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We won’t be ignored

Make some noise — a New Year is almost here

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Troy Masters (Blade file photo)

We end 2020 in an unimaginable place, with more than 80 million cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 1.7 million deaths reported globally. As a result, we are also experiencing a cascading social and economic fallout that heralds perhaps the greatest social and political challenges in modern history. 

It was exactly one year ago this week, Dec. 31, 2019, that the first mentions in the mainstream U.S. media began to circulate of a mystery illness that had sickened dozens of people in  Chinese mega-city Wuhan. 

Alarming outbreaks quickly occurred around the world and by the end of January more than 2,000 cases and 43 deaths had been reported. 

By March 11, the day the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, more than 4,600 people had died worldwide and new cases were soaring, as the number of cases outside China increased 13-fold and the number of countries with cases increased threefold.

Our response has required us to reinvent life as we once knew it and remove ourselves (even our faces) from one another. It has felt almost as if gravity simply disappeared, like civilization itself disappeared. Everything that had been meaningful and familiar, things we had taken so profoundly for granted — freedom of movement, the simple pleasure of planning a vacation, attending an event large or small, dinner out, a movie, holidays, family gatherings — turn out to be not only key to our economy but also a key component in our psychological well-being. We depend on the friendly gesture of touch and interaction and that has (for the moment) largely slipped away.

We are fighting for our own survival, all of us. It is truly an existential era.

The need for social distancing, mask wearing, the isolation of all the prevention measures, the loud and angry political debate and resulting chaotic messaging, the economic fallout, massive loss of life, wellness, mobility and small freedoms, large insecurities have all taken a toll on each of us.  

Add to that the shocking spectacle of a president who escalated daily his weaponization of the crisis as an appeal to a base that desperately wanted to deny every bit of the pandemic, an encouragement that made the situation more and more dire. 

Trump’s wager was total, all in. He bet the nation that with more chaos and greater crisis, his power would increase and he would be reelected. His followers truly believed that “only he could fix it.”

But the rest of the world side-stepped Trump and the best scientific minds came together to save us, producing vaccines that have the potential to restore everyday life to something resembling the months before COVID-19 entered our consciousness.

If we are able to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population, COVID-19 loses its grip on the world. Life will slowly reassemble. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to comply with COVID protocols.

The LGBTQ community is something of a model for that reassembly. We know about the power of science and the enormous role messaging plays in motivating a community toward making the changes needed to save lives.

We are an example to the world of how to change an entire culture toward lowering rates of transmission and preventing community spread. We know how to work with the scientific community to advance treatments and get our larger community to adopt the result.  We know something about surviving a plague.

So, why then are we being ignored? 

Since the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, Karen Ocamb and Brody Levesque have reported for the Blade on the invisibility of the LGBTQ community, which has been profound. The consequences of that erasure may be lasting.

Data collection by authorities in California and elsewhere has excluded any references to the LGBTQ community, despite our suffering and death. While data exists to show the pandemic consequences for the Black, Latino and Asian communities’ rates of transmission, deaths and socio-economic impact — none of that information has been collected for LGBTQ people.

West Hollywood, as a microcosm of the entire LGBTQ community, offers tremendous empirical insight for those willing to take a look. It is a community that has an aging population, 50 percent of whom are seniors who have experienced long term isolation, even before COVID. It is a community with a workforce largely comprised of freelance and gig-workers, tip-based employees and other underpaid people who are all experiencing profound economic tumult. Yet information specific to them is not collected and applied to LGBTQ people as a whole.

And now, a vaccine is at hand that requires a 70 percent participation — yet there has been no database-harvested understanding of what messages would motivate our own community to get inoculated. There’s still no way to measure any aspect of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the LGBTQ community. 

Our community’s nonprofit sector must once again take the lead. With dozens of LGBTQ clinics in LA offered through the Los Angeles LGBT Center, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, APLA, St. John’s Wellness and others, we have the infrastructure to make a difference in yet another fight for our lives. It will take substantial community outreach and solidarity.

Yet 2021 holds a great deal of promise.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to right the wrongs inflicted on the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups by the Trump administration and bring inclusivity. He has already given us a place at the table by acknowledging the LGBTQ community in his acceptance speech, selecting an openly out married Black lesbian as Deputy White House Press Secretary and the nomination of the first openly gay man to a presidential Cabinet post.

It’s certainly not too late to inject our needs, right the Trump-created mess and make our demands heard. We learned the hard lesson that Silence Equals Death. We can’t be quiet in 2021.

Troy Masters is the publisher of the Los Angeles Blade

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Commentary

Hurricane Beryl: The need for an LGBTQ-inclusive disaster response in the Caribbean

Category 5 storm devastated southern Windward Islands, Jamaica

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Hurricane Beryl damage on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (Screen capture via Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation/YouTube)

Editor’s note: Outright International has allowed the Washington Blade to republish this op-ed from its website.

On the heels of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States held in Antigua and Barbuda in May 2024, Caribbean countries are confronted with a historic event. Described as the earliest Category 5 hurricane to develop in the Atlantic, Hurricane Beryl tore through the Caribbean during the first week of July 2024. Hurricane Beryl caused catastrophic damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Jamaica, as well as varying degrees of damage in St. Lucia and Barbados. Hurricane Beryl follows an increased number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region, the most recent being Category 4 Hurricane Ian (2022), Category 5 Hurricane Dorian (2019), Category 5 Hurricane Maria (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Irma (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Matthew (2016). These hurricanes resulted in the loss of lives, displacement, disruption in livelihoods, destruction of vegetation and infrastructure, uninhabitable areas, and grave economic loss. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the Caribbean, climate-related disasters exacerbate the vulnerabilities and pre-existing inequalities that they face.

Survival and viability of Caribbean islands threatened

Caribbean countries are experiencing the effects of climate change (Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, 2021). Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region by 25-30 percent (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2018). As indicated by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes cause the most devastating impacts. The “increased frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events,” as evidence of the “rapid and adverse impacts of climate change,” represent the “greatest threats to the survival and viability” of small island states in the Caribbean (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2018, p. 83United Nations Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, 2024, para 27.)

USD billion in damages

The financial toll of these disasters is distressing. The International Monetary Fund highlights that the Caribbean is “the most exposed region to climate-related natural disasters, with estimated adaptation investment needs of more than $100 billion, equal to about one-third of its annual economic output” (IMF, 2023). Despite this vulnerability, the Caribbean receives minimal private climate financing (IMF, 2023). The Caribbean has the highest average estimated disaster damage as a ratio to GDP globally, with some instances of damage exceeding the size of the economy (IMF, 2018). For example, Hurricane Maria resulted in $1.2 billion in damages to Dominica, totaling 226 percent of GDP (IMF, 2021). Hurricane Dorian resulted in $3.4 billion in damages to the Bahamas (estimated at 25-30 percent of GDP) (Inter-American Development Bank and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2022).

LGBTQ people are among those who are disproportionately impacted

LGBTQ people in the Caribbean continue to struggle with an unrealized vision of equality (Myrie, 2024). They are among the most marginalized in the region. They often experience discriminationeconomic and societal exclusionviolence, and the threat of violence, mainly due to the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations and the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. 

As a consequence of Hurricane Beryl, affected LGBTQ people in the Caribbean face increased housing and food insecurity, disruption in economic livelihoods, reduced access to community support structures, and increased exposure to harassment and violence. Recognizing the exacerbated vulnerabilities of LGBTQ people does not mean that they are at a greater risk of experiencing climate-related disasters. Rather, it is about appreciating that “in times of crisis those most marginalized tend to suffer disproportionately compared to the broader population” (Outright International, 2020). Further, where societal discrimination is strong, LGBTIQ people may have to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to remain safe, making their suffering invisible to those providing assistance (Outright International, 2024). 

In the post-disaster context, LGBTQ people in the Caribbean may experience “discrimination in accessing emergency and social protection services and in emergency shelters” and “challenges integrating into their communities and earning a livelihood” (UN Women Caribbean, 2022). In the Bahamas, for example, post-Hurricane Dorian, some displaced LGBTQ persons were reluctant to stay in shelters for fear of violence. For those with sufficient resources, Hurricane Dorian was a catalyst for them to migrate (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2020). 

In Haiti, LGBTQ people grappled with a heightened sense of insecurity during and after the 2010 earthquake. They reported being blamed for the earthquake and were at an increased risk of harassment and violence (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and SEROvie, 2011). Lesbians and bisexual women reported incidences of sexual violence and corrective rape, while gay and transgender men reported harassment and denial of access to healthcare, housing and food (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). Affected LGBTQ persons shared that the earthquake “decimated the already limited physical spaces, social networks and support services available to them” (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). 

Although LGBTQ people in the Caribbean tend to be disproportionately impacted in the response to their “recovery, reconstruction and livelihood needs and experience “poor recovery outcomes,” they are “largely absent from climate and mobility strategies in the Caribbean” (Bleeker et al., 2021).

Meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people is necessary for an effective and equitable disaster response

International, regional, and local stakeholders must secure the meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Caribbean for an effective and equitable disaster response. This can be achieved by ensuring that LGBTQ people actively contribute to the planning processes and are engaged in all stages of the disaster management cycle. Meaningful inclusion allows for the full appreciation of the unique vulnerabilities of those affected and is critical for humanitarian actors to respond to their needs effectively. There must also be adequate safeguards to eliminate increased security risks and protect against discrimination, particularly in the provision of services and the distribution of resources. 

Finally, “to ensure that the humanitarian sector does not reinforce or generate new forms of discrimination and harm, humanitarian actors must approach relationship-building with LGBTIQ organizations with sensitivity and commitment to safety, security, and confidentiality,” centering local knowledge and the voices of those most in need of life-saving assistance (Outright International, 2024).

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Commentary

Trump and DeSantis threaten to decimate LGBTQ rights

There is an urgent need for state-level protections

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By Sean Ebony Coleman
As the nation gears up for the upcoming Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where former President Donald Trump is expected to secure the nomination, the future of LGBTQ+ rights hangs in the balance.

Recent polls indicate Trump pulling ahead of President Biden, making the prospect of a second Trump administration increasingly plausible. Nowhere is this concern felt more acutely than among transgender individuals, who currently face significant implications from the existing Trumpist “Don’t Say Gay” policies spreading across conservative state legislatures.

2024 has already seen a record number of anti-trans policies introduced. As I write this, 112 anti-trans bills are currently active, potentially joining the 47 policies passed this year. Politicians are continuously attempting to restrict healthcare access, athletic participation, bathroom rights, and the overall safety of our transgender siblings.

The rise of Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida, largely on the back of his anti-LGBTQ+ crusade and expansive bans on gender-affirming care, drag shows, and books with gay characters, show us just how dangerous these “policies” are when used by a populist politician. The 2024 ban on trans athletes in New York’s Nassau County also proved that these policies can take shape even in the bluest states.

President Trump’s campaign, built on the rhetoric of tradition and “safety” for children, seeks to further codify violence against transgender folks into law beyond what we’ve already witnessed this year. While some have claimed the former president is more sympathetic to the LGBTQ+ community than others in his party, with one former cabinet official calling Trump the “most pro-gay president in American history,” we know the truth. Don’t be fooled.

His official GOP platform seeks to criminalize gender-affirming care for minors and affirms exclusion for transgender individuals in sports. The rhetoric used creates a permissive environment for both subtle and overt aggressions, enabling gender policing and demonization to occur on a larger scale.

The proposed Project 2025 details another level of harm, outlining the administration’s plans to enforce policies that target the community. This blueprint includes measures to erase LGBTQ+-inclusive language in federal agencies, impose a complete ban on transgender servicemembers in the military, and disregard the Supreme Court’s Bostock v. Clayton County decision, which extended Civil Rights Act protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The consequences of these policies are dire. Project 2025 will empower the most extreme factions within Trump’s circle to reverse decades of progress, fostering an atmosphere of hostility and discrimination. If enacted, these policies will strip away essential protections and endanger lives, especially those living at the intersection of other systemic biases.

As we take stock of the current political climate leading up to the election, it becomes increasingly clear how vital state-level protections are for vulnerable individuals. These protections serve as a crucial safeguard against potential threats posed by federal policies, particularly if the Trump administration secures another term. State policymakers must carefully deliberate on their strategies and readiness to counteract any adverse impacts on civil rights and marginalized communities.

Sean Ebony Coleman (Photo by Desmond Picotte)

I urge all states, regardless of their political leaning, to address the pressing issue of unchecked harassment happening within their boundaries. This includes taking proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all civilians, regardless of their background or identity. Even the most progressive states, like California and New York, should reevaluate how to enforce protective policies for all individuals within their jurisdictions. By doing so, states can play a pivotal role in upholding fundamental rights and combating discrimination across the nation.

For examples of ways that lawmakers can support our community, I’d encourage people to look to the U.S. Congress. In 2023, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) proposed a Trans Bill of Rights. The bill amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity as a protected status and lays out the rights to bodily autonomy, communal safety, and free expression for trans individuals. While this bill stalled in a narrowly divided House and Senate, control of Congress is a “jump-ball” in 2024. We must ensure voters know that this issue is on the ballot.

As a Black transgender man and lifelong advocate, I have witnessed both the strides and setbacks in our journey toward equality. When we opened the doors to our first LGBTQ+ community center, there were no LGBTQ+ health centers, and many community residents viewed our efforts with skepticism. Now, with three centers operating in the Bronx, Atlanta, and Washington D.C., I can confidently say our team has been embraced by our friends and neighbors, illustrating the power of grassroots efforts and community building. But as far as we’ve come, we still have so much more to do to ensure every member of the LGBTQ+ community is afforded the rights and safety granted to our cisgender peers.

In light of the challenges ahead, it is more important than ever for states to reaffirm their commitment to progressive and inclusive values. By enacting strong legislative protections and standing firmly against regressive policies, we can send a clear message that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and must be defended at all costs.

As we face the prospect of Project 2025 and the potential return of a Trump administration, let us honor our history and continue to fight for a future where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect. This is an opportunity for states and policymakers to reclaim our nation’s role as a beacon for progressive values across the world.

Sean Ebony Coleman is CEO and founder of national LGBTQ nonprofit Destination Tomorrow

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Commentary

Bed-wetting Dems jumping the gun on Biden

The debate was terrible but it doesn’t mean Trump is inevitable

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President Joe Biden (Screen capture via CNN)

President Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week predictably brought the usual bed-wetting and panicking among Beltway Democrats.  

Yes, the debate was bad and only reinforced many Americans’ concerns about Biden’s mental fitness and ability to do the rigorous job of president into his mid-80s. It’s clear that Biden’s supporters and staff were keeping him away from press conferences and interviews due to their private concerns about his ability to perform. That was a grave mistake. The American public deserves regular access to their president. More press conferences, interviews, and even, perhaps, a competitive primary would have given voters more chances to see Biden up close without the aid of edits or Teleprompters. As the New York Times noted, by this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had given 570 news conferences, Donald Trump had given 468, while Biden gave just 164.

But let’s take a beat and remember a few key factors.

Donald Trump delivered a disastrous debate performance, too, and is nearly as old as Biden. Trump has offered up a bewildering flurry of mental slips, verbal gaffes, and outright nonsense that should alarm everyone. 

When CNN’s Dana Bash asked Trump during the debate if he would do anything to address the climate crisis, his reply included this gem: “We had H2O” during his presidency. Huh? If Biden had said that, Fox News would run it on the hour for a week.

Frankly, I don’t care if Biden made a poo-poo in his pants during the debate. The alternative is a twice-impeached wannabe autocrat who is awaiting sentencing on 34 felony counts. Trump’s Project 2025, which he predictably and falsely denies knowing anything about, would be a war on women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who isn’t a white, cis, heterosexual, Christian male. His election would spell the end of our democracy as we know it with Trump and his allies vowing to expel career civil servants by the tens of thousands and replacing them with MAGA loyalists. Trump would round up, imprison, and deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Yes, the return of kids in cages. How quickly we forget. He would likely get two more Supreme Court picks following the expected retirements of Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, giving Trump a 5-4 MAGA majority, a truly terrifying prospect.

You can just imagine the Trump toadies who would be members of his Cabinet; think Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, who just reported to prison for contempt of Congress. 

Before you count Biden out, remember that he has surprised us before. His campaign was all but dead until Rep. Jim Clyburn endorsed him in the 2020 race, propelling him to the Democratic nomination over two-dozen opponents. He went on to defeat an incumbent president, never an easy feat, and send Trump packing. 

He skillfully navigated the Jan. 6 crisis. He has since delivered stellar off-the-cuff performances during State of the Union addresses. He expanded NATO and has led the fight against Putin, something that Trump would surely abandon. 

Biden spearheaded, passed, and signed landmark legislation on infrastructure, marriage equality, and gun reform. He championed the American Rescue Plan to finally end the pandemic after more than 1.1 million American deaths under Trump. He signed the CHIPS Act, which has triggered nearly $300 billion in manufacturing investments by American companies. He promised to sign the bipartisan immigration bill authored by right-wing Republican Sen. James Lankford that was derailed only because Trump instructed the sycophantic Mike Johnson to kill it. Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, issued executive orders on abortion, and pardoned all federal offenses for simple marijuana possession. The list goes on. These are not minor achievements, especially given our divided government and divided electorate. Many of these accomplishments came despite predictions that Biden would be a weak president incapable of overcoming division to get anything substantive done. 

By any measure he has been a great president who inherited a disastrous economy, record deficits, and COVID. 

Given this outstanding record, it’s disappointing that gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) joined a handful of House Democrats in calling on Biden to withdraw. That was premature. Biden deserves a chance to reset and address the questions about his mental acuity. And if polls are to be believed, all of the battleground states remain within the margin of error so it doesn’t appear the debate proved as disastrous as many first assumed.

If Biden decides to drop out, it should be his decision and it’s unlikely that those few House Democrats will have any influence over it. If he doesn’t drop out, we must all double down to ensure he wins and that the Democrats hold the Senate and retake the House. The country, and our LGBTQ community, can’t afford another Trump term. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Commentary

Vote Democratic or July 4, 2025 will look very different

Biden’s debate performance was bad but the sky is not falling

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(Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As we celebrate the founding of our country, we must recognize the election on Nov. 5 could dramatically change how our country looks in the future. We can debate whether Joe Biden is the best candidate for Democrats on the ticket, but reality is, whoever the Democratic candidate is, they must defeat Donald Trump. Trump is a racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic pig who was found liable for sexual assault and convicted of 34 felonies. A man who spouts lies every time he opens his mouth. A man who uses Hitler’s words, and said he will be a dictator on his first day in office. A man who said he will seek retribution on any opponent, using the Department of Justice and IRS to do his dirty work. 

Yes, President Joe Biden had a disastrous debate, and many pundits are calling for him to step down as the candidate. They are having a field day doing so, because none of them are involved in the process that would follow. None of them mention the two times in recent history, Democratic presidents chose to not run for a second term, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, a Republican won. This time the Republican alternative is the disgusting, evil, Donald Trump. Even the New York Times editorial board, when calling for Biden to step aside as a candidate, wrote, “If the race comes down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the sitting president would be this board’s unequivocal pick. That is how much of a danger Mr. Trump poses.”

The simple truth is Biden feels he can win, and won’t step aside. The only person who could convince him to do so, is his wife, Jill Biden, and she has shown she will not do that. She reminds me a little of Nancy Reagan, who protected her husband when he had issues with cognition. 

What all Americans need to understand, is no American president makes decisions on their own, without massive consultation with advisers. They don’t meet foreign dignitaries alone, but with advisers. And President Biden has shown he has the most incredible group of advisers around him, maybe with the exception of those who prepared him for this debate. 

I have loads of questions for them. If President Biden had a cold as claimed, why didn’t they tell him to begin his first statement of the debate with an apology to the audience. Something like, “I want to take a moment to apologize to the TV audience on how my voice is today, and how it will sound to you. I have a severe cold and will sound raspier, and slower, but of course feeling a little ill would not keep me from being here today.” It could have changed the tenor of the debate. It would not have excused his poor performance, but may have given people a few thoughts in his favor. Then there was the closing two minutes. How is it possible the president wasn’t coached on ending the debate with the issues he has said he believes will win for Democrats: abortion, climate change, and saving democracy? The debate prep team kept him cloistered for a week; seems they could be sued for malpractice. 

Again, it was a disastrous debate for President Biden. But then rather than what the pundits are saying, grassroots Democrats are responding with money. The Biden campaign reported Saturday that it raised $27 million on Thursday and Friday. The hour after the debate ended was its best grassroots fundraising hour since Biden kicked off his reelection campaign, per the Hill

So contrary to the all the pundits, the sky is not falling. Yes, there is a lot more work to do than before the debate. But the focus for all Democrats, and all decent people, must be to ensure we don’t reelect Trump, because of what he would do to our country. How his election would change us. How if he did what he says, and tries to return all decisions on just about everything, to the states, it is not only women who must be scared. It is Blacks, the LGBTQ+ community, every minority; and young people who will live longest with the results of doing nothing to ameliorate climate change. They should all be very scared.

So happy 4th and here’s to hoping Americans are smart enough to vote correctly, and ensure July 4, 2025 will be just as happy. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Viewpoint

LGBTQ people deserve freedom, a sense of home, and belonging

Latoya Nugent found refuge in Canada after fleeing Jamaica

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Latoya Nugent, center, at the March for LGBTQ+ Rights in Toronto on May 16, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Railroad)

Seven years ago, my fight for queer liberation in notoriously homophobic Jamaica culminated in a violent and brutal unlawful arrest and detention. This was the peak of decades of persecution due to my sexual orientation and work as a queer human rights defender and activist. It completely broke me and silenced me. I suffered severe emotional trauma, from which I am still recovering years later. 

Following that life-threatening arrest, I became a shell of who I once was. I cut off communication with my community for several years, unable to face my fear of the police and the hostility of the world around me. 

In 2022, I was one of the 9,591 at-risk LGBTQI+ people who reached out to Rainbow Railroad for help. Through the organization’s Emergency Travel Support (ETS) program, which relocates at-risk LGBTQI+ people and helps them make asylum claims in countries like the U.S., I resettled in Canada where I’ve been living safely with dignity and pride. 

This Pride Month, I’m reflecting on what it means to be safe. Who has access to safety and why others are excluded from it. What is our collective role and responsibility in expanding safety for our queer and trans communities, especially those in the over 60 countries that criminalize LGBTQI+ people? 

Safety means different things to different people depending on our experiences and journeys. For me, it’s the difference between suffering and thriving, feeling worthless and worthy, and feeling hopeless and hopeful. It is the difference between displacement and belonging. 

Rainbow Railroad recently released a report that examines the state of global LGBTQI+ persecution, drawing on data from 15,352 help requests spanning 100+ countries. This report is significant for several reasons, chief among them is the reality that no other organization or government captures the breadth and depth of data on LGBTQI+ forced displacement, perpetuating the invisibility of queer individuals in humanitarian responses. The report is an important contribution to the discourse on the intersection of queer identity, LGBTQI+ persecution, forced displacement, and humanitarian protection systems. 

Of all the data and insights uncovered in the report, I was most struck by one statistic — 91 percent of at-risk LGBTQI+ individuals relocated through the ETS program reported an improved sense of personal safety. This statistic is particularly personal to me because ETS was the only relocation option accessible to me in 2022 when I reached out to Rainbow Railroad for help. 

I am in that 91 percent because I am now thriving. I feel worthy. I am hopeful about life. And I belong. 

Today, among the 120 million forcibly displaced people around the world, queer and trans individuals face compounded complications from homophobia and transphobia while trying to access protection and safety. And while the anti-gender movement continues to swell in some states, I firmly believe that the U.S. remains a global leader in refugee resettlement — which is why the U.S. government must uphold its international obligations and reverse its recent executive order that imposes severe restrictions on the right to seek asylum. 

Queer and trans individuals deserve freedom, a sense of home, and belonging — realities that flourish only when rooted in the bedrock of safety. 

There is a lot more work to be done. It’s challenging. It’s complex. It’s costly. But I have experienced firsthand what the transformative impact of Rainbow Railroad’s work has on someone’s life — that ability to lift people out of danger into safety is something worth celebrating this Pride. 

Latoya Nugent is the head of engagement for Rainbow Railroad.

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As fewer anti-LGBTQ bills pass, the fight gets harder

A growing indifference to suffering that is baked into the legal system

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(Photo by Proxima Studio/Bigstock)

BY RYAN THORESON | In recent years, advocates have faced an unprecedented avalanche of anti-LGBTQ legislation each spring. In 2024, however, the onslaught seems to have faltered somewhat. While hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills were once again introduced, as many state legislative sessions draw to a close, fewer bills have been enacted into law.

While that may seem like cause for celebration, it’s also cause for concern.

To be sure, the slowdown in anti-LGBTQ legislation is welcome. Beginning in 2020, legislation targeting transgender rights in particular had sailed through state legislatures, with the number and scope of hostile bills increasing each year. Unlike earlier years when one or two prominent anti-LGBTQ bills triggered a national pushback that often chastened lawmakers, hundreds of bills have been introduced during legislative sessions in the last four years, often with little debate or scrutiny, and dozens of them zealously passed into law.

Those bills do real damage when they are enacted, cutting LGBTQ people off from material benefits like health care and domestic violence sheltersrecognition by the state, and equal participation in public life. Even when they fail to become law, they have devastating effects on the mental health of LGBTQ people, throwing their lives into disarray and sapping valuable time and energy from LGBTQ communities. This especially affects children, with more than 90 percent of LGBTQ young people in a recent Trevor Project survey reporting that politics had negatively affected their personal well-being.

But the recent slowdown, far from being a positive signal, may well reflect a growing indifference to the suffering of LGBTQ people that is now baked into the political and legal system. Opponents of LGBTQ rights have normalized hostile rhetoric and enacted draconian laws that seemed unthinkable just a couple of years ago, and even ardent supporters of equality find themselves unsure how they might reverse state laws that unapologetically strip away LGBTQ rights.

If anything, it has become apparent that the damage that has been done since 2020 will most likely reverberate for a generation, and the past year shows that restoring and advancing LGBTQ rights will be a painstaking endeavor.

And one sobering reason for the slowing pace of anti-LGBTQ legislation is that, at this point, many conservative states have already stripped away important rights, particularly for transgender children. As of 2024, half of the states in the U.S. prohibit transgender girls from playing school sports, and half have banned or criminalized at least some forms of medically indicated healthcare.

Put differently, lawmakers aren’t targeting some rights this year because they’ve already eviscerated them.

Yet even as the pace of legislation slows, critical rights continue to be stripped away. According to the ACLU, more than 30 anti-LGBTQ bills have been enacted in 2024 — fewer than the 84 enacted in 2023, but still far too many. Among them, Utah and Mississippi restricted transgender people from accessing bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and other government buildings.

Lawmakers in Ohio overrode the governor’s veto to ban transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care or playing sports consistent with their gender identity. South Carolina and Wyoming similarly enacted blanket bans preventing transgender children from accessing gender-affirming care.

Many of the bills that have been introduced this year sought to expand existing anti-LGBTQ legislation in new ways. Alabama, for example, successfully expanded its bathroom ban from K-12 schools to colleges and universities. Even those that didn’t pass are in many cases likely to be reintroduced after the 2024 election, particularly if anti-LGBTQ lawmakers increase their showing in state legislatures or if governors who are supportive of LGBTQ rights are no longer positioned to veto hostile legislation.

In many states with anti-LGBTQ legislation, administrative and regulatory agencies are being used to curtail LGBTQ rights even further. Florida offers an instructive example. Even after years of anti-LGBTQ legislation, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles took things a step further within its mandate, and decided in 2024 that transgender people could no longer update the gender marker on their driver’s licenses. This echoes recent regulatory crackdowns elsewhere in the United States, from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigating parental support for transgender children as child abuse to school boards across the country stripping away lifesaving resources in schools.

And while many believed that courts would provide a bulwark against discriminatory legislation and regulations, in part because of strong Supreme Court precedent to suggest that anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, that has not consistently been the case. Trial courts have largely found in favor of transgender litigants, criticizing the insufficient justification and discriminatory purpose of anti-transgender laws, but some appellate courts have nevertheless allowed the laws to take effect.

Perhaps most alarming, there are advocates and lawmakers who, if in a position to do so, are eager to carry out an even harsher attack on LGBTQ rights. Project 2025, which a group of conservative organizations has drafted as a roadmap for a second Trump administration, promises an even more draconian attack on LGBTQ rights. This would include rolling back existing nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, reinstating the transgender military ban, and codifying state restrictions on transgender rights at the federal level, in addition to limiting recognition of same-sex relationships.

The anti-LGBTQ backlash may be waning in certain respects — but in other ways, it has only just begun. As we celebrate Pride, LGBTQ people and their allies should be mindful of the need to support those communities whose rights are being eroded, invest in transgender rights organizing, demand that lawmakers prioritize LGBTQ rights, and fight for the independent institutions and protections for basic freedoms that are essential to hold power to account.

Ryan Thoreson is a specialist on LGBTQ rights at Human Rights Watch and teaches at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

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Lawsuits won’t matter if democracy is lost

Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand what’s at risk

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The New York Times has a column headlined, “The Resistance to the Trump Administration has Already Started.” It reveals, “A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself.” They are preparing lawsuits for any eventuality. What they are preparing for is the second column in the Times headlined, “If Trump Wins.”

It is because of the second column the time has come for all those in the elite groups who are part of the ‘sprawling network,’ and many others, to come out of their ivory towers, and take to the streets to spread the message across the nation about what happens when democracy dies. They need to do this NOW! Despite what some think, even those groups registered as a 501(c)3 in the tax code, can get involved in politics, just not for any one candidate. They can, and must, speak out and educate voters on what will happen to their rights if Donald Trump wins. While they may not tell people to vote for Joe Biden, they can make it clear what will happen if they stay home and don’t vote, simply by telling them the truth, based on Donald Trump’s words, and the words of his supporters. Tell them what he and his sycophants are saying, what they are preparing to do. Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand, and then trust them to do the right thing. I trust they will, if they hear, and understand, the truth.

While I can say “Vote for Biden,” a 501(c)3 organization, like some of those the Times writes about, cannot. I ran organizations with that tax status and still went up to Congress and educated staff and members. I would talk about the pros and cons of the bills being considered. I would explain what the implications of a bill were for their constituents, and then let them decide how to vote. Not saying any organization should be as bad as the evangelical pastors whose churches exist under the same tax laws, and get away with actually telling their flock who to vote for. But they must stop thinking, they can’t get out in the community and speak out. 

Preparing their lawsuits for the possibility Trump could win, is fine. Actually, if God-forbid he wins, there will be time from Nov. 5-Jan. 20 to work on them. But stopping Trump from winning by explaining in plain English to the voters why you are doing this, and what could happen to their rights, is an equally, if not more important, use of time prior to the election. Let’s face facts. If Trump is elected, and gets to appoint more judges, all the lawsuits could lose. It will be too late to do much, if our democracy is lost. Trump and his sycophants, his MAGA cult, will laugh you out of court. 

Every one of us needs to spend the next 18 weeks before Nov. 5 reminding voters to listen to what Trump, and his people, are saying and planning — and believe them. They are evil. He has said he will be a dictator. He has said he will use the DOJ to seek revenge against anyone he perceives has wronged him. He said he would have the IRS go after those he doesn’t like. He quotes Hitler. All those lawsuits will lose to that. It’s time for everyone to get their hands dirty, and get in the game. Time to get down in the mud and educate the American people before it’s too late. Those who the Times writes about are smart, and have the ability to explain why they are preparing. Tell the American people what they need to know now, so in essence, all legal preparation won’t have to be used. Do it so the results of the election on Nov. 5 will allow for those legal briefs being diligently prepared, to join Trump and his acolytes, in the dustbin of history. 

I can promise anyone who does this will go down in history as someone who helped save democracy and not just someone who thought they could have an impact after it was lost.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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We are proud of who we are. No law can take that away from us

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act signed in 2023

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For close to two decades now, I have witnessed the never-ending brutality and stigmatization of key populations, not only in Uganda but across the global Black community.

For too long, LGBTQI+ people in Uganda and across the African continent have been subject to discrimination, social exclusion, and prosecution, which restricts their access to jobs, health care, and much more. 

A toxic concoction of prejudice and legislation, including Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), has driven the LGBTQI+ community underground.

In Uganda today, LGBTQI+ people are less likely to seek out necessary, lifesaving services like HIV prevention and treatment. Drug users are regularly denied necessary harm reduction treatments. Sex workers are routinely targeted for assault and extortion by clients and by the police. 

Throughout the continent, marginalized communities are contending with intersecting forms of discrimination based on socioeconomic class, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

And so, the cycles of poverty and marginalization roll on, health inequities widen, HIV and other illnesses can spread, and mental health and general well-being suffer.

We founded the Uganda Key Populations Consortium (UKPC) in 2018 to put a stop to all this — to challenge draconian laws like the AHA and advocate for equity and equality for key populations. 

Back then, so many of us didn’t have a home — a place where we could sit together and say: This is what we, as a people, need and stand for. 

UKPC brings together LGBTQI+ people and people from other key populations to express themselves, learn and build community. We work with partners to create safe spaces — drop-in centers — across the country, where our community can connect, access health services, and make their voices heard. 

Thanks in large part to these drop-in centers, we saw a huge increase in the number of people starting antiretroviral therapy, using HIV self-testing tool kits and taking steps to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

We also establish strong relationships with civil society, nongovernmental organizations, and government partners that support us and our work to serve our community, despite constant challenges.

Today, all our work is under threat.

The AHA encourages violent abuse and discrimination against my community. A recent report paints a grim picture: since the AHA was passed, Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community has suffered 434 evictions and banishments, 309 incidents of violence, 92 recorded instances of mental health distress, and 69 arrests. 

The law also threatens people supporting LGBTQI+ communities and those providing or seeking basic health services.

Our community organizations have closed dozens of drop-in centers, shutting down a critical link between individuals and their peers — not to mention essential mental and physical health care. We have diverted much-needed funds to make our offices and meeting places safe and secure. We can’t be sure that reaching people online is safe, and that their data and identities will be protected.

Still: we are fighting back. I am fighting back. Our community is fighting back.

Changing the status quo will require more work and support. We need partners like the Global Fund and its Breaking Down Barriers initiative, because those programs empower communities to lead — and give us a voice. They also give us a platform for collective action, to continue working against the violence and hatred that, some days, feels inescapable. 

When communities come together, change is possible.

Pride is a moment to celebrate — and to protest. Every June, I take a moment to close my eyes and focus inward, to honor myself and the community that made me. To think about what we’ve accomplished, and the work still left to do. This year is no exception.

We are proud of who we are. No law can take that away from us.

Richard Lusimbo is the founder and director general of the Uganda Key Populations Consortium, and a longtime LGBTQI+ and human and health rights activist. UKPC is a partner of the Global Fund’s Breaking Down Barriers initiative, which aims to reduce human rights-related barriers to health.

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Talk, Trust, Test: A Parent’s Guide to HIV Awareness

By having these crucial conversations, you can help the young people in your lives understand the significance of HIV testing

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The first cases of HIV were reported in Los Angeles in June 1981. For 43 years, it has impacted our lives, with thousands still contracting HIV each year. As parents and trusted caregivers, it’s crucial to have open conversations about this reality. 

National HIV Testing Day, observed on June 27, reminds us of the importance of these discussions. This year’s theme, “Level up your self-love: check your status,” emphasizes the need for awareness and proactive steps in knowing one’s HIV status. 

Understanding HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, which helps the body fight off infections.  Left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In this condition, the immune system is severely damaged, leaving our bodies highly vulnerable to life-threatening infections, cancers, and diseases.

HIV and Black Youth

Despite only accounting for 12% of the nation’s population, African Americans accounted for nearly half of HIV diagnoses — a trend that’s persisted since the epidemic began in the 1980s.  As of 2020, Black people have developed AIDS at 9.3 times the rate of white people. Lack of healthcare access, social stigma, and misinformation about transmission and prevention contribute to the high rates of HIV in Black communities. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to managing HIV, keeping the immune system strong and preventing transmission to others. 

Another way to curb infection rates is to talk to teens and young adults about HIV prevention and treatment. While challenging, having proper counseling and family support helps young people engage more quickly with necessary medical services. In Los Angeles County, 13-24-year-olds had an 80.4% rate of starting medical care within one month of being diagnosed with HIV in 2021. This highlights that a proactive and supportive approach prepares our youth with the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves.

Tips to Talk to Youth About HIV

Educate Yourself and Your Teen: Make sure you are well-informed about HIV, its transmission, prevention, and treatment. Be prepared to debunk common myths about the realities of living with HIV and how it affects people today. Use credible sources like the CDC and AIDSVu to correct misinformation, reduce stigma and facilitate more informed attitudes. Engage and encourage young people to ask questions and seek further information.

Create a Safe Space: Begin the conversation by choosing a quiet, private setting free from distractions. Use open-ended questions like, “What do you know about HIV?” to gauge their understanding and encourage dialogue. Ensure they know your conversation is confidential and comes from a place of love and concern. This openness fosters trust, making them more likely to share their thoughts and questions.

Prevention and Testing: Explain the importance of using condoms and how medications like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission. PrEP is taken daily to prevent HIV before exposure, while PEP is used after potential exposure to prevent infection. Also, remind young people that testing is simple, vital for early detection, and available at local health centers like Planned Parenthood.

Take Action Today

By having these crucial conversations, you can help the young people in your lives understand the significance of HIV testing and make informed decisions about their health. To learn more and to make an appointment to get tested, visit pp-la.org or call (800) 576-5544.

Brittinae Phillips, Sr. Education Manager for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Black Health Initiative, manages community outreach and education for parents, college students, and youth.

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Guardians of Democracy, LGBTQ+ community is at the forefront

This fight is not just about the rights of LGBTQI individuals; it is about the integrity of our democratic system itself

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Laura Friedman & Jirair Ratevosian | BURBANK, Calif. – As we celebrate Pride in Los Angeles, it’s important to reflect on the rich history and ongoing fight for LGBTQI rights in this vibrant city and all around us.

Pride is not just a celebration of who we are and who we love, but a reaffirmation of the values of equality and acceptance that have driven the LGBTQI movement for decades. 

The LGBTQI community has been at the forefront of advocating for rights that many take for granted today. From the Stonewall Riots to the recent landmark Supreme Court decisions affirming marriage equality and workplace protections, the LGBTQI movement has consistently pushed the envelope, demanding that the promise of democracy be fulfilled for all citizens.

This fight is not just about the rights of LGBTQI individuals; it is about the integrity of our democratic system itself.

However, as we revel in the progress we have made, we must also recognize the threats that persist. Across the United States and around the world, anti-LGBTQI legislation continues to emerge, threatening the hard-won rights of the community. In some states, laws are being enacted to restrict access to healthcare for transgender individuals, ban discussions of LGBTQI topics in schools, and undermine marriage equality.

Internationally, many countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, subjecting individuals to persecution and violence simply for who they are.

These threats underscore the importance of Pride as more than just a month-long celebration. It is a call to action, a reminder that our fight for equality is intrinsically linked to the broader fight for democracy.

We must stand together, not only during Pride Month but throughout the year, to defend the rights of all LGBTQI individuals. Practicing pride yearlong means advocating for comprehensive policies that protect the community against discrimination in housing or healthcare, supporting LGBTQI organizations, and fostering inclusive spaces where everyone can thrive.

In recent years, we have also seen efforts to suppress voter turnout, particularly targeting marginalized communities. These attempts to undermine our democratic process make it all the more crucial for us to remain civically active and exercise our right to vote.  By participating in elections, we can elect leaders who are committed to advancing LGBTQI rights, defending against discriminatory legislation, and promoting a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

The power of the LGBTQI community has been demonstrated time and again, influencing policies and shaping the political landscape to be more inclusive and representative.

Even as we exercise our right to vote, we must remain vigilant against those who seek to divide us and spread misinformation. We have witnessed a troubling rise in efforts to sow discord within the LGBTQI communities in Los Angeles, often fueled by falsehoods and harmful rhetoric.

These divisive tactics are designed to weaken our solidarity and undermine the progress we have made. More than ever, we must double down on our commitment to acceptance, inclusivity, and mutual respect. 

LGBTQI individuals who also belong to ethnic minority communities, such as Black, Latino, Asian, or Armenian, face disproportionate systemic injustices. They often find themselves at the crossroads of multiple forms of discrimination.

This harsh reality highlights the urgent need for comprehensive reforms that address both racial and sexual orientation-based biases within our justice system and resources to organizations working to create tolerance in communities. By recognizing and confronting these interconnected issues, we can work towards a society where all individuals, regardless of race or sexual orientation, can live free from fear and persecution.

It was here that the first Pride parade in Los Angeles took place in 1970, marking a significant milestone in our ongoing journey toward visibility and acceptance. As we celebrate Pride this year, let us honor the history of West Hollywood and the legacy of those who fought before us.

Let us commit to carrying their spirit of resilience and advocacy into our daily lives- and to the ballot box this November. By doing so, we can ensure that pride is not confined to a single month but is a constant force driving us toward a more equitable, inclusive, and loving society. 

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First elected to the California State Assembly in November 2016, Laura Friedman represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles, as well as the communities of La Crescenta, Lake View Terrace, Montrose, North Hollywood, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Sunland-Tujunga, Studio City, Toluca Lake, and Valley Village.

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Dr. Jirair Ratevosian is a former legislative director to Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). Ratevosian, 42, was born in Hollywood, CA, to a Lebanese mother and an Armenian father. He served as a Senior Advisor for Health Equity Policy at the U.S. Department of State and worked for the Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

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