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Ending abortion rights is the first step to theocracy

“Unless people of good conscience rise up against creeping theocracy, we will see more deaths like my neighbor”

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Los Angeles Blade photo montage

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Religious extremists are rejoicing at the prospect that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade, which grants a woman the right to have a medically safe abortion rather than be forced by the government to bear an unwell or unwanted child.

I can’t help but wonder: if Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before becoming Jesus’ wife, is it possible she became accidentally pregnant at some point during her working life? If so, what did she do about it? And with all the begetting going on in the Bible, surely the women officially subjugated to men had more pregnancies than their offspring. 

Just because abortion is not mentioned in the Bible – or in the US Constitution – doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen when women are trapped by an accidental or unwanted pregnancy. That’s what happened to me. 

As an Aquarian teenager exploring the colorful counter-cultural explosion of joy, love, rebellious bluster and moral and political consciousness during the 1960s and an untethered young professional in the 1970s, I embraced the amorphous sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll “lifestyle” that was groovy at the time. I got drunk and high and slept with lots of people, often just to not be so alone.  Getting pregnant never even occurred to me – until it happened.

It was 1975. I was 25 years old and a desk assistant on the assignment desk at CBS News in New York. I liked my job a lot but I wasn’t sure if I wanted journalism as a fulltime career. I was also blossoming into a full-blown alcoholic, about which I was in denial, as I was about my sexual orientation. 

One weekend I went home to Westport, Connecticut where my mother was a real estate broker. I went out with the one-time boyfriend of my high school best friend. We got drunk and high and decided to fool around, as expected. But we were too old to go make out at Compo Beach, so I suggested we go to Colonial Cemetery, which had great old graves from the Revolutionary War era that I used to check out as a kid. 

As Tom was getting the blankets, I wandered around and found a married couple buried side-by-side. Given my hippy spirit, I invited them to inhabit our bodies for the moment, if they wanted to join together again.

Imagine my surprise when a month later I discovered I was pregnant. I freaked out. Scenes from “Rosemary’s Baby” danced in my brain. And I’d dropped so much LSD – how would this baby be born “normal?” I had little money, no loving family ties, and no great experience taking care of myself, let alone a baby. And I didn’t know if I could hold it together if I stopped working. 

So, I decided to get an abortion. I had to spiritually tell the Revolutionary War couple first, of course, explaining the expected brain damage from all the drugs and alcohol. My best friend from work tried to talk me out of it. She was Black and had recently migrated to NYC from Atlanta where she had a miscarriage and the white doctors decided to “scrape” her without her permission. She said she’d take the baby but her boyfriend and their friends didn’t think that was such a good idea. 

Tia accompanied me to the clinic. We sat in a huge waiting room with lots of somber women ranging in ages and races, some with friends, mothers, boyfriends or husbands and some alone. The air was thick with contrasting emotions reflecting the difficulty and relief of making the decision. 

But thanks to Roe v Wade decided in 1973, we could choose to have a medically safe procedure. A pinch by a compassionate doctor with a sweet nurse holding my hand and it was done. Tia, her boyfriend and her friends later took care of me without judgment at their Brooklyn apartment. I kept thinking of my poor Hells Kitchen neighbor who bled to death on her kitchen table from a botched abortion two years earlier, just before Roe.

Photo by Karen Ocamb

I’m telling my story because straight women are not the only ones who get accidentally pregnant. But the right to have an abortion is bigger than any individual. Helene Schpak, trans AIDS Diva Connie Norman and other ACT UP/LA members like Peter Cushman participated in clinic defense against the religious right loons trying to block access to abortion clinics because, as AIDS activists, they also believed that government should not have the right to control what individuals do with their own bodies. 

And yet here we are again, facing the end to abortion and the probable roll back of contraception, LGBTQ rights, and the right to sexual privacy. Unless people of good conscience rise up against creeping theocracy, we will see more deaths like my neighbor and fewer opportunities for mistake-prone people like me to pursue life, liberty and yes, even happiness in an America that can genuinely promise full equality.

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Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and former editor of the Los Angeles Blade has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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WeHo ignores data on LASD in latest budget proposal

LASD misled city council on its contract & on crime rates, on June 27, the city will discuss rewarding them with a $1 million budget increase

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Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies back down protesters at LA Pride (Sean Carmitchel).

By Nika Soon-Shiong | WEST HOLLYWOOD – West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission passed a motion to reallocate $3.2 million from the annual sheriff’s contract to much needed social services.

In exchange for recovering two out of 249 stolen phones, the council will discuss a $1,030,000 contract increase to support training for undercover sting operations. Zero cell phones were recovered from dimly lit, noisy nightclubs in the sting operations so far. The $22.15 million LASD contract will soak up one fifth of the city’s budget.  

One out of every five calls to the WeHo sheriff’s department is to address homelessness. An unprecedented campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more.

As one resident shared in the outpour of public comments to the June 6 City Council meeting, “We need less money for cops, and more money for things like mental health, social services, and unarmed security.”The commenter said they’d witnessed armed LASD officers sitting around in their cruiser, not attending to a deceased elderly neighbor’s body and instead waiting for the coroner’s office to handle the situation.

The commenter also said they personally experienced being met with armed LASD officers just to report that their identity had been stolen. “I had to ask two [officers] to come to my unit and stare at my modem,” the commenter said. “All of this is such a waste! There is no reason to send highly paid and trained soldiers to do the type of work that a low-level bureaucrat could do.”

Let’s put the sheriff and social services budgets into perspective with two examples: the cost for an 18 month-guaranteed income pilot for LGBTQ+ residents versus three days of law enforcement at the city’s Pride events. 

WeHo announced a guaranteed income pilot delivering $1,000 per month to elderly LGBTQ+ residents. After a legal debate over the program’s discrimination against straight people, applications will re-open late June. Over a year after the pilot was announced, only 25 people will be selected. 

There was little debate around spending even more than the total guaranteed income payments for the LASD to patrol Pride. As one ACLU SoCal lawyer shared to City Council:

“Pride was, and still is, a protest. Instead, WeHo made Pride into a parade for the sheriff… The department is openly bamboozling you, the city, and other contract cities. We can all see it.”

Other commenters matched this sentiment, reflecting that voters are ready for change:

“Rainbow-wrapped cars do nothing for the community,” said one commenter. “WeHo filled Pride with deputy gangs,” said another.”

LA City controller candidate Kenneth Mejia’s historic lead in the recent primary demonstrates the demand for common-sense budgets backed by clearly communicated and transparent data. So far, Mejia has won almost double the votes of an established, career politician of 35 years, and has nearly the same vote tallies as the leading mayoral candidates, using a platform of financial education.

Sheriff & Protective Services Budgeted for: $22,155,636. Social Services budgeted for $6,5557,492
From 2022-23 West Hollywood Budget Breakdown.

It’s been a year since the city asked the WeHo sheriff to audit the department’s own performance. This summer, the city will spend $500,000 for an external auditing firm to audit the sheriff’s audit. The plan to “audit the audit” starkly reveals the level of trust this department has earned. 

It’s true that WeHo residents are not feeling safe. A community study showed that, in 2013, only 43% of residents felt very safe. A robust sheriff presence was the primary solution offered. Five years later, in 2018, even fewer felt very safe: only 26%.

It’s also true that there is no correlation between the rising costs of the sheriff contract and crime reduction. Who gave us this data? The sheriff’s department itself.  

Let’s remember that reducing the LASD contract does not even imply there will be fewer officers in WeHo. According to the LA County CEO, the LASD hired or promoted 1,900 new employees during the “hiring freeze” and is not prevented from assigning deputies to contract cities.

A group of Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies stand in a crosswalk in West Hollywood. One of them is holding a bottle of water.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputies at LA Pride in West Hollywood (Sean Carmitchel).

In Denver, a Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program sent mental health clinicians, paramedics, or emergency medical technicians to respond to low-risk calls coming into the 911 system. Most of the 15.6 million calls to the STAR team did not involve a safety concern or weapon.

The program reduced crime by 34%. We can let an alternative emergency response team take similar calls in WeHo, where each single LASD deputy could pay for three social service or mental health workers. For the cost of one officer, we could buy new iPhone 13s for each resident who was pickpocketed, and still have 109 phones left over at City Hall.

The $3.2 million LASD contract reduction could quadruple the number of unarmed Block by Block Security Ambassadors to 110 people. There could be a Block by Block Security Ambassador on every corner of the two square mile city.

Investing taxpayer dollars into the gigantic LASD bureaucracy has never been an effective solution to address homelessness or crime. Direct cash programs reduce crime. Alternative emergency response teams reduce crime. 

Perhaps this doesn’t matter when perception trumps reality. We have a chance to change both and set an example for other contract cities by investing in more effective –– and fiscally responsible –– solutions to public safety. 

There’s an ongoing petition for the city to reallocate $3.2 million from LASD to social services. 

The public has from June 23rd onwards to submit written public comments before the city’s budget is finalized at the June 27th City Council meeting.

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Nika Soon-Shiong is the Public Safety Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood.

Additionally she is the Founder @fund4gi, Director @ComptonPledge, Board Chair @onefairwage and a PhD Candidate @UniofOxford

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The preceding article was previously published by Knock LA and is republished by permission.

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To Biden: No Pride in detention of Transgender, queer communities

Jennicet Gutiérrez declines to attend White House Pride event

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LGBTQ+ immigrant rights activists participate in the Queens Pride parade in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on June 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Vicente)

Editor’s note: This is the letter that Jennicet Gutiérrez sent to the White House in response to the invitation she received to attend its Pride Month celebration.

June 13, 2022

Dear President Biden and Dr. Biden,

I received your invitation to the White House Pride Celebration on June 15, 2022, and with a clear conscience I am letting you know that I will not be attending this event. There should be no White House celebration when Trans and queer communities are suffering and being detained by your administration. There is no pride in detention. 

At the start of your administration you pledged to protect LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but it’s a commitment that you have failed to uphold at home. 

Almost a year ago, while you were holding a Pride reception, Trans and queer immigrant leaders from across the nation marched to the White House, demanding the release of trans people, people living with HIV, and any medical condition, from detention centers across the country. We are still seeking justice for Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández, and Johana Medina, trans women who died because of the negligence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Our members across the country are marching and protesting this Pride Month with the same demand of ending the violence and killings of Trans people. There have been over two million deportations since you took office, setting you up to be the next deporter-in-chief. Your administration has used Title 42 as an excuse to deport immigrants seeking a better future, most of them Black and brown people and including Trans and queer immigrants, even as your administration is relaxing requirements for people traveling to the United States. More than 32 states have drafted bills that would criminalize trans youth and their families for providing life affirming healthcare. Transgender people and children are under attack by the same white supremacist forces that are plaguing our nation and we haven’t seen your administration’s response be enough in the face of these attacks.

The reality is that as this celebration is taking place, Trans people currently in ICE custody will be in unsafe conditions. You could easily stop their suffering by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to implement a policy of liberating Trans people, people living with HIV and other medical conditions, as well as other vulnerable people.

Ending Trans detention and using your executive powers to protect LGBTQ people would have a greater impact on our community and would save many lives rather than hosting an event to deliver a well-crafted speech with broken promises.

Respectfully,

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

13 de julio del 2022

Estimados presidente Biden y Dr. Biden, 

Recibí su invitación a la Celebración del Orgullo de la Casa Blanca el 15 de junio de 2022 y con la conciencia clara les hago saber que no asistiré a este evento. No debería haber celebración de Orgullo en la Casa Blanca cuando las comunidades trans y queer están sufriendo y siendo detenidas por su misma administración. No hay orgullo en la detención. 

Al comienzo de su administración, se comprometió a proteger a las personas LGBTQ + en todo el mundo, pero es un compromiso que no ha podido mantener en casa. 

Hace casi un año, mientras celebraban una recepción de Orgullo, líderes inmigrantes trans y queer de todo el país marcharon a la Casa Blanca, exigiendo la liberación de las personas trans, las personas que viven con el VIH y cualquier condición médica, de los centros de detención de todo el país. Todavía estamos buscando justicia para Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernández y Johana Medina, mujeres trans que murieron debido a la negligencia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE).

Nuestros miembros en todo el país están marchando y protestando este mes del orgullo con la misma demanda de poner fin a la violencia y los asesinatos de personas trans. Ha habido más de dos millones de deportaciones desde que asumió el cargo, lo que lo prepara para ser el próximo jefe-de-deportaciones. Su administración ha utilizado el Título 42 como una excusa para deportar a los inmigrantes que buscan un futuro mejor, la mayoría de ellxs personas Negras y personas de color, e incluyendo a inmigrantes trans y queer, mientras su administración está relajando los requisitos para las personas que viajan a los Estados Unidos. Además, más de treinta y dos estados han redactado proyectos de ley que criminalizan a los jóvenes trans y sus familias por proporcionarles atención médica que afirma su género y salvan sus vidas. Las personas transgénero y los niños están siendo atacados por las mismas fuerzas supremacistas blancas que están plagando nuestra nación y no hemos visto que la respuesta de su administración es suficiente frente a estos ataques.

La realidad es que a medida que se lleva a cabo esta celebración, personas trans actualmente bajo custodia de ICE estarán en condiciones inseguras y peligrosas. Usted podría parar fácilmente su sufrimiento instruyendo al Departamento de Seguridad Nacional para que implemente una política de liberación de personas trans, personas que viven con VIH y otras condiciones médicas, así como otras personas vulnerables. 

Poner fin a la detención trans y usar sus poderes ejecutivos para proteger a las personas LGBTQ tendría un mayor impacto en nuestra comunidad y salvaría muchas vidas en lugar de organizar una celebración de Orgullo para pronunciar un discurso bien elaborado con promesas incumplidas.

Respetuosamente, 

Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez

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Think twice about attacking Trans individuals this election cycle

Elected officials targeting trans people are harming their constituents. Morality, civility, & well-being of children demands they stop

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Los Angeles Blade file photo

By Lisa Turner | WASHINGTON – On May 25, 2022 Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law which requires students at public schools to use restrooms and locker rooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

This is the second anti-transgender law passed in Oklahoma just this year, and is one of the latest examples of an avalanche of state-level legislation targeting the rights of LGBTQ and transgender Americans. More than 320 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country since 2021. 

The situation has turned dark in Ohio, where a bill was passed in the State House that would not only ban transgender girls and women from participating in high school or college athletics, but also includes a “verification” provision which would allow authorities to examine the genitals of student athletes suspected of being transgender. 

This comes on the heels of anti-transgender legislation becoming the law of the land in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah, among others. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem even went so far as to run a national television ad touting her “leadership” on the issue. 

These attacks on transgender rights have also taken the form of executive action. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has instructed state agencies to investigate the parents of transgender youth for child abuse. His directive also requires teachers, doctors, and nurses to report the parents of transgender kids or risk losing their professional licenses. While this executive order in Texas has been temporarily stayed by a Federal court, governors in other states have already indicated they plan to take similar actions. 

The average person who sees news about laws or policies about transgender participation in sports or youth healthcare may think they seem reasonable, but these bills and policies are not reasonable, and are dangerously extreme. 

Conservative elected officials are using the rights of transgender youth as a wedge issue to divide voters and rile up their base. It is not surprising that the most recent and vocal governors signing anti-transgender legislation have Presidential aspirations. So, will it work? 

LPAC Action Network recently took the unprecedent approach of studying the attitudes of registered voters, both nationwide and in swing Congressional districts, when it comes to transgender rights and legislation. This study, conducted in partnership with Lake Research Partners and consisting of focus groups and polling, shows that the public disagrees with this wedge. 

Among the key findings:

● A majority of voters are concerned about discrimination and bias towards transgender people. 

● A plurality of voters say they are more likely to support a candidate who stands up for transgender rights and inclusivity. 

● Voters strongly identify with pro-equality values like freedom, respect, trust, opportunity, and belonging. 

● After seeing messaging rooted in those values, even more voters, a majority of 56%, say they are more likely to support a candidate who stands up for transgender rights and inclusivity. Even a plurality of 38% of Republicans say they are more likely to support pro-transgender candidates. 

Beyond public opinion, these actions targeting transgender youth are morally bankrupt. On the whole, transgender girls do not have an advantage in athletics. Transgender girls have been legally allowed to compete in women’s sports in California for almost ten years, to almost no controversy. And transgender children who in consultation with their parents and medical professionals receive gender-affirming care are simply receiving healthcare, they are not being abused. It is true, however, that transgender youth are uniquely vulnerable. They are more than twice as likely as their peers to report being bullied, and more than four times more likely to have attempted suicide. Bills and policies like these only further isolate and distress transgender youth. 

If restrictions on transgender children’s ability to compete in sports or access healthcare is not addressing actual societal issues, we must ask ourselves, what purpose do they serve? Who thinks they benefit? The answer seems clear: conservative politicians. 

There is a lot of pain in our country right now, especially among those of us who value human rights and freedom, due to the choice conservative politicians have made to target transgender people. It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way. Our research shows advocates of equality can push back on this divisive, harmful, and dangerous strategy. And history, whether it be the example of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or marriage amendments, shows that in the long-term attacks on equality are ultimately counterproductive.

Elected officials who target transgender people are doing untold harm to their own constituents. Morality, civility, and the well-being of children demands they stop. But if that isn’t enough, hopefully political reality will make a difference.

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

Lisa Turner is the Executive Director of LPAC, the national committee supporting LGBTQ+ women candidates running for political office.

Turner served in the Obama Administration as a political appointee at USDA and HHS. She has worked on the national political scene for many years as a campaign consultant to numerous federal, state, and local candidates, campaign committees, and progressive donors.  Turner is a graduate of Old Dominion University and the UVA Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership. She currently serves as Chair of the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

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