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Chopping away at ACA reinforces COVID-19 crisis

We need comprehensive federal nondiscrimination laws

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COVID-19 crisis, gay news, Washington BladeI live a few blocks from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, N.Y. It’s the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic in America. Refrigerator trucks are outside. Testing lines snake around the block. Ambulance sirens persistently fill the air. My home sits directly under the biggest bubble in The New York Times info-map of infection rates. The news reported that when Trump saw pictures of Elmhurst Hospital’s emergency room, he changed his tune and thought, “Maybe there is a public health problem.”

We are all struggling right now to get through multiple crises. I run the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) where we work to cultivate a network of activists across the country and build a new generation of leaders. But in this time, I’ve learned that we cannot do our work when our community is sick and dying.

The government should be doing everything it can to provide health care and health insurance coverage. Yet, we lack comprehensive nondiscrimination protections at the federal level. This absence allows the Trump administration to push forward a rule to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provisions, even in the midst of a pandemic.

11.5 million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and 1.5 million transgender people living in the U.S. live in one of 30 states where they are at risk of being fired, refused housing or denied health care services simply because of who they are. Only 21 states outlaw LGBTQ discrimination, and these protections don’t always extend to health care or public services. We are at heightened risk in more than half the country.

Soon the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers in their jobs. The case is limited to employment-based discrimination. Even a full win will not protect us from discrimination in health care.

As some states are re-opening, how meaningless would it be for LGBTQ people to be protected in going to work and unprotected in health care? As a queer person, your job is protected, your health is not.

Now more than ever we need healthy workers. Discrimination against LGBTQ people at work or in health care – as employees or as patients – is unconscionable but too often legal. We need comprehensive federal nondiscrimination laws.

Because we are vulnerable and unprotected under federal law, the Trump Administration can and is seeking to issue a final rule that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provisions. Section 1557 of the ACA has been crucial for LGBTQ patients to access the care and coverage that they need.

If eliminated, it could allow hospitals to deny COVID-19 testing and treatment to LGBTQ people. Insurance companies could deny coverage to transgender people and those suffering from chronic health or pre-existing conditions like HIV/ AIDS.

I cannot imagine a more reckless and irresponsible time for the Trump administration to ram through a rule that would license discrimination in health care. NQAPIA organized 259 people to submit comments and their stories to the Department of Health and Human Services to withdraw the proposed rule, but it might not be enough.

Living in the epicenter of a pandemic is rough. When I rode my bike near Elmhurst hospital there was a stench in the air that I hadn’t smelt since the days just after 9/11. It was the smell of death. I fear for my family, and for the people in my community, especially courageous Asian Pacific Americans who have built and served the LGBTQ community, who are they at risk.

I fear for Laurent Widjaya, who lives in Pennsylvania, a state that does not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Laurent is a community activist with a group called hotpot! and has a chronic illness. If Laurent lost their health care because they are gender non-conforming, how could they take care of the emerging LGBTQ Asian Pacific American community?

I fear for Kit Yan, a Queens-based, Hawaii-born, award-winning performance artist. Kit brings so much humor and validation to the lives of many LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders. But his health insurance never covers the price of his hormone therapy.

COVID19 is not the first virus that the LGBTQ community has faced. Viruses do not discriminate, people do. We need comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination and health care protections at the federal level. It is time for Congress to act!

 

Glenn D. Magpantay is Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander organizations. Follow him on Twitter @nqapia.

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Jimmy Biblarz: Representation matters, why I’m running for LA City Council

Jimmy Biblarz is a candidate for LA City Council to represent District 5 which runs from Bel-Air, through Palms, and east to Hancock Park

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Photo courtesy of Jimmy Biblarz

By Jimmy Biblarz | BEVERLY GROVE – Angelenos routinely list homelessness and housing affordability as their top concerns. As a candidate for Los Angeles City Council’s Fifth District, I’ve heard the concerns of worried and frustrated residents and the impact both have had on their lives. They want real solutions to these seemingly intractable issues.  

Housing affordability has shaped my life. When I was 12, my family was evicted from our apartment and we moved all over the city due to housing costs. Compounding this was growing up gay under the cloud of Prop. 8, which temporarily enshrined state-sanctioned marriage as between a man or a woman. The scars from this confluence of events are very much still with me. 

People don’t usually associate the LGBTQ+ community with homelessness and housing affordability. But by every measure, the LGBTQ+ community fares far worse than the general population. According to Williams Institute research, up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Half of all trans people experiencing homelessness nationally live in California, with Los Angeles city having the highest number, per the National Coalition to End Homelessness. LGBTQ+ folks are 15% more likely to be poor than their hetero and cisgender counterparts, especially queer people of color. Fewer than 50% of LGBTQ+ people own their homes, compared to 70% for non-LGBTQ+ people. And we know that LGBTQ+ still experience discrimination in the housing market; housing providers are less likely to respond to rental and mortgage inquiries from same-sex couples are more likely to charge same-sex couples higher rents.

This is why representation matters. Amidst calls for more permanent supportive housing, shelter beds, or tiny homes, the LGBTQ+ story is too often missed, especially trans voices. Temporary congregate shelters are poor fits for LGBTQ+ folks, typically offering few LGBTQ+-specific medical or mental health services, and often feeling quite unsafe to gender and sexuality minorities. That’s why queer people are much more likely to experience unsheltered homelessness, living on the streets, versus other forms of homelessness (“doubling up” with friends or family, living in a car). We need leaders who see issues through a queer lens.

Los Angeles has long been a haven for queer young people. That is a point of pride for our city. We must do everything we can to ensure it stays one. We must bring permanent supportive housing online with the urgency this crisis demands, by streamlining plan approvals and the location siting process, and supporting master lease agreements. And we must ensure new supportive housing includes the slate of medical and mental health services LGBTQ+ people need. Perhaps above all, we must invest in methodical and sustained street engagement teams led by well-compensated and highly trained experts with specific knowledge of the issues LGBTQ+ folks face. 

We need to elect leaders who are serious about new housing in LA, especially in the high-opportunity and job-rich areas of Council District 5 where I’m running. My plan focuses on building diverse, low-cost housing along under-utilized commercial transit corridors in high-opportunity areas in CD-5 (like Robertson, Westwood, Melrose, and L.A. Cienega) and holding developers’ feet to the fire on affordability requirements in market-rate units. Simultaneously, we must ensure wages rise in tandem with L.A.’s cost of living via indexed minimum wage increases that exceed increases in cost of living and investments in high-quality, unionized, green jobs. There is a growing gulf between real wages and the cost of housing. If we don’t act to reverse this trend, more and more LGBTQ+ people will be priced out of LA, and our thriving LGBTQ+ communities will disappear. 

With Ron Galperin’s departure, Mike Bonin’s retirement, and Mitch O’Farrell’s re-election far from a sure thing, we are at risk of losing LGBTQ+ representation on the Los Angeles City Council. Los Angeles has had nearly uninterrupted LGBTQ+ representation on the City Council since Joel Wachs was first elected in 1971, save a brief period in the mid-2000s. Come November, the nation’s second largest region could have no LGBTQ+ representation in the city or the county.  

Los Angeles needs LGBTQ+ leaders who understand the issues our community faces everyday. Queer people understand the importance of politics acutely; we can’t afford backsliding in representation, especially given the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country, and growing hate in our own city. 

My life experience makes me uniquely qualified to meet this moment. I understand the major issues facing Angelenos because I’ve lived it. But it’s about more than my city council race. What’s at stake is a true representative democracy—a city that reflects its citizens. I urge all LGBTQ+ Angelenos to get informed, get involved and vote by June 7th. Our voice matters and we’ve come too far to let it slip away. 

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Jimmy Biblarz is a candidate for City Council in District 5, which runs from Bel-Air, through Palms, and east to Hancock Park, bordering most of West Hollywood.

Born and raised in West LA, Jimmy is an educator, policy expert, and housing advocate. Shaped by his own experience with housing insecurity and eviction, Jimmy centers empathy and compassion in his approach to the homelessness and housing crisis.

Jimmy attended K-12 LAUSD schools in the district, was at Harvard for college, graduate school, and law school and is now a professor at UCLA Law School. He lives with his partner Harry, in Beverly Grove. 

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Appreciating lesbian thinker & activist Urvashi Vaid

“I remember her as a whip-smart lesbian of color who stood up and fought but also offered peace and hope when possible”

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Urvashi Vaid (Screenshot from The Charlie Rose Show/PBS)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Urvashi Vaid was whip smart. She could look at you with some analysis spinning behind her eyes and then smile a deep broad smile and you could exhale as a shared vision started coursing through your veins — a warrior sisterhood striving and fighting for liberation.

And you didn’t even know liberation was on your wish-list. 

It’s hard to register that Urvashi Vaid is gone

Urvashi Vaid speaking at AB 101 protest (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Urvashi could seduce your brain with elevated and clear-spoken common sense. And damn if she couldn’t rile you up and spur you to action as she did in Sacramento in 1991 after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed AB 101, the gay rights bill he promised to sign, and with her 1993 speech at the March on Washington.

Urvashi at March on Washington (Screenshot/CSPAN-2)

And we needed that. After years of excruciating pain losing lovers, family and friends while Ronald Reagan’s spokesperson laughed about the scourge of AIDS in the White House press room, a serious LGBTQ political movement was emerging in the late 1980s. And igniting those righteous flames of fury was this short, thin, proud lesbian of South Indian heritage who exuded the perfume of power. She knew her stuff. And she was at ease with powerbrokers, including Hollywood A+ types who made history attending an August 1991 benefit for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, thrown by gay Hollywood manager Barry Krost, entertainment attorney Alan Hergott and Hergott’s lover, NGLTF Board co-chair Curt Shepard. Hollywood was finally showing up for AIDS benefits — but gay rights was still just too controversial. It was a very big deal. 

Urvashi Vaid with Curt Shepard, Alan Hergott, and Barry Diller in 1991 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Among our own, Urvashi would let fools yammer on with puffed-up opinions. But eventually she would halt us with a glance, a quick quip or a concise Marxist-ish dissertation on any situation and its connection to poverty, rendering you dumbstruck, agog – pick a synonym. 

Urvashi was a teacher, a mentor — though I don’t think she thought of herself that way. She was merely trying to help a brother or sister — especially younger folks — learn to think differently, think for themselves, and think of themselves as part of the larger movement for civil rights. 

One moment perfectly captures that for me. I was a freelancer covering the monumental 1992 Creating Change conference in Los Angeles. That was the year when esteemed gay author Paul Monette (Borrowed Time) ripped up a picture of the Pope, freaking out a lot of Catholic Latinos. I kept an eye on Urvashi and her pal Torie Osborn, head of the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, as they talked art with closeted LA City Councilmember Joel Wachs, as well as the usual leadership discussions, debates and skirmishes among activists in a heightened political year. 

I also covered breakout sessions and one proved to be particularly daunting. It was a discussion about race in the gay movement. A young fierce gay Asian artist named Joel B. Tan took over the discussion and challenged my press credentials, my commitment to the movement, and my ability to report ANYTHING accurately or fairly about that meeting because I’m white. He called for a vote on whether I should be allowed to stay or get kicked out. 

Some folks in the room, familiar with my reporting since the late 1980s, defended me. I was prepared to get shamefully kicked out when Joel went just a tad too far and started claiming the Task Force itself was a cauldron of white racism. In fact, the whole damn gay movement was basically a rich white gay conspiracy to get power and use everyone else as pawns. 

When Joel finally took a breath, a muffled sound came from just outside the room. We looked and there was Urvashi, casually leaning on the door jamb with Phill Wilson, then co-founder of the National Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum and of the LA chapter of Black and White Men Together. “What about us?” Urv asked very simply. The tension evaporated, I was allowed to stay and racism within the gay community was discussed with passion but without grandstanding. (I called Joel later and he said my report was acceptable.) 

The tension eased so quickly because Urvashi had been fighting systemic racism at every level for a very long time, including within the gay community. Her power was smarts, compassion, humor — and credibility.    

Not to say Urvashi was perfect. In fact, I had a serious disagreement with her over an incident that happened in Los Angeles. There was a ballot initiative that called for a new statewide Insurance Commissioner to be appointed by the governor. APLA Board Chair Dr. Scott Hitt and political consultant David Mixner opposed the initiative, which drove some AIDS activists crazy. We were in the middle of the second wave of AIDS and we needed government help. Hitt and Mixner explained that they didn’t oppose the idea, just the method: the Insurance Commissioner should be elected, not appointed. Imagine if we had a governor more horrific than Pete Wilson?

I reported that and activist writer Stuart Timmons freaked out. He wrote a 7,000 word thesis in a treading-water alternative weekly bashing Hitt and Mixner. He also showed up at my apartment screaming about how I was afraid of these prominent politicos. I was pissed — so I did my own deep dive into his tome and found people who complained that he quoted them out of context or actually changed their quotes to fit his activist premise. Eventually, we all moved on, including me since Stuart was friends with my friend Harry Hay. 

But then Urvashi quoted extensively from Stuart’s disinformation piece in her book Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation.  I tried to reach her but failed. I later heard her cite Stuart’s story as an example of bad gays. I fumed for a moment, then let that go, too. 

Besides, Urvashi was doing so much good. And her relationship with Kate Clinton was so cool and extraordinary. I learned what a “soft butch” was — but that’s another story. 

Urvashi Vaid with Andrew Sullivan on The Charlie Rose Show 1993 (Screenshot/PBS)

Urvashi Vaid is appropriately being lauded as an exemplary warrior for justice and civil rights. I remember her as a whip-smart lesbian of color who stood up and fought but also offered peace and hope when possible — as she did appearing with conservative gay writer/editor Andrew Sullivan on the Charlie Rose show before the 1993 march.

Urvashi with friend Ann Northrop and David (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Last July, Urvashi was the guest on Gay USA, anchored by her friends Ann Northrop and Andy Humm. She talked about the National LGBTQ+ Women’s Survey, an American LGBTQ+ Museum — and about fighting breast cancer. Urv seemed upbeat but a burdened aura of mortality cloaked her Zoom appearance. She seemed determined to approach death as she had lived — educating people about our ongoing fight for liberation and, with a deep, broad smile and thoughtful eyes, telling the truth about her own humanity. 

Thank you, Urvashi Vaid.

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Gay USA 7/7/2021- Free Speech TV:

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Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and former editor of the Los Angeles Blade has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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Christian middle school forces kids to “Say Gay.” To condemn gay friends!

The Don’t Say Gay movement across the USA stresses talking to kids about sexual orientation/gender identity is “inappropriate” & sexualizing

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Image licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – As a child, did you ever get a homework assignment requiring you to convince a close personal friend to stop being gay? To persuade them God doesn’t approve of them? To “prove” it to them from the Bible? Would it ever occur to you that such homework could be handed out to 11, 12, and 13-year-olds?

In a move that reeks of Orwellian word twisting, a large Christian school system in Kentucky just taught kids they should morally condemn their friends.

And they’re forcing them to practice!

Besides being odious to Jesus followers who reject far-right extremism, this heinous homework pulls the mask off the Don’t Say Gay movement. It demonstrates that when conservative Christians say “love,” they mean something completely different from what most people mean.

Pulls the mask off? Sure.

The Don’t Say Gay movement steamrolling across red states stresses that talking to kids about sexual orientation and gender identity is “inappropriate” and sexualizing. Conservative Christian parents say they don’t want their children “exposed to sex” in school. They say just hearing gay people exist forces kids to think about sex. (They don’t explain why hearing about straight couples doesn’t have the same effect.)

Kentucky is one of many Republican-dominated states about to pass a law prohibiting discussion of gender and sexual minorities in public schools. Lawmakers introduced it as an “emergency measure,” saying Christian parents insist that kids learning about transgender and gay people is a genuine crisis.

Um … really, Jan?

Check out what this Kentucky Christian middle school is handing out as required homework.

Kentucky business owner and Christian JP Davis tweeted screenshots yesterday of a homework assignment given to a family friend’s young children. The kids, students at Christian Academy of Louisville, had to write a letter to a hypothetical friend “struggling with homosexuality” to persuade the friend to “reject homosexuality,” to tell them “homosexuality will not bring them satisfaction” and to tell them “you love them even though you don’t approve of their lifestyle.”

The kids are also to tell their friend they “don’t approve of any sin.”

This homework was given to children who are 11, 12, and 13 years old. I don’t know what they’ve been learning in class, but given the assignment, they had to have been learning about sex, specifically that sex between same-gender partners is immoral. They’re expected to be able to quote the Christian Bible to back that up.

I don’t know the details of what they learned, but can we all agree, please, that these 11, 12, and 13 year-old children have learned about sex in EXACTLY the way Don’t Say Gay supporters argue is harmful and wrong?

Screenshot/WKLY CBS 32 Louisville, KY

Here’s what else those children learned

  1. Christianity and the Bible condemn homosexuality. This is not true. Theologians and biblical scholars do not agree the Bible does any such thing. In fact, theologians are increasingly pointing out the weaknesses in traditional Christian teaching about the immorality of transgender and gay people. Major Christian denominations are increasingly moving to fully affirm transgender and gay people instead of morally condemning us. Based on the kids’ homework assignment, they didn’t learn any of that.
  2. Gay people don’t lead happy or satisfied lives. This is absurd. Nuff said. If you doubt me, google LGBT mental health and dive in. Study after study demonstrate that trans and gay people who are accepted by family and friends feel just as fulfilled and happy as anyone else.
  3. Christians should morally judge gay people and brand them as sinners. The premise of the assignment is that gay people are sinful and that Christian children should confront them with their sin. Notice there’s not a word about individual consciences or living and letting live. These children are not just being taught they should morally judge their peers, they’re being made to practice doing it.
  4. Morally judging gay people is a form of love. I’m going to try to tone down my reaction here, but my fingers are hitting the keyboard very hard as a few choice expletives escape my lips. Let me say this much: I’ve been in the crosshairs of Christian moral judgment far too often, and the rejection it leads to bears no resemblance to love. Love is about accepting people for who they are, not about trying to persuade them they are immoral and must change.
  5. Gay people can choose not to be gay. No, we can’t. The way we experience sexual and romantic attraction is not something we can decide to experience differently. Conversion therapy does not work. The only thing that happens when gay people try not to be gay is that we suffer — from loneliness, lack of love, and despair. Gay people who try not to be gay often end up deeply depressed and suicidal. Which, please see point 4 again.

JP Davis is a gay Christian from Kentucky, and he is appalled.

Davis told the Louisville Courier-Journal that this homework assignment is personal to him. He says he took to Twitter to expose it because he spent the first 23 years of his life hiding his true self from friends and family, fearing their judgement and rejection. He says he doesn’t want the next generation to face the same pain he lived with:

Davis told the Louisville Courier-Journal that this homework assignment is personal to him. He says he took to Twitter to expose it because he spent the first 23 years of his life hiding his true self from friends and family, fearing their judgement and rejection. He says he doesn’t want the next generation to face the same pain he lived with:

The statistics speak for themselves on suicide among LGBTQ+ people, and these are seventh-graders that are being subjected to hate and division, and it’s not necessary. I know it’s a Christian school, but that’s not my Christianity. That’s not my values. And that’s not what Jesus, if they want to make that argument, represented. Jesus didn’t go around asking people to judge and tell other people how they’re wrong and shame.

See the photo I headed this article with? Two boys of middle-school age are fighting in school. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when children are taught to morally judge their friends. That’s EXACTLY what Christianity is supposed to oppose.

I know plenty of Christians who don’t presume to judge, who either fully affirm LGBTQ people or who leave our moral worth up to God and our own consciences.

So why is the Christian Academy of Louisville, part of a school system with over 3,000 kids, teaching judgment? Why are they trying to redefine hate as love? I don’t know, but I wish they’d stop.

Are you a Christian? Could you consider reaching out to the school and asking them to please stop teaching young children to attack LGBTQ people? Could you ask them, please, to emulate Jesus instead? I thank you for that, if you do, from the bottom of my heart. I’m JP Davis would to.

As for everyone else, can we please learn from this? When conservative Christians say it’s not OK to “say gay” in school, tell them about Christian Academy of Louisville teaching 11, 12, and 13-year-olds that it’s perfectly OK to say gay — as long as you’re condemning your gay friends.

Then ask them to get their story straight.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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