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Carl Bean was Way More than a one-hit wonder

“He was a big gay guy with a big gay heart who loved in a very big gay way- he welcomed everybody with open arms. You felt wanted”

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Rev. Carl Bean with NMAC’s Paul Kawata after the LA Riots in 1992 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – When gay Archbishop Carl Bean died Sept. 7, most of the mainstream media headlined his obit with a reference to Lady Gaga singing her version of Bean’s 1977 disco hit, “Born This Way.” Bean was immensely proud of that song with its self-affirming lyric “I’m happy/ I’m carefree/ and I’m gay/ I was born this way.”

He used to say that his first calling from God came in front of a theatre microphone, not the Bible, which he said came thousands of years after the first “Word” of God – and that Word was an ever-evolving Spirit.

Memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at McCarty Memorial Christian Church, 4103 W. Adams Blvd., in West Adams.

Of course, the LGBTQ community is immensely grateful to Lady Gaga for that “freedom” song in 2011. But for the sake of LGBTQ and AIDS history, it is critical to understand just how many lives Carl Bean saved, not just with that song but the spiritual attitude and love behind it.

It was gay Black people, his people, who called the 60s gospel singer to come out, be authentic, and find a way to let them know that God loved them, too. He did that with the Barry Gordy/Motown hit, “Born This Way,” in which he said: “Love me like I love you/ I was born this way.” 

“Carl Bean was more than just a disco-era recording artist,” author and CNN political analyst Keith Boykin wrote on Facebook.   

“God is love, and love is for everyone.” That’s what people need to remember about Carl Bean. He was a big gay guy with a big gay heart who loved in a very big gay way – which is to say, he welcomed everybody with open arms, a big smile and a hug like you never felt before. You felt wanted.

It pained Bean that his beloved gay community didn’t love God as he did. In 1982, he was ordained by the Christian Tabernacle Church, which eventually prompted him to then found Unity Fellowship Church of Christ to welcome the poor, the despised and the disavowed.

“In the beginning my concern was that many of my peers had a hateful idea of God and Christians. How could I say to those peers that there are others who read [the Bible] differently—that was the driving incentive,” he told POZ in 2015.

“But HIV was there at the same time. Having been a black gospel singer, I knew everyone [in the Black church] knew that the church organist was gay, that the best singer in the choir was gay, but it was never talked about. But now there [was] this other thing that we [couldn’t] ignore.

In the gay community, they said Silence=Death [a popular ACT UP slogan]. That personally spoke to me, that you can’t be silent now, you can’t let people die around you. I just knew I had love for my fellow human beings and that the Christ consciousness in me said, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’

“In any oppressed community, there is an underlying need to appear to be liked,” Bean continued. “So, you go out of your way to hide anything that might point a finger at you for being inferior. For instance, when I first started doing AIDS work, I knew one of the things I’d have to battle [in the Black community] is the notion, ‘Here’s something else they’re going to blame on us’ and ‘That’s those white boys in West Hollywood, but that’s one thing that’s not us.’ I had to say, ‘That’s not true.’” 

But how to caress and reassure all the terrified, lonely gaunt Black AIDS faces of distraught and closeted parishioners, dying during a time of stigma, indignity, fear, rejection of family, friends, and the church during and after death?   

In 1985, the Unity Fellowship Church board, which included Jewel Thais-Williams, who held fundraisers at her famed Catch One nightclub, decided to launch Minority AIDS Project as a secular nonprofit outreach project of the Church in South Central Los Angeles.

A few years later, in 1987, Bean, Paul Kawata, Gil Gerald, and several other prominent AIDS leaders founded the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in response to the American Public Health Association (APHA) decision to not invite anyone of color to participate on the panel of its first ever AIDS workshop, at its 1986 association meeting, according to NMAC history

AIDS started devastating the caregivers, as well as those impact by AIDS.

Close friends Rev. Carl Bean and Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the MCC Church, used to cry together to provide each other with solace. Kawata was also close with Bean but had a different starting point.

“AIDS left me feeling betrayed and lost. How could there be a God when there was so much pain and death?” he told POZ. “I could not adjust my mind to this contradiction until Carl came into my life. He asked for nothing as he took care of people who had been rejected by their families and friends, people facing multiple issues with drugs, incarceration, and HIV. Soon it would be in numbers that are still too hard to fathom. Through his work I could see God.” 

Carl Bean knew he was the voice for many too afraid to speak up. “I want you to know, I used wine and whiskey . . . heroin . . . even sold my body because I was different,” Bean told the audience at the opening of the Carl Bean AIDS Care Center and 25-bed hospice on Adams Blvd. in 1992. “I don’t care how poor you are or what little you have . . . I want you to keep on walking, keep on talking. Accept yourself.” 

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein was introduced to Rev. Carl Bean through his best friend, AIDS activist Chris Brownlie who had bonded with Bean when the activists volunteered at Minority AIDS Project, then just one room, barely an organization. Weinstein considered his relationship with Bean to be like “brothers in struggle” since he was “the only person in leadership who  supported them. We bailed them out in the pinch many times” Weinstein told me.

“I’m not a believer, but I went to church there relatively regularly,” he said, as well as attending gatherings led by Louise Hay, Rev. Sandy Scott and others. 

“One of my strongest memories was one day I was at the church — it was before they moved across the street and they built out the church — and [Carl] said, ‘Turn out the lights.’ There really weren’t many windows. It was really pitch black and he goes, ‘We’re going to talk about molestation.” And he says in that voice that he has, ‘You are not to blame. It’s not your fault.’

He just kept repeating that. I’m sitting in my folding chair and there’s all these people wailing and crying. And the wailing was shocking to me — to know that that many people in this little church had been molested. That was, in a way, the embodiment of who he was. On the one hand, he would bring up subjects that other people wouldn’t touch. On the other hand, it was really all about love and he always said it was a liberation theology.” 

Bean also recognized that Weinstein did not show up as part of what many deemed the white racist gay establishment. They bonded out of “a mutual love and respect for Chris, the politics of L.A. County [and the level of care people with AIDS were receiving], and the culture of the gay community. And it was also about meeting the very real basic needs that people had at the street level.” 

Or any level, if not rich. Chris Brownlie, for instance, was rushed to the hospital and lay on a gurney for three days,” says Weinstein. Finally, Weinstein got in touch with that LA County Supervisor Ed Edelman, begging to get Brownlie out of there. “He was in a bed within about six hours of that.”

Bean and Weinstein bonded over the need to pressure elected officials – Bean was close to Congressmember Maxine Waters. Her important Minority AIDS Initiative started with a meeting with Bean at Jewel’s Catch One Disco.

Carl Bean at opening of Carl Bean Hospice (Photo courtesy of AHF)

Carl Bean was happy to have the AHF-sponsored hospice and clinic named after him. “The place was in the community. It was theirs, that they felt it was home.” 

But that didn’t mean Bean showed Weinstein any favoritism. “He did so many funerals and intimate counseling sessions with so many families,” Weinstein said. “When I would go to see him on Jefferson and sometimes I’d be waiting because he’d be in a one-on-one with someone. It’s hard to capture how scared and lonely a lot of the people who came to Minority AIDS Project were. They weren’t really ‘out’ in a way that we talk about it. He gave them a sense of community.” 

What was so amazing for these grassroots leaders, Weinstein said, was that there was never any aspect of competition with one another. There was just a certain basic truth that we felt about one another. It didn’t mean that we feel like each of us was perfect. But it was more like these are people who thought about what was best for the community. They put that above their own selfish interests.”

“I don’t fear being honest about who I am,” Bean said in a video before release of his autobiography, I Was Born This Way, in 2010. “I expect to be called upon to speak about it, challenge, probably debated, but I know that it would give a lot of people permission to be honest about who they are. God is love, and love is for everyone.” 

“Today we stand with our heads held high because we know that we are worthy of LOVE! We know that we were born this way. We know that God loves us just the way we are. Imagine these truths were considered counter narratives at one point in our history,” said In The Meantime Men Executive Director Jeffrey King.

“The life and legacy of Archbishop Carl Bean will live on through those of us who were blessed by his powerful life-affirming words and his fierce and radical deeds and acts of true Christian-centered compassion. In all my years on this planet, I have witnessed only a few who have risen to his level of leadership. We remain committed to teaching our youth about his life, his work and his legacy. He is the foundation for everything that has and will follow in the LGBTQ+/ HIV/ Liberation Movement. His work continues.” 

Community activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick on Friday announced the plans for the memorial service for Bean.

Memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at McCarty Memorial Christian Church, 4103 W. Adams Blvd., in West Adams.

 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congresswoman (ret.) Diane Watson, LA County Supervisor (ret.) Yvonne Burke, L.A. City Council President (ret.) Herb Wesson, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation founder Michael Weinstein are slated to speak at the public memorial service for renowned AIDS activist and gospel singer Archbishop Carl Bean.

The memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 18, 2021, at McCarty Memorial Christian Chruch (4103 W. Adams Blvd.) in West Adams.  Social distancing protocols will be in place for all attendees and masks will be required.  Parking is limited.  Ridesharing and public transportation are encouraged. African entire is requested.

A repast will immediately follow the service at Unity Fellowship Church (5147 W. Jefferson Blvd.).

The memorial live stream can be watched here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87256934172?pwd=aUxRM1VkdXg5Ujc0VjRKQXRlZTRwUT09

Donations can be made in Bean’s honor to Minority AIDS Project at minorityaidsproject.org/donate/.

Afterwards, In The Meantime Men is opening their Carl Bean headquarters for reflection.  

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Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist, who now works for Public Justice. She has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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Thank you Madam Speaker: Karen Ocamb reflects on Nancy Pelosi

Whether comforting a friend with AIDS or pointing a powerful finger at Trump, Pelosi exemplifies the humble nobility of servant leadership

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Nancy Pelosi argues with former President Trump during a tense meeting of officials in the cabinet room of the White House (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Thank you, Speaker Nancy Pelosi! Let me add my gratitude to the praise that’s poured in since Pelosi announced she would stay in Congress but was not seeking re-election as Speaker to make way for a younger generation.

In typical Trumpian fashion, CA GOP colleague Kevin McCarthy rudely absented himself as commentator after commentator – including some Republicans – called Nancy Pelosi the best Speaker in American history as she gave her “future plans” speech from the Floor of the House of Representatives.

Some commentators applauded how many extraordinary pieces of legislation she got passed – key among them ObamaCare, about which Pelosi repeatedly said: “Because of the Affordable Care Act – and I hope that every woman in America understands this – being a woman is no longer a preexisting medical condition. As a mother of five children, four daughters and one son, I’m very excited about this.”

Thanks to one of those daughters, Alexandra Pelosi, who caught her mother’s brave, caring and powerful reactions during the Jan. 6th insurrection when domestic terrorists where hunting her down, the world got to watch America’s top Congressional leadership demur to the woman who is third in line of succession as she essentially served as Acting President of the United States and helped effectuate the Constitutional transition of power from Trump to Joe Biden.

I’d met and photographed Nancy Pelosi very briefly over the years when she came to Los Angeles for an event I was covering. But after the #ResistMarch in 2018, it occurred to me that so many of the young people raising their fists in exuberant agreement with her remarks probably had no idea who she really was. I got in touch with her terrific out deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill and asked for an interview. We were slated for 15-20 minutes but she wanted to go longer.

It was May 2018. We talked about Donald Trump and his threat to democracy; the looming midterm elections; how Republicans brand her as being from San Francisco – a “coded” gay slur; the Equality Act; and her Catholicism in the context of a Church that worked hard to oppose Prop 8, calls homosexuality “intrinsically evil,” and excluded her from taking Communion in SF because of her views on abortion.

“As a Catholic, I was raised to respect every person. We’re all God’s children. In my family, there was never any question about that,” Pelosi told me. “In Baltimore, we did have a growing LGBT community—we didn’t call it that then but it was part of our lives and it was not any question that we would be any more respectful of one person than another. It wasn’t even an issue with me and I didn’t ever even describe it or associate it with Catholicism because Catholicism taught me something different. It didn’t teach me discrimination. It taught me respect. And so it prepared me very well, my Catholicism, for being a representative in San Francisco.”

“There’s no question the Catholic Church in California was a participant in Prop 8 in a negative way,” Pelosi said. “We were on the other side of that. But to me—it was their problem. It wasn’t anything that was any moral imperative to me for me to follow the Church in enshrining discrimination in the law in California.”

Ironically, in San Francisco, the Church “was more sympathetic to people when they had HIV/AIDS because they needed help then they were to people who weren’t infected. It was the strangest, strangest thing,” Pelosi said.

AIDS was – and is – deeply personal to the Speaker of the House.

“Some people criticized me for talking about AIDS on my first day in Congress (in 1987) and I realized that it was not just about getting funding for AIDS research and prevention and care but it was about ending discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS,” Pelosi told me.

More from the my cover story:

Pelosi responds viscerally when asked about losing friends. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. A little flower girl in my wedding. My dear, dear friends in the community in San Francisco. We were going to two funerals a day. I was visiting people in the hospital all the time and quite frankly, when I say losing people,” Pelosi says, “I lost friends because I just walked away from them because they were not treating people with HIV and AIDS with respect. They would say to me, ‘I don’t know why you hire that caterer – don’t you know that everybody there has HIV?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t bother to come to my house anymore if that’s your attitude.’ It just changed my whole view of them.”…

“I’ll never stop missing some of my dearest dear friends from then,” she says. “Of course, we went from funerals to people saying help me make out my will because this is going to end soon, to those very same people looking for a job and then wanting to get married. So, everything has improved but I would never have thought 30 years ago when I started all this in Congress that we still wouldn’t have a cure for AIDS. We’ve improved the quality of life, we’ve sustained life. Everything is better but it’s not over, not finished.”

Whether comforting a friend with AIDS or pointing a powerful accusing finger at Trump, Nancy Pelosi exemplifies the humble nobility of servant leadership with a touch of classy swagger.

Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for representing so many of us who still haven’t found our power

Read the entire story here:

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Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb joined Public Justice in March of 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her two rescue dogs.

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Observations on the Brazilian, U.S. elections

Polls in both countries proved inaccurate

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The U.S. midterms took place on Nov. 8. Brazil's elections took place last month. (Image by alexandrabykova/Bigstock)

BRASÍLIA, Brazil / STEVENSVILLE, Md. — I was sitting in my hotel room in Brasília, the Brazilian capital, at 5 p.m. on Oct. 2 when the polls closed. The area around my hotel was quiet as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal began to post the election results on their website. Brazilian television stations continued their live coverage of the election that largely focused on whether former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would defeat incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. I was nibbling on KIND Dark Chocolate Whole Grain Clusters that I had bought at Dulles two days earlier before I flew to Brazil and sipping a glass of Brahma beer that I had poured for myself while refreshing the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s website and listening to the reporters talk about the results. I was nervous because Bolsonaro was ahead. 

I left my room at around 7 p.m. to get some dinner at a nearby mall. I ordered sushi from a restaurant in the food court. Bolsonaro was still ahead of Da Silva when I returned to my room at around 7:45 p.m., but the margin between the two men had narrowed. Da Silva soon took the lead, but it soon became clear that he and Bolsonaro would face each other in a runoff because neither of them had received at least 50 percent of the vote.

Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of the presidential election that took place on Oct. 30. The U.S. midterm elections took place nine days later.

Banners in support of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and members of his Workers’ Party in the lobby of a PT office in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Jair Bolsonaro supporters hold a banner near the Brazilian Congress in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

I arrived at Heather Mizeur’s election night party at the Kent Island Resort in Stevensville, Md., shortly before polls in Maryland closed at 8 p.m. Mizeur less than three hours later told her supporters that her bid to unseat Republican Congressman Andy Harris had come up short. The so-called red wave that so many pundits and polls predicted would elect Republicans across the country also failed to materialize.

Heather Mizeur speaks to supporters in Stevensville, Md., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Each country is different and the way they conduct their elections is difficult. I cannot, however, help but compare the Brazilian election and the U.S. midterms. Here are a few observations from a reporter who covered them both.

• Polls ahead of the first round of Brazil’s presidential election predicted Da Silva would defeat Bolsonaro in the first round. Polls and pundits ahead of the U.S. midterms, as previously noted, predicted Republicans would defeat Democrats across the country. Both scenarios did not happen.

• Bolsonaro ahead of Brazil’s presidential election sought to discredit the country’s electoral system. Bolsonaro did not concede to Da Silva after he lost. Former President Donald Trump continues to insist he won the 2020 presidential election. Trump also instigated the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection that took place as lawmakers were beginning to certify the Electoral College results.

• Cláudio Nascimento, president of Grupo Arco-Íris de Cidadania LGBT, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in Rio de Janeiro, on Oct. 9 told me during an interview at his office that Bolsonaro would “destroy democracy”in Brazil if he were reelected. Mizeur in July described Harris as a “traitor to our nation” after the Jan. 6 committee disclosed he attended a meeting with Trump that focused on how he could remain in office after he lost to now President Joe Biden. 

• Voters in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte on Oct. 2 elected two Transgender women — Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert respectively — to the Brazilian Congress. Openly gay Rio Grande do Sul Gov. Eduardo Leite on Oct. 30 won re-election when he defeated former Bolsonaro Chief-of-Staff Onyx Lorenzoni in a runoff. LGBTQ Victory Fund President Annise Parker in a Nov. 10 statement noted 436 openly LGBTQ+ candidates across the country won their races. (One of them, openly gay New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas, who represents my mother, defeated Republican Karoline Leavitt in the state’s 1st Congressional District by a 54-46 percent margin.)

Brazil and the U.S. are different countries, but they both have democracies that must be defended. Brazilians and Americans did just that through their votes.

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Trans people: Let’s show this country who we are

“If you’re trans or nonbinary, we urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5”

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Texas Trans activist & Gender Cool Project Leader Landon Richie in Chicago for Pride 2019 (Photo Credit: Landon Richie)

By Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen | WASHINGTON – We have a political climate that has exploded with anti-trans legislation, policy, and rhetoric. In the leadup to last week’s election, TV ads and political mailers spread lies about trans people, denigrating our community and stoking fear in people who simply don’t understand what it means to be trans.

Now, when there is a glaring spotlight on trans people in America, we have an opportunity to show the country who we are. Telling the truth about what it means to be trans, using real data, can counter the misinformation being spread about our community. It is important that we tell our own stories and that we are heard loud and clear.

Right now, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and partners are conducting the U.S. Trans Survey, the largest ever national survey of the lives and experiences of transgender people. Whether you’re trans, nonbinary, or otherwise not cisgender, the time is now to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes. The last survey was conducted in 2015, and a lot has changed since then.

Visit www.ustranssurvey.org to learn more and take the survey today!

Since 2015, many states have advanced policies that ban gender-affirming care or ban trans youth from playing sports. Others have made it easier to change the gender marker on our identification to match who we are. Violence against trans people has gone up over the past several years, and we know from the data that Black trans women face a disproportionate amount of that violence.

Next week, Trans Awareness Week, we honor the loved ones we’ve lost to violence and celebrate those who are still here. We speak up loudly about the disparities we face in hopes that others will see and understand. We lift up the voices of the most marginalized in our community, understanding that together, we will all rise.

Much of the political focus right now is on trans youth – their right to transition-related care, their right to play sports with their friends, and their right to use the restroom. Now, more than ever, it is important to hear from young people about their experiences. That’s why this time around, youth as young as 16 years old can take the survey and share their stories.

There is a concerted effort by certain politicians and political organizations to deny that trans people are real. There is a false narrative that trans youth are “too young” to know that they’re trans, that people who transition at a young age, whether socially or medically, later regret it. 

But we know from the data that this narrative is simply not true. A study came out in May this year revealing that for young people who socially transitioned, only two percent of them “detransitioned,” or went back to identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth. And another study published just last month found that at 98% of youth who were prescribed puberty blockers went on to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy after turning 18. Meaning, trans youth continued to be trans.

This is the importance of research. And we need this research to inform the decision makers, educators, elected officials, health care providers, and the general public about who we are and what we experience in life.

We know that trans people exist and that our lives and experiences are valid. By making this the largest trans survey in U.S. history, we can show that how strong, diverse, and how real of a community we have. And we aren’t just young people in New York and California; trans people from Wyoming to Alaska, from youth to elders; trans folks who are Indigenous, Black, Latine, white, multiracial. Every voice must be represented in the U.S. Trans Survey.

The survey in some places covers some heavy topics: mental health, experiences with religious institutions, and experiences with the police. But it also helps us reveal answers to questions like: Has having access to transition-related care improved your life? How has coming out as trans affected your mental health? Does your family accept who you are, and how does that impact you?

There are hundreds of questions in the survey to examine the details of our lives, so we recommend setting aside about an hour to take it. Tens of thousands of you already have, but we know our community is even larger. There is strength in numbers, and the more people who take the U.S. Trans Survey, the harder it is to deny that we exist and that we are real.

If you’re trans or nonbinary, I urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5. Let’s show this country who we are. Let’s show them that we won’t go away.

Visit www.ustranssurvey.org to learn more and take the survey today.

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Courtesy of Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

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New Public Justice President Tom Sobol is taking on Big Pharma

In March of 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against a California based Big Pharma giant

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Tom Sobol (Photo Credit: Public Justice)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – If there is a star of the 7,359-word, June 2004 Atlantic article “Greed on Trial” about the $1.3 billion Massachusetts Big Tobacco-fee trial, it’s attorney Tom Sobol.

“Both on and off the stand, the forty-six-year-old Sobol cuts a bold figure, closely resembling Bruce Springsteen before the Boss started showing his age,” contributor Alex Beam wrote in about the recently installed Board President of Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization. 

The intricate, complicated and fascinating story about the legal wrangling over attorneys fees following the landmark longshot 1998 victory over Big Tobacco posits Sobol as a hero, “the One Just Man in the eyes of the state’s lawyers” grounded in ethics, willing to publicly call out his former law firm, Brown Rudnick Berlack & Israels, over their corporate fee greed. Sobol, who “led all the private attorneys in the Massachusetts case,” actually asked the court to determine whether Brown Rudnick’s claim violated a rule of professional conduct that “bars a lawyer from charging or collecting a clearly excessive fee” after the $775 million arbitration award, Beam reported. 

“Here was the real problem looming for Brown Rudnick: in the bloodless world of corporate law, Sobol was an unabashed crusader who exuded passion for his adopted causes” through his work as a public-interest lawyer. 

Eighteen years later, Sobol is now a Partner & Executive Committee Member at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the lead negotiator in court-approved settlements totaling more than $2 billion, with recent successes totaling $649.75 million in direct purchaser class settlements and named by LawDragon last February as one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America

Sign outside of Gilead Headquarters in Foster City, California (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

For 25 years, much of Sobol’s practice has focused heavily on pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical pricing and pharmaceutical misbehavior. On March 23, 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against Big Pharma giant Gilead, In re HIV Antitrust Litigation, which was initially brought by AIDS activist Peter Staley

“We allege that Gilead has been able to jump from one patented product to another patented product to another patented product by putting products together in [Pharma packaging] and thereby prevent less expensive, equally effective generic HIV drugs from being on the market in any meaningful way,” says Sobol. “And they’ve done that by, we allege, either paying off the competition by, for instance, befriending them, bringing them into a deal where they agree that they will not do licenses with anybody else, and therefore encourage that generic company to stand down on a patent challenge. Or they have done explicit agreements with some companies simply that they won’t release a generic drug if they do another business deal with them on a similar product.”

Staley was “one of the original lead plaintiffs who, among other things, was alleging at these agreements and seeking to essentially get injunctive relief against Gilead from continuing this kind of actions that delay generics. He has since had his claim dismissed out of the case for some technical standing reasons,” says Sobol, “but he still legitimately should be credited as being an originator of this case and fully behind this case.”

There is something metaphysically ironic having this Boss from Massachusetts suing a pharmaceutical company for putting corporate greed over the anguish of people with AIDS, so movingly described by New Jersey Boss Bruce Springsteen in “The Streets of Philadelphia:” “I was bruised and battered/I couldn’t tell what I felt/I was unrecognizable to myself/Saw my reflection in a window/And didn’t know my own face/Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away/On the streets of Philadelphia?” 

“My father instilled in me a belief that hard work is in and of itself something of tremendous high value. My mother taught me that there isn’t anybody who you can’t find value in,” says Thomas Matthew Sobol, born January 6, 1958, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Sobol graduated from Clark University in Worcester in 1980 and from Boston University School of Law in 1983. He then worked for Allan Hale, chief judge of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, for a year before joining Brown, Rudnick, Freed, and Gesmer where he was chair of their pro bono program, on the hiring committee, and practiced criminal and white-collar defense and civil litigation, before departing in 2000.

At his core, Sobol draws from ethics and being tougher than the rest to fight injustice. 

“Earlier this year, the board of Public Justice voted approval of a strategic direction document. I see this strategic document as constitutional to this organization. And as president, it is my job to see that the board delivers on this promise,” Sobol said at the organization’s 40th Anniversary Gala last July. “At Public Justice, we see two interlocking problems that reinforce and perpetuate systems of oppression, exploitation, and inequality: predatory corporate power and ideologies of white supremacy. Together, these evils harm people and continue to warp and shape many of our laws and institutions. Some people deny that these systems ever existed or insist that they are historic relics. We believe that they are central drivers of injustice. To meet these challenges, what is Public Justice’s work? We are strategic and proactive. We are focused on changing inequitable institutions and systems, and we are driven through structured managed resource programs capable of delivering the change we seek to deliver the mission of Public Justice.”

And then there’s tilting at windmills — taking seemingly unwinnable cases without necessarily seeking a profit or even winning. “Look what Karla Gilbride (co-director of Public Justice’s Access to Justice project) achieved this year in her unanimous Supreme Court victory — that was tilting at a windmill. Who would’ve ever thought it would make sense to go to this Supreme Court on that [pro-employee] issue and have any level of success, right?” Sobol asks. “She and the rest of the team went for it and got it. Tilting at a windmill also means that you’re pointing True North — you have a true objective, a socially conscious objective, which Karla had. Over the years, I’ve tilted at my own windmills and I’ve lost more than I’ve won. But sometimes I’ve won.”

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Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Ocamb joined Public Justice in March 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues. She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog, Pepper.

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LGBTQ+ youth are target of a massive fear-mongering campaign

Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests

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Los Angeles Blade graphic/LGBTQ+ student mural

By Editorial Staff | LINCOLN, Ne. – With the impending midterm elections, and a view toward 2024, transgender issues have received a lot of attention in campaigns and the media recently. Particularly at question is the treatment of minors with gender dysphoria and whether or not public schools should support transgender kids.

However, the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up in the national conversation. Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests. To be clear, we at Seeing Red Nebraska fully support trans-inclusive education and policies and reject fear-mongering moral panic attacks that harm children and public schools alike.

But considering the wide attention this issue is receiving in campaign events and the media, we wanted to look into how big of a “problem” transgender identity in schools really is (spoiler: it’s not). Instead, we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children. Both parties with their rich donors benefit from keeping us distracted from the actual, big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change for all. We spend our time discussing a right-wing manufactured panic campaign that allows the GOP to attack schools and teachers at the same time as spreading trans-hate.

If one listens to right-wing moral panic campaigns, they’d be under the impression that today’s schools are overrun by children identifying as a variety of people, including as not people at all. Please note that the “furry” panic by far-right extremists is a deliberate attempt to dehumanize trans people by equating trans identity with animals.

Further, equating a sexual kink community with trans identity serves to sexualize children’s identity and portray LGBTQ individuals as sexual deviants. (Adult) kinks are not an identity, and (gender) identity is not inherently sexual.

Yet, the (completely debunked) furry panic about litter boxes in schools functions neatly to malign the LGBTQ community in general, and transgender individuals in particular, as non-human sexual perverts that target children — a narrative with a long homophobic history which, in the US, dates back to the 1800s and is also strongly informed by German Nazi propaganda in the 20th Century. And where do most children congregate outside their parent’s direct supervision?

Of course, at (public) schools, which right-wing extremists can malign as corrupting our children — sexually as well as intellectually — with the convenient side effect of also making defunding and school privatization more palatable to the public.

Our writers at Seeing Red Nebraska were curious how prevalent gender transitions among minors in the US really are.

Reuters recently published this analysis of gender dysphoria and its corresponding treatments among minors nationwide. The study found rising numbers of both gender dysphoria diagnoses and treatments for it. However, to put the numbers into perspective, according to childstats.gov, 50.7 million kids aged 6-17 lived in the US in 2021, meaning that a grand total of 0.08% of all children nationwide received a gender dysphoria diagnosis that year.

Our writers immediately wondered if this rise is due to new generations of kids being comfortable playing with gender to see what fits (which is AWESOME) and expressing themselves in all kinds of ways using gender, sex, fashion, pronouns, and other identifying tools. Trans Actual UK similarly explains the seeming rise in gender dysphoria in young people by pointing out that, thankfully, there are increasing support systems available to trans youth. 

In other words, the rise in gender dysphoria diagnoses in minors can rationally be explained by increased societal awareness and acceptance of non-binary identities which allows kids to “come out of the closet” and explore their identity more freely. Further, kids with gender dysphoria now have increasing (yet still woefully inadequate due to various red tape obstacles) access to often life-saving medical intervention and social support including inclusiveness in schools.

Yet, how many minors with gender dysphoria diagnoses actually seek and receive medical treatment? According to the Reuters study, a mere 3.5% on average of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria (remember, this is 3.5% of the 0.08% of all children nationwide) in the US initiated the extremely maligned puberty blocker treatment — which is completely reversible. In 2021, the latest year for which data is available, this means that 1,390 minors NATIONWIDE started on puberty blockers.

Similarly, 4,231 minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria initiated hormone treatment in 2021 — again, this is nationwide. This constitutes an average of 11.25% over the five year course the study covers of those youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The discrepancy between the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments is likely due to the limited applicability of puberty blockers (they only work for kids diagnosed and treated BEFORE the onset of puberty) and the fact that hormone therapy is often used IN ADDITION TO puberty blockers — meaning that many youth are counted BOTH in the hormone therapy graph and the puberty blocker graph.

As Reuters further notes, “[t]he ultimate step in gender-affirming medical treatment is surgery, which is uncommon in patients under age 18.” The Reuters analysis explains that many hospitals do not provide surgical intervention to minors at all, and consequently found records for only 56 genital surgeries on minors between 2019 and 2021. Unfortunately, their analysis is unclear about whether certain intersex conditions are included in this count. As to the more common “top surgery” (the surgical removal of breast tissue), the study found records for 776 mastectomies within the same time frame.

This constitutes 0.8% on average of minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria within the same timeframe (although medical treatment of gender dysphoria is a years-long process, so these individuals were likely diagnosed much earlier).

One caveat of the Reuters data is that it is based on insurance data, so that surgical procedures paid for out of pocket (or performed abroad) are not counted here. Also, the data provided is not clear on whether the count of “top surgery” includes treatment of gynecomastia (the growth of breast tissue in boys and men which can induce gender dysphoria in otherwise cis-gender males).

In general, the data suggests that surgical intervention in minors is extremely rare, and transgender individuals tend to wait until adulthood until seeking gender-affirming surgery — probably to no small degree also due to the prohibitive cost out-of-pocket, even if insurance covers a portion.

We’d like to note here that ANY medical treatment on minors for gender dysphoria requires parental consent, which sadly may be a significant barrier for at-risk transgender youth. This, of course, goes counter to the far-right extremist non-sensical claim that SCHOOLS push medical treatment on children.

Schools are obviously not medical facilities capable of either diagnosing nor offering treatment to medical conditions. And even if youth with gender dysphoria are lucky to have the support of their parents, the medical process of finding a trans-inclusive medical facility and appropriate psychologist can be daunting.

It’s incredible to see how very few children actually have these medical interventions compared to how much we hear about it from both the right and the left. Since trans kids are basically the entire conversation these days, we certainly assumed these numbers were a lot higher.

The larger point is that the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up. This isn’t a real problem and we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children.

For some more perspective on these numbers, the number one cause of death in children aged 0-18 is now firearms, with 3,219 children shot to death in 2020 alone (and many more injured).

Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen contributing to the moral panic propaganda.

Just over a week before an election that will determine student debt, abortion rights (and whether pregnant women are full people), whether we can slow the burning fire of the planet, and whether the United States of America will continue to stay a democracy, the trans issue takes up astronomically too much space in the national political conversation.

It is not that the issue is unimportant, or that it doesn’t involve a lot of distress to people, but right-wing extremists don’t want to do a single thing about that. Instead, they are going to zero in on a rare medical intervention that medical experts have decided is in the best interest of a vanishingly small percentage of children, diagnosed with a particular kind of distress, to turn trans-hate into a politically motivated moral panic issue, while major issues such as access to healthcare for EVERYONE, income inequality, and climate change apply to virtually everyone and even have indirect effects on social issues.

To some degree, liberals have contributed to this outsized attention to moral panic issues because the disproportionate nature of the debate favors the right — foregrounding and maligning a social issue affecting a minority community over the very same widespread material fairness issues that affect us all — bodily autonomy, the right to self-determination, and equitable access to medical treatment, after all, are not *just* trans issues.

Yet, here we are playing whack a mole with the litter box canard. To give the benefit of doubt, the majority of the general public wants kids to grow up unharmed and comfortable with their bodies and identity, feeling safe in their own skin.

However, extremists like to exploit that concept and turn it into something menacing instead of a healthy and normal human feeling of wanting kids to grow up confident in their bodies and their communities.

Since both political parties primarily serve the wealthy (and politicians usually are wealthy themselves now), it is necessary to find a “safe” social issue to fight over in order to differentiate themselves and to keep larger economic issues out of the discussion. 

Whatever minority group of people they choose to make their battleground, people who were almost certainly always having a rough time of it to start with suffer more when this happens. But while both parties benefit from keeping us distracted from the big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change, the GOP definitely chose this debate — it allows them to attack schools and teachers at the same time as causing panic around children. Win win for them, while trans kids — and all our kids — suffer as the collateral damage.

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The preceding commentary and news analysis was written and published by the Seeing Red Nebraska Editorial Board and is republished with permission.

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Commentary

Grindr betrays loyal users with another controversial leader

I personally stand with those who #DeleteGrindr, and I call for the parent company of Grindr, San Vincente Acquisition, to right their wrong

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Grindr's new CEO, George Arison (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

By Nguyen Pham| SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not difficult to see the impact of Grindr on the LGBTQ+ community. As the community’s most popular social networking app, hosting about 11 million monthly active users around the globe last year, Grindr is used across the United States to connect mostly gay men.

Its popularity is also seen in pop culture – from references in the movie “Bros” to mentions in the Netflix show “Uncoupled.” Grindr is set to go public – which is why now marks an important time to raise awareness of the controversy over the app’s new CEO.

A new leader with a dangerous past

George Arison was announced in September as the chief executive officer of the app. By appointing Arison – who is antithetical to the LGBTQ+ community – Grindr is openly betraying the millions of users who enabled the company to rise to such prominence in the first place.

Arison has come under fire for his extreme conservative political tweets – many of which leave members of the LGBTQ+ community wondering where he truly stands and where he draws the line. Arison – a self-described conservative – endorsed Michael Bloomberg in a series of tweets. Bloomberg has come under scrutiny for transphobic remarks.

At the same time, Arison has said he agrees with “some Trump policies.” But that statement opens the door to lots of questions about his stance on many policies of the former president – including those that eliminate hard-fought LGBTQ+ rights and have emboldened racism.

This is especially important given the state of our country. We have seen record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide. In fact, 2022 is set to break records, with hundreds of bills introduced across the United States.

A record of questionable leaders

Arison is far from the first controversial leader at Grindr. Former CEO Scott Chen caused internal strife and public outcry when he published a Facebook post that appeared to suggest he thinks marriage should only be the union between a man and a woman.

Arison also makes no secret of the fact that he has very little personal experience with the Grindr app. In fact, he has said that one doesn’t need to use the platform to understand its impact on the LGBTQ+ community. As the new President of SF Pride – and having worked with thousands of members of our community over the years – I find it hard to believe most people would agree with that sentiment.

A difficult decision for users caught in the middle

“Gay Twitter,” as it has come to be known endearingly by members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, has echoed many sentiments that resonate with my colleagues and me at SF Pride. In response to Arison’s appointment to CEO of Grindr and his now-infamous tweet about agreeing with some Trump policies, a user wrote, “Wonder which policies those are? The racist ones? The sexist ones? The anti-LGBT ones? Or the ones that make him richer (while keeping others poorer).”

Here’s the tough part for Grindr users who might feel stuck in the middle of this controversy, or for those who have had positive experience through the app and see it as an effective way to connect with others. The question becomes: should I continue to use the popular app or delete it? 

I personally stand with those who #DeleteGrindr, and I call for the parent company of Grindr – San Vincente Acquisition – to right their wrong with Arison.

But that’s a tough call for many Grindr users – who rely on the popular platform to build and maintain connections. While they might not agree with the hiring decision and Arison’s viewpoints, it’s hard to deny the social benefits the app provides to users.

That’s why I suggest Grindr users who want to stay on the app consider other ways to voice their concerns and put pressure on the platform’s investors. It’s only by doing so that we can curtail Arison’s influence. In addition, let this serve as an important reminder that members of the LGBTQ+ community should consider the background and political and/or social viewpoints of leaders who head the companies they patronize.

Against our turbulent national and global backdrop, LGBTQ+ solidarity and protection at this moment are increasingly urgent and important. Whether or not you choose to #DeleteGrindr, this controversy is an opportunity to evaluate how we all choose to support and protect everyone in our community.

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As the newly elected president of SF Pride, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded to produce the SF Pride Celebration and Parade, Nguyen Pham works to uplift, center, and protect marginalized queer lives. Prior to his election as President, he served as Vice President of the organization for one year and as Board Secretary for five.

Nguyen is also Director of Philanthropy at Frameline, a San Francisco-based heritage organization aimed at changing the world through the power of LGBTQ+ cinema. Additionally, he performs with CHEER San Francisco, the Official Cheer Team of SF, and an all-volunteer nonprofit performance group that raises charitable funds globally for community members facing life-challenging conditions. He is also the first openly-LGBTQ+ member of the Mensa Foundation Board of Trustees. Nguyen also produces and emcees national events to raise charitable funds for numerous nonprofits.

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