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Untapped Latino vote could be key to 2020 elections

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Univision anchor and longtime LGBTQ ally Jorge Ramos is still angry with former President Barack Obama for failing to keep his 2008 promise to pass an immigration reform bill when Democrats controlled Congress is 2009.

“The Latino people hold a grudge against Democrats in general — and former President Barack Obama in particular — for two reasons: More than three million undocumented immigrants were deported during the Obama administration, and Mr. Obama didn’t get through Congress an immigration reform bill that would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to remain legally in the United States,” Ramos wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Jan. 10 in which he argues that “Latino voters will decide the 2020 election. It’s as simple as that.”

Ramos notes that in 2016, over half of the 27 million eligible Hispanic voters stayed home. “As was the case in 2016, if Democrats want to have any chance of defeating Mr. Trump, they will need the strong support of Latino voters. This time, however, they will have to work extra hard to get it,” Ramos wrote. “According to the Pew Research Center, 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2020, compared with 30 million African-Americans.”

But, like other minorities, including LGBTQ voters, “the Latino community itself is very diverse,” Ari Gutierrez Arámbula, co-founder of the LGBTQ Latino political groups Latino Equality Alliance and HONOR PAC, tells the Los Angeles Blade. “That is, we have recent immigrants, 2nd and 3rd generation Americans and families whose roots go back to before the current Southern border was established.  Each group may have varied and intersectional interests in presidential candidates.”

However, she notes, “we are looking for acknowledgment, fairness and the opportunity to see our investment through education and work help us provide a better quality of life for our children and theirs. For us, that’s the American Dream. Getting out the Latino vote requires trust that a candidate will stand up, speak up and work to make America a place that is welcoming, safe and fair.”

Gutierrez Arámbula supported former candidate HUD Sec. Julian Castro.  Recently, she joined a list of more than 100 Latino/a and Latinx leaders in endorsing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who Castro also endorsed after he dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Warren “was always my 2nd choice behind Castro. It’s a good match,” Gutierrez Arámbula says. “Besides money and name recognition, the candidates need an effective grassroots network of campaigners. I don’t think Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] has that and the [Sen. Bernie Sander’s] Bernie Bro’s have a track record of being too aggressive. I don’t see excitement behind [former Vice President Joe] Biden. He’s more of a safe bet but I think he’s problematic on a number of fronts.”

Gutierrez Arámbula is excited about the engagement of LGBTQ Latino youth, such as Diego Sepulveda, who serves as Deputy Organizing Director for the Warren for President campaign.

Born in Durango, Mexico, Sepulveda tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I came to the United States when I was four years old, on my birthday – August 12, 1991. I grew up in Huntington Park, southeast Los Angeles,” raised by “fierce, powerful, immigrant women that have fought for opportunity and justice in this country and have provided me with that framework for my entire life.”

In 10th grade, Sepulveda told his teacher he was undocumented. He kept the secret “not because I was ashamed of it, but because it was a sense that if I ever went back home, my mom or my parents might not be there.” His teacher told him: “You are not your circumstances. Because you are undocumented, it doesn’t mean that that’s what you’re going to be for the rest of your life.”

That profoundly changed Sepulveda’s life. He went to East Los Angeles college, transferred to UCLA and in 2012, was the first person in his family to graduate from college.  “And it was all because my parents supported me, my community was behind me.”

Sepulveda, who came out as gay in 2007, made a vow: “I am the first, but I will not be the last.” He saw “the opportunity to be a voice for other LGBT young people, to Latinos, to say that, ‘No matter what your circumstance is — you deserve opportunity, justice and everything that this world has to offer you and you have an advocate in me.”

Diego Sepulveda holding the Rainbow Flag as part of the Warren contingent at the Women’s March (Photo courtesy Sepulveda) 

Sepulveda supports Warren because she’s running on a platform of big ideas. “To make real change, we need to dream big and fight hard,” he says. “I really value her background. She grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class in Oklahoma, became a teacher, a law professor, and a U.S. Senator because America invested in kids like her.” That resonated. “In my life, I have been dreaming big and I’ve been fighting hard. And for me, she is the candidate that can make that a reality.”

Sepulveda says the Warren campaign “is about building people power and doing it through an intersection, multiracial and intergenerational lens and bringing people into our organizing. It’s about engaging in meaningful conversations with our communities and really actively listening and saying that we are in this fight together for big structural change and making strides forward to ensure opportunity for everyone in this country.”

That grassroots organizing is how Warren is going to win, he says, giving people the tools to be “part of this movement and to really fight for big structural change.”

Sepulveda has organized a community forum tonight, Tuesday, Jan. 21st from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM here at Warren’s campaign office in Korea Town on how every issue is a Latino issue — from education to LGBTQ rights to environmental justice. See Warren’s new plan: Restoring America’s Promise to Latinos.

Photo: Warren campaign organizer Diego Sepulveda (right) with Krishan Patel at the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles Jan. 18 (Photo via Patel’s Twitter)

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Los Angeles County contract employee charged in Vaccination Card theft

Officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site

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(Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

POMONA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that a Los Angeles County contract worker was charged today for allegedly stealing hundreds of blank vaccine cards from a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Pomona Fairplex.

“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” District Attorney Gascón said.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 45, of Las Vegas was charged with one felony count of grand theft. Arraignment is set for August 25 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Pomona Branch.

On April 27, officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona. Ahmed, who worked at the center, allegedly stole more than 500 cards, which have a value of at least $15 apiece if illegally sold, prosecutors said.

In a statement, La Verne police said 528 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards were recovered in the suspect’s hotel room.

Ahmed — described by police as a non-clinical, contracted employee hired to support the Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site that at times administered nearly 4,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day — was arrested April 27. He was released the same day, according to jail records.

The case remains under investigation by the La Verne Police Department.

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Los Angeles

Pride after the pandemic, is LA’s LGBTQ community back in business?

A majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all in Los Angeles this year too.

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The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released its coronavirus pandemic metrics this week noting that Los Angeles County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. Factoring into that is as of May 21, 50% of L.A. County residents 16 and over and 72% of seniors 65 and older are fully vaccinated. 

Then there’s the “but.’ The state isn’t scheduled to lift fully the pandemic imposed mandates until June 15, including the mask mandate which has been a point of contention. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced Monday that California will require people to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing indoors until June 15 although people and businesses must adjust to the changes while the state continues its “relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic.”

The impact on Pride month in Los Angeles has already been felt as a majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all. There are notable exceptions as the Los Angeles Dodgers are hosting their annual  LGBTQ+ Pride Night at Dodger Stadium on Friday, June 11th. There will be sections set-up for vaccinated and non-vaccinated Dodgers fans and the team is also bringing back Friday Night Fireworks for the first time since 2019, set to a special mix from DJ Bowie Jane. But only fully-vaccinated fans are invited to leave the stands and watch the show from the baseball field.

LA Pride also noted that Cinespia, will host LGBTQ+ Pride Movie Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, June 26th. The organization also made note of its partnership with KABC 7 LA’s one-hour primetime special on June 12, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM, in a ‘best of LA Pride.’ According to a its website, the special includes Trans profiles, celebrity shout-outs, spotlights on LA Pride’s 2021 Honorees (more on that soon), a special Pride performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles from the Getty Center, and more.

But the main event, the parade, one of the nation’s oldest and largest was canceled for the second year in a row. LA Pride vowed to return in 2022. “Safety was our No. 1 priority,” said Sharon-Franklin Brown, board president of Christopher Street West, the nonprofit organization that produces LA Pride. “It takes time to put on a parade, [and] we were not sure we were going to be where we’re at now, which is this amazing space where everything is opening up.”

West Hollywood, which has been ground zero for Pride events in the region for over 50 years, like most of California went through the state-wide shutdown ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, the only event of note last year being the non-sanctioned ‘All Black Lives Matter’ protest march after the police killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed Black individuals whose deaths have drawn public attention and widespread outcry.

This year though, the city is taking a cautious approach, which in separate interviews with the Blade Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath and Councilmember Sepi Shyne both emphasized that maintaining safe standards for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors was a continuing priority and that WeHo would remain essentially in a virtual mode for Pride month.

The City’s 2021 One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival s taking place virtually/in a socially distant manner for 2021 according to a city spokesperson.

The City did receive a boost in Pride awareness with the public dedication of a street mural honoring recording artist Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way this past weekend, which has been unofficially adopted by many in the greater LGBTQ community as an anthem.

West Hollywood’s Out on Robertson and Out programs have been effect in drawing diners and retail customers although still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

Despite that local community leaders and businesses are worried. During the course of a non-COVID impacted Pride month, events and the massive Pride parade brings in millions of dollars, drawing tourists as well as locals. With ongoing virtual and barely no in-person events, particularly the annual parade, the ongoing pandemic economy is hurting businesses badly especially those who depend on a Pride boost.

Arguably the second largest regional Pride, in Long Beach has also been scaled back to virtual only for the most part.

There has been an independent push for Pride events including a three day concert to be held at the LA Coliseum on June 4, 5 and 6- OUTLOUD: Raising Voices, created by the award winning team of Jeff Consoletti and Artie Kenney. The series is headlined by Queen frontman Adam Lambert an according to its organizers is set to showcase extraordinary queer talent also featuring appearances and remarks by Angelica Ross, Conchita, Geena Rocero, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Valentina Sampaio, Yungblud and Whoopi Goldberg.

Downtown Los Angeles, (DTLA), Downtown Center Business Improvement District is hosting an event on June 24 at  Redline, a premier gay bar and lounge in the heart of downtown located in the Historic Core of the City. The organization announced this past week that it had lifted the COVID19 restrictions for that event.

In Santa Monica, Allies in Arts partnered with Santa Monica Pride to curate an Art Walk for Pride 2021, but aside from that no indoor in-person events are slated to occur.

As the pandemic restrictions are lifted and in addressing the ongoing effects on LGBTQ businesses in the city, a person knowledgeable of the efforts the Mayor and city officials are making, but not authorized to speak to the press, said that Garcetti’s programs outlined in his State of the City speech on the upcoming budget and his 25 million “comeback check” program to help restaurants and other small businesses pay off debt and reopen remained an overarching priority.

So for now, Pride month will be scaled back but with a sense of vibrancy for business that are able to reopen or in the case of the food and beverage and hospitality industry benefit from Pride events on a business by business basis with large scale looking to return in 2022.

Until then, the picture above of The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride.

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Los Angeles

Venice Beach targeted for clearing homeless encampments

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both Los Angeles City and County with a total of 58,936+ living on the streets or in shelters

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Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin appearing on KTLA (Screenshot via KTLA)

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin announced that “a ton of resources” are coming soon to address the homeless crisis along the Venice Boardwalk.

Bonin, whose council district 11 includes the areas of Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester and LAX told KTLA Friday morning that a new push to address the homeless problems in Venice Beach would soon be launched.

Last week Bonin sent a letter to his constituency writing, “I am fighting aggressively to house people so we no longer have encampments on our sidewalks, or at our parks and beaches.”

Bonin also noted; “While we step up efforts to house people, the city should conduct a feasibility analysis of whether a number of different locations, including LAX land and three beach parking lots, could be used for different types of temporary emergency shelter. I have also asked that the feasibility analysis consider whether two local parks with existing encampments could restore the bulk of recreational space to public use by designating a certain area for existing unhoused residents. In all cases, the proposed solutions would provide security, sanitation and services, and focus on getting people into housing.

These are not encampments. They are an emergency response—an alternative—to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes.”

In late March, the City cleared a massive homeless encampment in Echo Park in the Angelino Heights neighborhood adjacent to the 101 Freeway, located in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s district 13. Officials say the hundreds of people forced to leave were offered shelter, but not everyone took it according to local homeless advocates. The clearing of Echo Park brought condemnation from rights groups and grass roots activists due to the presence of heavily armed LAPD officers and what one source told the Blade was a “complete lack of operational transparency.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last month in his annual State of the City address, that he would 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.

The Mayor also proposed a guaranteed basic income pilot project that would pay $1,000 a month to 2,000 to the city’s neediest households over the next year as part of a “basic guaranteed income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both the City and the County. In the city of Los Angeles there are 36,300 homeless people with a total of 58,936 in the County according to the annual Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) homeless count (2019). Over the years, homelessness has dramatically increased all over the county.

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