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Why Electing Christy Smith to Congress is Critical

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Christy Smith and friend Mark Gonzalez, Out Chair of the California Democratic Party (Photo via Smith Facebook)

Editor’s note: The following piece is private political commentary endorsing a candidate for office and is not an official endorsement by the Los Angeles Blade or its staff.

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – So here we are — what feels like inches and seconds away from the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection when violent Confederate battle flag waving cult followers of Donald Trump breached the halls of Congress in an invasion not seen since the War of 1812.

With insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt’s spilled blood just outside the glass doors, with echoes of “hang Mike Pence” and serious death threats against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff and “the Squad” hanging like a pall in the still-frenzied Capitol air, Vice President Mike Pence and shaken members of Congress bravely returned to the House chamber to complete the heretofore peaceful Constitutional transfer of power certifying that Joe Biden was the new President of the United States, despite a basket of deplorable Republicans continuing to spout Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election had been “stolen.”

Rep. Mike Garcia, (R-CA25) (R) with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, (R-GA) (Screenshot via C-SPAN January 6, 2021)

The year before, in 2019, Iowa Rep. Steve King was removed from his congressional committee assignments after asking the New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Today, instead of being snubbed, similarly rebuked QAnon diva Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green is being courted, including by Rep. Mike Garcia of California’s 25th Congressional District.

On Jan. 5, the day before the insurrection — when Garcia voted to overturn the election results — Garcia consorted with “Stop the Steal” supporters outside the Capitol. The day before that, he tweeted “It’s time to fight like it’s 1776,” QAnon code for overthrowing the government to provoke the Second Coming of the American Revolution.

Rep. Mike Garcia, (R-CA25)
Screenshot of Television coverage of January 6, 2021 Capitol Insurrection

Christy Smith, a former California Assemblymember, Newhall School District board member, and policy analyst in the Clinton administration’s Department of Education, narrowly lost to GOP-PAC supported Garcia in 2020 in the purple-trending district. Smith feels a profound, critical civic responsibility to challenge the Trump fanboy again in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections.

“The stakes have never been higher in my 52 years of life as an American,” Smith told me by phone the other day. “We are on the precipice of the most massive rollback of voting rights since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed in a bipartisan way. We are about to potentially see the Supreme Court strike down the reproductive protections in Roe v. Wade.

We will see then, shortly thereafter, hard-earned rights and protections for lots of communities fall by the wayside, including the LGBTQ-plus community. There has never been a time to fight harder or more vehemently for the liberal democratic institutions that we all believe in and that we know our framers intended for us to evolve with. And decidedly, the extremist right wing movement wants to stand in the way of that progress, and we simply can’t allow it.”

Christy Smith Election night 2020 (Photo via Smith)

Garcia is “up there with the worst of the worst of them,” she says, opposing every single measure aimed at social justice reform and judicial system reform…all in the name of a conservative movement that really has no agenda.”

I first became aware of Christy when she ran for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. But what really struck me about the Santa Clarita dynamo was learning how on Nov. 14, 2019 she immediately went to Saugus High School after she heard about the shooting there. (See Christy’s interview with KNBC’s Conan Nolan.) Usually, politicians do not rush toward danger like frontline heroes and journalists — they wait until it’s safe. Christy believes the framers of the Constitution would be appalled by today’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.

“As a school board member for nearly a decade, seeing five-year-olds practice active shooter drills is horrible. You’re teaching them what to do you in the event that someone comes to school specifically to hurt them! We have to stop,” Christy says. “So yes — darn straight I ran toward it when, very sadly, it happened in my community. I knew that the school administrators might need some assistance from the state, so I immediately went there to see what I could do. Right after that, I went straight to the park where I knew some of the kids had been dismissed, whose parents had not come yet. You’re talking about a community where there’s a lot of commuters. Parents were going to have to come back jobs in the Valley or in LA, and there were going to be kids there, sad and alone and scared and not knowing what came next. So, as a parent in the community where we all care about all of our kids, I needed to be there for them and will continue to be.”

Running for Congress against a Jan. 6 supporter who still flashes his old “fighter pilot” credentials to seduce fans of toxic masculinity, Christy — a self-described “policy nerd” — is eager to bring her, compassion, brains and experience to the House floor.

First on her agenda: “securing and shoring up our fundamental right in this country, which is our right to vote,” she says, “to make voting accessible and easy for people. It is of utmost importance because the roadmap that these conservatives have been on has been about manipulating and finding ways to win races where they didn’t actually win.”

Christy’s second top priority “is make sure that we continue to work for the American people who continue to struggle through a really rough economy going now into year three of this pandemic. So, we’ve had some economic recovery, thank goodness, based on the Biden agenda and what the Democrats have been to get to his desk. But we need to do more, we need to continue to make sure that people are keeping a roof over their head, keeping food on their table and have access to the basic medical care that’ll keep them safe during this crisis.”

And there’s the need “to protect other rights that the extremists are going after — whether that’s reproductive freedoms or LGBTQ rights, as well as looking at the crisis that has occurred in our public schools because of the pandemic.”  

Christy’s fighting for a fair future with “meaningful representation of the beautiful breadth and depth of diversity of this country and allow children to feel good about their future.”

Christy Smith between daughter Chandler and Zach Theberge with Andrew Taban on the right at LA Pride
(Photo via Smith)

Indeed, being an LGBTQ ally is an integral part of Christy’s family values. Her 22-year-old daughter Chandler’s best friend since kindergarten is an out gay man named Zach Theberge.

“He is just a wonderful young man and an aspiring costumer in the Hollywood industry who just recently finished fashion school,” Christy says. “The first and only time she got sent to the school office was defending him when he was being bullied for having come out during grade school. They attended senior prom together. He knew she was without a date and he is typically one who is very free with what he chooses to wear and he expresses himself beautifully.

But that night he showed up in his James-Bond-looking tux with white jacket and brought her a corsage and really rescued her from what was going to be a hard moment of going to senior prom on her own. So, he’s an incredible young man and we are all the better for having him be part of our life.”

Additionally, her youngest staff member Andrew Taban, whom she has mentored, is LGBTQ.  “He’s a gift to the cause, to our community and my life is made better by the fact that that he’s part of it. To me, the notion that these two young people who I consider family could see their life possibilities limited by an extreme movement that cares nothing for the hard-fought liberties — that those of you who have been in this fight for a long time have earned for them — it’s devastating to me. It’s something I’m simply not willing to accept,” she says.

Gio Pope working to elect Christy Smith
(Photo via Smith)

The “very motivated” out Gio Pope, 19, is currently her assistant political director and youth coordinator. “He is a young man with a bright future ahead of him,” Christy says. “I want young people to inherit a country that they can manage well, that they feel proud of, and that those of us who feel strongly about leaving them something good, we feel like we did our part.”

Christy is seriously concerned about the malaise afflicting Democrats. “Now is not time for people to sit home,” she says. “It is no easy task that is in front of us, and that’s why it is so imperative for every American who believes in a better future for us to participate. We have to really think about what we’re up against. And we all have to come together. We have to have each other’s back — and we have to show up.”

Christy Smith on Thanksgiving (Photo via Smith) 

I’m concerned about that malaise, as well, which is why I hope my endorsement of Christy Smith for Congress will help draw attention to this remarkable woman who stands up for us and does not cower before dangerous third-string Trump loons like Mike Garcia. 

Please join me in helping elect Christy Smith to Congress.

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Karen Ocamb is an award winning veteran journalist, who has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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California Politics

Governor Newsom & Legislative Leaders to expedite gun reform legislation

“California will not stand by as kids across the country are gunned down- Guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in America”

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Governor Newsom and legislative leaders discuss actions to curb gun violence (Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – Following a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas that left at least 19 children and two adults dead Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) announced California will expedite commonsense gun safety laws that will protect people from gun violence. 

“California will not stand by as kids across the country are gunned down,” Governor Newsom said. “Guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in America. While the U.S. Senate stands idly by and activist federal judges strike down commonsense gun laws across our nation, California will act with the urgency this crisis demands. The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact. We will not let one more day go by without taking action to save lives.”

“We have gotten to a point where we can’t live our lives without the very real fear that every time we say goodbye to our children, spouses, and friends, it could be the last,” said Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego).

“These dreadful, devastating tragedies have to stop. Every politician, judge, or Supreme Court Justice who has opted to put more guns on our streets needs to resign today and hang their heads in deep shame. We have to do everything in our power to get guns out of our classrooms and grocery stores and away from people who should never have them. That includes our work this week to move expeditiously on more than a dozen bills that make our communities safer, and I’ll be continuing to work alongside Speaker Rendon and Governor Newsom to ensure that these bills move swiftly through the legislative process so that they can start to make positive change in our communities.”

“In the face of repeated tragedies in our state and elsewhere, California remains committed to doing everything we can to stem the violence,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. “As a society, we must do better.”

“There have been more mass shootings in the U.S. in 2022 than days in the year,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

“In California, we refuse to accept the current norm. We will continue to call on our federal leaders and neighboring states to do more, because our nation’s current standard for preventing gun violence is unacceptable. Our children should not suffer this burden. Active shooter drills, metal detectors, and schools that look like prisons are not the answer — we need commonsense gun safety laws. We are sick and tired of seeing young and promising lives cut short due to gun violence. We at the California Department of Justice and leaders throughout California know that addressing gun violence is critical to public safety. As your Attorney General, I vow to do much more than send thoughts and prayers — I will use the full force of the law and my office to end gun violence.”

An initial package of bills the Governor has committed to signing include: 

  • AB 2571 (Bauer-Kahan) – Restricts advertising of firearms to minors
  • AB 1621 (Gipson) – Restricts ghost guns and the parts and kits used to build them 
  • SB 1327 (Hertzberg) – Creates private right of action to limit spread of illegal assault weapons and ghost guns
  • AB 1594 (Ting) – Allows governments and victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers and sellers of firearms

Governor Newsom and legislative leaders said they will continue working together to expedite additional bills pending before the legislature aimed at curbing gun violence and increasing safety in California communities.

“I heard the news about Uvalde, just as I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school. I can see how this can happen at any school, anywhere in the country,” said Assembly Member Miguel Santiago who represents a portion of downtown Los Angeles.

“This comes on top of shootings in Buffalo, Laguna Hills, and at Grand Central Market one block from my District Office. We need stricter gun laws and we need them right now! That’s why I’m proud to join Governor Newsom and legislative leaders in the call for gun safety laws. I am also co-authoring AB 1594 (Asm. Ting) which helps gun violence survivors pursue legal action against gun manufacturers and AB 1621 (Asm. Gipson) which will help us get ghost guns off our streets for good,” Santiago added.

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California Politics

Trans Inclusive Health Care Act passes California State Senate

This first-in-the-nation legislation will help create a more inclusive and culturally competent healthcare system for TGI people

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Sen. Scott Wiener (Far right) & members of the California Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus (Photo credit/Wiener)

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 923, the TGI Inclusive Care Act passed the Senate by a vote of 28-6. It now heads to the Assembly for policy committee hearings.

This first-in-the-nation legislation will help create a more inclusive and culturally competent healthcare system for TGI (transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex) people in California by requiring:

●     That physician Continuing Medical Education (CME) include evidence-based cultural competent studies to help physicians provide inclusive care for TGI people

●     That the Health and Human Services Agency issue enforceable quality standards for treating TGI patients

●     That health insurance companies provide TGI cultural competency training for their employees

●      That health insurance companies, in their network directories, include a list of providers who offer gender-affirming services, so that TGI people know where to go for specialized care

●     That the relevant oversight agencies track and monitor complaints relating to TGI-inclusive care and publicly post findings in their annual reports or website

SB 923 comes at a time when LGBTQ people — and particularly transgender children — are under attack across the country by right-wing state leaders. Many of those attacks seek to criminalize gender-affirming care.

In February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order making it illegal for parents to allow their trans kids to receive gender-affirming care. These parents could have their children taken away and be sent to prison simply for allowing their children to be who they are and receive this necessary care.

Abbott called gender-affirming care “child abuse.”

Alabama just enacted a law imposing ten-year state prison sentences on parents and physicians who allow or provide gender-affirming care to their children.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, banning discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation from public school classrooms.

“As more and more red states ban gender-affirming care and try to erase LGBTQ people, California must step up to ensure strong access to health care,” said Wiener. “That includes ensuring that trans people are treated with respect and dignity by health care providers. While many health care professionals provide excellent care to trans people, more work remains. Improved training, clear standards, and improved network directories will result in better care for TGI people.”

While LGBTQ kids are under attack in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and other states, SB 923 shows a different path forward — one in which quality gender-affirming care is provided for anyone who needs it, with providers going above and beyond to treat TGI patients with the respect and care they deserve.

Healthcare discrimination and a lack of access to culturally competent care is a major problem that many TGI people regularly face. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that one-third of all transgender individuals who saw a healthcare professional in 2014 had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, with even higher rates for people of color and people with disabilities. These negative experiences include being refused treatment, verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or having to teach the provider about transgender people in order to receive appropriate care.[1]

This is especially problematic given that TGI people, compared with the general population, suffer from more chronic health conditions. TGI people experience higher rates of health problems related to HIV/AIDS, substance use, mental illness, and sexual and physical violence, as well as a higher prevalence and earlier onset of disabilities that can also lead to longterm health issues. Sadly, 23% of transgender individuals reported that fear of discrimination caused them to postpone or not receive necessary medical care.[2]

Moreover, while all health plans are required to cover gender-affirming care, it can be difficult for TGI patients to actually find providers who routinely offer this care. This is a major impediment to TGI people accessing the care they need.

Every person deserves to receive quality, compassionate health care from understanding, informed, and respectful providers – providers who don’t make assumptions about their gender or sexuality, and who honor their bodily autonomy. TGI people already face so many obstacles outside of the healthcare system, including higher rates of violence, workplace discrimination, ostracization from families and religious communities, and housing discrimination. Going to the doctor should not mean facing additional discrimination or unecessary hardship.

TGI people should have access to positive healthcare experiences. This includes seeing providers who are able to give them the care they need in a non-judgmental and supportive environment, and being able to search for providers who provide gender-affirming services (gender-affirming services include but are not limited to: chest reconstruction, mastectomy, facial feminization surgery, hysterectomy, voice masculinization or feminization, hormone therapy related to gender dysphoria or intersex conditions, gender-affirming gynecological care, or voice therapy related to gender dysphoria or intersex conditions). Gender-affirming care is critically important health care, and anyone who needs it should be able to find and access it.

The TGI-Inclusive Care Act will help create a healthcare system that meets the needs of TGI people, and provide a more positive patient experience.

SB 923 is sponsored by the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network,  Equality California, National Health Law Program Trans Community Project, TransFamily Support Services, and Western Center on Law & Poverty. It is co-authored by Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Evan Low (D-San Jose), Alex Lee (D-Fremont), and Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).

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California Politics

Senator Wiener’s No Tax Exemption for Insurrection Act, passes Senate

Senate Bill SB 834 strips state tax-exempt status from organizations that engage in or incite insurrection

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Screenshot/California Legislative TV

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 834, the No Tax Exemption for Insurrection Act, passed the Senate by a vote of 28-0 Monday. It will now head to the Assembly for policy committee hearings. 

SB 834 is a first-in-the-nation bill that will revoke the California tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations that participate in or incite efforts to overthrow the United States government or any state government. Nonprofit organizations have used the “Big Lie” – the fraudulent notion that the 2020 election was stolen – to fundraise for and funnel money to extremist and anti-democratic initiatives like the January 6 insurrection.

Tax-exempt status is a privilege, not a right, and organizations that engage in or incite insurrection or conspiracy to commit insurrection – both of which are illegal – should not be given this special status to help them fundraise. Moreover, non-California nonprofits should not be able to register to raise money in California if they are engaging in or inciting insurrection. 

“On January 6, 2021, the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy was threatened,” said Wiener. “And for the first time since the Civil War, people died as a result. We cannot and will not let organizations that aid and abet insurrection – that break the law by trying to overthrow the U.S. government – operate with tax-exempt status. The people of California should not be subsidizing insurrection.” 

The January 6, 2021 insurrection took place, when pro-Trump extremists – in response to the false narrative that the Democrats “stole” the 2020 election and incited by then-President Donald Trump – breached the United States Capitol. Five people were killed as a result of this insurrection, and hundreds were injured.

Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi were specific targets of this violent attack on the nation’s democracy. Many nonprofits that supported the insurrection and continue to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election in hopes of overturning the results still operate with tax-exempt status, both at the federal and state level. 

SB 834 clarifies the Franchise Tax Board’s authority to revoke the California tax-exempt status of a nonprofit organization if the California Attorney General determines that the nonprofit has actively engaged in, or incited: treason, misprision of treason, insurrection, seditious conspiracy, advocating overthrow of the government or the government of any State, or advocating mutiny by members of the military or naval forces of the United States (1.)

Under SB 834, if the Attorney General finds that a nonprofit organization has incited, or actively engaged in actions that are directed to or likely to imminently violate one or more of these crimes, they will notify the FTB, which then will have the ability to revoke the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. 

For out-of-state nonprofits that engage in or incite insurrection, they will be prohibited from registering to raise money in California. 

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the purpose of charitable organizations claiming tax-exempt status “may not be illegal or contrary to public policy.” Trying to overturn elections and violently attacking our legislators fits the bill. SB 834 will ensure that these organizations no longer claim this financial advantage. 

Tax-exempt nonprofits are not required to pay corporate income taxes and may be exempt from other taxes as well. Additionally, donations to many nonprofits are deductible from income taxes, and private foundations and donor-advised funds can only donate to tax-exempt nonprofits. Private foundations and donor-advised funds represent a major funding source for many nonprofits. 

Authoritarian and anti-democratic organizations have increasingly used the “Big Lie” to fundraise, and this narrative has driven millions of dollars in tax-exempt donations. And many new organizations have cropped up in the past year, hoping to ride the coattails of the insurrection and cash in.

These include California nonprofits and nonprofits registered in other states that fundraise in California. These organizations, which are fundamentally undermining our democracy and cheering for the destruction of free and fair elections in America, should not be allowed to operate with advantages like tax-exempt status. 

For example, the leader of the “Oath Keepers,” a national militia movement, was charged with seditious conspiracy. While the Oath Keepers does not have California tax-exempt status, it has an “educational foundation” with federal exempt status and tax-exempt branches in several states. In the words of one expert, “It can only be presumed that [funds contributed to the Oath Keepers], which [donors were] able to deduct from their federal taxes, went to transporting and lodging members of the group slated to participate in the ensuing riots.” (2.) These organizations should not be allowed, under any circumstances, to use tax write-offs to help fund illegal activities. 

There is precedent for making this distinction in California’s tax code. Under federal and California law, for instance, if a nonprofit organization supports terrorism, its tax-exempt status is suspended. The nonprofit organizations that support insurrection should receive the same treatment. 

Citations:

1. USC §§ 2381-2385, 2387

2. “Dollars against Democracy: Domestic Terrorist Financing in the Aftermath of Insurrection,” Virtual Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy of the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives, Feb 25, 2021. 

Senators Josh Becker (D-Peninsula), Dave Min (D-Irvine), Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), Tom Umberg (D-Orange County), and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) are co-authors of this bill. Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) are also co-authors of SB 836. Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) is principal co-author.

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