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Coronavirus inflicts serious blow to LGBTQ travel industry

Companies cancelling cruises, hotels closing properties



Paris’ Eiffel Tower in August 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The coronavirus has inflicted a serious blow to the LGBTQ travel industry.

Atlantis Events, which caters to gay men, has cancelled a cruise on the Celebrity Summit that was scheduled to leave San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 21, and would have made stops in St. Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao before returning to Puerto Rico on March 28.

Virgin Voyages has postponed Atlantis Events’ Virgin Caribbean Cruise that was to have departed from Miami on May 31. The cruise was scheduled to sail to Key West, Fla., Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico and Bimini in the Bahamas before returning to Miami.

Atlantis Events Vice President of Marketing Jim Cone on Monday told the Los Angeles Blade in an email the company’s Club Atlantis Resort in the Mexican resort city of Cancún “is still scheduled to operate as planned” on April 25.

Media reports that emerged last week before Atlantis Events cancelled its Southern Caribbean Cruise indicate customers who cancelled their reservations were unable to receive refunds.

“We are currently working on accommodating our guests with options relative to cancellations,” Cone told the Blade. “Once we have this updated information I’ll be able to share.”

Olivia Travel, a company that caters to lesbian travelers, has a cruise on a Holland America ship that is scheduled to leave San Diego on April 23 and make stops in Santa Barbara; Calif., San Francisco; Astoria, Ore.; and Seattle before arriving in Vancouver on April 29.

Holland America has suspended operations through April 14.  

Olivia Travel Strategic Marketing Director Maggie Beaumier on Monday told the Blade during a telephone interview from San Francisco that “everything is still influx.”

“We are addressing this trip by trip,” said Beaumier.

Beaumier told the Blade that Olivia Travel is also “proactively reaching out to our guests.”

“it’s a very complex situation,” added Beaumier.

The World Health Organization on Monday said there are 167,511 coronavirus cases in more than 100 countries. Statistics also indicate the virus has killed 6,606 people around the world, with 1,808 of the reported deaths in Italy.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday announced his country will close its borders to anyone who is not a citizen, permanent resident or an American. Germany, El Salvador and Kenya are among the dozens of other countries that have also their closed their borders in an effort to curb coronavirus’ spread.

The State Department on Sunday issued an advisory that advises Americans to “reconsider travel abroad” because of coronavirus.

“Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions,” it reads. “Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.”   

The State Department on March 9 also urged Americans not to travel on cruise ships.

“In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking,” reads the advisory it issued. “In some cases, local authorities have permitted disembarkation but subjected passengers to local quarantine procedures.  While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”

President Trump last week announced the U.S. will ban foreign nationals from entering the country from Europe and the U.K. for 30 days. The U.S. last month issued a ban on foreigners who had previously been in China and Iran.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also urged Americans to “avoid discretionary travel.” Airlines in the U.S. and around the world continue to cancel flights and waive cancelation fees.

Axel Hotels, which caters to LGBTQ travelers, on Monday announced its hotels in Spain and Italy will remain closed through at least April 30. The company on its website says it will provide guests with bookings with a voucher for “the total amount of your booking” that is valid through April 30, 2021.

The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association has postponed its annual convention that was to have taken place in Milan from May 6-9. The LGBTQ travel group on Monday shared a tweet from the Brazilian Association of Travel Agents that urges travelers to postpone their trips.

Pride in the Americas, which was to have taken place next month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is among the myriad events that have been cancelled and postponed because of coronavirus.

Officials in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach on Sunday announced beaches will remain closed until April 12 and restaurants and bars must operate at 50 percent capacity and close by 10 p.m. Miami Beach officials have also imposed an 11 p.m. curfew in the city’s entertainment district.

Hotel Gaythering, a complex in Miami Beach with a gay clientele, on Sunday closed its bar after officials announced the curfew.

“It is with a heavy heart and sadness, but we feel that this is the best action we can take to protect our beloved staff and patrons,” reads a statement on the Gaythering’s Facebook page.

Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2020 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Bear Tavern PR, a gay bar in San Juan’s Ocean Park neighborhood that reopened eight days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, will remain closed until April 2 because the island’s governor, Wanda Vázquez, has imposed an island-wide curfew and ordered non-essential businesses to close.

“The decision is not easy, but we understand it is the best thing for our employees, clientele and country,” wrote the bar on its Facebook page. “It’s important to stop the mode of transmission.”

“Puerto Rico has experienced various tragedies in recent years,” adds the post. “We do not want more deaths.”

Yariel Valdés González contributed to this story.

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Newsom signs bill making Vote-by-Mail permanent for registered voters

“The bill will permanently expand access & increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient”



Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation on Monday to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections, including a bill to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot. 

In a move to increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters, the Governor signed AB 37 authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), permanently requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state.

The practice of sending vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter first began in California in 2020, and was extended through 2021, as a safety measure to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and resulted in record voter participation.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” said Newsom. “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election. I extend my thanks to Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Marc Berman for his leadership on this issue.”

“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” said California’s Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber. “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters. Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot.”

Newsom also signed SB 35 authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) making changes to the distance within which electioneering and specified political activities near a voting site are prohibited; AB 1367 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) increasing penalties for the egregious personal use of campaign funds to up to two times the amount of the unlawful expenditure; and SB 686 by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) requiring a limited liability company (LLC) that is engaged in campaign activity to provide additional information regarding the members and capital contributors to the LLC.

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Southern-Central Asia

Columbia University researcher helps evacuate LGBTQ people from Afghanistan

Taylor Hirschberg working with Belgian lawmaker



Taylor Hirschberg (Photo courtesy of Taylor Hirschberg)

NEW YORK — Some of the 50 human rights activists that a Columbia University researcher has helped evacuate from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country are LGBTQ.

A press release the Los Angeles Blade received notes Taylor Hirschberg — a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar — has worked with Belgian Sen. Orry Vandewauwer to help 50 Afghan “activists leave the country.”

“The refugees included those who identify as LGBTQI+ or gender non-conforming and their families,” notes the press release.

The Blade has seen the list of names of the more than 100 people that Hirschberg and Vandewauwer are trying to evacuate from Afghanistan. These include the country’s first female police officer, the independent U.N. expert on Afghanistan and a number of LGBTQ activists.

“There are many more human rights advocates we are still trying to get out of the country,” said Hirschberg.

Hirschberg has previously worked in Afghanistan.

He and Vandewauwer were also once affiliated with Skateistan, an NGO that works with children in the Middle East and Africa. The documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” features it.

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge over the summer said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether the U.S. was able to successfully evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality earlier this month said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sept. 13 during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the Council for Global Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration have called upon the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans that includes prioritizing “the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people.” Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

Hirschberg on Monday told the Blade that he and Vandewauwer have charted an airplane to evacuate Afghans, but they have not secured a “third country” to which they can bring them.

“Currently, we are working towards a multi-country collaboration for resettlement,” he said. “Our work has now expanded to include election officials and women activists, including those from the LGBTQI+ community.”

Hirschberg also urged the U.S. and humanitarian organizations to do more to help evacuate LGBTQ people, human rights activists and others from Afghanistan 

“I understand that this is complicated and that I do not have all the working pieces but why does the United States ignore those who helped in building their agenda in Afghanistan. The same goes for multilateral organizations,” he told the Blade. “Why are neither funding charters and creating agreement with partnering states? If they are why have the not contacted the countries that we are creating collaborations with?” 

Editor’s note: Hirschberg is a Blade contributor.

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California Politics

It’s official- Rep. Karen Bass enters race to become the next mayor of LA

If elected she would be the first Black woman & second Black mayor after legendary Tom Bradley who served as 38th Mayor from 1973 to 1993



Rep. Karen Bass (D-37CA) (Photo Credit: Bass campaign provided0

LOS ANGELES – Congresswoman Karen Bass officially announced her entrance Monday as a candidate to replace her fellow Democrat outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” she said in a statement announcing her candidacy. “Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this — together.”

If Bass were to win election she would be the first Black woman mayor and the second Black mayor after Thomas Bradley, the legendary politician and former police officer who served as the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.

KABC 7 noted that she would be the first sitting House member to be elected mayor of Los Angeles since 1953, when Rep. Norris Poulson was elected. Then-Reps. James Roosevelt, Alphonzo Bell and Xavier Becerra lost campaigns for mayor in 1965, 1969 and 2001.

The 67-year-old member of Congress currently represents the 37th Congressional District, which encompasses Los Angeles neighborhoods west and southwest of downtown including Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Miracle Mile, Pico-Robertson, Century City, Cheviot Hills, West Los Angeles, Mar Vista and parts of Westwood, as well as Culver City and Inglewood. Bass was a member of the California Assembly from 2004-10, serving as that body’s speaker from 2008 to 2010.

Bass is entering an already crowded field of candidates including Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and two members of the City Council – Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino – who have already announced their campaigns for mayor.

When speculation as to her running surfaced last week, Bass spokesman Zach Seidl told the Los Angeles Times that her running was due to the fact that “Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos,” Seidl said in a statement. “She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart. Los Angeles has to come together. That’s why the Congresswoman is considering a run for mayor,” he added.

That seems to be the focal point and whoever is elected will face the city’s massive homelessness crisis.

Bass acknowledged this in her candidacy announcement statement this morning, writing “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis.”

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