, another moment that might help with those small donations and willingness to volunteer that candidates rely on grassroots organizations to help galvanize their campaigns.

Drexel Heard, 33, Stonewall’s Community Outreach Vice President, finds political engagement to be a public service.

“As a military kid, service is ingrained in what we know to do. It’s kind of indoctrinated in you—to be there for people, to care about people. That’s what the Democratic Party stands for,” he says. “If we apply the honor code of our principles, then a majority of voters will understand what Democrats believe in—that we are unwavering in how we look out for people.”

Wednesday night will be another opportunity to see how the Democratic Party intends to define itself against Donald Trump.

CORRECTION: This post corrects the misidentification of Michael Colorge and the title for Drexel Heard with deepest apologies. 

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Africa

Botswana attorney general seeks to again criminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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California

H.S. students steal Pride flag, defecate on it & post video to TikTok

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community and a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely”

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Paso Robles High School via Google Earth

PASO ROBLES, Ca. – Earlier this school year two students walked into a science teacher’s classroom at Paso Robles High School, they proceeded to rip down the LGBTQ+ Pride flag hanging in the room and fled out the door. The theft took place as there was a classes break and as science instructor Evan Holtz took out after them he lost them in the throng of students in the hallway.

Holtz, who is a chemistry teacher, tutor, and swim coach, has been teaching at Paso Robles since 2019. In an interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Holtz told the paper he had displayed the Pride flag to show solidarity with the school’s LGBTQ students, making sure that they knew they were welcome and safe in his classroom.

What happened immediately after the theft has left the high school’s LGBTQ+ students angered and alarmed. First, the Tribune reported, a video surfaced on TikTok of students attempting to flush the rainbow Pride flag down a toilet. Then, the video showed one student defecating on the flag in the toilet, according to those who had seen and heard about the video.

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” Geoffrey Land, a social sciences teacher told the paper. “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.”

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District said that administrators at the high school had taken “disciplinary action” after being alerted to the situation and the TikTok video by students. The next action undertaken on October 1st by the school district has left LGBTQ+ students disillusioned and further upset.

District Superintendent Curt Dubost sent a memorandum letter to faculty that read:

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has received multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms, including those that are large and distracting and those that alter the American flag.

I want to start by reiterating my statement from last year that rainbow flags mean different things to different people but to many are a symbol of safety, inclusion and equity. All students deserve protection against bullying and harassment. A safe, caring learning environment is essential if students are to achieve their academic potential.

We have a duty as a school district to ensure that hate speech and bullying conduct does not create an unsafe campus environment. Students in protected classes are often among the most vulnerable and susceptible to bullying and discrimination.”

Superintendent Dubost then laid out the new district policy: No flags bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet may be displayed in classrooms, and no flags that are “alterations of the American flag” may be displayed in classrooms.

In a follow-up interview with the Tribune Dubost justified his actions telling the paper, “We don’t want to turn it into a politicized issue where a student enters a classroom and looks up, ‘Oh, there’s a rainbow flag here, or there’s a blue lives matter flag here — that determines what the partisanship is of my teacher.’ We think that that’s a real slippery slope. And so we continue to believe that this is a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason.”

In an op-ed written by PRHS students on National Coming Out day last week, they expressed their dismay over Dubost’s actions.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people can celebrate support for LGBTQ equality. But in Paso Robles, where we attend high school, we cannot celebrate. Too often, LGBTQ students feel unwelcome, unsafe and targeted by hate.

After briefly mentioning the theft, video, and the action to ban flags other than a U.S. National flag taken by Superintendent Dubost they added:

Eventually, the school imposed minor discipline upon the offenders, and nearly two weeks later issued a policy statement that includes a ban on rainbow flags larger than 2’ x 2’. As the standard flag size is 3’ x 5’, the school purposefully banned the very flag that was desecrated. What message does this send to students? The flag ban means the school has allowed the haters to win, while LGBTQ students feel punished for wanting to be seen and supported.

The students cited a 2018 oral history project at PRHS which interviewed students in the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District area high schools of Templeton, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

They found that offensive slurs and open hostility directed at LGBTQ+ individuals were commonplace in classrooms. LGBTQ+ students reported not feeling included in their school culture. Students interviewed reported that teachers who wore rainbow colored pins or posted supportive flags or posters in their classroom walls helped create welcoming, safe spaces. Over the years, PRHS has witnessed loss of life, violence and intimidation — all in the name of anti-LGBTQ hate.

In their call to action the students stated that; “Enough is enough. How many more students will be traumatized by systems and people who fail to embrace the beauty and diversity of their students? The school’s response is a collective slap in the face of all LBGTQ students at PRHS. From our perspective, the school’s flag ban means they’re more interested in appeasing the bullies than protecting the safety of the victims of hate.”

There is a community forum event scheduled for Wednesday, October 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the PRHS performing arts center. Organized by students, the event, “Coming Out Against Hate,” is an opportunity for students to “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” and it’s the first forum of its kind in Paso Robles, according to a news release sent out about the event.

With the forum, we’re hoping that things change and they stop normalizing hate against us,” a senior told the Tribune, “I’m really proud of the fact that so many people are brave enough to come up against the adversity that is very obvious here. We might get a ton of hate for this. We might get hate-crimed ourselves.

But we can’t let this continue. We have a culture of homophobia here. We literally have no other option than to put ourselves kind of at risk and in danger. Because we can’t let this continue.”

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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