(Photo courtesy County of Los Angeles)
J U L Y 23, 2021 • VO L UM E 05 • ISSUE 3 0 • AMERICA’ S LGBT Q NEW S SO U R C E • LO SAN G ELESB LAD E. C O M
LA masks up again as hyper-contagious Delta variant surges Unvaccinated residents at high risk of infection By BRODY LEVESQUE
The County of Los Angeles is now positioned on the front lines of the national battle to contain the hyper-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. As cases and numbers explode in the United States, the decision by the county’s health oﬃcials to order residents to mask-up even if fully vaccinated indoors may prove to be the national blueprint for combatting transmission of the disease. The Health Department’s new order takes eﬀect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday everywhere in Los Angeles County, except Pasadena. (Pasadena and Long Beach have their own health departments; Long Beach followed L.A. County with its own mask order, but Pasadena still only recommends everyone mask up.) Nearly two weeks after the Fourth of July holiday and one month after the June 15 reopening, transmission of COVID-19 in L.A. County has rapidly increased to very concerning levels. This is due to the presence of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conﬁrmed 1,827 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday afternoon; a four-fold increase from the 457 cases seen on July 4 and an eight-fold increase from the 210 cases seen on June 15. Saturday’s daily test positivity rate is 3.7%. On July 4, test positivity was near 1.5% and June 15, test positivity was near 0.5%. Not every oﬃcial, however is on board. On Friday, Los Angeles County Sheriﬀ Alex Villanueva, publicly announced, “Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.” The Sheriﬀ went on to add, “The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has authority to enforce the order, but the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriﬀ’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance. We encourage the DPH to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science.” The Sheriﬀ’s announcement prompted reaction from West Hollywood City Mayor Lindsey Horvath who tweeted, “Last I checked, he’s not a scientist, nor is he a medical or healthcare professional. Let’s leave those decisions to the experts while we all do our part to take care of each other & get through this thing together.” On Friday during the regularly scheduled White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Oﬃcials brieﬁng Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters; “CDC reported more than 33,000 new cases of COVID-19. [Thursday] Our seven-day average is about 26,300 cases per day, and this represents an increase of nearly 70 percent from the prior seven-day average, she said. “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk. And communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,”
Angelenos are once again masking up. (Photo courtesy County of Los Angeles)
she added. The CDC head also noted “the good news is that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe COVID, hospitalization, and death, and are even protected against the known variants — including the Delta variant — circulating in the country” But she cautioned, “If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk. And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.” The chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told the brieﬁng; “We are dealing with a formidable variant in the Delta variant, as reﬂected by the data that Dr. Walensky told you, and the extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and, ultimately, deaths. And so the message loud and clear that we need to reiterate is that these vaccines continue to strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant. And so — why it’s so important for yourself, your family, and your community to get vaccinated.” Biden administration oﬃcials in the eﬀort to get the remaining population vaccinated are also combating misinformation about the vaccines and COVID-19 spread even among those fully vaccinated in what the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Hallegere Murthy warned is “a serious threat to public health,” as the Biden administration grows increasingly concerned about misleading claims about coronavirus vaccines. The President addressed those concerns in a question posed as he was departing the White House Friday afternoon. When asked by NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Peter Alexander, “What’s your message to platforms like Facebook regarding COVID misinformation?” The president responded saying “They’re killing people.” “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” he added. A spokesperson for Facebook angrily deﬂected the President’s remarks in a media statement saying in part, “More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine ﬁnder tool to ﬁnd out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
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Delta variant leads to new mask mandate Indirectly taking aim at social media giant Facebook, the Surgeon General had told reporters Thursday, “Now, health misinformation didn’t start with COVID-19. What’s diﬀerent now though is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call “disinformation” — to have extraordinary reach,” he said. “They’ve designed product features, such as “Like” buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation,” Murthy added. In a series of phone calls, public health oﬃcials at local, state, and federal levels told the Blade that with the onslaught of the Delta variant, Americans need to be more vigilantespecially as Americans are traveling more and headed out to favored holiday or even local activities. An oﬃcial for the CDC, who is knowledgeable but not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged that there seemed to be a generalized perception that a person being fully vaccinated is immune which is worrisome as the oﬃcial reiterated Dr. Fauci’s public statement Friday that the bottom line continues to be very simple: “While fully vaccinated individuals have a high degree of protection against serious illness from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.” The oﬃcial went on to note that a fully vaccinated person can be infected asymptomatic and be a source of transmission especially the Delta variant. When asked about the health order in Los Angeles to order masks indoors even if fully vaccinated the CDC oﬃcial said that erring on the BRIAN PENDELTON side of caution in the face of (Photo courtesy of Brian Pendleton) the lightening spread of the Delta variant was not only prudent but would ultimately save lives. As LA County prepares to have Angelenos mask-up again, debate also peppers discussions on social media and elsewhere over the issue of breakthrough COVID-19 cases. The CDC deﬁnes breakthrough to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the ﬁnal dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Media reports on a series of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular Cape Cod holiday destination especially in the LGBTQ community, suggests that the CDC and health department’s information on degree of illness experienced being milder than would be the case if unvaccinated, is backed by the science and data. According to a spokesperson for the Barnstable County Department of Health, which
04 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
covers all of the Cape including Provincetown, there have been breakthrough documented cases among residents, especially on the Provincetown island. In a statement released earlier in the week health department oﬃcials noted; “Cases of COVID-19 were conﬁrmed in Provincetown, in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The positive cases were identiﬁed in individuals presenting with mild respiratory symptoms and were tested for COVID-19. Overwhelmingly, the aﬀected individuals have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The moderate intensity of symptoms indicates that the vaccines are working as predicted. Provincetown has among the highest vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, with 114% of the eligible population age 12 and older in Provincetown having been fully vaccinated. Health oﬃcials expect to continue to see a low level of positive cases through the summer in a community such as Provincetown with a seasonal population of approximately 60,000. As we enter a new phase of living with the virus, vaccination remains our strongest defense in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a specialist in infectious diseases, explained that while breakthrough cases are going to occur, all cases would be decreased if everyone just got the vaccine already. Perhaps most important, mini outbreaks like this one do nothing to dent the clear reality that the vaccines are safe and eﬀective. “These people somehow believe that COVID is going to magically disappear,” he told The Daily Beast. “We are going to be having COVID cases 10 years from now. And breakthrough cases will occur no matter what.” Los Angeles entrepreneurial executive Brian Pendleton, a private pilot, had ﬂown his plane to the Cape to spend the July 4 holiday weekend at Provincetown along with his partner. Halfway through his holiday there he experienced symptoms including headaches and congestion, he told the Blade this week. Upon returning to Los Angeles he was tested for COVID-19 and initially received a negative result. But he says after a PCR test he tested positive. Pendleton said that his partner also tested positive and later discovered that his partner’s 70-something parents had also tested positive. All of them have been vaccinated for the disease, Pendleton noting that he received his second dose of Moderna at LA’s mass vaccination site at Dodger stadium in April. Los Angeles County Health Oﬃcer Dr. Muntu Davis acknowledged that a percentage of vaccinated people will be aﬀected but that the numbers are miniscule in comparison to those who remain unvaccinated and are at much greater exposure to hospitalization and dying from the disease. Speaking about the new mask mandate, Davis said that it applies to everyone, including vaccinated people. That’s because he and other public health oﬃcials want to make masking a universal practice, to ensure everyone who needs to is doing it. “I don’t think in general that self-attestation is actually good and there may be some people who are unvaccinated and don’t want to make that known,” Davis said in announcing the revised rules Thursday. “That just puts others at risk.” Groups who are exempt from the rules remain unchanged from earlier in the pandemic: children under 2 and anyone who can’t safely wear a mask. The main push now Davis and other oﬃcials are urging, is to get as many Angelenos vaccinated as possible. As of this week, 61% of county residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 5 million people total. Oﬃcials want to achieve a vaccination rate of at least 80% to reach herd immunity, which means even unvaccinated people are protected from the virus’ uncontrolled spread. The date the county is expected to get to that number has been repeatedly pushed back, and now it’s not expected to come before fall. “We continue to see fewer folks than we’d like to see getting their ﬁrst dose of vaccine, week to week,” Davis said. “As there is currently substantial community transmission of COVID-19 here in L.A. County and in our nation, that urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high.”
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Violence erupts again at Koreatown spa, weapons found For the second time in less than a month violent protests over Transgender rights The spa’s Trans-inclusive policy was defended by activists from the far left which led to a erupted at the intersection near Wilshire Boulevard and South Rampart Boulevard outside clash that resulted in several assaults with far right groups including the white nationalist the Wi Spa located at 2700 Wilshire Blvd. group The Proud Boys, and adherents of the QAnon with T-shirts that mention the term Captain Alfonso Lopez from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division ‘Pedowood,’ a baseless theory about a secret cabal of Satanist child abusers in government, said that in today’s protests more than 30 people had been arrested and that numerous entertainment and the media.” weapons -including knives and mace- were found on the ground in the area where the Some fought with counter-protesters, and the event was declared an unlawful assembly arrests were made, a fact that was also tweeted out by by the LAPD. According to the LAPD ﬁve separate the LAPD’s public information oﬃce. criminal incidents from that ﬁrst clash are currently The area was cleared of protesters Lopez said after under investigation. numerous clashes with police, some that involved smoke There is increasing doubt among law enforcement bombs and projectiles which were lobbed at LAPD oﬃcers and staﬀ at the Wi Spa whether there was ever was a and between the opposing groups. Many people chose to transgender person there to begin with. Anonymous leave although several dozen refused and were arrested sources within the LAPD tell the Blade they have been for failure to disperse, he noted. unable to ﬁnd any corroborating evidence that there was The protests erupted earlier this month after a a transgender person present on that day. transphobic video was posted on Instagram regarding Prior to the protest, a Los Angeles trans woman was an incident at the spa which allows its patrons to use its falsely accused by anti-trans feminists of being the alleged facilities according to their gender identity. An Instagram transgender person in the video. She received multiple user Cubana Angel posted a video using transphobic death threats and harassment, including a picture of a terms as she complained to staﬀers about a Trans female masked man brandishing an assault weapon threatening patron. to shoot her. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Police Department) In an emailed statement Wi Spa defended its policy Both anti-trans protests were a mix of religious to Los Angeles Magazine about the ﬁrst incident, Wi fundamentalist street preachers, QAnon conspiracy Spa points to California Civil Code 51 (b), which makes theorists chanting “save our children,” and Proud Boys. Black-bloc (like Antifa) and trans discriminating against trans and other gender non-conforming people in business activists engaged in a counter protest at the same time, and violence erupted. Right wing establishments illegal in the state. “Like many other metropolitan areas, Los Angeles personality Andy Ngo, who coordinates with far right groups when they’re looking to contains a transgender population, some of whom enjoy visiting a spa,” the statement engage in violence on camera, was also there during the ﬁrst clash. goes on. “Wi Spa strives to meet the needs of all its customers.” BRODY LEVESQUE
Popular gay podcaster killed in hit-and-run in Beverly Grove The popular gay co-host of the “She Rates Dogs” podcast, Mat George, 26, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of the city the Los Angeles Police Department conﬁrmed Sunday. LAPD said that the focus of their investigation is a late model white BMW sedan that was moving eastbound on Beverly Boulevard and the driver failed to stop police said. LAPD said that George was hit while walking southbound on Croft Avenue at approximately 2 a.m. Saturday, adding that he was pronounced dead on the scene, which was later conﬁrmed by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s oﬃce. His co-host, Michaela Oakland, tweeted, “I would rather you guys hear this from me than a news article. Mat was killed in a hit and run last night. I don’t really have any other words right now. I wish I could contact everybody who knows him personally but the news is already out and I just can’t do it right now.” Oakland also thanked their fans for their messages of support. “Thank you so much to everybody telling stories and sharing how he impacted you. Whenever you think of him in the future, please do talk about him,” she wrote. “He’d send me screenshots of your sweet messages,” she added on the Twitter account for the podcast. “He shed tears when people told him he had helped them through issues (especially LGBT+ related). He referenced DMs from you all the time and how much it made his week & fueled his joy. You really did know him,” Oakland wrote. “He shared so much because he felt the people who listened to him were his friends.” George, an Arizona State University alumni, had a loyal following and fan base of nearly 80,000 followers between both Twitter and Instagram. LAPD West Traﬃc Division detectives have asked anyone with information regarding the accident to call them at 213-473-0234 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. BRODY LEVESQUE
06 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Out podcaster MAT GEORGE at the Abbey in West Hollywood. (Photo via Instagram)
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HIV & Aging Act sails through legislature The California Assembly passed SB 258, the HIV and Aging Act, by Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Thursday sending the bill to Governor Newsom for signature. The bill advanced from the Assembly consent calendar and received no “no” votes in either chamber. Pending Governor Newsom’s ﬁnal approval, California will become only the second state — after Illinois in 2019 — to designate older adults living with HIV as a population of “greatest social need.” “When I was Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director, it was our dream to have people living with HIV age into the senior category,” said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group was not supposed to grow old. While the drug cocktail transformed the ﬁght against HIV, and there are more HIV positive seniors than ever before, older people living with HIV face a number of behavioral health challenges in addition to physical illnesses. By easing the burden of connecting this vulnerable population to supportive aging services and programs, this bill provides another life line to assist this uniquely disadvantaged group. “I would like to express my utmost thanks to the sponsors of SB 258 for their steadfast partnership and the large coalition of supporters who highlighted the critical need for historic recognition and support of those living with HIV.” With recent advancements in HIV treatment, people with HIV who take antiretroviral therapy can keep the virus suppressed and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the number of older people living with HIV is increasing and over half of people living with HIV in California are now aged 50 years or older. However, older people with HIV continue to face unique challenges and barriers in health and well-being. A 2020 report by SAGE’s HIV and Aging Policy Action Coalition (HAPAC) identiﬁed that older people with HIV are more likely than their HIV-negative counterparts to have multiple comorbidities, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, fractures, and hepatitis C. Older people with HIV also face a number of behavioral health challenges, including rates of depression up to ﬁve times greater than their HIV-negative peers and greater levels of stigma, social isolation and loneliness. “As a person living with HIV since 1983, I thank the Assembly for passing SB 258 – the HIV & Aging Act – recognizing older adults with HIV face unique and profound challenges as a population of ‘greatest social need.’” said Tez Anderson, Executive Director of Let’s Kick ASS-AIDS Survivor Syndrome. “For too long, survivors of the AIDS pandemic have been overlooked and forgotten. None of us imagined aging, but over half of all Californians living with HIV are aging and urgently in need of social services and programs which address our physical and mental health. I urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill and give us hope for a better quality of life.” The HIV & Aging Act updates the Welfare and Institutions Code to ensure older people living with HIV — who are likely to turn to government and community-based services due to multiple comorbidities, behavioral and mental health issues and limited social support — have access to the programs and services administered through the California Department of Aging. The legislation is co-authored by Senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and co-sponsored by APLA Health, Equality California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAGE. “Thanks to eﬀective treatments, people with HIV are living longer than we could have ever imagined just a few decades ago,” said APLA Health Chief Executive Oﬃcer Craig E. Thompson. “Unfortunately, our current health and social service systems are ill-equipped to address the unique needs of this population. Many older people with HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. They have lost countless loved ones and entire networks of social support. They experience signiﬁcantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and other comorbidities. They also continue to face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. APLA Health urges Governor Newsom to sign SB 258 into law to ensure that California’s aging network is prepared to support the state’s rapidly growing population of people aging with HIV.” “As the number of older people living with HIV continues to increase, so should our state’s commitment to support this resilient population,” said Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin. “We are thrilled that SB 258 received overwhelming, bipartisan
08 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
California State Sen. JOHN LAIRD (D-Santa Cruz) (Photo courtesy Senate of State of California)
support in the California legislature, and we look forward to pro-equality champion Governor Newsom signing this timely bill into law. Older Californians living with HIV deserve to have the resources and support they need to thrive with dignity.” “SAGE applauds California State Senator John Laird and his colleagues for taking action in support of LGBT elders and people living with HIV,” said SAGE Director of Advocacy Aaron Tax. “This legislation would update the Older Americans Act in California, which funds critical programs like Meals-on-Wheels, to designate older people living with HIV as a target population. As older people living with HIV continue to face challenges in getting the aging services and supports that they need, it’s time for the law to catch up with the aging of the epidemic. Everyone should have access to the aging services and supports that they need, regardless of their identity or HIV status. This legislation will bring us closer to that reality.” FROM STAFF REPORTS
Project Angel Food telethon raises $1.1 million Los Angeles charity Project Angel Food succeeded in raising $1,126,090 far surpassing their fundraising goal of $800,000 in their 2021 Telethon which aired on KTLA 5 Saturday evening. The Telethon, LEAD WITH LOVE 2021 was presented by City National Bank. Hosted by by Will & Grace star Eric McCormack and KTLA anchor Jessica Holmes along with Loni Love and Alec Mapa as co-hosts, the evening broadcast opened with a surprise greeting from British rockstar Ringo Starr. “It’s been a diﬃcult year for everyone, and Project Angel Food is thankful to have received so much support from friends and the community and providing the funding needed to sustain the expanded service to those in need, preparing and delivering over one million medically tailored meals to our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Project Angel Food Executive Director Richard Ayoub. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude and inspiration. The success of this tells me Los Angeles is with us every step of the way.” FROM STAFF REPORTS
NATIONAL (Editor’s note: Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González ﬂed his native Cuba to escape persecution because of his work as an independent journalist. He asked for asylum in the U.S. on March 27, 2019. He spent nearly a year in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody until his release on March 4, 2020. Valdés has written about his experiences in ICE custody that the Blade is publishing in four parts. Visit our website for the preview two installments.)
Locked up in the Land of Liberty: Part III
Yariel Valdés González wins case, but then gov’t appeals decision
By YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLES Doomsday (Sept. 18, 2019) My third and ﬁnal hearing ﬁnally took place on Sept. 18. It was more than three hours of questions from my lawyer and the prosecutor, of allegations and tension. A lot of tension. My fate would be decided as the sacred scriptures predict will occur one day for humanity. Lara and I the night before spent our time reviewing my testimony, the diﬃcult questions we could expect, and it tested my ability to react to unexpected situations. I came out of the meeting much calmer, although I would have preferred extra hours to feel totally conﬁdent when I was in front of His Honor. My mind and senses were more focused when the time came. I was much stronger to face this deﬁning moment in my life. Several changes in the context also contributed to this: They changed the judge a few weeks earlier. He is no longer the esteemed Grady A. Crooks, but Timothy Cole, a Miami magistrate who had already granted asylum to a few Cubans in Bossier. The possibility that my lawyer would be next to me during the hearing, the 12-day extension and the date of my ﬁnal hearing were other changes that contributed to me feeling more secure on the stand. After she took an oath before the laws of this country by standing with her right hand raised, my legal representative had one hour to present my case and oﬀer my oral testimony. It was then when I remembered one of her recommendations, which was to always respond like a boxer’s sharp blow: Direct, concise and sure, since I was prone to ramble and sometimes veer oﬀ subject. “The questions should be answered only with what is necessary to avoid possibilities for errors, wasting time or other questions,” recommended Lara. “Every word can and will be used against you here, that is why you have to be extremely careful when speaking.” Lara’s part passed without many interruptions. I felt calm and sure of myself. The judge typed on his computer, reviewed papers and arranged ﬁles while I testiﬁed. He didn’t ask me any questions, so I hadn’t planted any doubts for him. It was a magniﬁcent sign.
The only problems at that point had been with the interpreter, a middle-aged man who was probably of Cuban origin, who came up blank with words as simple as “subversion” and was nervous, like he was a rookie on his ﬁrst day of work. Maybe it was. The thing with translators is that you have to cut oﬀ the oratory, mutilate the ideas to give them time to do their work. It’s like talking to someone who interrupts you all the time. The government prosecutor had 45 minutes for cross-examination, the most YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ speaks to Blade feared part of the trial. I would have a International News Editor Michael K. Lavers from Bossier Parish Medium Security high likelihood of winning if I successfully Facility in Plain Dealing, La., on Dec. 5, 2019. overcame his questions. (Blade screenshot by Lavers) The man’s voice reached me in an accusatory tone, as if I were being tried for some heinous crime. His voice was a merciless whip on my back, seeking to strike me like a vile sinner. One by one he took the evidence from me in his attempt to discredit me, to present me to His Honor as a liar and vehemently pointed out some inconsistencies, which I clariﬁed in due course. As I answered his questions, at times tinged with irony, anguish enveloped my head in a balloon of pessimism and nerves. I must admit the prosecutor did his job very well. He searched and scoured the internet and looked closely at every piece of evidence I had given him. Lara took notes on her computer during his cross-examination and made several objections when she perceived any malicious practice or intention from the Department of Homeland Security representative.
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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021 • 09
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ICE detainee details ups and downs of asylum ﬁght My lawyer had a second chance with me, this time to clarify some questions my indomitable opponent raised and to re-ask some questions that, at the prosecutor’s insistence, I could not answer properly. Those were fortunately my last words at the hearing and the interpreter then left the room. His Honor ordered both parties to make their closing arguments. Lara, in my defense, stated that there was no doubt about my work as an independent journalist in Cuba or that I had been threatened and persecuted by state security agents as part of a pattern of intimidation, orchestrated by the Cuban dictatorship to stop the work of the free press on the island. There was enough evidence of the conditions of the country for “unoﬃcial” reporters, considered as machines “subverted” of socialist principles and disseminators of “false news without foundation.” The evidence of the attacks against me conﬁrmed that I had been and was still a target to be watched by the regime and that my freedom, as well as that of my family, was in danger. The government representative, instead and speciﬁcally, signaled that I was not worthy of the protection of the United States because my asylum petition was frivolous, because I had “fabricated” evidence and my testimony had been vague and full of inconsistencies. I could hardly believe the prosecutor’s accusations against me. My poor English allowed me to understand only a limited amount of his closing argument. I felt totally defeated. Terror moistened my stare and Lara’s hand squeezed mine, trying to heal my fears with her support. The judge brieﬂy addressed me, but nerves had clouded my understanding and I was unable to understand anything. Lara noticed that I was totally confused and wrote to me on a piece of paper: “We won.” I looked at her in disbelief and she conﬁrmed the victory with a nod. The hearing was not yet over. The judge had not read his oral decision, a broad opinion that included the reasons why he granted me asylum. The respectable Judge Cole found my statement credible as well as each of the responses to the prosecutor’s accusations. His ﬁnal ruling managed to revive my spirit, which had been withered minutes before. The intense hug from my lawyer was the end of more than three hours of battle. Being the center of a hearing like this is like being in the middle of a severe storm: Some winds push you to one side, others carry you in the opposite direction, but I resisted them strongly. I could, at the end, see the sun that illuminated everything after so much storm. A hope that fades away My joy grew when I entered the pod. A handful of friends eagerly awaited the outcome and rushed toward me with hugs and heartfelt congratulations. They formed a circle around me to hear every detail. I was still in a state of disbelief, unable to accurately answer every question from my comrades. It was impossible for me to narrate three hours of judgment, so I said the most important thing for me to do was to go to the phone. The ﬁrst number I dialed was Michael Lavers’s. When I said, “We won!” because this victory is his too, he burst into tears. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” he repeated, overcome by the news on the other end of the line. My aunt and uncles in Miami ﬁlled my ears with a chorus of vibrant exclamations, and my mother could not contain her emotion. I heard her voice loud and clear. I explained to everyone that they only had to wait a few days to ﬁnd out if the government would appeal the judge’s decision,
otherwise I would ﬁnally be released in about a week. Two Cubans, who also won their ﬁnal hearing and anxiously counted the hours to get out of this hell, were in the same situation. My despair grew over the next few days. I had almost no appetite; my sleep was intermittent; my brain punished me by insistently remembering the hearing and the prosecutor’s harsh voice intruded on my positive thoughts. The document with the oﬃcial result arrived the next day and little by little I saw how my countrymen who had obtained asylum were released, even one whose hearing was the same day as mine without a lawyer and without evidence. The ghost of the appeal began to haunt my senses and every time an oﬃcer opened the door of the shelter a sharp pain shot up the left side of my chest. The automated tip line said that ICE’s deadline to appeal to a higher court for a second opinion was Oct. 18, a month after I won asylum. A visit from my attorney conﬁrmed my fears. She told me that the government had requested a review of my case to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia, a panel with several immigration judges who will determine if there was any error by the magistrate who handled my asylum case. My hopes of getting out were reduced to zero in one fell swoop and I was once again cornered like prey before a skilled hunter. A new ‘home’ awaits me (Jan. 10, 2020) An ICE oﬃcial who addressed us in Spanish conﬁrmed one of the many rumors that had been circulating in Bossier in recent days. “Your companions are being transferred to another detention center and soon you will too, because this facility will be closed for remodeling,” the oﬃcer said in front of the few of us who were left in this dorm. At least I received the news with joy. My eight-month stay in this prison demolished my illusions and took away a bit of my innocence. It transformed me into a much stronger human being, capable of withstanding very cruel scenarios that I did not believe I was capable of overcoming. I guess that’s the only thing I have to thank for this experience, that layer of ﬁrmness that has taken over my spirit. Bossier’s positive side is not very extensive aside from the friends I’ve made and the books I’ve read. The $.09 that remained in my account was reduced to zero on the night of Jan. 8. It was the deﬁnitive signal that I would be transferred to another facility together with 48 other comrades. Only a few who were left in the dorm would then follow us on that Bossier escape plan. I was told to pack, a moment for which I had waited too long, the next morning, although I hoped it would have been diﬀerent. I imagined my departure from here would mean my deﬁnitive freedom and not continued incarceration, but life would not have it. The ﬁght continues and I must accept it. Transfers are quite exhausting with too much paperwork that is as complex as a move in Cuba. Bureaucracy is a global evil that does not discriminate in political systems. They stripped us of this prison’s wardrobe, that horrible garish yellow uniform, and we dressed in the clothes we brought. We also delivered the few belongings that are property of the prison: Mattress, sheets, towels, bedspread and everything that we do not want to take with us. And they then gave us our luggage. I was ready for the last step in the process — getting my hands and feet handcuﬀed — when the prison warden entered
10 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
the dorm where we were meeting. Some had trashed the empty dorm to which they had led us a few minutes earlier. He ﬂew into a rage when he saw that, and he ordered us to clean up the mess. I thought it was fair, even though I hadn’t taken part in it. I will never forget his ﬁnal words to us. “You are animals. Go back to your countries, human shit!” he said. The restrained and even understanding posture that he had shown me collapsed in that sentence full of hatred and racism. I could, at last, clearly see the real man who lived under that sheriﬀ’s uniform. He no longer had to keep pretending kindness. He missed the $67 a day that ICE paid him for each of us. Anyone would be upset, but nothing justiﬁed his overbearing and boorish behavior. The cold bite of the handcuﬀs, that metal that captures me like a dangerous criminal, is one of the transfer’s worst moments. They tied around my waist a chain that limits the movement of my hands and produces a high-pitched jingle that can be heard from several meters away. Walking with your hands handcuﬀed and feet shackled resembles a duck’s gait, slow and swaying from side to side, measuring every inch to avoid falling. A young Bossier oﬃcer, one of the few who treated us with respect, told us the journey would take about four hours. We would go farther into southern Louisiana. “I’ll miss you all,” he told us in the hallway on the way out. There was also Martha, a nurse of Mexican descent, who wished us good luck as we walked in front of her. I did not know whether her words were sincere or were wrapped in hypocrisy. We were luckily transferred in a comfortable bus. A hard iron surface was the seat in the other one. There was no place for comfort. They were two white buses, which started their route just after 9 a.m. Going out into the outside world again was like the ﬁrst walk of a newborn who admires with amazement everything that is within his reach and life seems like a magical invention. Nobody wanted to miss the landscape, dotted by some small towns where the Christmas decorations still remained. Forests, however, dominated both sides of the road with bare trees, stripped of their foliage because of the mild Southern winter. It was an unprecedented landscape before my eyes, because nature in Cuba only loses its greenness when drought devours it. The pine trees were the only ones that remained alive, like glimpses of life in the middle of a gloomy forest. Fatigue at times overcame me and I, together with my comrades, managed to recover a bit of the morning’s lost sleep. The highway crossed two huge rivers that looked like seas, gas stations, McDonald’s, hotels, hospitals, and hundreds of billboards that bombarded me with forbidden culinary delights. I remember my time in Jena, the city where the court is, and another tiny town called Monroe. With each minute that I advanced farther into the bowels of Louisiana, the strange feeling grew within me that if we got lost no one would be able to ﬁnd us. I saw a great expanse. It looked like a ﬁeld for crops and I could see an installation in the distance. A factory, I thought. To my surprise, however, it was my destination. I was again in the middle of nowhere. A blue sign identiﬁed it as the River Correctional Center, our next “home.” The handcuﬀs were already starting to hurt my wrists, but this would be over soon. My new home awaited me. They opened the entrance gate and the two buses cautiously entered.
Gay Asian Atlanta man found beaten on railroad tracks
A 28-year-old gay Asian male was in a coma ﬁghting for his life “They go up the hill to the parking lot to another bar, but it’s this week at downtown Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, as Atlanta Police closed,” Kelly explained. “What I don’t know is what happens Department investigators continue to probe the case of what there. I don’t know if he walked to the train tracks from there or if police are classifying as an aggravated assault. somehow [he was] forced towards the train tracks.” Detectives identiﬁed the victim as Joshua Dowd, who was Kelly said he doesn’t recognize any of the people Dowd was found bloody and beaten on the rail tracks early Sunday morning seen with in the video. He said they were not mutual friends of on July 11, near Piedmont and Lakeshore Drive in the Brookwood the couple. Hills neighborhood. Atlanta detectives are reviewing surveillance “I’m a little nervous from some of the videos I saw that perhaps video and phone records, a spokesperson said. he was led into situations where [he was given more alcohol According to a GoFundMe post to raise money to defray the than] might be consumed and he didn’t need it,” Kelly said. cost of hospitalization, “Joshua received brain surgery and is Kelly said Dowd, who remains in a coma, is slowly making currently ﬁghting for his life. We have all been by his side as he progress and he believes it’s possible his partner will fully recover. JOSHUA DOWD (Photo via Instagram) attempts to recover. The doctors are not sure what the outcome “With some of the moderation in how he’s moving and some of will be, but we are all hopeful he will come out of this.” things he’s doing is proof he’s not brain dead and hearing those Atlanta CBS News aﬃliate CBS46 reported that video from The Heretic, a popular gay words from a medically trained professional made me so happy,” he added. “It’s gone from nightclub in Buckhead in northeast Atlanta shows Dowd enter the bar with a man on the night really challenging to see, to hope you can almost touch.” of Saturday, June 10. The two are seen exiting the bar with another man at 3 a.m. APD Detectives encourage anyone with information to call 404-577-TIPS(8477) or e-mail Colin Kelly, Dowd’s partner of three years told CBS46 that APD detectives said that additional the anonymous information using the online form at www.crimestoppersatlanta.org. footage shows Dowd in the parking lot of the bar with a group of eight men. BRODY LEVESQUE
Trans pronoun law violates freedom of speech: court The State of California Third District Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that a state statute requiring nursing home staﬀ to use the correct pronouns for trans and nonbinary patients is a freedom of speech violation. The court, in a 3-0 decision, struck down this key provision of the LGBTQ Long-Term Care Facility Residents’ Bill of Rights, created by SB 219 in 2017, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Equality California. The court upheld the provision in the law that requires nursing homes to place transgender patients in rooms that match their gender identity. “The Court’s decision is disconnected from the reality facing transgender people. Deliberately
misgendering a transgender person isn’t just a matter of opinion, and it’s not simply ‘disrespectful, discourteous, or insulting.’ Rather, it’s straight up harassment. And, it erases an individual’s fundamental humanity, particularly one as vulnerable as a trans senior in a nursing home. This misguided decision cannot be allowed to stand,” Senator Wiener said in a statement. SB 219, also known as the LGBTQ Senior Bill of Rights, protects LGBTQ seniors in long-term care facilities from discrimination and mistreatment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Wiener authored and passed SB 219 in 2017, and then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. FROM STAFF REPORTS
Minn. guv bars use of public funds for conversion therapy In a public ceremony last week in the capitol surrounded by LGBTQ advocates and supporters, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed an executive order that bars public funds from being used for the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth in the state. “To ensure that no minor in Minnesota — anyone under 18, our Minnesotans, is subjected to Minnesota Gov. TIM WALZ (Screenshot via CBSLocal St. Paul) this Byzantine torturous practice of conversion therapy,” Walz said. Walz told the audience that the executive order is a ﬁrst step in protecting young people in the community from the practice, which professional groups representing licensed medical doctors and health care organizations across the United States have determined is baseless and harmful. Those experts also agree that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be changed by the so-called therapy. “Taxpayer dollars should never be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. Thank you to Governor Tim Walz for taking bold action to protect LGBTQ youth in Minnesota,” said Sam Brinton, vice president of Advocacy and Government Aﬀairs for The Trevor Project. “We encourage more governors across the country to follow the North Star State and restrict this abusive practice disguised as therapy.” To actually outlaw the practice rests with state legislature. In 2019, the Democratic12 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
controlled House passed a proposal to ban the controversial practice. However, the proposal failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate CBSLocal St. Paul reported. Because an executive order is easily undone by another gubernatorial administration, the leadership of the governor’s party issued a call to enact legislation to permanently outlaw the practice in Minnesota. “Conversion therapy is not backed by science and can cause life-long trauma for those forced to endure it. We applaud Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan on this step today to stop this barbaric practice,” the DFL statement read. “Last year when the governor and DFL leaders in the legislature tried to ban conversion therapy, Senate Republicans led by Sen. Paul Gazelka blocked it. It is shameful that we have Republicans like Paul Gazelka and Scott Jensen who are not only on the wrong side of history on this issue, but who are actively contributing to a toxic environment that tells LGBTQ+ youth that they shouldn’t love and accept themselves for who they are,” the statement added. “This executive order will do much to putting a stop to it here. However, executive orders are by their nature temporary. The legislature is not oﬀ the hook,” Sen. Scott Dibble told CBSLocal St. Paul. The Minnesota Family Council, an anti-LGBTQ organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, called Wlaz’s order a “direct attack” on individual choice in health care. “We at OutFront are incredibly grateful and excited to see Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan signing onto this EO. This EO will protect LGBTQ+ youth and their families from the harmful practice of conversion therapy,” said James Darville, director of Policy and Organizing for OutFront MN. BRODY LEVESQUE
Defending Chick-fil-A, Lindsey Graham vows to ‘go to war’ Latest skirmish over founding family’s support of anti-LGBTQ groups By BRODY LEVESQUE
In a series of tweets last week, South Carolina’s Republican senior U.S. Sen. Lindsey arm gave over $5 million to queerphobic groups, including groups supporting conversion Graham wrote, “I hope we don’t have to, but I will go to war for the principles Chick-Fil-A therapy. Despite public outcry and promises to halt anti-LGBTQ+ donations, in 2017, stands for.” the donations to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations resumed, The controversy that provoked Graham’s ire was the including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Paul news that University of Notre Dame students and faculty Anderson Youth Home, and the Salvation Army,” the opsigned an open letter calling on the university’s Campus ed states. Dining division to nix a proposed Chick ﬁl-A on the campus The brewing ﬁght over Chick-ﬁl-A caught the attention of the 178-year-old private Catholic research university. of a right-wing newsletter and blog, ‘Campus Reform,’ This ﬁght over the chicken sandwich fast food company’s which deﬁnes itself “As a conservative watchdog to proposed outlet at University of Notre Dame du Lac is just the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform the latest skirmish in a decade plus long running cultural exposes liberal bias and abuse on the nation’s college battle over the company’s founding family’s support of campuses. Our team of professional journalists works anti-LGBTQ groups, some designated as hate groups by alongside student activists and student journalists the Southern Poverty Law Center, for lies and malicious to report on the conduct and misconduct of campus propaganda attacking LGBTQ+ Americans. administrators, faculty, and students.” In an Instagram post on May 12, the university’s This past April, independent journalists at The Campus Dining division disputed a purported claim by Intercept wrote an in-depth piece on Campus Reform the Chick ﬁl-A that the company would be opening an on and its ﬁnancial backers noting that Campus Reform Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Chick-ﬁl-A campus outlet. is emblematic of the raging battle in American public in a series of tweets last week. The resulting open letter followed an op-ed in The discourse over so-called cancel culture, which the site’s Observer, on July 1 in the student-run, daily print and writers have regularly lamented even as they set out to online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. cancel the reputations and jobs of the people they attack. “Our ﬁrst concern relates to Chick-ﬁl-A’s long history of antagonism toward the This so-called expose on Notre Dame’s Chick-ﬁl-A conﬂict was then in turn given LGBTQ+ community. Over the past two decades, Chick-ﬁl-A has donated signiﬁcant sums additional signal boost by right-wing media giant Fox News on July 13 based on the to groups that oppose LGBTQ+ rights. From 2003 to 2012, the restaurant’s charitable Campus Reform Coverage.
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LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021 • 13
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
works to encourage the Japanese government to prioritize human rights in its foreign and domestic policies and practices.
Japanese prime minister should back LGBT Equality Act The Japanese government’s failure to pass a national nondiscrimination law to protect LGBT people before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics was a lost opportunity to advance the rights of everyone in Japan, J-ALL, Athlete Ally, All Out, and Human Rights Watch said last week, releasing a video of ﬁve Japanese longtime LGBT activists. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should immediately and publicly commit to enacting an LGBT Equality Act. The Olympic Charter expressly bans “discrimination of any kind” as a Fundamental Principle of Olympism. However, despite promises from Japan’s ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that they would pass the country’s ﬁrst national LGBT law during the 2021 Diet session, the legislature failed to pass a law during the session, which ended in June. “LGBT people in Japan, including athletes, are entitled to equal protection under the law, but currently there are a very limited number of openly out professional athletes in the country, and many remain in the closet from fear and stigma,” said Yuri Igarashi, director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), an umbrella organization of more than 80 LGBT organizations in Japan. “We expected the Olympic Games to be a wonderful opportunity to introduce and pass legal protections so that everyone in society can live openly and safely. It is extremely disappointing that this law did not pass this time.” The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, which were postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, start July 23. Not a single openly LGBT athlete will compete for the host country, reﬂecting Japan’s need to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBT people. J-ALL and other Japanese LGBT groups have, for the past six years, urged political parties and elected representatives to pass legislation to protect LGBT rights. In 2020, J-ALL, Athlete Ally, All Out, and Human Rights Watch created the #EqualityActJapan campaign in Japanese and English to support a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In January, 116 Japanese and international groups sent a joint letter urging passage of such legislation to Prime Minister Suga. In March, the groups submitted a petition with 106,250 signatures from Japan and abroad to all Japanese political parties, including the LDP, calling for the introduction of the Equality Act in the Diet. Major corporations, including CocaCola, Deloitte, EY, Intel, Microsoft, PwC, PepsiCo, Salesforce, and Sega Sammy, also endorsed the Equality Act. In response, the LDP announced that it would enact an 14 • JULY 23, 2021 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
LGBT law during the 2021 regular Diet session, but did not do so. The media reported that many conservative LDP members of parliament opposed the bill. Although other party leaders publicly supported the LGBT legislation, the prime minister has never publicly expressed support for the LGBT equality law. “LGBTQ+ athletes have always competed at the highest levels of sport, and the Olympic Charter underscores that every athlete’s access to sport is a human right,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally. “As the esteemed host of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan has the power be a global leader in human rights by ensuring that LGBT people nationwide are protected from discrimination under the law. Without these protections, the true spirit of Olympism – one of inclusivity and equality – can never be fully realized.” Japanese public support for LGBT equality has been surging in recent years. In November 2020, a nationwide public opinion survey found that 88 percent of those polled “agree or somewhat agree” with the “introduction of laws or ordinances that ban bullying and discrimination (in relation to sexual minorities).” In October 2018, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government adopted an ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination in line with the Olympic Charter. This municipal “Olympics” law was a direct result of human rights consultation tied to the Olympics, and has proven to be popular. However, it has also demonstrated gaps in protection across the country and thus the need for a national approach, the groups said. “Protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination is a crucial and long-overdue step for Japan,” said Matt Beard, executive director of All Out. “By failing to pass anti-discrimination legislation ahead of the Olympic Games, the Japanese government is not only failing to comply with the Olympic Charter, but is also disregarding the will of the 88 percent of the population that favors such legislation.” Japan has also ratiﬁed core international human rights treaties that obligate the government to protect against discrimination, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. “LGBT people in Japan face intense social pressure and fewer legal protections than other Japanese,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Suga should immediately commit to passing an LGBT equality act to make LGBT equality a part of Japan’s permanent Olympic legacy.”
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CHRISTOPHER PEPIN-NEFF, Ph.D.,
a senior lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, is the author of ‘LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States.’
LGBTQ victories are largely legal, not legislative Leading lobbying groups ineﬀective as we face hostile Supreme Court
The recent conclusion of last month’s Pride month celebrations marked an annual milestone in both the history and advancements of rights for the LGBTQ community. The progress for LGBTQ rights over the last two decades has been groundbreaking – oftentimes described as an exemplary movement obtaining rights for a marginalized community. It was less than 20 years ago the United States Supreme Court struck down the country’s ﬁrst real gay rights test in Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing “homosexual conduct” among consenting adults. Even in the most recent years, we all recognize how major achievements like marriage equality to the protection of gay adoption – to the recent action ensuring a fully inclusive military with transgender service – have beneﬁted the community. But with new attacks arising daily in state capitals around the nation, like transgender sports becoming the new “bathroom bill,” LGBTQ future generations are counting on the leading LGBTQ rights and legal organizations to secure more equality. Almost unanimously, these groundbreaking rights – while being achieved at almost lightning speed (although not fast enough for the millions of LGBTQ Americans whose lives have been, and still being impacted) – have been won in American courtrooms, not the halls of Congress. While the ﬁrst federal LGBTQ rights bill was introduced in Congress in 1975 by former Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, it was simply referred to the Judiciary Committee and died. Forty-six years later barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, part of today’s Equality Act, has still not been passed into law by the LGBTQ lobbying organizations – and faces a similar fate this year in the U.S. Senate. The Equality Act, the chief legislative target for Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ lobbying organizations is dead in Congress despite the ripest political environment with a Democratic House, Senate and White House. The Senate’s ﬁlibuster and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are major structural problems for the legislation, but there is not even serious discussion or demands from the LGBTQ lobbying community to insist on passage through ﬁlibuster reform. Must we automatically presume the LGBTQ community is so low a priority we are essentially beholden to prejudice of the minority in the Senate? When, therefore, can we ever expect any action? If not now, then when will gay lobbying succeed? As an LGBTQ researcher at the University of Sydney in preparation for a new academic piece, I wanted to ﬁnd out how groundbreaking LGBTQ rights could be won in courtrooms while lingering in Congress for half a century. The central question this research tried to answer was, “what factors contribute to LGBTQ lobbyist and advocate perceptions of movement success by LGBTQ organizations?” The answer became pretty clear when surveying the top LGBTQ lobbying and government aﬀairs professionals, the ones with the most intimate, front-line view of congressional outreach. Overwhelmingly, the research concludes the leading mainstream legal organizations have been primarily responsible for the community’s progress – not the LGBTQ organization’s lobbying eﬀorts. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the wealthiest LGBTQ organization with a $48 million a year budget based in Washington, D.C. and
founded 41 years ago, was ranked 10th most eﬀective out of 17 organizations ranked. Since 2018, HRC has fallen six additional positions since the original research was published. In contrast, Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ community’s foremost legal rights organization, followed by the legal powerhouse, the ACLU, have moved ahead of them ranking as the most eﬀective LGBTQ organizations. The research clearly demonstrates the ineﬀectiveness of the LGBTQ lobby, which has largely focused on gaining access to power structures instead of winning legislative victories. Fundraising models of these organizations, built largely around monetizing their access to power, has left little evidence of their eﬀectiveness and in turn, has strengthened systems of oppression against an overwhelming number of LGBTQ people of color, transgender individuals and lower-income members of the community. The “access to power” model of LGBTQ lobbying has essentially commercialized gayness (white, cisgender, English-speaking, middle and upper class gayness) as a consumable product that most often beneﬁts those in power. It’s a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” system of lobbying that shuts the door on the most marginalized LGBTQ people – those most in need of legislative victories to protect their lives. Today, regardless of all of the progress in LGBTQ legal victories over the last two decades, the community is in the most dangerous place it has been in 25 years. LGBTQ lobbying does not work, and LGBTQ legal avenues have catastrophically changed. The 6-3 Supreme Court is poised to undermine Roe, which some say undermines Lawrence, which undermines Obergefell (the groundbreaking 2015 marriage equality decision). A house of very successful, but delicate legal cards, may begin to fall. The LGBTQ community is holding its collective breath against an anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court majority, and the spotlight is now shining brightly on the LGBTQ lobby and their ability to produce legislative success. Unfortunately, the organizations responsible for shaping the community’s relationship with states and the federal government are largely seen as ineﬀective and oftentimes harmful to progress. This ineﬀectiveness leaves the LGBTQ community in a dangerous and perilous moment in the movement’s history. To be successful, a radical transformation of the movement’s lobbying must happen immediately by shifting to a much more state-based movement, where anti-LGBTQ opponents are already attacking the identity and existence of transgender people with the introduction of more than 100 bills aimed to curb the rights of transgender people nationwide. Secondly, the danger to the lives of LGBTQ people from these legislative harms must be ampliﬁed and ready to be fought against. And lastly, a new model of investment is required that prioritizes the lives of transgender individuals and people of color and embraces an intersectional approach to lobbying. The LGBTQ movement is about to face darker days ahead. Leaders in Washington’s premier gay rights groups, including their lobbyists, must ﬁgure out how to protect our children, protect the poor, and lift up the marginalized or face disastrous consequences in the next few years in legislative bodies from city halls to the U.S. Capitol. Otherwise our hopes to tackle issues like transgender sports and equality will rest solely on the LGBTQ legal apparatus. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JUNE 23, 2021 • 15
Out athletes going for gold New milestones in queer representation at Tokyo Olympics By KEVIN MAJOROS
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games begin on June 23, with competitions continuing through Aug. 8. The Games were postponed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many aspiring Olympians, the quadrennial event is the culmination of a lifetime of sacriﬁces to compete against the best athletes in the world while representing their country on an international stage. The road to get there is ﬁlled with obstacles and this Olympic cycle produced one more barrier in the form of training disruptions that happened in almost every sport. After all the dust settled during the qualifying process, 627 athletes were named to Team USA. More than 30 of those athletes are out members of the LGBTQ community. Regarding the other countries competing, according to a recent story by Outsports, “At least 142 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes are headed to Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games.” Flashback to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when a correspondent from The Daily Beast used hook-up apps such as Bumble, Tindr, Grindr, and Jack’d to message gay athletes. His published story went on to describe the athletes, creating potentially dangerous situations for the athletes from countries with high anti-LGBTQ violence rates. What should we expect from the environment in Japan? There have been a handful of Japanese athletes who have come out recently but for the most part, they are competing in other countries – notably trans soccer star Kumi Yokoyama who plays for the Washington Spirit and out lesbian Shiho Shimoyamada who plays soccer for SV Meppen in Germany. LGBTQ activists in Japan were hoping that the worldwide attention on the Tokyo Olympics would help push their ruling Liberal Democratic Party to pass EqualityActJapan banning discrimination against LGBTQ people. Their legislature went into recess without passing the measure. That setback did not stop Pride House Tokyo Legacy from opening in October 2020 in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It will serve as a permanent LGBTQ support center where individuals can feel safe and at home. Pride House Tokyo Legacy has been authorized as part of the Tokyo 2020 Oﬃcial Program by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games along with full support from the International Olympic Committee. Those endorsements make it the ﬁrst Pride House worldwide to achieve this status. Visibility for the LGBTQ community is important for a variety of reasons and in the sports world, we tend to point to LGBTQ athletes as role models for younger generations.
MICHAEL GUNNING narrowly missed out on qualifying for this year’s Olympic Games. (Photo courtesy Gunning)
Over the next few weeks we will bear witness to the ﬁrst transgender athlete to compete in Laurel Hubbard as a weightlifter for Team New Zealand. We will watch lesbian triple jumper Yulimar Rojas compete and carry the ﬂag for her country of Venezuela in the Parade of Nations. And we will sit enthralled as gay British Olympic diver Tom Daley is cheered on by his three-year-old son Robbie as he attempts to medal again in his fourth Olympics. The last time the Blade checked in with out Tongan swimmer Amini Fonua, he was in heavy training to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and struggling with the funding needed to complete that journey. Fonua was one of the Olympic athletes that spoke out against The Daily Beast story from 2016, which helped to get the story retracted, with an apology. It was the ﬁrst instance where the International Olympic Committee, which also chimed in, had ever acknowledged an LGBTQ presence. When the pandemic hit, Fonua’s training pool closed and his income from teaching swimming lessons dried up. In an eﬀort to be closer to his training group, New York Athletic Club, he moved from New Jersey to New York City mid-pandemic. To stay in shape, he ramped up his time spent on weight
16 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021
training, running, biking, and yoga. “The pandemic changed a lot of things for all of us,” says Fonua. “This past year has been about survival, and I have done my best with what I have been given.” Eventually pools opened back up with limits on swimmers per lane and time spent in the water. Fonua was only allowed four 45-minute swim practices per week, which is well below the amount of time that elite swimmers spend in the pool. He also found employment with Fitter and Faster Swim Camps with all of his travel to swim camps completed by train to minimize his exposure to the virus. As of May 2021, Fonua was not the top Tongan swimmer that would be selected for the Olympic team. He was also facing swim meet entry barriers due to COVID restrictions to even compete for a spot on the team. In smaller nations and those with developing swim programs, the international federation for swimming, FINA, and the International Olympic Committee allow for universality entries into the Olympics. The universality system allows a nation with no Olympic swimming qualiﬁer to enter up to one man and one woman in the Olympics. The two swimmers are chosen based on FINA points, which are calculated using a cubic curve.
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Record number of out Olympians
AMINI FONUA qualiﬁed for his third Olympics this year. (Photo courtesy Fonua)
Fonua received a last minute entry to the Atlanta Classic swim meet on May 14 where he would have one last shot to make the team. He threw down a time in the 100 meter breaststroke that moved him past the top Tongan swimmer based on FINA points and qualiﬁed him for his third Olympics. For this Olympic experience, Fonua will be thinking about what his father always says to him regarding sports — be competitive, do your best, and have fun. “I will be staying in the Olympic Village but there won’t be any Grindr this time because I am in love. I will be racing on the 24th and still hope to walk in the Parade of Nations the night before,” Fonua says. “My mom is the team manager for the Tongan swim team, and I am looking forward to cups of tea with her and visiting Pride House Tokyo. I know it will be diﬀerent this time because of COVID, but there is nothing like experiencing a city hosting the Olympics.” When you receive an email from out swimmer Michael Gunning, the signature line says Professional Athlete. He laughs when asked about it and says it is a continuation of what he used to write on his school essays — Michael Gunning, The Swimmer. Gunning, who currently trains in Manchester, England, became fully committed to swimming at age 13 when he won a national competition in England. A few years later he was representing Great Britain on their junior national team. “We have all heard that Black people don’t swim, and I wanted to prove it could be done,” says Gunning. “I began chasing those Olympic dreams at every event I swam in.” Despite swimming well in the 200 meter butterﬂy in the qualifying trials for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he was left oﬀ the Great Britain team. Jamaica reached out and said they would love for Gunning to swim for them (his father was born in Jamaica). He represented the country for the ﬁrst time at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest and again at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.
“I was really on the fence before saying yes. I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously in the UK and this was an opportunity to do my bit and inspire,” Gunning says. “That ﬁrst experience in Budapest was amazing. The Jamaican team accepted me, and I ﬁnally felt good enough.” When the Blade last checked in with Gunning, he was pointing toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At that time, he was the top Jamaican point earner if it came down to a FINA universality selection for the Olympics. Then the pandemic hit. Gunning was out of the water for more than 100 days and scrambling to stay in shape with dryland training. “Those were dark and desperate times,” says Gunning. “Once I was able to get back in the water, I trained by myself for 20 weeks.” With COVID barriers for training and competitions, Gunning knew all along that another Jamaican swimmer could top his FINA points. And then it happened. FINA adjusted their earned points for the 200 meter butterﬂy downward and another swimmer earned more points in the 200 meter IM. Gunning had one last shot in June at a meet in Glasgow but did not swim near his best times. He received the news earlier this month that he was not selected for the team. “Swimming shapes you as a person. Whether you reach your end goals or not, you are so much stronger for it. I don’t regret any of the hard work I put in,” Gunning says. “Swimming prompted me to come out – swimming gave me that. We still need diversity and inclusion, especially at the grass roots level. I want to be that representation.” With the news being so fresh, Gunning is unclear on his long term path in the pool. He will continue to teach swimming and ﬁeld oﬀers that come his way. Next year, he will be a Pride House ambassador at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. “The Olympics make role models, and I am excited to support and cheer for the LGBTQ athletes who are competing,” says Gunning. “For now, I am going to live every day, one day at a time, being myself and being authentic.”
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18 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021
Wahlberg walks for redemption in disappointing ‘Joe Bell’ Bleak film’s tear-jerking tropes produce clunky results By JOHN PAUL KING
If you’ve never heard of the real-life “Joe Bell,” you might spend the first third of the movie that bears his name thinking that you are watching an uplifting story about a father and son taking a marathon walk across America to raise awareness against bullying. That’s not exactly what is happening, though. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, “Joe Bell” stars Mark Wahlberg as the title character, a rural Oregon dad who undertook a “Walk for Change” in 2013 after his teenage son Jadin was bullied at school for being gay. Intending to journey on foot from Oregon to New York City, Bell connected with people as he travelled, gaining a following on social media and speaking at schools, youth groups, and other community organizations about the devastating effects of bullying, as well as the need for parents to be unconditional in supporting their bullied children – something he himself had failed to do when Jadin’s ordeal was taking place. Green’s movie puts that inner conflict in high focus by telling Joe and Jadin’s story in an intertwined narrative of past and present events. The domineering, short-tempered father we meet in flashbacks is contrasted REID MILLER and MARK WAHLBERG star in ‘Joe Bell.’ with the humbler, gentler dad who (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions) engages in banter and sings Lady Gaga with his son on the road. It’s a structure that makes it clear that Joe, once a bit of a bully himself, is walking as much to make amends as to oppose intolerance. Unfortunately, it’s also a cheat, because the real Jadin – spoiler alert – was never on that walk with his father. After being terrorized in the locker room shower by members of his school’s football team, Jadin ended his own life by hanging himself in an elementary school playground. Joe, who had never been willing to stand up publicly for his son while he was alive, walked alone. To be clear, the movie does not try to rewrite the real story. Instead, it sets up an end-of-first-act plot twist where we find out that Joe has been talking to a figment of his imagination all along. We get clues, of course, like the fact that other people never seem to engage with Jadin, but these only become apparent in retrospect, after the big reveal. It’s also after this too that the movie’s tone begins to change, rapidly. Gone is any pretense that we are seeing a feel-good story of family bonding and social advocacy, or that the grim tale of small-town bigotry being spun in the flashbacks is going to lead to a triumphant conclusion, and what we now get is a deeper dive into the soul-searching of a man who recognizes, too late, how his own attitudes and behavior may have played a part in his son’s decision to end his own life. Joe’s walk is a bid for personal redemption, and it’s a difficult journey in ways that are much more painful than the blisters on his feet. Unfortunately, while it may make for an interesting narrative device, this sudden turn in the movie feels a little like a bait-and-switch. It doesn’t help that “Joe Bell” works overtime to tug our heartstrings with its swelling, elegiac score or its reliance on tear-jerking tropes, nor that the focus on Joe’s inner turmoil effectively upstages Jadin’s torment. Indeed, by making the teen into an otherworldly companion, the movie essentially turns him into a gay saint, cheerfully responsible for shepherding his father toward redemption. While it may not be an intentional effect, it can’t help but feel a little akin to the “magic Negro” cliché that has turned so many well-meaning movies into unintentionally offensive 20 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021
perpetuations of stereotype – to say nothing of begging the question of why the victims of cultural oppression should feel any responsibility at all for helping their oppressors forgive themselves. Adding still another layer to the vaguely bad taste “Joe Bell” leaves in one’s mouth is the fact that its star once famously revealed in an interview that he had been considered for a role in “Brokeback Mountain” but was glad when he didn’t get it because he was “creeped out” when he read the script. Add to this Wahlberg’s history as a convicted perpetrator of racial violence when he was growing up in Boston – a record that has haunted him for his entire career and for which he has spent a great deal of time and energy trying to atone – and one can only wonder if the actor might be aiming for a bit of redemption himself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and as far as his performance goes, Wahlberg certainly seems sincere. The famously conservative macho action star delves to a level of depth and vulnerability we haven’t seen from him since “Boogie Nights,” and it’s hard to imagine an actor who would be a better fit as the conservative, blue-collar Joe Bell. In charting the character’s evolution from toxic alpha masculinity toward a more compassionate world view, he is clearly guided by self-knowledge, and he deserves credit for his bravery in bringing that to the table. There are other reasons to forgive “Joe Bell” for its clunky and vaguely tone-deaf presentation, most of which come from screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry – who also penned the script for “Brokeback Mountain,” ironically enough – and their keen understanding of human nature. They sculpt believable, identifiable characters with a few deft strokes of dialogue, which not only permits us to empathize with them but gives the cast a boost in making them all into fully formed, three-dimensional human beings. Among the actors who benefit from this are Connie Britton, wearing the patiently weary wisdom of a long-term survivor as Joe’s wife and Jadin’s mother, and Gary Sinise (another actor known for his conservative offscreen views) as a local sheriff who forms a brief friendship with Joe in an intimate and touching scene that is one of the movie’s highlights. Most impressive of all, however, is young up-and-comer Reid Miller, who gives a charismatic and refreshingly unaffected performance as Jadin. It’s largely thanks to him, in fact, that the movie doesn’t come off as just another “gay issues” movie designed to make straight people feel more enlightened. Yet even if “Joe Bell” avoids that trap, it doesn’t quite rise above the layers of Hollywood sentiment with which it drapes itself. Despite the many small moments of authenticity peppered throughout, there are too many others that are either too precious or too perfunctory, and that makes it hard to care as much about the ones that work. This is especially true in light of its bleakness. Like “Brokeback,” it’s a movie in which the tragedy is unrelenting, and we are left to find whatever scraps of happiness we can find in the ending – but while “Brokeback” had the beauty of an epic love story to transcend its sadness, “Joe Bell” can only leave us to contemplate a senseless waste of a human life. Faced with that handicap, even with good writing and performances, it’s hard for a movie to be anything but a bummer.
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Drew Pisarra’s ‘dangerously funny and queerly inventive brain’
‘You’re Pretty Gay’ shatters expectations and social mores By KATHI WOLFE
“She told me, ‘you’re a grotesque,’”Pisarra said, “‘You won’t Is there anything more absurd than this, wondered gay poet and work until you’re in your fifties. Because your face and body don’t writer Drew Pisarra. Pisarra, then, was an assistant to a paralegal match.’” at a toothpaste company. Pisarra was relieved to hear this. His sense of relief was related Fiercely protective of the pattern on its toothpaste, they wrote to being a young gay man in the late 1980s. letters to rivals who, they felt, were infringing on their copyright. “I wasn’t interested in being closeted,” Pisarra said, “I wrote. I Even when their competitors were in countries in the middle of wanted to perform. I wasn’t interested in conforming.” a civil war, “They would write back, ‘we can’t respond now, we’re in Since then, Pisarra has been creating – performing and writing a war,’” Pisarra said. his own material. Some of the stories in “You’re Pretty Gay” were But that didn’t soften the heart of the toothpaste company. originally created for the stage. They’d insist that “this most important matter be dealt with as soon “I don’t write that often,” Pisarra said, “I started writing the stories as the war ends,” Pisarra said. in ‘You’re Pretty Gay’ 20 years ago.” If you think that authors don’t encounter the absurdity and grit A prodigious reader, Pisarra has always “written to some degree,” of everyday life or that all writers do is drink coffee (or sip stronger he said. libations) while looking at the sunset, you haven’t met Pisarra. Pisarra got turned on to writing poetry when he went to a Pisarra, 56, whose new short story collection “You’re Pretty Gay” meeting of a gay and lesbian writers group. is just out from Chaffinch Press, has worked at everything from “There were, like, 10 people in this apartment,” Pisarra said, ventriloquism to domestic work. “there was a terrible woman sitting next to me.” The word “unique” is so hackneyed that it’s a cliche to say it’s He would have dropped out of the group, if he hadn’t met writer a cliche. But there’s no other way to describe “You’re Pretty Gay.” Mare Davis, now his close friend. This collection “is a prime example of Drew Pisarra’s dangerously “I said to her, ‘I never want to see any of these people again funny and queerly inventive brain,” said Kevin Sampsell, author of except you,’” Pisarra said, “She inspired me to get into poetry.” “This Is Between Us.” “Each story is its own performance, its own Davis wrote the introduction to Pisarra’s poetry collection shattering of expectations and social mores.” “Infinity Standing Up” (Capturing Fire Press). Pisarra, who lives in Manhattan, gives readers a mosaic of wit, Released in 2019, the volume of sexy, playful sonnets received surrealism, sex, queerness, memory, mortality and self-discovery. glowing reviews from the Washington Post, the Blade and other In “You’re Pretty Gay,” there are gay bars in New York and New Drew Pisarra’s ‘You’re Pretty Gay’ is just out outlets. Orleans. from Chaffinch Press. “Devour me! Think me not some crazy nut!,” Pisarra writes in one You’ll find everything from adolescent bullies fighting over a rare of his sonnets. caterpillar to a character taking an AIDS test and, later, meeting up With lines like these, he gives Shakespeare a run for his money. with Mrs. Claus. Pisarra has held a variety of jobs – many of which have involved the arts. He has helped “Mrs. Claus I didn’t even know you were alive,” says the narrator of “Arctic Chill.” “I didn’t homeless people with mental health issues to find housing. even know you were real. I haven’t received a gift from you or your husband in ten years.” “I ran a writers group for them,” Pisarra said, “I encouraged a super-talented woman to Another of Pisarra’s tales revolves around a trip to hell. “I love traveling,” says the send her work out.” narrator of “The Hat from Hell, “I got this hat when I was in Hell back in 1992.” The woman and Pisarra submitted their work to the same magazine. “Her work was In “Granny,” siblings gather after their mother’s death. “All anyone could remember of accepted. Mine wasn’t,” he said, “I was thrilled!” her was that chair, how she sat in it for the last 40 years,” Pisarra writes, “immobile as In an unusual career twist, Pisarra, who received a literary grant from the Café Royal ‘Jeopardy’ and the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ glared at her night after night.” Cultural Foundation, toured a ventriloquist act entitled “Singularly Grotesque.” He created Pisarra’s characters yearn to find love, sex, and who they really are. the act after the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art commissioned him to develop a “In my quest to bed mankind, I tended to avoid perfection’s rejection,” says the narrator new solo piece. of “Every Man for Myself.” “I was wandering around the library aisles and I found two (self-help) pamphlets on Pisarra, whose first short story collection “Publick Spanking” was published in 1996, was talking with ‘multiple’ selves,’” Pisarra said, “and I thought this is ventriloquism in a nutshell.” born in Orange, N.J. When he was in the third grade, he moved to Maryland. There, except Pisarra hadn’t watched much TV. But that didn’t keep him from interviewing with AMC for living in Oxon Hill for a year, he grew up in Silver Spring. to be its director of digital media. When Pisarra was growing up, being gay wasn’t even remotely on the horizon. “There “I thought why not,” Pisarra said, “it would be a chance to see what else is out there in was such denial in the culture then,” Pisarra said. the world.” From early on, he had feelings for men. “I had a crush on a boy in kindergarten,” Pisarra He worked on the websites for “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” “It was a pleasure to be said. part of the online team for these cultural phenomena!” Pisarra said. He consulted books and a priest, which wasn’t helpful. They said he’d grow out of it. With Molly Gross, Pisarra co-founded Saint Flashlight. In this project, he and Gross find “As a teenager, I recognized that I hadn’t outgrown it,” Pisarra said. inventive ways to get poetry into public spaces. Pisarra was a college freshman when he came out. “I sobbed the night I came out,” he One of the project’s most innovative efforts has been putting haiku on movie marquees. said. It’s fun to see people, looking up, counting the syllables, Pisarra said. You sweat when you He was out in college, Pisarra said, “but I wasn’t getting laid.” That changed when he put the letters up on the marquee, he added. moved to New Orleans after college. “It’s part of the fun! It makes you feel like you’re making something matter,” Pisarra said. Pisarra graduated from Hofstra University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in theater. He doesn’t want poetry to be confined to “The New Yorker.” “It should push the In college, a professor had the students sit in a circle. Then, the teacher told them how envelope,” Pisarra said, “It’s not just for the upper crust.” she thought they’d be cast. 22 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • JULY 23, 2021
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