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Democrats incur LGBTQ wrath over sex offender registry bill

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During a week of flurry before Labor Day, the California Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees determined which final legislation to pass to the floor for votes and which to suspend for this session. At the end of the day on Friday, Aug. 30, one bill superseded the usual drama to create a pall over California Democratic unity as LGBTQ legislators and advocates expressed outrage that purported supporters used anti-LGBTQ messaging to woo electoral votes in 2020.

Two important Equality California bills did pass the Assembly Appropriations—Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 132, the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act to protect trans prisoners and Wiener and Assemblymember Todd Gloria’s SB 159, the PrEP and PEP Access Expansion bipartisan bill to expand access to HIV prevention medication by allowing pharmacists to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to patients without a prescription, as is already done with birth control pills.

However, in a move that infuriated LGBTQ advocates and law enforcement allies, Assembly Appropriation Chair Lorena Gonzalez suspended Wiener’s SB 145 that would fix the current discriminatory sex offender registry law written before homosexuality was decriminalized.

Under the law, if a straight 18-year-old male was charged and convicted of having consensual sex with his under-legal age 17-year-old girlfriend, the judge has the discretion to determine if the male teen’s name should be added to the California sex offender registry. However, if an 18-year-old gay male is found guilty of consensual sex with his 17-year-old gay boyfriend, the judge has no discretion—the gay teen’s name is legally required to be added to the public sex offender registry, thereby harming his opportunities in life.

Wiener, the out state senator from San Francisco, and SB 145 co-sponsor Equality California created a bipartisan coalition backing the bill to allow for judicial discretion. That coalition includes formidable law enforcement heavyweight co-sponsor LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and support from the ACLU of California, California District Attorney’s Association, California Police Chief’s Association, California Public Defenders Association and California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, among others.

SB 145 is no small matter. “Until recently, the California Supreme Court (People v. Hofsheier) and the Appellate Courts had held that mandatory lifetime registration for sodomy, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, but not vaginal sexual intercourse, violated the equal protection clause, and was unconstitutional. However, in a more recent case, Johnson v. Department of Justice, the California Supreme Court overturned the Hofsheier case, reasoning that since sexual intercourse can cause pregnancy and other sex acts cannot, it is not discriminatory to treat the offenses differently and for harsher penalties to be in place for non-vaginal intercourse,” Wiener wrote in an April 9 press release after SB 145 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. “SB 145 will overturn the Johnson decision and end this blatant discrimination.”

Equality California was among the fairness and equality advocates angry that Gonzalez seemed to substitute her own judgement over that of law enforcement and LGBTQ and allied civil rights groups and placed SB 145 on suspension to now become a two-year bill, eligible for consideration in 2020.

The move was cheered by anti-LGBTQ Christians. “A California bill that could have prevented homosexuals from having to register as sex offenders for having sex with consenting minors has been blocked,” Christian Action Network reported Sept. 3.

“We are extremely disappointed with Assembly Appropriations Committee Chair Lorena Gonzalez for allowing an outdated law that discriminates against LGBTQ people to remain on the books. Law enforcement, sexual assault survivors and civil rights groups alike support this bipartisan bill because it would make California’s sex offender registry more effective and end blatant anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement.

“Regrettably, this is not the first time that this Committee, led by this Chair, has stood in the way of LGBTQ civil rights legislation and demonstrated a lack of understanding of LGBTQ civil rights issues. The impact of today’s decision is neither hypothetical nor abstract. When this Committee and this Chair refuse to listen to law enforcement, sexual assault survivors and civil rights organizations, Californians suffer as a result,” Zbur continued. “We will not stop fighting for this common-sense fix because California’s LGBTQ young people deserve better. We all deserve better.”

Zbur is referring to Chair Gonzalez and the Assembly Appropriations Committee blocking SB 421 in 2017, also bipartisan LGBTQ civil rights legislation authored by Wiener and co-sponsored by Equality California and LA DA Lacey. That established “a tiered registry for all sex offenders. Proposed tiers are based on seriousness of crime, risk of sexual reoffending, and criminal history. The bill would also establish procedures for termination from the sex offender registry for a registered sex offender who is a tier one or tier two offender who completes his or her mandated minimum registration period under specified conditions.”

That bill was critical for LGBTQ people who had been required to register as sex offenders for life with no recourse to challenge or get off the registry—including gay men who had been unfairly targeted and entrapped by homophobic police from before Stonewall until the present day. Fortuitously, the legislation was later revived as SB 384, and with help from Speaker Rendon, passed on the Assembly floor and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee also blocked two other significant LGBTQ bills in 2017—AB 800 by Assemblymember David Chiu and AB 1161 by Assemblymember Phil Ting designed to address rising rates of hate crimes in California after Donald Trump’s inauguration by establishing a statewide hotline for people to safely report hate crimes. The bills were also thought to provide local law enforcement access to information to investigate and prevent hate crimes. Those bills and two other hate crime-related bills did not survive Gonzalez’s Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Interestingly, Gonzalez is not averse to controversy nor fame. A glowing 2015 profile in The Atlantic touted her as “The California Democrat Setting the National Agenda.”

“The breadth and scope of her legislative efforts have helped catapult her ahead of California’s two powerful U.S. senators, its up-and-coming attorney general, and its first gay woman to serve as speaker of the Assembly to become arguably the state’s most influential female politician,” The Atlantic author wrote. “Because she represents a solidly Democratic district—she ran unopposed in her first re-election effort in 2014—Gonzalez has had the luxury of being able to pursue her agenda without fear of voter backlash. But her tendency to gravitate toward controversial topics has cost her some opportunities to shore up support from those who’d otherwise be natural allies.”

Some of those “natural allies” in the LGBTQ community are now wondering if Gonzalez—who intends to run for Secretary of State in 2020—is really a progressive Democrat in name only after her anti-LGBTQ actions as Appropriations Committee Chair and after she endorsed Modesto City Councilmember Mani Grewal in his race for California Senate District 5.

Gov. Gavin Newsom with LGBT Legislative Caucus members Assemblymember Evan Low, Sen. Scott Wiener, Assemblymember Susan Eggman, and Assemblymember Todd Gloria (Photo courtesy Newsom’s office)

Grewal has been using SB 145—Wiener’s sex offender registry bill that Gonzalez placed in the Suspense File—as an attack against his primary opponent, out Assemblymember Susan Eggman, in an ugly ad that is consistent with Republican talking points.

“SB 145 would open the door for adults to victimize minors by luring them with the intent to have sex and then shielding the predator from being automatically registered as a sex offender,” states a Feb. 19 press release on the California Senate Republican Caucus website. “In plainer words, certain sexual predators will be able to live among us without our being aware and teens, often the most vulnerable victims of sexual predators, will be even more vulnerable.”

The offensive ad paid for by the Grewal campaign features Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse looking directly into camera saying: “Adults who molest our children are criminals, and they must register as sex offenders. Mani Grewal helped keep that law on the books. That’s why I’m supporting Mani Grewal for Senate. He will continue to protect our children.”

Outraged ensued. Equality California and Wiener—who is also Chair of the California LGBTQ—could barely contain their disgust while California Democratic Party LGBT Caucus Co-Chairs Tiffany Woods and Lester Aponte called the ad “shameful” and “a divisive smear campaign to mislead voters and score cheap political points.”

On Aug. 15, The Stockton Record published an article noting that Grewal was citing “regurgitated” falsehoods, apparently “referring to misinformation published in February by a website, thewashingtonpundit.com, that has since taken down its debunked online story.”

Additionally, the newspaper reported, “Grewal’s characterization of SB145 was debunked in February by Snopes.com, a website that fact-checks rumors and clears up misinformation.”

An exchange of letters followed, with the last one from Equality California’s Rick Zbur demanding that Grewal “formally retract the contents of [his] offensive ad and false statements about the bill; apologize to Senator Wiener, Assemblymember Eggman and the LGBTQ community; and endorse SB 145.”

“Unfortunately, your purported commitment ‘to stand up for the LGBTQ community’ rings hollow as long as you continue to engage in these homophobic campaign tactics,” wrote Zbur. “Knowingly spreading misinformation about an LGBTQ civil rights bill supported by law enforcement, sexual assault survivors and LGBTQ Californians is not how you ‘stand up for the LGBTQ community.'”

Might the same be said of Grewal supporter, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez?

Photo of Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez from her Assembly website

 

 

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Los Angeles

The Giant Sleeps- Iconic Black pastor & HIV/AIDS activist Carl Bean dies

Rev. Bean was a guiding light in the fight to end the AIDS pandemic, the effort to provide support to those with HIV.

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Archbishop Carl Bean, courtesy of the Rev. Elder Russell E. Thornhill, Unity Fellowship Church Movement 

LOS ANGELES – In announcement tinged with sadness, the leadership of Unity Fellowship Church Movement broke the news Tuesday of the death of its founder, Archbishop Carl Bean.

Since its founding in South Los Angeles in 1982, the denomination has had open arms and embraced Black LGBTQ Angelenos and many in the LGBTQ movement and beyond consider it the first Christian church in the United States to welcome Black LGBTQ people.

Courtesy of the Rev. Elder Russell E. Thornhill, 
Unity Fellowship Church Movement 

Tributes to Bishop Bean have begun to pour in from around the country as people remembered the dynamic and engaging man of faith.


“Archbishop Carl Bean was an inspiration. Bean cared about LGBTQ+ / same gender loving people when few others did – and consistently dedicated his life to improving the lives of people in our community. From reminding us all that we were ‘born this way’ in his music and Unity Fellowship Church movement and ministry to creating the first organization in Los Angeles focused on helping Black and Latino HIV/AIDS patients when no one else would – Bean’s legacy will live on forever,”
said  David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition 

Bean’s work in the areas addressing the AIDS/HIV pandemic was noteworthy on its own. According to the Los Angeles Sentinel“Archbishop Carl Bean started the Minority AIDS Project (MAP) in Los Angeles. MAP was the first community HIV/AIDS organization that focused on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS transmission in the black community during a time when the disease was considered to be relatively new.” 

In an emailed statement to the Blade, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation(AHF), the largest global AIDS organization today and which began its journey providing care and services to HIV/AIDS patients 35 years ago in Los Angeles providing hospice care to people dying of AIDS, mourned the passing of Bishop Bean.

Archbishop Carl Bean was my brother in the struggle for the last 35 years. We marched through the fire together during the height of the pain and the dying. Regardless of the pressures that could have divided us, we were always there for each other,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF.  “An irreplaceable part of our history is retired with his death. However, a small piece of his legacy of service lives on at the Carl Bean House, which started as a hospice and still serves today as sacred ground and a place of healing.  Rest in the peace you richly earned dear friend and comrade.”

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Archbishop Carl Bean and thank him for his profound and visionary compassion and dedication to marginalized populations be they people with AIDS, people of color, LGBTQ people of color and more,” said Cynthia Davis, MPH, an AHF Board Member.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO, Lorri L. Jean  wrote;

Today, the Center joins people throughout Los Angeles mourning the loss of Archbishop Carl Bean. Through the Unity Fellowship and the Minority AIDS Project, Rev. Bean was a guiding light in the fight to end the AIDS pandemic, the effort to provide support to those with HIV, and his lifelong advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people.

His mission was driven by a sense of justice and deep faith. His work—especially on behalf of Black people with HIV—was inspirational not only to those who provide services to people with HIV/AIDS but to all of us in the LGBTQ movement for equality.

We have lost a leader, but his presence will live on and serve as a beacon for all who believe we can make the world a better place through love and a shared commitment to social justice.

Robert Boller the Los Angeles based Project Angel Food’s Director of Programs sent a tribute in memory of the late prelate;

Archbishop Carl Bean passed away in Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 7, 2021. This was the passing of a legendary LGBTQ+ AIDS activist, founder of the Unity Fellowship Church in South Los Angeles, and visionary pioneer behind the Minority AIDS Project. His 1977 Motown hit “I Was Born This Way” became an anthem of LGBTQ+ empowerment in the late seventies and inspired Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.

That’s how the world remembers Carl Bean. 

Project Angel Food has a more personal connection. We remember him as a friend, and as a partner in bringing life-saving meals to those with HIV/AIDS― no matter where they lived, and no matter the color of their skin. His fierce commitment to the ideal that love is for everyone, and caring for people with AIDS aligned with OUR vision, our values, and our call.

So much of our history is oral history; hearing how our relationship with Archbishop Bean and Minority AIDS Project came about. Today, 76% of our clients are people of color, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s my understanding that when we were founded in 1989, many of our first clients were gay white males in Hollywood and West Hollywood. In 1994, with the Ryan White CARE Act, we had to take a hard look at who we were serving, and recognized a need to reach out to other communities, especially communities of color.

This is when Project Angel Food first partnered with Archbishop Carl Bean and Minority AIDS Project. The Minority AIDS Project was led by Carl and operated out of his Unity Fellowship Church on Jefferson Boulevard between La Brea and Hauser. They helped us expand throughout South Los Angeles and all the way to Long Beach.

When I joined Project Angel Food in 1997, another church was acting as our distribution point for South Los Angeles, but with the death of that congregation’s AIDS minister in the early 2000’s, we needed to find a new home. That’s when we reunited with Archbishop Bean, who was happy to take us in at Minority AIDS Project. Their community center became our South Los Angeles distribution center.

Here’s how it worked: our Project Angel Food staff driver would drop off meals at Minority AIDS Project, then a volunteer from that area, who we called “Mr. Chris,” would make deliveries to our clients from there. He rarely ever missed a delivery day for nearly 15 years; he said it was his personal mission. 

One day the regular driver was out, so as the Dispatch Manager I jumped into the field and took the meals to Unity Hall to meet Mr.Chris. As I entered the hall a big handsome charismatic gentlemen greeted me with a smile and a deep, “Hello and Welcome.” I still hear that booming voice in my head that resonated with the power of love.

I returned his greeting and went about my business. When I saw Mr. Chris, he laughed and said, “I see you met the big boss.” That was how I came to meet Archbishop Carl Bean.

Project Angel Food, Los Angeles and the world lost an icon of the AIDS movement. Archbishop Dean was instrumental in our growth and into the inclusive agency we are today. His legacy reminds us that we are all worthy of love and hope “Love IS for Everyone.”

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Los Angeles

LAPD seeking registered sex offender in June Wi-Spa incident

The suspect has a lengthy criminal history which includes nearly a dozen felony convictions for crimes ranging from sex offenses to burglary

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Photo Credit: City of Los Angeles Police Department

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has charged 52-year-old Darren Merager, a registered sex offender, with five felony counts of indecent exposure stemming from a viral video incident of an alleged exposure at the Wi-Spa on June 23, 2021.

The spa, which is located in the 2700 block of Wilshire Boulevard in the Westlake/Koreatown neighborhood, had been the focal point of targeted violent protests against Trans people by far-right extremists the Proud Boys and other radical right-wing groups after the incident was posted to Instagram and went viral.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Blade Thursday via phone, Los Angeles Police Department Public Information Officer Tony Im confirmed that an arrest warrant has been issued for Merager, whose last known residence is in Riverside County East of Los Angeles, but Merager was not in custody as of Thursday evening he said.

Five individuals, four females and a female minor, had come forward to report the indecent exposure incident to the LAPD. Detectives assigned to LAPD’s Rampart Division conducted interviews of victims and witnesses, reviewed the evidence, and ultimately corroborated the allegations.

The investigation was presented to the LA County DA’s Office for filing consideration and Merager’s actions were deemed criminal. The suspect has been a registered sex offender since 2006 as per California Penal Code 290, due to indecent exposure incidents in 2002 and 2003. 

Merager has a lengthy criminal history which includes nearly a dozen felony convictions for crimes ranging from sex offenses to burglary and escape. In December of 2018, investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s West Hollywood substation arrested Merager on seven felony indecent exposure counts, stemming from allegations of indecent exposure in front of women and children at West Hollywood Park.

Merager is currently awaiting trial on the seven counts which were first filed in 2019 by the LA County DA’s office according to court records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

In poster distributed in December of 2018 by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Merager is described as “claims to be female in order to gain access to women’s locker rooms and showers.”

The LA DA’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment or provide a copy of the criminal complaint against Merager according to the Times. A Blade request has also gone unanswered as of time of publication Thursday evening.

In a lengthy interview with the New York Post first published Thursday morning, “Everything about the Wi-Spa was a bunch of garbage and lies,” Merager said.

Merager went on to claim a Trans female gander identity and says [she] is legally female in California and was in a jacuzzi in the women’s section when accosted by “Cubana Angel.” 

“She never saw me naked. I was underwater with water all the way up to my chest,” Merager told the Post and denies ever being erect or around children at the spa. Merager claims to actually be the victim of sexual harassment by transphobic women at the Wi Spa.

Merager is a tier-one California registered sex offender with two prior convictions of indecent exposure stemming from the 2002 and 2003 convictions and declined to comment on those convictions. In 2008 Merager was also convicted for failure to register as a sex offender.

A Trans activist who asked to remain unidentified told the Blade that the situation with Merager is a Trans person’s worst nightmare; “This is no different than the religious fundies claiming all gay guys are paedophiles and want to diddle little boys,” they said adding; “Horrible scenarios like this are used as justification to attack Trans people- this isn’t a trans person regardless of claims made, no this is a serial sexual predator, a criminal deviant.”  

Detectives are asking anyone who may be a victim or has additional information regarding this investigation to contact Rampart Detectives at (213) 484-3450. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247). 

Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org.  Tipsters may also visit www.lapdonline.org and click on “Anonymous Web Tips” under the “Get Involved-Crime Stoppers” menu.

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Los Angeles

LA County Supervisors appoint new head for commission on homeless

The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness will hold its first virtual meeting on September 8, 2021 at 10 a.m

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Former Los Angeles County Counsel Mary Wickham speaking in 2019 (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have appointed former Los Angeles County Counsel Mary Wickham as Executive Director of the newly formed Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, effective Tuesday.

The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness was established following the July 27 motion authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger and co-authored by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, to research and provide recommendations to the Board for a new homelessness governance model that is appropriate for Los Angeles County.

“It’s an honor to serve the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the residents of Los Angeles County as Executive Director of the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness. I thank the Board for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with the Commission to report back on governance models,” said Wickham who was hired as a 120-day retiree.

The commission will be made up of 12 members, with one appointed by each of the five Supervisors, one by the mayor of Los Angeles, three from the Los Angeles City Council president, two from the Councils of Government, and one nominated by the Contract Cities Association. The new Commission will be housed under the Executive Office of the Board.

“The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness has brought together experts who will use their diverse perspectives to find clear, strategic solutions to the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles County,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “I’m eager to see the commissioners, who bring representation from across the county, cut through the red tape to guide real results in our mission to provide housing, health, and mental health care to those on our streets. With the guidance of our former County Counsel Mary Wickham as the Executive Director, I am confident the next six months will result in thoughtful, effective outcomes.”

Wickham, who retired in July 2021 after 23 years of service, will lead the aggressive, in-depth study of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) governance to identify intrinsic challenges of the existing system and provide recommendations for improvement to the Board within a six-month time frame. Some of those recommendations will focus on the design of an enhanced framework that ensures an accountable governance.

After leaving her post as Los Angeles County Counsel, Wickham was appointed to serve as a Commissioner for the Superior Courts in the Criminal Division.

Prior to County Counsel, she served as Executive Director of the County Equity Oversight Panel overseeing all aspects of the Countywide Workplace Equity Program.

“Mary brings the experience needed to help facilitate this new Commission in tackling homelessness crisis,” said Celia Zavala, Executive Officer of the Board. “We are eager to support this new Commission who will offer solutions to the Board to help them navigate this multi-layered complex issue.”

The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Homelessness will hold its first virtual meeting on September 8, 2021 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit bos.lacounty.gov.

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