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A critical vote due Monday by WeHo City Council- differing perspectives

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Photo Credit: City of West Hollywood

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The decision on Monday by the West Hollywood City Council will determine if the City adopts a ordinance, similar in nature to an ordinance passed by the City of Santa Monica two years ago which:

  1. Provides hotel housekeepers with safety protections to prevent against sexual violence or other threatening behavior. This is provided through mandatory personal security devices and hotel workers’ ability to report criminal and threatening behavior without fear of retaliation.
  2. Establishes daily workload maximums of 4,000 square feet for hotels with less than 40 guest rooms and 3,500 square feet for hotels with greater than 40 guest rooms, and requires a double overtime compensation rate for all hours worked in a workday when a housekeeper’s workload exceeds these maximums.
  3. Requires training on personal rights and safety, and education to protect public health and prevent instances of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual violence. The City will select and certify a Public Housekeeping Training Organization, which hotels will be required to use to provide regular trainings for their workers.
  4. Calls for hotel worker retention for a 90-day transition period in instances of a change in hotel ownership.

The City of West Hollywood is proposing an ordnance containing similar language containing a series of measures to address a myriad of industry-wide problems that existed prior to the coronavirus pandemic, including of sexual assault, threatening conduct, and the lack of comprehensive, standardized training.

The Los Angeles Blade presents the following opposing two viewpoint’s noting that commentary and views held are those of the respective authors and do not reflect the viewpoints or opinion of the publisher and staff of the Los Angeles Blade and the Los Angeles Blade Media LLC.

Editor’s note: The General Manager, Kimpton La Peer Hotel, Nick Rimedio, is presented first followed by Jessica Diaz, a hotel housekeeper in Santa Monica.

Dear Readers,

I am a hotel general manager who is also the Chair of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as well as the West Hollywood Design District. I am passionate about our City, our small businesses, and our employees as I know that meaningful victories must include all three stakeholders. This rationale is not a simple “feel good” idea- there is no question that happy employees make stronger businesses, and stronger businesses make stronger cities- whether you consider from a community perspective or from a travel destination.

My thoughts today are focused on West Hollywood’s Housekeeping Ordinance, which is being heard on this Monday, July 19. This legislation is a clear departure from the longstanding tradition where the business community and the City would partner together to find common ground. Instead, we were blind-sided by this item in April – two weeks after we had released our “West Hollywood Five Star Promise” for worker protections that our hotels developed jointly. I know that there has been much discussion on this item, so I wish to share detailed thoughts below on why this piece of legislation is bad for West Hollywood- for its workers, its hotels, and our residents.

WORKERS

The Hotel Ordinance advocates have painted the hotels as horrible employers. They tout this ordinance as designed to protect workers as part of the “Build Back Better” ideology in a post COVID world, and to correct unsubstantiated allegations of abuse that they fail to corroborate with any specific examples outside of targeting one permanently closed hotel and a handful of isolated cases involving another property. When considering this rhetoric, I ask that you consider the facts below.

KEY FACTS#1: Per the City Staff Report, West Hollywood Hotels have had ZERO wage and hour investigations between 2010-2021. Per the California Department of Industrial Relations, West Hollywood Hotels have had ZERO complaints. Per the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing, West Hollywood Hotels have had seven (7) allegations filed in the last six years. With an average of 100 employees per hotel, West Hollywood Hotels employ more than 2000 people in the city. At an average of 1.16 allegations per year out of 2000+ employees who work with us on a full time basis, combined with the two above statistics, it is clear that West Hollywood Hotels go above and beyond to protect their employees.

KEY FACTS#2: West Hollywood Hotels already provide all of the worker protections included in the ordinance as regulated by the state of California (industry training requirements, sexual harassment, human trafficking, HR practices including filing complaints and anti-retaliation protections) or by industry standard (panic buttons). Recall and Retention was codified by the state in April of 2021 with a sunset scheduled on December 31, 2024.

KEY FACTS #3: Mayor Lindsey Horvath spoke at the Santa Monica City Council Meeting on August 27, 2019 in support of their hotel ordinance. She said that she was “very familiar” with the ordinance and that she “hoped to follow their lead in bringing this ordinance to the city of West Hollywood” as she “knows that competition, regionally, is something that we banter about from city to city but in business as well” and that she was committed to “doing our part to even the playing field” with the city of Santa Monica. The basis of her comments was followed up by the statement that “we need to protect our workers in each of our communities” but she failed to deliver any specifics. She further stated that “anyone who comes before you tonight to say that they are doing sufficient training on sexual harassment and human trafficking isn’t being honest about the statistics and reality that we are seeing throughout Southern California.” This statement was also not followed up with any facts or supporting evidence, despite the fact that the hotel community followed up with her in the fall of 2019 in which she raised no specific concerns. In fact, in the nearly two years since she spoke those words at the Santa Monica city council hearing, Mayor Horvath has not taken any initiative to actively engage her West Hollywood Hotels with her concerns, or to investigate those concerns through city staff or the appropriate city commissions.

Key Facts aside, this ordinance hurts workers through the square footage regulation. Why? Because it sets a threshold of productivity, not seen in any other industry, where an entire shift is translated to double time wages if a worker exceeds the threshold. For the Santa Monica Ordinance, the threshold is set at 3500 square feet. This metric is not used in any hotel setting outside of cities with ordinances like this one, and falls below industry norms by 40%-50% including union hotels. The square footage regulation includes cleaning public spaces such as guest floor corridors, lobbies and public restrooms that require cleaning multiple times per day. With the penalty of paying double time wages for an entire shift, this effectively prohibits hotels from offering any voluntary overtime which can average 5-10 hours per week. It also reduces the number of rooms that housekeepers can clean by 40%-50%, which means that the cash gratuities left by guests is also reduced by the same amount per housekeeper. Combined, voluntary overtime wages and cash gratuities can amount to 20%-30% of a housekeeper’s annual income, so workers can expect to see that income reduction be realized if this ordinance is passed as originally proposed. Additionally, the team structure where there are employees who assist in cleaning rooms, similar to restaurants where bussers, host/hostesses, and food runners all assist servers in delivering service, would have to dismantled in the square footage scenario based on the ordinance impact to labor cost. That means that housekeepers would have to work completely alone whereas they previously had at least 1-2 people available to assist them as needed. The sum here is a 20%-30% reduction in pay combined with an actual heavier workload. Whether its a post-COVID world or a normal one, it’s obvious that the square footage regulations do not help workers.

HOTELS

KEY FACT#1: Hotels, like restaurants, bars, and clubs, were completely decimated by the pandemic. Hotels went from running 80%-90% occupancies to less than 3% at the height of the shutdowns in 2020, and many closed temporarily. During 2020 and the first part of 2021, hotels were losing anywhere from $1 Million to $2 Million per month (or more) depending on their size. While PPP loans did help, there was no support in terms of mortgages of which almost every single hotel carries as part of their financial structure. While revenues have improved, industry forecasts predict that it will take at least another 1-2 years to return to 2019 figures. The recent announcement of the foreclosure of the Edition, which opened to notable fanfare in the fall of 2019, in addition to the closures of other West Hollywood hotels like the Standard is a sobering reminder of the truly fragile nature of our current economy.

KEY FACT #2: Hospitality, like many other industries, are facing an unprecedented shortage of employees in the post-Covid world, which is not only a West Hollywood issue but a world wide crisis. I know that there are some who essentially call this “Fake News”, but one google search can pull articles from the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, and others. The combination of extended and amplified unemployment benefits, relocation, and switching careers have resulted in a reality where West Hollywood hotels have collectively, at last count, 182 open positions. These openings remain despite many hotels offering incentives such as signing bonuses, referrals, and other benefits.

The reality here is that the ordinance truly cripples hotels who have fought to remain open or who reopened during the pandemic. Spikes in labor costs could cause other hotels to follow suit in either foreclosure or permeant closure. The labor crisis is real, which means that hotels cannot find the employees needed to double the staffing structure that the ordinance would require to operate under the 3500 square feet regulation. Some have suggested that we could afford to pay all housekeepers double time for their entire shifts to maintain current business levels. But, this simply is not possible as it would create multiple compensation issues with employees in other departments. Beyond housekeepers, hotels employ front desk agents, valets, servers, bartenders, bussers, dishwashers, facility engineers, and cooks among other positions. It is not difficult to imagine the fallout of paying one department double time wages and not others; it would be cataclysmic both in economic scope as well as personnel trauma. So, with the square footage regulations, hotels would have no choice but to limit the number of rooms that they sell because of staffing shortages which could result in dropping occupancy levels by 40%-50%. This is in effect what makes the ordinance a de facto “Tourism Cap” which has lasting consequences to the city’s hotel taxes and ultimately our residents.

RESIDENTS

KEY FACT #1: While occupancies are recovering for now (the recent mask mandate is a definite cause for concern that future shutdowns may occur this fall as the weather turns), the reality is that the hotels will need to make up for the monies lost in 2020 and 2021 which will take years to do so. The monies will go towards mortgage payments and capital investments that directly funnel back into the property. The capital investments mentioned ensure that hotels can renovate every 5-6 years on average, which allow it to remain competitive and able to generate strong revenues that directly drive hotel taxes. Those taxes go to the city which support resident and social services. Thus, municipal actions that reduce hotel occupancy or revenues have both short term and long term impacts to hotel taxes that support the city.

KEY FACT #2: Hotel Taxes and Sales Taxes (which are largely driven by tourism spend) have historically driven better than 50% of the city’s revenues. It must be noted that these dollars are unrestricted which means that the city can spend them however it chooses.

KEY FACT #3: The council majority has repeatedly dismissed calls for either economic studies (as suggested by Mayor Pro Tempore Lauren Meister and Council Member John D’Amico) as well as a suggested study session by new City Manager David Wilson. The city budget, with a projected deficit of $10 Million dollars, was approved by that majority on June 21 despite the multiple calls for study. The staff report on this item notes that it does not define any potential revenue impact (which is a result of the lack of economic studies), and only lists the potential cost impact of $500,000 for enforcement.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the residents carry the biggest unintended risk of any stakeholder. As residents, you elect your public officials to serve West Hollywood interests first and foremost above party politics or ambitions for higher office. You should expect that city budgets be sound and properly reviewed, and that any proposed legislation with any potential impact be considered very carefully with the appropriate studies. By Mayor Horvath’s own words in Santa Monica in August of 2019, her intention to bring this item forward was nearly two years in the making- why did she not instruct city staff to study this item well before the budget was presented? The reality here is simple. If you believe that all of publications noted above and listed below are “Fake News”, then you believe that there won’t be any impact by the ordinance to hotel taxes, and no subsequent negative effect on residents. But, if all of those publications are correct and the hotels are desperate for staffing, then the unintended consequence of the Tourism Cap will create an increase in the city’s deficits which will result in future reductions of resident and social services. Additionally, the continued reduction of the city’s reserves will eventually result in the downgrading of the city’s bond rating, which will increase the borrowing costs the city incurs for capital projects like West Hollywood Park. Does this sound like a prudent thing to do with an ordinance that in fact provides no new protections, reduces worker incomes, and threatens the largest revenue generator in the city with more foreclosures and permanent closures?

CONCLUSION

KEY FACT #1- All employees are protected by law to organize at their discretion to induce a collective bargaining agreement if they feel compelled to do so. In 2020, out of the city’s 21 hotels, only two hotels were unionized at the employees direction.

KEY FACT #2: Unite Here, the local hotel union, submitted a petition signed by hotel workers in support of the ordinance on the June 21 city council meeting.

Two thirds of the signatures, over 60 employees, came from union hotels representing their own concerns for safety and fairness that occurs within their properties. The ordinance, however, exempts union hotels from the provisions despite no evidence showing how a union hotel is safer than a non-union hotel.

So, you may ask why the Hotel Ordinance advocates are pushing this without any regard for economic studies or a study session? I believe it is intended to create a toxic business environment for non-union hotels where it could become potentially cheaper for said hotels to unionize than to remain independent. The city cannot pass a law requiring hotels to unionize, so this is a back door attempt to do so. The fact that union hotels are exempt from this ordinance is an obvious testament to the questionable motivation behind its intent.

I cannot support such back door attempts for a special interest group to gain an unfair competitive advantage based upon a false premise of worker safety. This is why the West Hollywood Hotel Council sent the City Council a compromise package that affirmed all of the worker protections such as training and panic buttons that we would annually certify our compliance with either the Business License Commission or Code Enforcement. We remain strongly committed to protecting our workers income through their ability to earn voluntary overtime and maximize gratuities, and offered that the union’s own published standard of productivity be considered. Ultimately, though, we asserted that the city’s idea of regulating productivity in our industry, let alone any other industry, is an exhaustive and overly complicated use of city staff’s time and resources. The application of such complex municipal oversight is not consistent to the overall intent behind the ordinance in that it will provide worker protections. This is why we have requested that a housekeeper minimum wage be considered in removing the square footage regulations altogether. If there is desire to collaborate on a hotel wide minimum wage, we would work together with council on that initiative to find the solution.

In closing, please know that we as hotel managers deeply care about our workers. This is because many of us began our careers in hourly positions. I myself started as a busser and dishwasher in a restaurant 25+years ago. I was inspired to work for every promotion to ensure that I had the ability to take better care of the people that I considered my work family and friends. The pandemic was particularly devastating to us as we were forced to deliver the news of layoffs to most of our team members. That pain was followed by each of us remaining at our properties striving to keep them open, knowing that all of our efforts were committed to bringing our employees back to work. It was a singular mission where 2020 and 2021 was completely focused on reviving our businesses to make that a reality. Our work is not done as we are dedicated to not just return to pre-COVID staffing and revenue levels, but to exceed them in creating more jobs, revenue, and taxes for our city.

It is our hope that the West Hollywood City Council will consider our compromise to provide the same privileged the Union has been given and join us in building a stronger West Hollywood.

Sincerely,

Nick Rimedio,

******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

A Warning to the West Hollywood City Council About the Hotel Industry’s Tactics

By Jessica Diaz, hotel housekeeper in Santa Monica

My name is Jessica Diaz and I worked as a housekeeper at a hotel in Santa Monica. I want the West Hollywood City Council to understand that the hotel worker protection law will only benefit housekeepers like me. Hotel managers tried to speak for us in Santa Monica, and they are doing it again in West Hollywood. Do not fall for it.  

In October of 2019 a similar ordinance was introduced in Santa Monica to the one being considered in West Hollywood. Supervisors began to tell us that the law would cause them to cut our hours. The manager asked me to speak to my coworkers and show up to the city council hearing to speak against this law. When they asked me to speak against this law, they never explained how the ordinance actually worked. 

After hearing from the company that the law would negatively affect me and my coworkers, I decided to speak against the law at the City Council meeting. I decided to speak against the law because I did not want my coworkers’ hours to be cut. 

When I attended the city council meeting, I learned more about the ordinance. Throughout the course of the hearing, I realized that the law was actually good for me and my coworkers. My daily room quota was 16 rooms and there were times when I even had to clean 25 rooms. We were never compensated fairly for our work as housekeepers where we have daily room quotas that we have to finish or else we face punishment.

Housekeepers in West Hollywood’s expensive hotel industry do the same work that we do. When the Santa Monica City Council passed the law that required fair compensation for workloads exceeding 3,500 square feet in 8 hours, our lives changed for the better. West Hollywood housekeepers deserve the same standard. 

Please be cautious as you hear the industry tell you that this law will be bad for hotel workers.

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Vote like your family’s rights are on the line – Because they are

“The most important thing we can do is to share our stories- Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Nesta Johnson | SAN FRANCISCO – On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion.

Justice Thomas all but cackled at the prospect of “reconsidering” other legal cases that established rights based in substantive due process, including our right to privacy in making decisions about our bodies, our relationships, and our families. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, attempted to reassure us that we need not fear the loss of time-honored rights. 

We are not reassured.

Across America, people are panicking. LGBTQ+ Americans – frightened for their freedoms and for their families – have flooded NCLR’s Legal Helpline.

We at NCLR have done our best to help, including by creating a post-Dobbs FAQ for LGBTQ+ families. We pledge to continue working toward a future in which every person is free to choose how, when, and whether to have children, and remains free to make private decisions about their lives and their bodies. 

But lawyers alone cannot win this fight. Americans’ right to safe, legal abortion across the country must be restored, not in a courtroom, but at the ballot box. In that sense, the Supreme Court is not, and never has been, the highest court. In a democracy, the true court of last resort is the court of public opinion. And that “court” has seemed hopelessly deadlocked for decades now. 

In our increasingly polarized nation, abortion rights have long been an especially divisive issue. According to Gallup, when asked whether they are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” just five percent of Americans described themselves as “mixed” or “unsure.” The gradual growth of the pro-choice opinion appears to reflect generational, not individual, shifts.  

And yet, after the Dobbs draft leaked in June, fifty-eight percent of Americans described themselves to Gallup as pro-choice – an unprecedented jump of six percentage points in just one year. Minds can change on abortion rights – rapidly.

Anti-abortion rights advocates long enjoyed an advantage in the stories they told. Secret networks. Coat hangers. Herbal concoctions. Sinister quacks. Back-alley butchers. Those stories, from faraway times and places, felt like fiction. Abortion is far safer than pregnancy and childbirth; most people suffer no complications, but some do. The vast majority of people who have abortions do not regret their decision, but some do. Children of unwanted or forced pregnancies, and their parents, often suffer – but some live in joy.

By contrast, before Dobbs, pro-choice stories of life without abortion access were less immediate, less compelling, less relatable – after all, they came from faraway times, and faraway places. They felt like fiction. Coat hangers. Potions. Clandestine travel. Unscrupulous quacks. Lonely alley deaths. Modern stories of uncomplicated, un-regretted, necessary abortion? Nearly nonexistent. Post-Dobbs, the awful case of Ohio’s ten-year-old rape victim will be only the first in an anthology of new American horror stories – unless we elect representatives who are committed to restoring and defending our reproductive rights.  

While the many whose abortions were uncomplicated, un-regretted, and un-traumatic rarely were heard, anti-abortion rights advocates used the painful stories of some to justify revoking the rights of all. Stories were the ribbon atop a package of lies: that our country has changed so much since Roe that abortion is no longer needed, that because of sonogram imaging everyone believes that personhood begins at conception, that “unwed mothers” are legally protected and socially accepted, that pregnant people have access to medical care and parental leave, and that safe-haven laws and demand for adoptable infants guarantee there will be no such thing as an unwanted child, or an unwilling parent. 

Now, the tragic tale of Ohio’s ten-year-old rape victim will be the first in an anthology of new American horror stories – unless we elect representatives committed to restoring our reproductive rights.

The history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement illustrates the power of storytelling. When LGBTQ+ Americans began cautiously sharing their stories, many encountered rejection and discrimination. Some still do – but many find acceptance and love. As people realized that LGBTQ+ people were their relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, they discarded the lies they learned – that we were sick, dangerous, predatory; that we could, or should, be “cured”; that allowing same-sex couples to wed would cause the death of marriage, the end of religion, and the collapse of civilization. Surveys have confirmed that personal relationships greatly impacted Americans’ views on LGBTQ+ rights.

Until the November midterm elections, the most important thing we can do is to share our stories, and to listen. Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything. Our neighbors need to hear stories that challenge common myths about who has abortions, and why. They need to hear stories from people whose views do not fit neatly into political boxes – including the voices of those who believe abortion is immoral, and yet believe that it should be legal. Most importantly, voters need to hear the stories of people they know, respect, and love who have had abortions.

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Nesta Johnson is the Family Law Staff Attorney for NCLR, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of LGBTQ community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

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LGBTQ people under cancerous barrage led by Florida’s Ron DeSantis

He is infatuated with the idea of being President, drunk on the potential of his power and, as a result, is willing to do anything…

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The author confronting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis outside Pulse, 2021 (Courtesy of Brandon J. Wolf)

By Brandon J. Wolf | ORLANDO – No, your eyes are not deceiving you. LGBTQ people in America are under assault. Right-wing radicals, in their quest to dismantle democracy and install Christian Nationalist rule, are (once again) breathlessly obsessed with scapegoating LGBTQ people, using our existence as a political lightning rod.

As a result, every day has become more treacherous for the community than the last. Make no mistake, their tactics are not new. Transgender and nonbinary people, as they often have been, are squarely in the crosshairs. Their existence is debated, their humanity called into question. They are told when and where to use the bathroom, when and where their names will be respected, when and where they are safe to walk — when and where society will allow them to be.

And while the onslaught is happening all over the country, many of those desperate to see LGBTQ people relegated to second-class citizenship are looking to Florida, under the reckless leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, for their cues. It should be said: DeSantis does not care. He does not care about Floridians, the state’s economy, or the constitutionality of his extremist policies. And he certainly does not care about the health and wellbeing of the populations he crushes along the way.

Ron DeSantis cares about Ron DeSantis. He is infatuated with the idea of being President, drunk on the potential of his power. And, as a result, is willing to do anything — and step on anyone – to score another Fox News chyron and rake in a few more six figure donations.

The governor’s attacks on LGBTQ people are coming from every angle. In dragging his signature Don’t Say LGBTQ Law over the finish line, DeSantis twisted his legislative minions in knots, publicly haranguing anyone who dared defy him. He took aim at Disney, one of the globe’s most recognizable brands, decimating a local government to drive his point home.

He bullied the Agency for Health Care Administration into withdrawing Medicaid funding for gender-affirming care, plunging tens of thousands of transgender Floridians into uncertainty in the coming weeks. He bludgeoned the Board of Medicine into considering similarly brutal action, potentially putting the licenses of health care providers on the line for providing the best care possible to their patients.

His Department of Education told school districts to ignore Title IX protections for LGBTQ students, warning (falsely) that offering protection from discrimination to those young people could put districts in legal jeopardy. And he used the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to target an LGBTQ-owned small business, threatening to destroy them for daring to host drag brunch on Sundays.

Governor DeSantis is so drunk on ego that he is weaponizing any agency he can get his hands on against a population fighting to keep its head above water. And along the way, he has revived vile anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to rationalize his naked cynicism. His office led a surge in the term “groomer” being hurled across the country, his now former press secretary trafficking in the trope during a desperation Twitter rant.

The strategy is straightforward: disparage and dehumanize LGBTQ people to score polling points with the base and justify cruel policies aimed at erasing us. If you can reduce LGBTQ people to something less than human – an ideology, an agenda – your most ardent supporters will sign away any liberty necessary for you to put a stop to us. Curriculum censorship. Book banning. Government dictating what medical care someone can access, the haircuts they can sport, the clothes they can wear. An end to freedom greenlit in service to the political ambitions of the one man who says he can put a stop to the LGBTQ “contagion”.

If that sounds like an authoritarian nightmare, it is. But it’s not just a Florida or Texas nightmare, it’s a crisis encircling the windpipe of the nation, threatening to suffocate us all. What DeSantis has unlocked in Florida – the weaponization of every government apparatus against his constituents to lock up his grip on power – isn’t an end game. It’s a trial run.

There is nothing he would relish more than the chance to use the US Department of Education to rip protections from transgender students in every corner of the country. He would salivate at the opportunity to use the full might of the Federal Government to pummel his political adversaries, dismantling any business who dares sport a Pride flag in June. Right wing extremists look to DeSantis for the roadmap to an authoritarian America not just because they want to emulate his policy success; but because they want to see him at the helm.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. And yes, it’s heavy and overwhelming. That is by design. The DeSantis Doctrine is one ripped from the teachings of Donald Trump and put on political steroids: create a tempest so chaotic and all-consuming that it feels inevitable. Squash your opposition by making them feel like fighting back is hopeless. But fighting back is our only hope. Apathy is fuel for systems of oppression. Despair is an ally to the status quo. Our best option is our only option: refuse to be erased and demand political accountability for the unbridled cruelty.

Our community is no stranger to attacks like these. For centuries, our presence has been hyper-sexualized, demonized, and used to stoke fear in those around us. We dare to imagine a world where people are celebrated exactly as they are. And for that – we have long been political targets. But that means we are also no stranger to what must come next.

Throughout history, with our backs against the wall, we’ve won by telling our stories, living our truth, and demanding equality. This moment requires us to find that strength once again. It requires us to stand firmly as accomplices to the trans and nonbinary community, refusing to jettison them in the shortsighted hope of being spared by the right-wing monster. It requires us to mobilize our people – LGBTQ and allied alike – to see our very humanity as reason to wade into the political fight. It requires us to make November’s elections a referendum on hate, refusing to let it fester and consume the country.

LGBTQ people are under assault in America, a cancerous barrage being led by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. Our job now is to stop its spread.

*******************

Photo courtesy of Brandon J. Wolf

Brandon J. Wolf is Press Secretary for Equality Florida, the largest statewide LGBTQ+ equality rights organization.

Additionally, Wolf is Vice-President and co-founder of the Dru Project, an Orlando-based LGBTQ+ 🌈 advocacy org on a mission to spread love, promote GSAs, and send future leaders to college in honor of his best friend Drew Leinonen, one of the 49 people lost in the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass-shooting of which Wolf is also a survivor.

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Monkeypox

Monkeypox vaccines coming- we must mitigate risk & spread for now

Clinics are expected to have vaccines available by summer’s end. In the meantime, we need community-informed prevention & treatment strategies

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Jim Mangia | LOS ANGELES – Monkeypox virus (MPV) is on the rise – and many are understandably frustrated by the federal government’s slow response. The LGBTQ+ community has been demanding vaccines since day one, with many drawing similarities between today’s lackluster approach to MPV and the inhumane response to HIV/AIDs in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

MPV is a serious health concern that indeed deserves swift action from elected officials. But truly drawing from lessons learned during the HIV/AIDs crisis means not relying on vaccines alone – especially while waiting for the federal government and supply chain to catch up to our demand for them. We need community-wide education, prevention, and treatment strategies around MPV – and we need them now. 

I was a young, gay man during the HIV/AIDs crisis. Last week, a friend and I reflected on how, out of our large social group from our early twenties, we are the only two left alive. Everyone else we loved during those years was killed by AIDS.

The Republican dominated government at the time didn’t care if we lived or died – and many preferred the latter. As AIDS dominated our lives, groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis mobilized, setting up hotlines to circulate information, writing and disseminating guidelines for safer sex, and creating tight-knit networks to support the sick or suffering. Simultaneously, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) activated the LGBTQ+ community and allies to demand governmental action.

Now, we can draw on our community’s past resilience. We must keep ourselves safe, from both MPV and from the dangerous, homophobic messaging that’s emerging around it. 

First, LGBTQ+ people must avoid perpetuating the dangerous myth that MPV only impacts us. The scientific truth is that pathogens often first spread among social groups in close contact with one another – for example, outbreaks of meningitis among college students. MPV is continuing to primarily impact the LGBTQ+ community because the virus hasn’t yet had the biological need to move onto another social group. This is important both in terms of combating homophobia, and also in recognizing our community’s responsibility to help prevent MPV’s spread. 

We also need to emphasize that MPV is not an STI. While it is spread through close physical contact, that contact can be nonsexual. Day care workers, nannies, massage therapists, tattoo artists, and others whose livelihoods involve skin-to-skin contact are also at high risk right now, and we need to be educating and advocating for those folks as well. 

Direct contact with the rash or body fluids and sexual contact are the most risky activities; kissing, cuddling, and being in crowds of non fully clothed people are moderately risky; and sharing dishes, beds, towels, toiletry items or being in crowds with fully clothed people are possible ways of contracting MPV. Limiting those activities for now and communicating with each other about exposure are essential ways to prevent spread. 

There are other tools we should be advocating for in addition to vaccines. One is Tpoxx, an antiviral medication that hasn’t been approved by the FDA but is being widely and successfully used in Europe. Another is faster MPV tests – currently, the results can take several days. Only a few lab companies are approved to test MPV specimens sent by clinics and hospitals, and we need faster results to prevent further spread in real time.

Today, a multibillion dollar industry fuels many issues that plague our community – including major circuit party promoters, hookup apps, and corporations who infiltrated our pride events. These industries depend on our money, and are only interested in getting our bodies where they need them in order to cash in. 

Exploitative messaging from these industries can permeate our collective consciousness. They tell us we need and deserve certain things, and we need and deserve them immediately. They don’t care about our safety, and they aren’t advocating for our actual lives. They’re just contributing to a sense of urgency in the name of their bottom line. It’s up to LGBTQ+ people to get to the root of what’s important. We must organize ourselves, act with care for each other, and demand a comprehensive strategy from LGBTQ+ institutions and the government – rather than just looking for quick-fix solutions for ourselves.   

Clinics in California are expected to have thousands of vaccines available by summer’s end. In the meantime, we need community-informed prevention and treatment strategies from our leaders. And now more than ever, with both MPV and COVID-19 threatening our health, we must treat each other with consent and respect. 

*********************

Jim Mangia is the president and CEO of St. John’s Community Health, a network of public health clinics serving South, Central, and East Los Angeles.

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