Editorial: Our wish list for Newsom in 2023

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022
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Governor Gavin Newsom can use his political capital to help the LGBTQ community in 2023. Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office
Governor Gavin Newsom can use his political capital to help the LGBTQ community in 2023. Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office

Governor Gavin Newsom has political capital after his easy reelection win this year and having handily withstood the 2021 recall. As he goes into 2023, we think he should use some of it in ways that would benefit the LGBTQ community. Here are our suggestions.

Salesh Prasad has a pardon application in to Governor Gavin Newsom's office. Photo: Courtesy Salesh Prasad  

Pardon Salesh Prasad
Readers will be familiar with the plight of Salesh Prasad, a queer bisexual man who had been convicted of second-degree murder decades ago for killing another man. Prasad came to the U.S. from Fiji as a lawful permanent resident when he was 6 years old. But, at 22, he "made a horrible mistake in the heat of an argument and unfortunately took another person's life," as Prasad wrote in a Guest Opinion in the B.A.R. in July.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.

Prasad, 51, was found eligible for release from prison due to his rehabilitation and remorse. However, in August 2021, after being found eligible for parole, instead of being released to the community, he was directly transferred from state prison to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at Golden State Annex. Shortly after he was detained by ICE, his mother died from COVID, and ICE denied him the opportunity to be released, even temporarily, to say goodbye or to attend her funeral.

Because of his conviction, Prasad faces deportation to Fiji, where he has said he does not think he could survive the homophobia there. He has sent a pardon application to Newsom, and, as we editorialized in November, the governor should grant it.

Since our original editorial, new developments have occurred in the case that give Newsom more reason to grant a pardon. In early December, an immigration judge granted bond to Prasad, and he was released from ICE custody. During the 90-minute hearing, which we listened to via Zoom, Prasad was clear in his acknowledgement that he had done a terrible act back in 1994 and repeatedly expressed his remorse. He said that he has changed by educating himself and getting into treatment for his drug and alcohol problems, and taking part in therapy. He said that a man sexually abused him when he was about 11, which led him to join a gang for protection, and to use drugs and alcohol.

"I didn't want him to take me and rape me again," Prasad told immigration Judge Kevin Riley as to why he joined a gang.

Prasad's attorney is Maddie Boyd, who is with the immigration unit at the San Francisco Public Defender's office. She told Riley that Prasad has an extensive plan in place to be successful now that he is out on bond. And, he wants to help other young people in similar situations through mentoring. We think that he would be successful in that type of role.

It's important to recognize that getting out of ICE detention is not easy. Yet, Riley was able to see past the objections from attorneys with the Department of Homeland Security when he granted Prasad bond, which, at $5,000, was low enough that it could be posted. A pardon would allow Prasad to remain in the U.S., where he has established a robust support network, including in the LGBTQ community. There were 80 people listening in on that Zoom call during his recent hearing, and several more inside the Van Nuys, California courtroom, as Boyd noted.

Newsom should grant the pardon because it would be the right thing to do. Political leaders often talk about the importance of rehabilitation in the abstract. The Prasad case is a good example of how remorse and rehabilitation have allowed one man to help others while incarcerated, as well as help himself.

The governor should issue the pardon.

Support a safe consumption bill
We were dismayed in August when Newsom vetoed a bill by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that would have established safe consumption site pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. The idea of letting people use drugs in a supervised setting is an entry point for substance use treatment services and adheres to the harm reduction philosophy that has proved effective here, in other countries, and New York City. In San Francisco, the now-closed Tenderloin Center had functioned as an unofficial safe consumption site, which irked some in the city but actually demonstrated why such a program is so important.

In his veto message, the governor, a former San Francisco mayor, stated that he remains open to the concept of safe consumption sites and wanted to convene local leaders in discussions with his health and human services secretary to develop best practices. Those conversations must start in the new year. Newsom should also let Wiener and other advocates know what changes he'd like to see in any legislation so that Wiener can tailor a new bill to address those concerns. Wiener recently told us he'd "love to reintroduce the bill," but needs to hear from the governor's office what would be required so that Newsom would sign it.

We know that there are legal issues at the federal level, but we don't think the Biden administration is going to prosecute local governments or nonprofits that likely would operate the sites. A nonprofit in New York City has sites up and running, and they've been so successful that Mayor Eric Adams wants them open 24 hours a day. California should take the initiative, and Newsom needs to lead on that front in light of his veto.

State lawmakers, who would also be crucial to passing a bill, and Newsom must start to explore new ideas to address the drug crisis and overdose deaths that a safe consumption site could help alleviate. Allowing people to use drugs in a supervised setting gets them off the street and could get some into treatment. It's a concept that must be tried in San Francisco and the other interested California cities.

When a new bill next comes before him, Newsom should sign it.

2023 could be the year that drag icon José Julio Sarria is posthumously inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Induct Sarria into CA Hall of Fame
Since 2015, we have advocated that two governors, first Jerry Brown and then Newsom, induct gay Latino veteran and drag queen José Julio Sarria posthumously to the California Hall of Fame — only to see him repeatedly snubbed. Earlier this month the city of Palm Springs and its chamber of commerce did the right thing in memorializing Sarria in the Walk of Stars. But he is equally deserving of being added to the California Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding residents and those with direct ties to the Golden State.

As we've noted, Sarria's history in drag culture and his willingness to run for public office at a time when gay candidates were given little chance of success are commendable. He made history in 1961 as the first out gay person to seek elective office in the U.S. when he sought a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. While unsuccessful, he nevertheless paved the way for other LGBTQs to run and win. This year, out candidates ran for office in all 50 states. There's also his charity work in establishing the Imperial Court System, which today continues to inspire and contribute to drag culture while raising funds for nonprofits that help the LGBTQ community.

We were encouraged when lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), the incoming chair of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, recently told us that she intends to see Sarria inducted into the hall next year. The caucus, now at a historic high of 12 out lawmakers, will have greater influence with Newsom and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who select the hall inductees.

Let's hope that 2023 is the year that this honor is finally attained for Sarria.

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