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Former US Ambassador Jim Hormel died a Second Class American citizen

Hormel looked up at me and said with a grave simplicity I will never forget: “I do not want to die a second class citizen.”

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David-Mixner, Jim-Hormel and Joel-Weisman at an amfAR event in this undated photo. (Photo Credit: Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – For the past several days, I’ve been shuffling off to the LA Superior Court near LAX to see if I get picked for jury duty. Coming home last night to read about Jim Hormel’s death made me very sad. I’ve been thinking about him a lot over the past few months as Congress inexplicably argues over such big issues as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — leaving the #EqualityAct lying fallow near the dustbin of history.

I interviewed the remarkable and kind Jim Hormel several times over the course of my decades reporting for the #LGBTQ community. But one moment is seared into my soul. After we finished a brief interview at a Human Rights Campaign gala, I looked back and he was hanging his head. He was next to his partner Michael Nguyen and was treated like a rock star at the event so he couldn’t have been lonely. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well? I asked him if anything was wrong – he looked so sad. Jim Hormel looked up at me and said with a grave simplicity I will never forget: “I do not want to die a second class citizen.”

But he did. For all his wealth, philanthropy, groundbreaking #LGBTQ political activism, and especially kindness in treating others as equals – former US Ambassador Jim Hormel died as a privileged white gay man who represented America to the world but was officially denied the full freedom conferred through the Equality Act as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Straight people don’t seem to get how much that hurts. They do not grasp that we are not automatically granted the same equal civil rights conferred upon straight American citizens. Even now, sitting in that courthouse, I wonder if there are others like me there. Access to all aspects of justice is supposed to be a fundamental democratic principle.

But California is currently one of only 11 states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and one of 8 states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in jury selection. And yes, President Biden issued an executive order to interpret last year’s SCOTUS Bostock v. Clayton County ruling to include nondiscrimination in jury selection as well as employment, housing, education, and health care. But an executive order is not a law and can be withdrawn with a change in administrations.

This morning I thought of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “How Long, Not Long” speech in 1965. “Let us march on ballot boxes until ‘brotherhood’ becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda…..I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’….How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Please read the appreciation in the Los Angeles Blade to glimpse some of what Jim Hormel endured and contributed – though I would underscore that his contributions were especially impactful during the Second Wave of AIDS. At least he died knowing he was loved, respected, much appreciated, and honored. But how long will it take until we are all officially free and equal in America?

How many more of us #LGBTQ folk from all stations in life will die knowing that we are still second class American citizens like brother Jim Hormel?

Karen Ocamb is a longtime award winning LGBTQ+ journalist who has chronicled the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in Southern California.

Ocamb is now Director of Media Relations for Public Justice, a national legal advocacy organization.

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Global community needs to help save Brazil’s democracy

Jair Bolsonaro trying to undermine judicial independence, LGBTQ rights

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the country’s independence holiday, Sept. 7, to rally his supporters in protests against Brazil’s democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary; basically the only institution at present that checks the president’s authoritarian aspirations. Over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has provided a safe space for human rights protections, specifically LGBTQI+ rights. If the court falls, it would be the downfall of Brazil’s democracy, posing a threat to its diversity.

Over the past decade, the Brazilian LGBTQI+ community has accomplished historical victories through numerous Supreme Court rulings, including a ruling in 2013 to legalize gay marriage. While these victories were celebrated, they were also bittersweet. As the LGBTQI+ community gained ground in equality; Bolsonaro’s far-right party gained political space, and unfortunately, the hearts of some of my dearest family members.

Bolsonaro’s accession to power in 2018 came with a wave of conservative, reactionary and LGBTQI+phobic discourse that shook every aspect of Brazil’s public and private life. As the minds of minorities in the country darkened and as I fought against depression, I saw my friends suddenly rushing to register their partnerships or change their civil names fearing that the rulings allowing for their rights could be overturned. Three years later, with judicial independence under attack, our nightmares are becoming a reality.

Bolsonaro’s government has significantly impacted the LGBTQI+ movement by abolishing the LGBTQI+ National Council and significant budget cuts to Brazil’s once globally recognized HIV/AIDS prevention program. Moreover, policies aiming to fight racism or promoting gender equality are also being abandoned or defunded.

Inflation, hunger, unemployment and extreme poverty are on the rise. In the case of further democratic erosion, we are getting the conditions set for a humanitarian crisis in Brazil.

Brazil’s stability is of interest to the entire region and the world. Considering the country’s influence in Latin America, a coup could generate a domino effect across the continent. Hence, political, social, and economic international stakeholders should raise awareness and pressuring Bolsonaro’s administration

Historically, social minorities are the first ones to be sacrificed in political turmoil. As I wrote this text, news came along that indigenous land rights are being bargained and that Bolsonaro will take this attack on the environment to his speech at the United Nations. As has happened in Poland and Hungary, soon Bolsonaro will turn his gun to the LGBTQI+ community. It is clear by now that Bolsonaro envisions Brazil as a leader of far-right conservatism in the world.

That is why we need the global community to stand with us. As we take to the streets calling for impeachment, Bolsonaro still counts with the support of important stakeholders. Businesspeople are among the president’s most supportive groups, despite the economic disaster we have been through. If they can’t see the obvious internal consequences of eroding democracy, then international pressure should make them see it.

We need clear statements by political parties, foreign media, think tanks, financial groups, etc., that the attacks on Brazil’s institutions and minorities will cost the economic sector money. With this, we can unlock the impeachment process and rebuild Brazil’s legacy as a country that celebrates diversity.

Egerton Neto is the international coordinator for Aliança Nacional LGBTI+ in Brazil and Master of Public Policy candidate at the London School of Economics.

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What Does Marriage Have to Do With Whether You’re a Good Driver?

Insurers should only be allowed to use your data internally to determine if you are a safe driver- Nothing more, nothing less

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Photo Credit: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles

By Lilly Rocha | LOS ANGELES – Not every fight for equality receives national attention. But as everyone in the LGBTQ community knows, the push for respect and for dignity across every part of our lives is a constant battle. 

As an LGBTQ Latino business owner, I see firsthand how our economy often treats people like me differently, and often with less respect.

So when there are ways for California’s government to help economically disadvantaged communities be treated with fairness, our government should do what it can to right a wrong – particularly when the fix is so straightforward.

Car insurance is a prime example of this dynamic. Most Californians drive to work, and every driver in the state is required to buy a policy. But as it stands, the insurance market is tilted against LGBTQ Californians and other historically underserved communities. 

Specifically, car insurers are allowed to take into account what neighborhood you live in, your marital status, level of education, and other factors. That means traditional characteristics are used to determine whether someone is a responsible member of society and whether they are a safe driver.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this can have a particularly pernicious impact on California’s LGBTQ community.

For instance, a Gallup poll earlier this year reported that 10% of LGBTQ Americans are married to a same-sex spouse. This compares to nearly 50% of Americans in general who said they are married. At the same time, a separate study found that single drivers pay about $100 more annually for car insurance than married drivers.

For those among us living paycheck to paycheck, that’s real money we’re losing because of avoidable discrimination. Just ask the 20% of trangender Californians who have experienced homelessness since identifying as transgender.

California’s Department of Insurance (CDI) has the unilateral power to change this situation by updating Proposition 103, which governs car insurance rates. The law was passed in 1988 – a time when George Michael’s “Faith” was the top song in the country.

Obviously the law could not take into account technological innovation, or changing attitudes around equality. 

Now, insurers can actually evaluate your driving ability through an app on your phone or a dongle attached to your car. As a result, good drivers – no matter their race, gender or sexual orientation – are able to be treated fairly, and potentially save money as well.

Californians have shown they are ready for such a change. Shortly before the pandemic, the desire to be judged primarily on driving ability was made clear. A competition was held in Los Angeles to identify and name the safest driver. 11,500 Angelenos enrolled by downloading an app to judge their driving ability. Phone distraction, acceleration, and other driving characteristics were evaluated. A woman of color won the $20,000 prize.

No doubt, updating the law must also include better privacy protections for policyholders. California has done a lot to advance privacy protections for residents, but such efforts need to be extended. Recent news about how easy it is to buy data and out people against their will shows that insurers should be prohibited from selling or distributing driver data that could be used against our community. Insurers should only be allowed to use your data internally to determine whether you are a safe driver and what your premiums should be. Nothing more, nothing less.

After 30 years of an increasingly retrograde status quo, we gotta have faith our state government will do right by the LGTBQ community. Modernizing Prop 103 will help make sure our roads are paved with fairness.

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Lilly Rocha is an LGBTQ leader and the CEO of the Latino Restaurant Association which promotes, supports and educates restaurateurs and small business owners to ensure the equitable economic growth of the Latino restaurant sector.

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Black Trans and Queer POC safety threatened by ‘Trumplican’ Larry Elder

California has led the country, not only in LGBTQ+ protections but in some of the most progressive legislation the US has ever seen.

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Ebony Harper | SACRAMENTO – The newly self-proclaimed “Black boy from the hood of South Central LA” (a prospect that’s both hilarious and scary once you uncover what’s beneath that) is running for Governor of one of the most progressive LGBTQ+ affirming states in the United States.

Larry Elder is more akin to Stephen from Django Unchained. A starkly loyal house slave who personally views himself second only to white men and above other Black folks—birthed from Rush Limbaugh’s sunken place. 

Just a few days ago, Elder was on The Candace Owens Show. He made the argument that slave owners should be paid reparations for setting slaves free;

When people talk about reparations, do they really want to have that conversation? Like it or not, slavery was legal,” Elder said. “Their legal property was taken away from them after the Civil War, so you could make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not only just Black people but also the people whose property was taken away after the end of the Civil War?”

Elder’s comments indicate far-right ideas, an ideology rooted in the historical oppression of many marginalized groups, and who better a spokesperson for homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy than a Black man? 

As a Black trans woman who grew up in poverty in the same South Central LA that Elder calls his roots, I faced and witnessed the systemic tragedies of living in poverty/the hood daily. My childhood was full of unhealthy religion, abuse, neglect, and people taking desperate actions to get out of poverty.

Many Black trans women end up in an endless cycle of jails, institutions, and homelessness due to ostracization in the hood and broader society. Consequently, we exist on the fringes of society. My experiences from South Central made me empathize with others and want to lend a helping hand to those in need. Clearly, we took different lessons out of our experiences in South Central.

According to research on LGBTQ+ people in America by The Center for American Progress (CAP), LGBTQ+ women of color face higher rates of discrimination because of multiple identities, including race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression. Transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, face extraordinary obstacles to economic security. 38% of Black trans women live in poverty compared to 12% of the US population.

While the needs are still outstanding, the California legislature and Governor Newsome have focused on health outcomes for queer and trans Californians with a critical focus on LGBTQ+ communities of color. 

Elder has a history of not being able to contain his anti-trans and queer sentiments — a simple search of Elder’s Twitter feed turned up several anti-LGBT tweets, including one where he voiced frustration with the portrayal of men in Hollywood.

“Any roles for men not gay/transsexual/transgender/transvestite/cross dressers/bi-sexual or unsure? #GoldenGlobes,” he tweeted in 2016.

After the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting in June 2016, Elder tweeted, “If the #Orlando terrorist was gay, does that disqualify the massacre from being a hate crime?”

He has needled Caitlyn Jenner, one of his rivals on the recall ballot, in the past. After Jenner came out as transgender in April 2015, Elder continued referring to her by her birth name (misgendering her). 

Elder also tweeted in 2017 about Playboy Magazine’s decision to feature a transgender model.

“.@Playboy to feature its first ‘transgender’ Playmate?!? Jeez!!! If Hef weren’t dead, this would have killed him,” he wrote.

Elder also said if he becomes Governor, he will appoint judges like Clarence Thomas. Yes, the same Clarence Thomas that voted for the criminalization of LGBTQ people siding with the Texas anti-sodomy law, against marriage equality, and against affordable healthcare. Elder is already mounting a case for voter fraud in our diverse, progressive state. This weekend on Fox, Elder told supporters to report ‘shenanigans,’ to his website.

With an endless amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation taking hold across the country, Governor Newsom has been an unwavering ally to LGBTQ+ Californians, even appointing a Black queer judge to the state supreme court. One can argue that in the past few years, the California legislature has led the country, not only in LGBTQ+ protections but in some of the most progressive legislation the US has ever seen.

I don’t think most of us Californians know how much Newsom and the Democratic legislature have done.

While having a long, long ways to go on many issues, it is essential to know how much we have gained and how much we have to lose. We have always led the nation on progressive LGBTQ+ issues. Newsom is somewhat of a folk hero to LGBTQ+ communities across the country. Newsom’s engaged in civil disobedience, defying his party, issuing marriage licenses to more than 4,000 same-sex couples just a month into his Mayoral term. His rebellion drew condemnation from social conservatives and prominent Democrats, including gay rights icons and Newsom’s political mentors. 

We can all agree that it would be wonderful to see a Black governor, even a Black trans woman, as governor that was a sex worker. It would be wonderful to see a Black governor standing up for the voiceless, appoint Black and Brown trans and queer folks to public office, and see the systemic problems instead of going with the lazy answer and blaming the individual. That would be a breath of fresh air.

As the adage goes, “all skin folks ain’t kinfolks!”

Larry Elder is not compassionate-based, he is fear-based, and we’ve seen how his type of politics has divided this country. Let’s take California back; Please get out and vote for LGBTQ+ people. Stand up for your community and carry the mantle of Harvey Milk, Miss Major, and Bamby Salcedo.

I’m a Bernie voter and more liberal than Newsom. I want health for all in this state, but I understand the importance of supporting this Governor. He’s the most progressive governor we’ve had. As a historically oppressed community, it is our duty to fight for our freedoms. Please get out in vote, fam. We need you…

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Ebony Harper is the director of California TRANscends, a statewide initiative that promotes the health and wellness of transgender people throughout California with a focus on Black and Brown transgender communities.

The California legislature has recognized her for her work. Harper sits on the board of Mirror Memoirs and serves as the newest board member for the Transgender Law Center.

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