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Black LGBTQ+ Leaders and Allies Applaud 3 California Bills

Some of the proposed laws aim to address challenges that impact various segments of the African American LGBTQ+ community — either directly or circumstantially. 

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Black LGBTQ
 Nate Isaac/Unsplash

June is Pride Month and lawmakers in California are advancing a number of bills to make life safer and less difficult for people who are LGBTQ+. 

Some of the proposed laws aim to address challenges that impact various segments of the African American LGBTQ+ community — either directly or circumstantially. 

The first is Senate Bill (SB) 357. If the Legislature approves it, the law will repeal California Penal Code Section 653.22, which penalizes loitering with the intent to engage in sex work. This particular bill, if approved, supporters say will significantly reduce the risks and dangers many LGBTQ+ people at the lowest ends of the socioeconomic ladder face. 

Many of them are young people who turn to sex work because of a number of reasons, including being unsupported by their families or the social structure because of their sexuality; trauma brought about by sexual or physical abuse; drug addiction; unemployment, among other factors. 

Based on English Elizabethan “poor laws,” loitering laws in America were developed as a part of the Black Codes in the late 1800s as a means to arrest Black people in order to sell their labor in a practice called convict leasing. 

“These laws were created to eradicate us,” said Dr. Jon Paul Higgins, a California-based social justice advocate and writer who is African American.

“So, when you talk about the importance of repealing these laws, it’s not even just about the law, it’s about getting to the root of what’s creating these laws,” Higgins explained. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “many persons who exchange sex may have a history of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, mental health issues, violence, emotional/physical/sexual abuse, and drug use.”

In California – and across the United States — a disproportionate number of African Americans are impacted by those challenges — all of them considered social determinants of good health by Public Health professionals.  

Because of the vagueness of these loitering laws, many critics have noted that they gave police a wide range of arresting powers to target “undesirables” like Black people and people in the LGBTQ+ community, Higgins explained. 

California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), author of this bill, says it would help make the streets safer for sex workers who are a part of a marginalized community. 

“Sex workers are workers, and they deserve respect and safety,” Wiener said. “We must work toward a future where people — especially the most marginalized — aren’t criminalized because of who they are and what they look like. Anti-sex workers loitering laws are deeply pernicious, and they need to be repealed.”

SB 357 also allows those convicted of California Penal Code Section 653.22 to seal their records.

SB 357 was passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee 4-1 and has now been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Another bill concerned with safety is Assembly Bill (AB) 1094, which would require the State Department of Public Health to establish a three-year pilot program in up to six participating counties to collect gender identity and sexual orientation data in violent death cases to get more accurate counts about hate crimes.

According to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations 2019 Hate Crime Report, Black people accounted for 9% of the county’s population but 47% of the total racial hate crimes.

The report also stated that 2019 saw a 64% increase in hate crimes targeting trans people, many of whom were Black or Brown, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“Yet another year with alarming levels of bias-motivated crimes underscores just how urgent it is to address this hate crimes epidemic,” said Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign president. David is the first African American to lead the organization, the largest advocacy body for LGBTQ+ people and issues in the United States. 

“This year, we saw a tragic new record of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in this country, particularly against Black and Brown transgender women,” he said. 

Following the Stonewall riots in New York, Black trans women like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy became influential figures in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights at the time when discrimination and hate crimes against people like them were much more commonplace.

Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), author of AB 1094, explained why he feels the bill is crucial.

“I deeply appreciate the overwhelming support that my Assembly colleagues gave today to AB 1094,” Arambula said in a statement. “This legislation may be centered on data, but its purpose encompasses compassion and empathy to better understand what is happening in our LGTBQ+ community — particularly among the youth — when it comes to violent deaths, including homicide and suicide. AB 1094 is an important and humane step in ultimately preventing these deaths.”

 AB 1094 has passed in the Assembly and is now on its way to the State Senate for consideration. 

Senate Bill (SB) 379, which has now been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, would ensure the University of California Health System [UC Health] only contracts with healthcare facilities that provide LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare services, such as gender-affirming and reproductive care.

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, Black mothers’ maternal mortality rate is 63% higher than white mothers while Black men are 70% more likely to die from a stroke as compared to non-Hispanic White men.

People in the LGBTQ+ community are less likely to have access to competent healthcare, largely due to issues with discrimination, according to Cigna.

Higgins spoke from personal experience about the intersectional nature of being both Black and in the LGBTQ+ community.

“For me, being a Black nonbinary person and meeting a provider who has all of these bias ideologies or stereotypes about Black people… there are all of these preconceived notions about who I am as a Black person and then you add on the nonbinary-slash-trans part of it, there’s just a lot of underlying stereotypes and bias,” Higgins said.

Jasmyne Cannick, founder and CEO of Empowerment Justice Strategies, praised this bill for moving with the tides of progress.

“In 2021, it makes absolute sense for UC Health to contract with healthcare facilities that provide LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare services given the population that it serves,” Cannick said.

“We are moving towards a more inclusive society, and these are the types of bills that will ensure that members of the LGBTQ+ community can receive healthcare they need,” she continued.

Higgins, Cannick and other advocates say it means a great deal that California lawmakers are making an effort to ensure that these “warriors” can continue to do so safely, and that those who just wish to live their lives without fear for being who they are may do so more boldly.

Activism

Bay Area Officials Condemn Texas Abortion Restrictions, U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.

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Law Books/Clarisse Meyer Via Unsplash

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, Senate Bill 8, in May, but it went into effect September 1 at 12:01 a.m. local time.
Late that night, the court issued a 5-4 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices in the minority, declining to rule on the petition, which was filed by Texas abortion clinics.
The court could still strike the law down in the coming days as unconstitutional, but abortion rights activists expressed skepticism that the court would do so after letting the law go into effect in the first place.
The law effectively overwrites the precedent set in 1973 by the court’s ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade by preventing pregnant people from seeking an abortion after their sixth week of pregnancy, a time when many people are not yet even aware that they are pregnant.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, called SB 8 “one of the most severe attacks on reproductive rights” in U.S. history.
“SB 8 is an appalling violation of human rights and reproductive rights, and will put the health of millions of people in jeopardy, especially for low-income people and people of color,” Lee said in a statement.
SB 8 does not make exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and allows people to sue doctors, medical staff and even a patient’s ride to a medical clinic if they suspect the patient has had an abortion after six weeks.
Plaintiffs also are not required to show damages or have a connection to the patient to file a lawsuit under SB 8, and are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees if a judge rules in their favor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said the law constructed a “vigilante bounty system” that could keep people from seeking reproductive health care of any kind.
“This provision is a cynical, backdoor attempt by partisan lawmakers to evade the Constitution and the law to destroy not only a woman’s right to health care but potentially any right or protection that partisan lawmakers target,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Vice President Kamala Harris echoed that sentiment.
“This decision is not the last word on Roe v. Wade, and we will not stand by and allow our nation to go back to the days of back-alley abortions,” Harris said in a statement. “We will not abide by cash incentives for virtual vigilantes and intimidation for patients.”
Jodi Hicks, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, argued in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision will inevitably lead to other states passing their own abortion restrictions.
Nearly a dozen states have already passed so-called “abortion trigger laws” that would fully outlaw the practice in the first and second trimesters as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“The inaction by the Supreme Court on a blatantly unconstitutional ban has taken away a crucial right to millions of people in Texas and without a doubt threatens their ability to make decisions about their body, their lives, and their futures,” Hicks said.
On September 2, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives will formally take up legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law instead of relying on the court decision alone.
However, that bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, is unlikely to find enough support in the U.S. Senate to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.
Biden said in a statement on September 1 that SB 8 “blatantly violates” the decision in Roe v. Wade and pledged to defend abortion rights across the country, but did not elaborate on what that might entail.
California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, argued in a Twitter post that the purpose of SB 8 is clear: “to intimidate women (and) providers.”
“It cannot stand,” she said.

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Activism

President Biden, You Must Do More to Protect Voting Rights

I was proud to work hard for the election of President Joe Biden. And I was proud to protest outside the Biden White House on Aug. 24. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

I was proud to work hard for the election of President Joe Biden. And I was proud to protest outside the Biden White House on Aug. 24. 

Along with other voting rights activists, including our co-organizers at the League of Women Voters, I called on President Biden to do more to protect voting rights under attack from Republican state legislators all across the country.

President Biden knows what the problem is. He needs to do more to solve it.

We all know how Republicans have responded to President Biden beating former President Donald Trump: by trying to rig future elections in Republicans’ favor. 

In state after state, they have used Trump’s false claims of voter fraud to justify new laws that make it harder for some people to vote. President Biden has correctly called this a threat to our democracy.

President Biden has called on Congress to pass the For the People Act, which would overturn many of the new restrictions and keep billionaires from buying our elections. 

And he has called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would give the Justice Department the power to prevent future discriminatory voting changes from taking effect.

President Biden now needs to back up those words with stronger actions. Senate Republicans have already used filibuster rules to block the For the People Act. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting ready to use the filibuster to block the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as well.

Senators using filibusters to protect state voter suppression laws takes us back 60 years. In fact, I just saw a guy who works for a big right-wing think tank complain that these federal voting rights bills are “an invasion of state sovereignty.”

Well.

Early in my career, I worked for a crusading Black community newspaper in Mississippi. A paper that survived multiple fire bombings. I think about that ugly history when I hear the phrase “state sovereignty” used to defend restrictions on voting.

As I told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after the White House protest, I fear that President Biden believes he is called to be an FDR for this moment, when he is actually called to be the LBJ of this moment. 

When President Johnson was faced with intense opposition to federal civil rights and voting rights laws, he used every bit of his persuasive power and knowledge of the Senate to overcome those obstacles.

Like President Johnson, President Biden is a master of the Senate. We have seen him build support for an infrastructure bill. Rebuilding roads and bridges is important. But not as important as saving our democracy.

When they had the power, Senate Republicans changed filibuster rules so that Trump could pack the Supreme Court. 

Those rules are not sacred. They are not in the Constitution. They can be changed, and they must be changed to prevent Republicans from doing Trump’s bidding once more and blocking voting rights protections. Senate leaders have not yet built the support to make that change happen.

President Biden must publicly call on Senate Democrats to do what they need to do—remove the filibuster as an obstacle to voting rights protections. That is why I stood at the White House fence with League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase-Solomon and all of the organization heads, faith leaders and young elected officials demand that Biden do his job.

At the White House we were blessed by the presence of prophetic religious voices who reminded us that we are part of an honorable history and sacred struggle for voting rights.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism invoked the names of murdered civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, “two young white Jewish men and a young Black Christian man who gave their lives for the right to vote.”

Rev. Timothy McDonald, co-chair of People For the American Way’s board, also grounded our protest in the history of voting rights struggles. “This fight is not a new fight,” he said. Rev. McDonald promised, “We will come back again and again and again, until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amen.

We and our allies across the country are building a broad direct-action campaign with a profoundly moral purpose. Mr. President, it is time to show faith with the voters who put you in office. It is time to lead.

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Activism

Airbnb Offers to Temporarily House 20,000 Afghan Refugees for Free

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has helped house healthcare workers on the front lines. For the past four years, the company has also helped provide temporary housing to 25,000 refugees around the world.

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AirBnB image with twitter caption; Photo courtesy of Annie Reneau

As tens of thousands of Afghans flee Afghanistan in the wake of a Taliban takeover, people around the world are scrambling to help.

But providing help in a war-torn country with the chaos of U.S. military withdrawal and violent extremists seizing power is a bit complicated.

Simply getting people out of the country is hard enough. Figuring out what happens is even more complex. Where do these refugees go right now? How long do they stay? What countries will allow them to settle permanently? How do the necessary security screenings get handled? Who provides for their basic human needs as those details get sorted out?

While governments and refugee agencies work through the various moving parts and logistics, short-term rental company Airbnb has stepped up to provide a potential answer to one immediate need—where refugees will stay in the meantime.

For several years, Airbnb’s non-profit arm Airbnb.org has provided temporary housing for people displaced by natural disasters and other crises.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has helped house healthcare workers on the front lines. For the past four years, the company has also helped provide temporary housing to 25,000 refugees around the world.

Earlier this year, Airbnb announced the creation of a $25 million Refugee Fund to expand their efforts to house and support refugees in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), HIAS, and Church World Service.
With that fund and the company’s experience hosting refugees, Airbnb is in a position to provide housing assistance in Afghanistan’s newest refugee crisis.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the new Afghan refugee initiative on Twitter:”In this past week, it has become abundantly clear that the displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees here in the United States and elsewhere is a significant humanitarian crisis – and in the face of this need, our community is ready to once again step up,” the company announced on its website. “Today, Airbnb and Airbnb.org are announcing that Airbnb.org will provide temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees worldwide – the cost of which is funded through contributions to Airbnb.org from Airbnb and Brian Chesky, as well as donors to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund.”

Dave Milliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, praised Airbnb for its support.

“As the IRC helps to welcome and resettle Afghans in the U.S., accessible housing is urgently needed and essential,” said Milliband in a statement. “We are grateful to our partners at Airbnb.org and Airbnb for once again offering their support and infrastructure to meet this moment, providing safe and welcoming places for individuals and families as they arrive in the United States and begin rebuilding their lives.”

Airbnb acknowledged the complexities of the situation, but also called upon other businesses to make their own efforts to support the immediate needs on the ground:

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