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LA Pride embraces call for protest march

Inspired by Women’s March, LA Pride organizers embrace protest movement

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Resist March, gay news, LA Blade

Rev. Troy Perry was one of the founders of Christopher Street West. (Photo by Jonathunder; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Resistance is the stuff LGBT Pride was once made of.

Los Angeles in the late 1960s, like much of America, was a hotbed of resistance of every kind: the women’s movement, the hippie movement, the antiwar movement and, yes, even a nascent movement for LGBT rights, all combined here to fuel the winds of change. The LGBT community in Los Angeles, as in New York and around the country, lived under constant threat of official violence and the oppression of pervasive hostility.

In 1966 Los Angeles, affection between men was officially condemned as a mental illness and viewed as a moral disorder. Sexual relations between people of the same sex — even hand holding — was a crime. Careers were destroyed by whisper or innuendo and extortion was rampant. There were precious few safe social spaces for LGBT people other than a dozen or so nightclubs in close proximity to one another near Silver Lake — Black Cat, Ram’s Head and Stage Door — and a couple, like The Patch near Long Beach.

And so when routine police raids on these establishments escalated and turned violent, the community was deeply traumatized. Finally, a breaking point came on New Year’s Eve 1967 when a celebration at Black Cat turned into a bloodbath; at five minutes past midnight, plainclothes police officers began tackling patrons, swinging billy clubs and pool sticks, dragging people into the streets, pulling bartenders facedown over broken glass across the bar, chasing patrons down the streets, breaking bones and doing severe bodily injury to some, arresting 16 people who were charged with lewd conduct for simply kissing, according to witnesses of the time and published accounts.

A community that had long hidden in the shadows suddenly found itself seeking intersectional allies. Police violence against civilians was attracting more attention than ever and activist groups, like Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE) distributed fliers that read, “PRIDE DEMONSTRATION: join Negroes, Mexicans, hippies” and demonstrate against “the Establishment war on minorities.” The Southern California Council on Religion and the Homophile urged action by activating a phone-tree with the message that “Homosexuals, who have always been dependably meek, are fighting back.”

An unprecedented number of people turned out — one of the first mass gatherings in the United States protesting police harassment of LGBT people — protesting at the corner of Sunset and Hyperion.

Until recently, the action, groundbreaking though it was, has rarely been hailed as such. It has been almost buried in LA’s psyche. Even Troy Perry, one of the founders of Christopher Street West, says he “never viewed the Black Cat as a demonstration for LGBTQ rights but as an action against police brutality at that time in LA.”

Two and a half years later, in June 1969, a police raid on New York’s Stonewall Inn captured the attention of the world, however.

Six powerful days of resistance in 1969 between young gay, lesbian, and transgender people and the New York Police Department continue to define who we are as a people, a movement and a community. After an intense escalation of brutal police raids on gay bars in New York City, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a Christopher Street bar in Manhattan’s West Village, fought back and won.

Though police turned fire hoses on the crowd, it swelled to thousands; chorus lines of drag queens and lesbian and gay youth overtook barricades, taunting police with campy chants and performing a Rockette-like show for the jaw-dropped police. “Occupy — take over, take over” they shouted. “Fag power!” “Liberate the bar! We’re the pink panthers!” They pulled cobblestones from the streets, smashed windows, threw bottles, even uprooting parking meters and cornering terrified policemen while singing a campy version of “We Shall Overcome.”

While news of the riots spread quickly around the world, Angelenos Rev. Troy Perry, Rev. Bob Humphries and Morris Kight, formed Christopher Street West (CSW) to honor the uprising in New York and to tap into a burgeoning sense of “gay power” by launching the world’s first Gay Pride Parade.

On June 28, 1970, thousands of jubilant people celebrated and danced their way west along Hollywood Boulevard, some chanting “two, four, six, eight, gay is just as good as straight” and hoisting placards calling for equality and justice.

“At the time we had no idea what we were creating, we just wanted to acknowledge a courageous group that stood up to being bullied by police. It was a microcosm of what was taking place throughout the country and we thought, what better way to make noise, get attention and excite our community than by dressing up and putting on a parade,” said Perry.

Over the years the event evolved along with the community.

It moved to West Hollywood and became a fee-based, three-day festival to help pay the growing expense of the event. It was never without controversy, but fast-forward to 2016 and both the festival and the parade had nearly collapsed in the heat of withering criticism over the direction of the event and whether history or LGBT identity even matters.

From its founding in 1970 to 2016, the parade reflected the concerns of a community fighting for basic dignity, political rights, against violence and for government recognition of a health crisis that killed hundreds of thousands of gay men. In recent years, as the community enjoyed civil rights victories and gained social, cultural and political power, the Parade’s identity began to blur.

Last year, when CSW attempted to rebrand the three-day festival into a Music Festival, critics derided the group for attempting to turn LA Pride into “Gay Coachella.” CSW, they said, was hell-bent on ignoring the event’s legacy and on edging out more senior members of the community. CSW President Chris Classen, perhaps unintentionally, reinforced that notion while addressing the controversy to the West Hollywood City Council, saying that by “adding the word ‘music’ to the title of L.A. Pride is a subtle welcome to a younger generation who does not inherently understand the historical context of the event.”

Indeed, his plan, by rearranging or removing sacred elements of the festival, seemed to minimize the visibility of lesbians, transgender, Latino and leather community members and paid no homage to seniors or to history. Even country-western people felt they’d been given the boot in favor of a post-gay Music Festival.

Groups formed to protest CSW and critics blasted the organization at the group’s open board meetings and City Council meetings. Ivy Bottini, a 90-year-old lesbian resident of West Hollywood demanded change: “I consider the board a lame duck board…It doesn’t feel like CSW understands what Pride is.”

CSW corrected most of its mistakes and issued a mea culpa. Last May, CSW issued a statement saying it had “made a few missteps along the way that have left valued members of our community feeling left out or underappreciated. This was never our intention. We’ve heard your concerns and objections and we sincerely apologize.” It seemed to work.

But events conspired to remind everyone about the historical context of the event — a response to violent oppression — that gave rise to Christopher Street West’s existence.

Mourning for Orlando

Los Angeles, like everyone in America, was stunned to wake up on the morning of June 12, 2016, to the news that a madman had opened fire on the dance floor of a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding dozens more. That morning, Santa Monica Police Department arrested 20-year-old James Wessley Howell, an Indiana man, who was found with an arsenal of assault rifles, ammunition and explosives in his car; he told police he ‘wanted to harm’ people at the Los Angeles Pride festival.

A pall was cast over the annual LA Pride Parade but in a defiant move, Christopher Street West chose to continue with the Parade and it quickly became a march honoring of the victims in Orlando.

But questions about CSW just wouldn’t go away.

In late 2016, it was revealed the organization had lost several hundred thousand dollars, renewing outrage and provoking allegations of mismanagement. West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, concerned about city involvement with potentially troubled non-profit organizations, required financial disclosure from subsidized organizers. LA Pride has for years been partially subsidized by West Hollywood because it is estimated to generate more than $5,000,000 in tax revenues.

Complicating matters for CSW, in January 2017, several senior board members resigned and complained publicly that the top-down management style of the board resulted in making their service useless. Chief among their complaints was the requirement of non-disclosure agreements that prevented board members from discussing organizational matters outside the board. The board members who resigned were representative of the issues that sparked the most concern in 2016; a prominent transgender woman, a senior man, a documentarian of LGBT history, a legacy CSW president and a Latino man and chairman of LA Leather Pride Week.

The resignations resurrected community frustrations about CSW’s direction yet the organization appeared to be singularly focused on the impact the closure of West Hollywood Park had on its Music Festival plans. But the election of Donald Trump and his anti-LGBT vice president, along with the installation of an almost uniformly anti-LGBT cabinet was top of mind for the community at large.

#resistmarch

LA-based philanthropist, activist and entrepreneur Brian Pendleton called for a protest march.

Enter LA-based philanthropist, activist and entrepreneur Brian Pendleton, inspired by the women’s march (which attracted several hundred thousand people to downtown LA) seized on what he saw as pent-up demand for action that he, perhaps incidentally, felt could give LA Pride revitalized mission. He posted a frustrated comment on Facebook, “before my first cup of coffee,” declaring that the parade should be turned into a protest march.

A Facebook page and other social media using #resistmarch was created along with a website and the idea went viral. More than 33,000 people have joined.

Pendleton found himself on the board of CSW.

“There was a hesitation to have me join the board,” he said. “CSW has policies and procedures about how to add board members and in order for me to join, I understand, the board had to waive those procedures. But once the groundswell of grassroots support became so strong it was clear that it made the most sense for CSW to add me as an exception.”

He refused to sign the controversial non-disclosure agreement.

The idea has been adopted by Christopher Street West, sending the parade off into a whole new direction that more closely resembles the intentions of its founders.

The march will even begin at the 1970 founding location at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland to La Brea before continuing onto Santa Monica Boulevard and into West Hollywood.

Over the past 40 years, local merchants have grown to rely on the event’s ability to attract more than 100,000 people and generate millions of dollars in income, according to studies by the City of West Hollywood. Organizers are hoping to at least double the participation this year.

Significantly, the Resist March idea requires outreach to allied communities and that work is in full swing. Among the growing number of signees: Equality California, Los Angeles LGBT Center, APLA Health, Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, Family Equality Council, Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, City of West Hollywood, Women Against Gun Violence, IBEW Local 11, UNITE HERE! Local 11,  CA NOW, National Council of Jewish Women NARAL Pro-Choice California, Hollywood N.O.W., California Women’s Law Center, Victory Institute, The Next Family, LASC, Project Angel Food, Tegan and Sara Foundation, Trans Can Work, West Hollywood City Council members Heilman, Duran and Horvath, Christopher Street West, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor, Los Angeles City Attorney, and Gina Belafonte.

Pendleton told City Watch, “This year, because of the political winds and forces, we’re sort of wrapping the iconic rainbow flag of LGBTQ around women fighting for reproductive rights, the dreamers who want to stay in this country and recent immigrants who want to come here, anyone who feels impacted by the forces against human rights.

“We’ve been fighting for our rights for decades now but the last eight years, we’ve had wind in our sails and seen tremendous progress. Not wanting to have any of our rights rolled back, we stand up with our trans brothers and sisters whose fates are being decided by state governments. In South Dakota, LGBTQ people can no longer adopt. We want our rights restored.”

The idea has spread around the country.

In New York City, Matt Foreman, the former executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, has also been advocating for a Resistance March there. On Facebook he wrote: “WTF Heritage of Pride?! Why do people have to plead with you for the Resistance to be front and center in this year’s pride march?! YOU should be taking the lead and embracing the legacy of Stonewall. Aren’t you humiliated that LA Pride is ahead of HOP on this? Why court controversy and retreat into the dank well of “process”? Come on folks, you’re better than this!”

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a National March is taking shape, planned for Sunday, June 11, that was instigated by a New York activist who also took to social media to call for a march.

David Bruinooge, 42, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, said he was inspired to create a Facebook page announcing the march on Jan. 21 while he was watching the Women’s March on Washington at home on television.

“I was watching the events unfold on TV and I was very proud and inspired by all the women, the strong women in our country who were kind of taking this to the street and getting their voices heard,” he told the Blade. “And in the back of my mind as an openly gay man I thought the gay community should be doing something like this to follow up on the momentum,” he said.

He said he intentionally chose June 11 for the march because it’s the same day that D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival is scheduled to be held on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol. Bruinooge said his thought was the march would start in the morning and end at the site of the Pride festival.

Rev. Perry said in a statement to the Los Angeles Blade, “As the co-founder of Christopher Street West, I am thrilled to see them change the 2017 pride parade to a human rights march. For me it’s always been about humanizing our community, standing up for those who need us most, and giving a voice to those who are sometimes invisible.  Marching for human rights fits squarely within the principles of CSW’s founding. I’ll see you all on June 11th!”

Equality March, gay news, Washington Blade

The last LGBT march on Washington was the National Equality March on Oct. 11, 2009. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report.

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California

California ends loitering for prostitution law

This repeals “loitering with intent to engage in prostitution” law, which results in profiling of sex workers particularly trans women

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, authored by Out state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday. 

“As trans people are being criminalized across the country, Governor Gavin Newsom has once again shown that California stands with the LGBTQ community and communities of color,” said Wiener. “Everyone – no matter their race, gender or how they make a living – deserves to feel safe on our streets. Thank you, especially, to our coalition of former and current sex workers and LGBTQ advocates who made this day a reality. Your leadership is inspiring.”

SB 357 repeals a provision of California law criminalizing “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution.” This criminal provision — arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is “acting like” or “looks like” they intend to engage in sex work — results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers.

SB 357 is sponsored by a large coalition made up of former and current sex workers, LGTBQ groups like Equality California and Transgender Gender-variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and civil rights groups like the ACLU. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA) is supporting the legislation.

SB 357 does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work. Rather, it simply eliminates an loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply “appearing” to be a sex worker.

This crime is so subjective and inherently profiling that it allows a police officer to arrest someone purely based on how they are dressed, whether they’re wearing high heels and certain kinds of make-up, how they’re wearing their hair, and the like. This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look. People who engage in sex work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Criminalizing sex work does not make sex workers or communities safer. Most criminal penalties for sex workers, loitering laws included, do nothing to stop sex crimes against sex workers and human trafficking. In fact, loitering laws make it harder to identify trafficking victims; trafficking victims are often afraid to come forward in fear of being arrested or incarcerated. 

In February of 2021, a similar piece of legislation to repeal this type of loitering ban became law in New York. SB 357 is part of the movement to end discrimination against and violence toward sex workers, especially the most targeted communities — trans, Black, and Brown people. SB 357 is co-sponsored by Positive Women’s Network – USA, St. James Infirmary, SWOP LA, Trans [email protected] Coalition, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California and ACLU California Action. 

Under current law, it is a crime to loiter in a public place with the “intent” to commit a sex work-related offense. But this law can be broadly interpreted, and thus allows for discriminatory application against the LGBTQ community and people of color.

Law enforcement can use a non-exhaustive list of circumstances to subjectively determine if someone “intends” to engage in sex work, including factors such as speaking with other pedestrians, being in an area where sex work has occurred before, wearing revealing clothing, or moving in a certain way.

Because current law regarding loitering is highly subjective and vague, law enforcement officers disproportionately profile and target Black and Brown transgender women by stopping and arresting people for discriminatory and inappropriate reasons.

This is how Black and Brown transgender women get arrested and cited for simply walking on the street. It also gives law enforcement the ability to more easily target and arrest sex workers.

People in the LGBTQ, Black, and Brown communities report high rates of police misconduct throughout the United States and are disproportionately affected by police violence.

Transgender people who have done street-based sex work are more than twice as likely to report physical assault by police officers and four times as likely to report sexual assault by police.

A Black person is 3.5 times more likely to be shot by police than a white person. These statistics are a daily reality that transgender, Black and Brown people face and lead to mistrust of law enforcement.

SB 357 will repeal a discriminatory law that makes it a crime to loiter with the intent to engage in sex work, given that it fails to prevent street-based sex work and disproportionately results in the criminalization of transgender people and communities of color.

“For far too long, California law has been used to profile, harass and arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people simply for existing in public spaces,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “We all deserve to live in public peacefully without fear of arrest. Thanks to Governor Newsom and Senator Wiener’s leadership, California boldly stands on the side of justice. This law will make our communities safer for all Californians. We are immensely proud to be in this fight as part of a coalition that has been trans led since the beginning.”

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California

Proud Boys disrupting a California Pride drag show get pepper sprayed

“There was an altercation, obviously people are here & are upset about the bar having their Pride event,” said the deputy police chief

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Woodland police officers after Proud Boys disrupt drag show (Screenshot KCRA 3 News)

WOODLAND, Ca. – An end of Pride month drag show in this suburban city Northwest of Sacramento was disrupted by Proud Boys at the The Mojo Lounge bar and restaurant in the downtown business district.

As the group attempted to gain access to the establishment, a now viral video by local ABC10 television reporter Luke Cleary showed them and the near-by police officers getting pepper-sprayed by an unseen person inside the bar.

Screams of pain erupted along with one Proud Boy who can be heard shouting “fuck you paedophile motherfuckers,” after being sprayed. Woodland police officers can also be seen retreating wiping their eyes from the effects of the irritant self-defensive spray weapon.

Another reporter, Lee Anne Denyer from NBC News Sacramento affiliate KCRA 3 noted that the event, which was initially advertised as an an all-ages Drag Show by the bar was at first postponed and then scaled back.

Denyer posted video that showed the heavy law enforcement presence after the Proud Boys attempted to storm the restaurant demanding to know how many children were in attendance at the show.

“There was kind of rumors that things were brewing on main street but there was obviously a presence by the Woodland Police Department so that made us feel more comfortable. Then it escalated, it escalated pretty quickly,” Julie Ramos, who attended the event, told KCRA. “This really was a positive event and everyone was having a great time. So I think most people were angry but I would say resilient.”

Woodland Police Department, Woodland, California

“There was an altercation, obviously people are here and are upset about the bar having their Pride event,” Anthony Cucchi, the deputy chief of the Woodland Police Department told KCRA. “We tried to intervene as quickly as we could, it was a pretty chaotic scene. Our main priority was to get a safe scene and then make sure anybody that needed help got the help that they needed. We will work on the investigation.”

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California

Gun industry advertising to kids & restricting ghost guns Calif. laws signed

Latest nation-leading action to protect Californians from gun violence adds to decades of California leadership on gun safety

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California Governor Gavin Newsom on gun adverts targeting minors (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed legislation to take on the gun industry and get more guns off California streets. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. 

“From our schools to our parks to our homes, our kids deserve to be safe – in California, we’re making that a reality. As the Supreme Court rolls back important gun safety protections and states across the country treat gun violence as inevitable, California is doubling down on commonsense gun safety measures that save lives,” said Newsom. “The lives of our kids are at stake and we’re putting everything on the table to respond to this crisis.”

The legislation signed Thursday directly targets the gun lobby and manufacturers.

Governor Newsom signs gun safety legislation June 30, 2022 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

Governor Newsom signed AB 2571, prohibiting marketing of firearms to minors following recent efforts by the gun industry to appeal to minors, like Wee 1 Tactical advertising the sale of a JR-15, an AR-15 meant for kids, complete with cartoon child skulls with pacifiers. 

“Guns are not toys – they are deadly weapons,” said Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda). “California has some of the strongest gun laws in the country and it is unconscionable that we still allow advertising weapons of war to our children. Our kids have a right to live long, happy lives, free of gun violence.”

Also Thursday, the Governor signed AB 1621, which further restricts ghost guns – firearms that are intentionally made untraceable – as well as the parts used to build them. Ghost guns have been called an “epidemic” by the Los Angeles Police Department, contributing to more than 100 violent crimes in the City of Los Angeles last year alone.

“Alarmingly, we are finding that more and more, no region or demographic is exempt from gun violence – our hospitals, grocery stores, schools, and even places of worship, are no longer safe. The proliferation of ghost guns, which are intentionally untraceable weapons to evade law enforcement, has only worsened the issue,” said Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson). “Following the signing of AB 1621 into law, I applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for his leadership and unwavering commitment to eradicate the rampant wildfire of gun violence currently ravaging our streets and safe-havens.”

Earlier this month, Newsom announced a record $156 million in gun violence prevention grants provided as part of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program (CalVIP). The funding will support 79 cities and nonprofit organizations that are implementing anti-violence programs suited to the unique needs of their local communities.

California’s gun safety policies save lives and provide a national model for other states to follow. According to the Giffords Law Center, in 2021, California was ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. As California strengthened its gun laws, the state saw a gun death rate 37 percent lower than the national average. Meanwhile, other states such as Florida and Texas, with lax gun regulations, saw double-digit increases in the rate of gun deaths. As a result of the actions taken by California, the state has cut its gun death rate in half and Californians are 25 percent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to people in other states.  

A recent study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis found that California’s red flag law was used to stop 58 threatened mass shootings.

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