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HRC’s Alphonso David and the historic LA moment when everything changed

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Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David looked forward to this year’s Los Angeles Dinner. The nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization planned to honor the incredible Janelle Monáe and Dan Levy at their annual star-studded gala and David could finally meet in person so many longtime supporters, some of whom remember HRC when it was the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and revel in opening HRC’s first LA office.

In his first eight months since taking the job, David had already made an impression — being named #64 on City&State’s “2020 Law Power 100” as one of New York’s most politically powerful lawyers and as “the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to serve as president of the Human Rights Campaign in its 40-year history.”

The March 28 gala would also enable David to exalt in the organization’s rallying of LGBTQ voters. On March 9, six days after Super Tuesday and 19 days before the dinner, HRC released a “March Voter Snapshot” of LGBTQ voting power, including 11 million LGBTQ voters and 57 million “Equality Voters,” or LGBTQ allies.

“LGBTQ voters have shown up in record numbers in states across the country and cemented our status as a crucial constituency to court,” David said in a press release. “LGBTQ people and our allies are among the most politically engaged voters in the country, and Democratic presidential candidates are taking notice. LGBTQ and Equality Voters are fired up and ready to send the Trump-Pence administration packing.”

According to NBC News exit polling,Super Tuesday states, including California, brought out 4,339,000 LGBTQ voters and 21,153,000 Equality Voters, nearly doubling LGBTQ representation in the electorate.

“Los Angeles — and California generally — is a significant area in the country for us to engage and mobilize people and appreciate the importance of this election,” David told the Los Angeles Blade in an April 6 phone interview, including HRC-endorsed candidate Christy Smith in the CA 25th congressional race.

In addition to electoral politics, David intended to talk to the HRC/LA audience about “the importance of focusing on people who are multiply marginalized. I’m talking about someone who is black with HIV and lacks access to healthcare in the South. We’re talking about an immigrant who was thrown out of her country because she’s a lesbian and faces persecution in her country and seeks asylum here in the United States. I’m talking about an Asian boy, who was bullied at school, and is suffering from some other type of condition and doesn’t have any types of protection in his, or her, or their home state.”

And, David continues about his intended speech, “the black transgender woman who is afraid to walk home at night because she may face violence, be murdered, be attacked. That is in every single speech I’ve given. We launched the Transgender Justice Initiative, the first initiative that I launched when I took over as president of the Human Rights Campaign. I just hired a national director, Tori Cooper, who is a well-known activist from Atlanta.

She’s now moved to Washington, D.C., where she’s overseeing our entire program to make sure that we elevate members of the trans community and think about how we can address the crisis that is facing the transgender community.”

David underscores his point. “When I say people who are ‘multiply marginalized,’ that is a community that has faced so many obstacles over time and has persevered — but we need to do a lot more in order to address the systemic barriers that transgender people face,” says the HRC president.

“One of our biggest challenges: we have to think about how we can see ourselves in others who don’t look like us, because as a community we are incredibly diverse,” David says. “But unfortunately, those that are multiply marginalized don’t receive the resources, don’t receive the support that they should.”

And in the Trump/Pence era of division and destruction (see “Trump’s Timeline of Hate”), LGBTQ unity must succeed.

“In order for us to coalesce as a community, in order for us to win and sustain our wins, which is just as important, we need to come together as a community,” David says. “And the most effective way that we can do that is to focus on those who are multiple marginalized. There was an anecdote that someone raised with me a few years ago, which is, ‘If they’re coming for me today, they’re going to come for you tomorrow.’ As a community, I want to make sure that we take that principle, internalize that principle and use it to mobilize ourselves in order to advance our community to higher heights.”

Super Tuesday made community coalescing seem eminently possible.

But then came the novel coronavirus.

It snuck up on Americans who’d been told that COVID-19 was a new animal-to-human flu-like virus contained in a section of China, suddenly spreading rapidly through Italy, then Spain but not yet impacting the U.S. The Los Angeles Blade first reported on what was then considered the “low risk” for the coronavirus in California on Feb. 27, the first U.S. case for what became known as “community spread.”

Cautiously, business went on as usual as concern began to build.

Indeed, on Wednesday, March 11, HRC told the Blade that the LA gala was still on, though with extensive precautions and safety measures in place. Then the axe fell.

Later that day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that nearly 200 people in the state were now infected by the fast-moving COVID-19 for which humans had no built-in immunity and he prohibited gatherings of 250 people or even smaller if people couldn’t stay six feet apart as if that “social distancing” could stop the pandemic.

The next day, on March 12, 2020, the world as we knew it changed forever.

Los Angeles City and County officials held a joint news conference in which L.A. County Department of Public Health director Barbara Ferrer reported a total of 32 coronavirus cases. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti opened on an optimistic note, then got serious, limiting gatherings to 50 people.

“Unlike the heroism we saw recently in the fires, [in this case] each one of us is a first responder,” Garcetti said.

“Coronavirus is here. Your actions can help us flatten that curve, literally buying us days and weeks to get to a moment when the virus is less of a threat.”

There was an instant cascade of cancellations, from NCAA’s March Madness  to Broadway shows. HRC signed onto an open letter from more than 100 organizations specifying how COVID-19 could impact LGBTQ communities with vulnerabilities and underlying medical conditions. For instance: 37% of LGBTQ adults smoke every day compared to 27% of non-LGBTQ people; 21% of LGBTQ people have asthma, compared to 14% of non-LGBTQ people.

HRC cancelled everything, too. In a press release announcing the cancellations, David noted that HRC’s mission would continue.

“Our focus remains on the goal of advancing the rights of LGBTQ people around the world and on the defeat of Donald Trump and Mike Pence in November,” David said. “We will continue to work toward this goal, and weather this crisis as we have weathered crises before — by uniting as a community.”

One week later, on March 19, David wrote a letter to the community:

“The LGBTQ community has known adversity. In fact, we have drawn much of our strength and power from times of great uncertainty. From blatant discrimination to government indifference, from the AIDS crisis to relentless attacks on who we are and who we love, from bills attacking our transgender siblings to regulations removing protections that have existed for decades, we have seen our fair share of struggle.

 

But in each of these struggles, we have banded together to overcome challenges that seemed insurmountable. With your help, we have harnessed our fear and our anger and turned them into strength.

 

Now, we are living in an extraordinary moment yet again. As the world watches the spread of COVID-19, many of us, myself included, are concerned and afraid for ourselves and our loved ones. And that fear cannot be minimized. But it can be the basis for action. As we have time and again, we must raise our voices together to fight for our community, to lift each other up and to vote out those who are not protecting us.”

David noted that while COVID-19 affects everyone, it has a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ people. And he gave stats: 40 percent of all industries that LGBTQ people work in are likely to be impacted by COVID-19, impacting 5 million LGBTQ people; a disproportionate number of LGBTQ people work in restaurants (15%) compared to their non-LGBTQ peers (6%); and 17 percent of LGBTQ people lack health insurance. The aging population and folks with compromised immune systems are also at a greater risk of infection.

“This is an abnormal time amid an already abnormal few years. We can get through this. I know this, because we have gotten through crises before. But we cannot do it alone; we have to stand together,” David wrote. “Please be safe, please continue to wash your hands and please don’t give up.”

The next day, March 20, HRC published a research brief to provide policymakers and community advocates with some of that critical data on the health and economic risks LGBTQ people face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That research report highlighted that one out of five LGBTQ people live in poverty,” David says, adding that LGBTQ people face greater healthcare risks “from kidney disease to high blood pressure to, unfortunately, lack of access to healthcare.”

David has been on cable news and Twitter talking about the research data.

HRC has also produced a series of COVID-19-impact webinars: one primarily for black men with HIV; another with a medical physician who talked about the impact that COVID-19 may have on people who are living with HIV; another on older LGBTQ adults and another regarding child welfare organizations.

On March 23, HRC signed onto a coalition letter to congressional leaders about including and prioritizing the needs of the disability community in legislation being considered around COVID-19. HIV/AIDS is considered a disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We wanted to inform policymakers that when they develop solutions to COVID-19, we have to make sure that those solutions are thinking about the impact on LGBTQ people” and others, David says.

The “good news” is that “in some instances we’re seeing policymakers respond. We saw the recent stimulus package include $90 million, as an example, for HIV/AIDS care and treatment. It also included $65 million for housing for people living with AIDS. It also included $25 million for carrying out activities for runaway and homeless youth. And we know that 40% of those who are homeless classify as LGBTQ.”

However, “we need more because, unfortunately, the statistics are dire. One out of two black gay or bisexual men will get HIV in their lifetime and the issue isn’t so much within the COVID-19 crisis,” David says.

“It’s compounded by the fact that people are living with HIV but have lack of access to health care. And when you don’t have access to healthcare, and you have HIV and you’re susceptible to COVID-19, the numbers are just really frightening — the number of people that are going to be impacted and the implication for people of color in this country (Blacks have since emerged with alarming rates of the virus),” he says. “So, we have to continue being more vocal, and I’m being more vocal and making sure that our research is in the hands of every single policy maker throughout the country.”

But while it’s important to talk about people of color and marginalized communities, David notes that it’s another thing to “make sure that when we develop that policy, it has to be implemented in a nondiscriminatory way.”

“We know in 29 states in this country, there are no state laws that specifically protect LGBTQ people,” he says. So Congress could pass legislation appropriating money for HIV/AIDS or people who are homeless and those states could still deny LGBTQ people the resources they need.

Additionally, LGBTQ people may lack paid sick leave; or an LGBTQ young person could be sent home from school to face an abusive parent; an LGBTQ elder must choose between living alone in near poverty or going back into the closet to get into an anti-gay shelter.

“I want to make sure that’s not lost in the conversation,” David says. “I’m raising the alarm that please, please, please make sure that when you develop policy solutions, you are mindful of how these policy solutions should impact the LGBTQ community, because we are disproportionately impacted.”

Brian Brown, president of the almost defunct National Organization for Marriage (NOM), once infamous for pushing anti-gay Prop 8, has been turning those pleas for pro-LGBTQ policy solutions into fundraising scams.

“Some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful LGBT groups, including the grossly-misnamed Human Rights Campaign (HRC), have issued a demand of media, governmental and public health officials that the LGBT community be given special consideration in the nationwide response to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis,” Brown wrote in a recent fundraising email. “In light of what everyone is dealing with, it is more than a little off-putting that LGBT activists are demanding special considerations for their community.”

Then, wrote Brown — whose Prop 8 coalition included evangelical Creationists — “Large elements of their agenda, especially their incessant push for gender ideology, requires that people ignore science, yet it is science and accurate data that we need most in designing strategies to combat COVID-19.”

David transcends the invective, saying that while everyone is being impacted, some are being impacted more. “It’s not disregarding the impact that it’s having on others; it’s just appreciating the disproportionate impact that it’s having on us,” David says.

“I am doing well. I am healthy,” David says. “Every single member of the Human Rights Campaign is effectively working from home, and we are advancing all of our priorities remotely,” adding that all the staff are safe and healthy at this point, including board member Jodie Patterson, who contracted the virus but is now well.

HRC staff may be working from home but they still face the challenge of how to “actually get out and mobilize people to vote. Not only in California but making sure that we can get out of our comfort zones and speak to others outside of the places where we know people will vote for a pro-equality candidate. And it’s going to be a lot more complicated with COVID-19,” says David. “How can you engage in political organizing in a way that’s impactful and effective in the virtual space? We’re advancing a lot of different tools in the virtual space.”

The challenge goes deeper. Elections are a “meaningful tool” to achieving full equality,” David says. “But getting a pro-equality candidate into elected office in November, for me, is not the win. The win is sustaining that success over time.”

But for this moment, Alphonso David is more mindful of a shared humanity and history. “Please support your fellow LGBTQ members of our community,” he says. “We will get through this crisis. We’ve gone through crises before, and we are resilient, and we will get through this crisis together.”

Photos of Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David courtesy HRC or via his Facebook page.

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CDC: 85% of gay & lesbian adults in U.S. are vaccinated against COVID

Data on COVID-19 vaccination among LGBTQ persons limited because of the lack of routine SOGI data collection at the national & state levels

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Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/GSA

ATLANTA – A new study report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), found that found 85.4% of gay and lesbian Americans above age 18 had received at least one vaccine dose as of October 2021.

The study, conducted from August 29 until October 30, 2021, also found that by comparison, only 76.3% of heterosexuals reported receiving at least an initial dose by the same date.

The report noted that Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations have higher prevalence of health conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness compared with non-LGBT populations.

The potential for low vaccine confidence and coverage among LGBT populations is of concern because these persons historically experience challenges accessing, trusting, and receiving health care services

Data on COVID-19 vaccination among LGBT persons are limited, in part because of the lack of routine data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity at the national and state levels.

In March of 2021, the Blade reported the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed deep-seated inequities in health care for communities of color and amplifies social and economic factors that have contributed to those communities being hit hardest, and Mega-vaccination centers set up by California health officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been addressing and tracking the issue- the LGBTQ communities are still not being tracked.

This lack of data collection has frustrated and angered California State Senator Scott Wiener who authored a bill last year that passed through the legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last Fall that mandates gathering sexual orientation and gender identity data related to the COVID testing in California.

“We’re one year into the pandemic, and LGBTQ people continue to be erased in our public health response to COVID-19 — similar to our invisibility throughout history. No government is successfully tracking COVID-19 cases in the LGBTQ community, despite a law I wrote mandating that California do so,” Weiner told the Blade. “And, we now know that LGBTQ people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. We’ve also just learned that vaccination demographic data doesn’t include LGBTQ data. It simply shocking that in 2021, progressive health agencies continue to forget about our community,” he added.

The CDC also noted that gay and lesbian adults were more likely to be concerned about COVID-19 and to believe in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

“We know that the prevalence of certain health conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness, such as cancer, smoking, and obesity, are higher in LGBT populations, and access to health care continues to be an issue for some people in the LGBT community,” Dr. A.D. McNaghten, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team and corresponding author of the study, told ABC News. “We wanted to see if vaccination coverage among LGBT persons was the same as non-LGBT persons.”

The CDC data recorded that bisexual and transgender adults had similar vaccination rates to heterosexual adults with 72.6% of bisexual adults fully vaccinated by the end of October, as were 71.4% of transgender adults. The numbers however for Black and Hispanic lesbian women had lower rates of vaccination at 57.9% and 72.6%, respectively, compared to Black and Hispanic heterosexual women at 75.6% and 80.5%, respectively.

Higher percentages of gay or lesbian adults and bisexual adults reported that they thought COVID-19 vaccine was very or somewhat important to protect oneself (90.8% and 86.8%, respectively) compared with heterosexual adults (80.4%), and higher percentages of adults who identified as transgender or nonbinary reported they thought COVID-19 vaccine was very or somewhat important to protect oneself (83.2%) compared with those who did not identify as transgender or nonbinary (80.7%).

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White House orders distribution of 400 million free N95 masks

Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator; “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks”

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President Joe Biden (Blade file photo/screenshot)

WASHINGTON – As the latest surge of the highly contagious and easily transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to cause a rise in hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated adults and children, the White House announced Wednesday it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the nation.

The plan an admkistartion official said, is to start shipping the nonsurgical masks to pharmacies and community health centers to distribute this week, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile.

In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator, said, “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks.”

The N95 masks will be made available to everybody, and recipients will not be prioritized based on vulnerability to Covid, income or other criteria. Inglesby said the administration was “confident that people who want to access them will be able to access them,” but it was not immediately clear how many masks a person could receive at one time.

On January 13, President Joe Biden had announced a plan to have the government distribute 1 billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests free to Americans, along with the N95 masks, as the administration works to fight the spiraling upward spike in coronavirus cases.

The White House website to order free at-home Covid tests went live Tuesday. The website says: “Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.”

A White House official said Wednesday that the distribution of 400 million masks would be the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.

Inglesby told NBC News that the administration was “absolutely preparing for the possibility of additional variants in the future” and that people could expect the government to make N95 masks “more and more available.”

Biden announces free masks, tests to fight omicron:

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Coronavirus

COVID-19 Cases increase by nearly 10 times in one month

While hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID

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Graphic courtesy of UCLA/Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

LOS ANGELES – A total of 31,576 new COVID-19 cases were documented on Monday — up ten times the number of cases reported on Dec. 17, 2021, when there were 3,360 new cases recorded the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported Monday.

There are  4,564 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized, nearly 6 times the number from one month ago when 772 people were hospitalized. The daily positivity rate is 16.5%, more than 8 times the 2% daily positivity rate on December 17th.

Just one week ago, the county surpassed 2 million total COVID-19 cases, with the figure reaching 2,289,045 cases as of Monday.

“On this national holiday where we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we remember his deep commitment to health equity.  As Reverend King memorably said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death,’ ” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“Tragically, we have seen this play out in real life and very clearly over the past two years with the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color. From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation,” she added.

“The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but, are identified with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission,” the health department said in a statement released last week.

As of Friday, more than 80% of all adult ICU beds in the county were occupied.

There are also 27 new deaths due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and 31,576 new positive cases.

The public health department also noted that while the number of children hospitalized with the virus remains low, the number of them admitted to L.A. County hospitals “significantly increased” over the past month, with the largest increase among children younger than 5 years old.

The increase mirrors trends seen nationwide for the age group — the only one not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The county also saw its highest coronavirus death rate in nearly 10 months over this past week, with an average of 40 COVID-19 deaths a day.

“From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation. As we continue to implement strategies – enforcing worker protections through our Health Officer Orders, providing resources needed by many to survive the impact of the pandemic, funding community-based organizations in hard hit areas to serve as trusted public health messengers, and increasing vaccination access in under-sourced neighborhoods – we also need to come together to address the impact that racism, historical disinvestment, and social marginalization have on COVID-19 outcomes,” Ferrer said.

“While these conditions predate the pandemic, without deliberate collective actions to address the root causes of health inequities, we are unlikely to close the gaps we have documented for 2 long years,” she added.

California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The unprecedented count, recorded in California’s databases late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case.

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