The LGBTQ community is not invisible to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a strong ally for decades. He is keenly aware that his emergency order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an inconvenience – but one that will save lives, not overwhelm hospitals and not crash the unprepared system of healthcare.
“I know this is an anxious time for a lot of people, but Angelenos should stay focused on preparation and protection — not panic,” Garcetti said Sunday issuing his directive ordering temporary restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other gathering spots in the City of Los Angeles. “We will continue doing everything we can to help guide people through this situation, and working closely with our local, state, and federal partners to keep our communities safe, aware, and informed.”
“Unlike past emergencies where we’ve had heroic first responders, each one of us is a first responder,” Garcetti tells the Los Angeles Blade in a March 16 phone interview. “It’s a different mindset to think that it’s not just a firefighter or a police officer who might save my life — it’s now literally me. We’ve got so many people, we know them even today, while most people are abiding by our mandate, we all have friends who are saying, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, even if I get it, it’s not going to be too much’ — and they’re not practicing safe practices,” meaning the precautions recommended by the CDC to vigorously wash hands and follow “social distance.”
“That isn’t just a threat to them, that’s a threat to people they know, people they love, people they interact with. We all have seniors who we know and love and in our family we have people who are fighting diseases and are immunocompromised,” says Garcetti. “In the LGBTQ community, we have practice with that. But now is a moment when in these two weeks, we’ll either push the curve out and flatten it or it will spike and the severity of deaths, the damage to our economy, the length of this crisis is literally in our hands and those hands shouldn’t be touching other people.”
Last year, LA became the largest municipality to formally include LGBTQ businesses in their contracts. Nationally, LGBTQ businesses contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy, generate, on average, $2,475,642 in revenue, and create more than 33,000 jobs, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Garcetti is aware of the need by LGBTQ and minority businesses to stay afloat, that the impact of the coronavirus on LGBTQ and other businesses could be devastating.
“We’re pennies on the dollar, compared to the federal government,” Garcetti tells the Los Angeles Blade. “But we are looking at this week putting out a small business assistance program that would just be a bridge loan to folks, just like payroll, to keep their rent going, to basically stay alive and what we hope will be something lasting weeks and not months.”
Garcetti says the city has been very aggressively “pushing everything from helping workers of those business, which relieves those businesses, expanded EITC help from the state where they could maybe double down on the EITC tax credit that they pay families who are eligible.”
Garcetti says “it’d be no more than a billion dollars of the state and we have a six billion dollar surplus to be able to pay those workers. Obviously, helping out businesses too. We’re exploring an amendment where we could have a commercial eviction moratorium without being on the line with every landlord for quote-unquote ‘lost business.’”
There’s been help for both renters and residential evictions. “But could we do that for small businesses as well? I’ve asked the city attorney to explore that,” he says. “In terms of outreach specifically to the LGBTQ community and businesses — everybody would be eligible for this and I think as we’ve done with the city, we’ve had a careful eye towards making sure that that information gets out quickly within communities that are more vulnerable and communities that have more small businesses. So I think we’ll have that program rolling by tomorrow — Wednesday I think at the latest.”
Garcetti is looking at how to help alleviate the span of needs, including creating the LA Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund through the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles.
“Obviously, we’re looking for places where people can get rehired. We’ve looking for places where people can donate to help with those small businesses and the most vulnerable workers and that’s up and running at Corona-virus.LA, where people can donate now,” Garcetti says. “We hope to have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help out and we’ll put a big chunk of that to businesses assistance.”
Hunger is a major issue. “I worked very closely with Katherine Berger, chair of [LA County Board of Supervisors] and there were rumors that Meals on Wheels was going to suspend. It’s quite the opposite,” he says. “We’re ramping those up further. Our senior meals program, which was usually done in rec centers, is now going to go towards delivery to seniors so that they can protect themselves and stay in their homes during this critical few weeks period. I know that the county network just got a $1.5 million dollar donation nationally from Kroger and we’re going to put a piece of that into our local food security and strengthening our food banks. So there’s a lot of focus on food right now. You can expect expanded programming on Meals on Wheels and the other county programs and the city is going to help, obviously with students, the school district, but also with our seniors too.”
Garcetti had a special message for the LGBTQ community.
“This community has been through tougher days than this and the most important thing is to not only be resilient but to be calm,” he says. “There is plenty of food, not just for today or tomorrow, but for months. The overwhelming majority of people are going to not only make it through this but we will come back, but we can be leaders.
“The LGBTQ community — which has seen what spread can do to a community and how devastating it can be — can really be the leaders of influencing in our workplaces, with our families and with others,” he says.
Garcetti goes for Rhodes Scholar cool, as if imitating a millennial influencer: “Hey, let’s maintain this distance for a few weeks so that the party starts again months earlier.”
But the message is deadly serious.
“If we don’t do it (social distancing) now, we will see a long, deep suffering — for not just Los Angeles — but this country and this world,” Garcetti says. “My mantra has been: ‘Be a leader, no matter who you are, and when it feels wrong that’s probably the right time to do it. By the time it feels right it’s too late.”
If what feels wrong?
“All the advice we’re giving. The social distancing, not going to the gym, not hanging out with friends. ‘Everything’s closed, let’s get together.’ Don’t do those things right now,” he says. “We’re steadily closing those options down but people find their way of being the one exception. Don’t be the exception! Keep your distance. We will get through this. … It’s tough but you adjust to it and then you know that the quicker the adjustment, the quicker the cure.”
The other thing to watch out for is misinformation.
“There’s so much misinformation — check with official sources and trusted media,” Garcetti says. “If I have to tell people one more time that the text from an official source, or somebody who knows the Secret Service agent who works with Michael Pence, or whoever it is, that it’s coming and it’s going to be a nationwide lockdown in 24 hours — it’s just there’s so much false information! There’s robocalls, there’s people preying on folks and fraud, especially our seniors, offering tests that don’t exist. Go to your trusted sources, L.A. City, L.A. County and, of course, The LA Blade.”
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.