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Statue of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. vandalized in Long Beach

This is the second time within the past two years the statue has been vandalized with graffiti often associated with white supremacist groups.

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Picture of desecrated statue via Twitter

LONG BEACH – A statue of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was spray painted with what appeared to be emblems from the Nazi German era including a swastika and the Schutzstaffel (SS) dual lightening bolt runes.

According to the Long Beach Police Department, officers were dispatched to a call about the statue being vandalized at approximately 3:30 PM on Friday. It is located within the Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1950 Lemon Avenue.

A LBPD spokesperson told the Blade Monday that the vandalism is being investigated as a hate crime or hate bias criminal act and acknowledged that this is the second time within the past two years the statue has been vandalized with graffiti often associated with white supremacist groups.

In a tweet, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia called the graffiti “horrific,” assuring residents that police are working to find whoever’s responsible.

“Our MLK statue is a symbol of hope and justice for the community,” the mayor said. “This hate and desecration has no place in our city.”

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2022 ILGA World Conference taking place this week in Long Beach

Upwards of 600 LGBTQ+ activists in attendance

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for global LGBTQ+ rights, speaks at the ILGA World Conference in Long Beach, Calif., on May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Andy Perez/ILGA World)

LONG BEACH — Upwards of 600 LGBTQ+ activists from around the world are attending the 2022 ILGA World Conference that is taking place this week in Long Beach.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad, and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ issues, are among those who spoke at the conference that began on Monday at the Westin Long Beach. Activists from Ukraine, Lebanon and dozens of other countries are also in attendance.

“When you are fighting to decriminalize homosexual status or conduct, secure legal recognition of gender identity, end unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons, or exercise freedoms of peaceful assembly or association, the struggle can be overwhelming,” said Stern on Monday in her remarks. “This is why I marvel at all that you have achieved and all the impact that lies ahead.”

“In case you haven’t heard this often enough, let me say: I believe in you, and I believe in us,” added Stern. “I will do everything in my power to raise the priorities of LGBTQI+ human rights defenders and LGBTQI+ civil society across the Department of State and around the world.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia on Monday noted there “is a coordinated act from extreme forces in our country — and across the world — trying to erase the beauty of our community.” 

“Right now, gay rights in this country are being pushed backwards. Trans and non-binary people are being attacked every single day, and there’s an incredible amount of work ahead, especially to protect young people from these destructive laws,” added Garcia. “The work happening here at this conference is a worldwide effort to represent the LGBTQ+ community and advocate for civil rights. We have to stand up — especially at this moment — for our trans and non-binary community, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to recommit ourselves to this task.”

The It Gets Better Project is the conference’s host.

The conference was to have taken place in last November, but the pandemic postponed it. Some of the conference sessions are taking place virtually.

The next ILGA World Conference will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2024.

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Long Beach

The Dream Academy is training refugees to be leaders

“We’ve realized through training leaders is that there’s so much talent in this community that larger culture absolutely needs”

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Solomon Alpha Ahumuza, left, and Safe Place International Founder Justin Hilton. (Photo credit: Justin Hilton)

LONG BEACH – Solomon Alpha Ahumuza, a gay man from Uganda, is only just beginning his journey in the United States. But his journey to get to his new home in Long Beach, California, was long, difficult and transformative. 

Ahumuza left Uganda back in 2015. He told the Blade in an interview just before Thanksgiving that he decided to leave because of the homophobia in his country. 

Uganda has long been a dangerous place for LGBTQ+ individuals to live. Not only are homosexuality and same-sex marriage illegal, but an Afrobarometer survey found only 5% of Ugandans have “tolerance for homosexuals.”

His road wouldn’t get any easier as he fled to neighboring Kenya, another country where homosexuality and same-sex marriage are illegal, and there is a frighteningly low percentage, 14%, of acceptance. 

While in Kenya, he stayed in the Kakuma refugee camp, which has a history of violence and discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, for two months. It was in Kakuma where Ahumuza would be attacked and beaten, he said.

After the attack, he was transferred to Kenya’s capital of Nairobi. Ahumuza was kidnapped while living here. He said he still has scars from the injuries he suffered. “They kidnapped me for one night,” he said. “Then they dumped me somewhere I didn’t know.”

“Then we were tortured by the police,” he added. 

Now, 6 years later, Ahumuza lives in Long Beach after the U.S finally granted him asylum. 

Before moving to America, he was introduced to The Dream Academy, an educational program for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. Ahumuza, who was and still is a very active member of The Dream Academy, considered himself lucky. “I was happy to meet all of them,” he said. 

The Dream Academy is a program of Safe Place International, a group that provides multiple services dedicated to supporting the dignity and self-actualization of the most marginalized members of the refugee community, according to its website. 

Justin Hilton, the founder of Safe Place, told the Blade over Zoom that refugees, like Ahumuza, are at worst “dehumanized – you know, put in cages and in, put in camps in ways that are a sad commentary on humanity at this point. And at best they’ve been commoditized is a problem that we need to collectively deal with.”

He added: “I think the thing that we’ve realized through training leaders is that there’s so much talent, and there is a voice and a perspective in this community that the larger culture absolutely needs. So we’re committed to representation. We think representation in leadership and decision making positions for marginalized people is absolutely essential for the health of the larger culture and world.”

The Dream Academy has enhanced Safe Place’s mission, giving LGBTQ+ refugees a chance to learn invaluable leadership and safety skills. “What we found is that, not only was it kind of healing trauma and stabilizing people, but it was preparing them for leadership in a way that we hadn’t expected before,” Hilton said. 

The program is also rapidly growing. According to Hilton, The Dream Academy is graduating 140 people this year. Next year, the goal is 700 – substantial, considering the pilot program started in only April of this year. 

Though it has only been around for a short time, The Dream Academy has already seen a large group of people arrive in the U.S. – “from West Virginia, to Atlanta, to Denver, to Austin, to Houston, to Long Beach, to the Bay Area,” according to Hilton. 

Among them was Ahumuza, who Hilton called “an amazing, beautiful, brilliant man who I adore.”

“There’s a whole community of LGBT Ugandan refugees there, and he just feels like he’s home,” Hilton said. 

Still, Ahumuza is adjusting to the U.S. “It’s not yet good,” he said of living in Long Beach. “But I think it’s because it’s a new country, new people, new environment.”

But he remains optimistic. “I have received very, very warm support from Safe Place and the Dream Academy,” adding, “I think I will be alright.”

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Long Beach

ILGA World Conference to take place in Long Beach in May

Pandemic prompted organizers to postpone event

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(Photo courtesy of ILGA World)

GENEVA — ILGA World on Wednesday announced its conference that had been scheduled to take place this month in Long Beach will now happen in May.

“Our World Conference will be going ahead, and the health, safety and well-being of all will be at the highest priority,” said ILGA World Co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown in a press release. “In such a challenging moment in history, it is more important than ever that our communities from around the world have a shared and safe space to come together, reconnect, and move forward.”

The 2022 ILGA World Conference, which the It Gets Better Project will host, will take place at the Westin Long Beach from May 2-6. Organizers last November announced they had postponed it because of the pandemic.

Registration for the conference is now open. ILGA World in its press release said “more details about all safety measures” surrounding COVID-19 “are forthcoming.”

“We are thankful for all those who submitted proposals for thematic pre-conferences, and we will be able to announce them soon”, said ILGA World Executive Director Julia Ehrt. “As the program of our World Conference develops, we will continue to look into ways to ensure the largest possible participation from our members and LGBTI communities from across the world—including in digital ways.”

LGBTQ rights groups in the U.S. and around the world have begun to hold in-person events as COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to increase and more countries begin to lessen travel restrictions.

More than 1,000 activists from around the world attended the WorldPride 2021 Human Rights Conference that took place in Denmark and Sweden in August. The National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference is scheduled to take place in person in January in New Orleans.

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