Jill Biden’s Southern California trip: Fundraisers, protesters, SoulCycle

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Championing President Biden’s support for the LGBTQ community and women’s health, First Lady Jill Biden took a swing through Southern California over the weekend, amid dueling protests over the president’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Almost as soon as she landed in Los Angeles, Biden faced protesters, who stood outside the Hancock Park home where she held a Friday night fundraiser, carrying posters of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas and chanting, “Bring them home.”

The next day, protesters supporting Palestinians stood outside the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel, where Biden was scheduled to speak, holding up signs calling for a cease-fire and condemning the Human Rights Campaign for taking funding from companies they deemed responsible for genocide.

It wasn’t long before a protest erupted behind the hotel doors, too. Just after Biden began speaking to a crowd of LGBTQ leaders and allies, a loud voice cried out, “Dr. Biden, I’m a queer Jew calling for immediate and permanent cease-fire.” Soon, others unfurled banners and began chanting, “Cease fire now.”

Their calls were soon drowned out by a dueling chant: “Four more years.”

The first lady stood at the lectern, her lips pursed in a small, tight smile, while security guards escorted and, in at least one case, dragged protesters out. Once the room was emptied of chanting, Biden began again.

“Good evening, everyone,” she said, to laughter and applause. “I have to say, you really look fabulous!”

“It’s not a great feeling to be part of something that’s getting protested,” said Sylvie Shiell-Loomis, 23, of the protesters outside the hotel. “I think that they have the right intentions. I think it’s kind of misguided. … We’re all gathered here for the same reason that they’re gathered. They want human rights.”

Jacob Tobia said they are usually among the protesters disrupting the event. But they chose to attend the Human Rights Campaign dinner, wearing a Palestinian flag draped from their shoulder. Once they saw the speaker list, Tobia thought, “Well, I’m at least gonna have to wear a little something.”

“I think it’s vital that as a queer and trans movement, we are able to hold political tension internally within our own movement,” Tobia said. “And that looks like being really clear about where you stand on issues like genocide.”

Biden continued her speech without acknowledging the disruption, repeating her oft-used anecdote about her first date with President Biden — then a senator from Delaware — who showed up to her door in a suit and loafers.

“And I thought, ‘Thank God, it’s only one date,’” she said to laughter from attendees. “Well, one date eventually turned into a marriage proposal.”

Protesters interrupt First Lady Jill Biden’s speech on Saturday at the Fairmont Century Plaza.

(Richard Shotwell / Invision/Associated Press)

In a 15-minute speech, she touted the administration’s efforts to protect LGBTQ rights and warned, without naming former President Trump, that “the MAGA extremists are seeking to erase these hard-fought gains.”

“History teaches us that democracies don’t disappear overnight. They disappear slowly, subtly, silently. A book ban, a court decision, a ‘don’t say gay’ law,” she said. “One group of people loses their rights, and then another and then another. Until one morning you wake up and you no longer live in a democracy.”

The first lady began her weekend Friday evening in Hancock Park with a political fundraiser hosted by Dr. Patricia Gordon, a radiation oncologist and founder of a Beverly Hills nonprofit for the prevention of cervical cancer. She flew to Rancho Mirage on Saturday for another brief fundraiser, where she ticked off the administration’s work to curb climate change, decrease inflation and address conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Tickets to the invite-only event Saturday asked for donations from $1,000 to $100,000. The Biden campaign has raked in cash, reaching $155 million, according to latest campaign reports — far more than the Trump campaign, which held $36.6 million in cash at the end of January.

On Sunday morning, Biden and her Secret Service entourage caused a stir going into a SoulCycle, where the first lady cycled away in the back, behind rows of the Brentwood studio regulars.

Biden rounded out her visit to SoCal on Monday, joining actor Halle Berry onstage at the Getty Center before an audience of hundreds of Hollywood creators. The two chatted about women’s health, giving Biden an opportunity to tout the administration’s $12-billion investment in research.

“They told all of us, everybody, get on hormone therapy because this is going to help you and it prevents breast cancer,” she said. “And then like two years later, they were like, no, everybody get off hormone therapy, because now it’s supposed to cause breast cancer. So we were so confused.”

Biden said she went to her gynecologist for advice, but the doctor instead asked her what she’d like to do.

“And I said, what do you mean what would I like to do? You’re the doctor!” Biden said, as the audience laughed. “And, so that was my aha moment, because she had no answers. And that’s the problem — we don’t have answers.”

After her whirlwind SoCal tour, organizers Monday said, Biden headed back to Washington to teach her regular English class.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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