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Tens of thousands turn out for March For Our Lives in Downtown Los Angeles

Tens of millions join marches around the nation

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(Photo by Rebekah Sager)

More than 50,000 people marched in downtown Los Angeles Saturday to support the Parkland High students and push for change for stricter gun legislation. From kids, to moms, students, to grandmothers, millions of Americans took to the streets for the March For Our Lives.

Los Angeles Film School student, Maya Jones, 21, spoke to protestors in the early morning, before the march started.

Inspiring the crowd with the rallying cry of students across the country. “We will not back down,” Jones yelled.

“We took a stand today and in five weeks this is what we did this [the march]. We will show them that our lives matter. I’m tired of them saying that our generation doesn’t know anything. They’re afraid because they know their time is up and our time is now,” Jones added.

Although only three-in-ten adult Americans own a gun, according to the Washington Post, more than 187,000 children have been exposed to gun violence at school since the Columbine massacre.

Even after 20 children were gunned down in their elementary school in Newtown, Conn., 13 teens murdered at Columbine High School, 58 people killed and 851 injured at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, and 49 adult lives were taken at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it appears that the Feb. 14, mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 were killed, is the sea-change advocates for gun reform have been waiting for – and the charge is being led by students.

Although he’s more hopeful today than in the years just after his high school days at Columbine High, survivor of the Columbine massacre, Rich Castaldo told the Los Angeles Blade, “It doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed. One of the fathers at Columbine tried to enact something for years and years. He didn’t have much luck.”

In 1999, Castaldo, 17-years-old at the time, he was hit by eight separate bullets, one of which lodged in his spine, paralyzing him from the chest down.

“I was sitting eating lunch with Rachel Scott, when the gunman and opened fire after a pipe bomb went off and didn’t do anything [to stop him]. Scott was killed, and I have a bullet in my body and a spinal cord injury. I was 17, I’m 36 now,” Castaldo says.

Scott was shot four times, once in the head. She died instantly.

“I’m supporting the movement to enact sensible gun laws. I think we need to hold politicians accountable for their actions. They need to stop listening to the NRA and gun manufacturers. If they don’t do that, we need to vote them out of office. It’s that simple,” Castaldo said.

Kristina Wallace, an African American student at Cal State University Dominguez Hills says she has a high school age cousin and she’s marching for her.

“She doesn’t understand why there are laws that protect guns more than protecting her. I’m here to be an advocate for her and all the kids who’ve lost their lives,” Wallace says.

Libby Horne is the mom of Kate,13 and Alex ,11. She says she’s marching because her kids don’t feel safe at school anymore.

“We want to be able to tell them they can do something and express themselves on this issue. They have lockdown drills, which is crazy to me. My daughter has concern and anxiety,” Horn says.

Rosa Ortiz’s nephew was involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. She told the Blade she’s marching because she believed San Bernardino would be the last shooting in her lifetime.

“But then there was Pulse, then Las Vegas and now another school shooting. We’re done. Safety should be a priority. My hope is to see change in Congress. No more ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘our condolences.’ It’s about making change and keeping people alive. Every human being deserves to live in a world without fear,” Ortiz says.

Comedian and actress, Kathy Griffin was marching alongside a friend. She told the Los Angeles Blade, that the students and their organizing efforts inspire her.

“This generation doesn’t know a time when assault weapons were banned. But these kids are doing better than past generations,” Griffin said.

“I’ve performed in war zones, which he [Trump] hasn’t even visited, and it’s frightening to think that there are people like John Bolton in the administration. But like the kids say, ‘they haven’t been on the other side of an assault rifle.’”

In May 2917, Griffin came under fire in after posing for a Tyler Shields photo in which she held a decapitated and bloodied prop head made in the likeness of President Trump.

She apologized, but “CNN” cut ties with the star, citing that she had gone, “too far.” The Secret Service opened an investigation into the incident, and Griffin told the Blade it lasted two months. “If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” she said today as the crowd walked past Los Angeles City Hall.

“I was one of those people who thought during the eight years Obama was in office, we’re on our way, I don’t have to work that hard, and boy was I wrong,” Griffin says.

On gun control, Griffin says passing a bill that could take away military assault rifles, could happen in a day.

“I don’t like the talk from the right about more metal detectors, or arming teachers. That’s ridiculous. My sister was a public school teacher for decades in Chicago and LA Unified. The idea that these kids are excited about voting the minute they turn 18 is really cool. Because frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve heard young people say, ‘man the thing I’m most excited about turning 18 is voting.’ To hear that now is thrilling,” Griffin said.

Griffin says she’s convinced that the more Trump and his policies rage against the protestors and the resistance, the more he’ll dig himself and his supporters into a hole. “And the better it will be for all of us,” she says.

“The convergence of their downfall and our uprising could affect real change…It’s all about marching or shining a light on something, and sometimes in this day and age, you just need a good whistleblower,” Griffin says.

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Newsom will face recall, second time in state history to recall a governor

Newsom’s recall election will mark the second time in California’s history that a recall effort triggered a ballot, out of 55 attempts

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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking with Vax Lottery Winner June 2021 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – California Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced Wednesday that a recall election against Governor Gavin Newsom will proceed. Only 43 signatures were withdrawn from the recall petition, according to Weber’s office, bringing the total number of verified signatures to 1,719,900, which “still meet[s] the threshold to initiate a recall election.”

State law provides a thirty day window for voters to withdraw their signatures from petitions to recall the governor.

California’s Department of Finance will now begin estimating the costs of the recall — including costs of holding it as a special election or as part of the next regularly scheduled election — which will then be submitted to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state and the chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee by August 5, according to a letter outlining the process from the Secretary of State’s office.

The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported on June 10 that the effort to recall Newsom is estimated to be nearly $215 million according to a report compiled by the California Department of Finance based on data from the state’s 58 counties.

That’s more than the $200 million local public health officials requested from Newsom in this year’s budget to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future challenges, the SacBee noted.

Newsom’s recall election will mark the second time in California’s history that a recall effort triggered a ballot, out of 55 attempts the Los Angeles Times reported.

CapRadio’s political correspondent Nicole Nixon reported Wednesday that organizers of the current recall movement say there are a list of reasons Californians signed their petitions: frustration over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and business restrictions, worsening housing and homelessness crises, high taxes and cost of living, and more.

“This is about Gavin Newsom and his failed policies that have put us in the state of despair we are in today,” said Orrin Heatlie, the main proponent of the recall effort.

But Newsom and his team have framed the recall as an effort by supporters of former President Donald Trump and right-wing extremists to wrest control of the government from progressives CNN reported.

“It is what it is. This is a Republican recall,” Newsom said in an exclusive interview with CNN earlier this year. “An RNC-backed Republican recall of White supremacists, anti-Semites and people who are opposed to immigration and immigrants is an accurate assessment of who’s behind this recall.”

Polling conducted since the Spring seems to show that amajority of California voters want to keep Newsom in office, though voters are deeply divided along partisan lines. The Public Policy Institute of California’s May survey found 57% of likely voters would support Newsom in a recall election, while 40% would vote to recall him.

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The Stonewall Inn bans Anheuser-Busch during NYC Pride weekend

“We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians”

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NYC Pride 2019 passes in front of the Stonewall Inn (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

NEW YORK – In response to news that the Anheuser-Busch InBev company had made political contributions to lawmakers behind bills targeting transgender youth, the owners of the Stonewall Inn announced its ban of AB InBev products during New York City’s Pride weekend.

The historic West Village pub, widely regarded as the location of one of the seminal defining events in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, is sponsoring a public ‘pour-out’ of Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois in front of the bar on Wednesday, June 23, to demand that the Leuven, Belgium based AB InBev stop donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators and commit to using its lobbying efforts to advance the Equality Act.

Should the Equality Act be passed, it would afford LGBTQ people with equal nondiscrimination protections under federal law.

“You can’t turn your logo rainbow on social media, call yourself an ally, and then turn around and make donations that fuel hate. There are really no excuses, and companies like Anheuser-Busch need to own up to what they’ve done,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz. “As a business owner, it’s never easy to stop selling a product that affects your bottom line — especially during the busiest weekend of the year. But I’m an activist above all else and we at The Stonewall Inn know we bear a unique responsibility to call out hypocrisy when we see it. Anheuser-Busch and other companies must do better.”

According to data from the Keep Your Pride campaign, since 2015, Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. 

Through its nonprofit arm, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, Stonewall recently launched the Safe Spaces program, which identifies and certifies entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses, and other public venues as Safe Spaces for LGBTQ people. Under its criteria for certification, businesses that donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers would not qualify for designation as a Safe Space.

“As one of our best-selling products, Bud Light has been a longtime staple here at The Stonewall Inn. It’s deeply disappointing to learn that Anheuser-Busch has given money to lawmakers who are attacking trans kids, some of the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly.

“We’re horrified to see so-called allies supporting lawmakers who would make life harder for anyone in our community. We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians and use their lobbying power to support the Equality Act,” Kelly added.

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SCOTUS ruling on Philadelphia case, LGBTQ groups view with some relief

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief.

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Graphic: The Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision Thursday in a unanimous 9-0 ruling that sided with Catholic Social Services (CSS),  a Catholic social services organization that sued the city of Philadelphia after the city excluded it from a foster-care program due to the organization’s refusal to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief. Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade in a phone call Thursday that ruling was exceedingly narrow, aimed at a section of the contract by the City, and more importantly was not a ruling that would be citable in future litigation in terms of an anti-LGBTQ basis.

Specifically, Minter noted that with this unanimous ruling, the court avoided a situation that would overrule the 1990 SCOTUS ruling in the case of [the] Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. That ruling, authored by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had made it more difficult for religious people and groups to secure exemptions from generally applicable laws governing anti-discrimination

Scalia in the Smith case wrote; [that] “the Court has never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate. Allowing exceptions to every state law or regulation affecting religion would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” Justice Scalia goes on to cite examples such as compulsory military service, payment of taxes, vaccination requirements, and child-neglect laws.

Minter opined that while there would be definite support to overturning Smith by three of the court’s conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, he was doubtful that Chief Justice John Roberts, or the court’s other conservative justices Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett are that eager, given that there isn’t a legal remedy or replacement for Smith that would not create chaos within the federal judiciary in future challenges.

Properly understood, today’s decision is a significant victory for LGBTQ people, Minter said. The focus is on a contractual clause which is what the court focused in on. Writing in concurrence, Justice Alito noted, albeit it somewhat sarcastically, “This decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops. The City has been adamant about pressuring CSS to give in, and if the City wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power. If it does that, then, voilà, today’s decision will vanish — and the parties will be back where they started.”

Minter pointed out that the Court did not change the current constitutional framework, which permits governments to enforce antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people even when doing so may have a disparate burden on those who hold certain religious beliefs.

“As a result of today’s decision, those who feared the Court might create a sweeping new religious exemption to such laws can breathe a sigh of relief,” he concluded.

Also weighing in was Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We are relieved that the court did not recognize a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs,” she said.

“Opponents of LGBTQ equality have been seeking to undo hard-won non-discrimination protections by asking the court to establish a constitutional right to opt out of such laws when discrimination is motivated by religious beliefs. This is the second time in four years that the court has declined to do so. This is good news for LGBTQ people and for everyone who depends on the protections of non-discrimination laws,” Cooper added.

Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, writing in his Volokh Conspiracy blog noted;

Justice Barrett, joined by Justice Kavanaugh, concurring: The original meaning of the Free Exercise Clause is unclear on the broader question of religious exemptions from generally applicable laws, but “As a matter of text and structure, it is difficult to see why the Free Exercise Clause—lone among the First Amendment freedoms—offers nothing more than protection from discrimination.” Yet Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh are “skeptical about swapping Smith‘s categorical antidiscrimination approach for an equally categorical strict scrutiny regime, particularly when this Court’s resolution of conflicts between generally applicable laws and other First Amendment rights—like speech and assembly—has been much more nuanced.” In particular,

To name a few: Should entities like Catholic Social Services—which is an arm of the Catholic Church—be treated differently than individuals? Cf. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012) [providing broad protection for certain decisions by religious institutions -EV]. Should there be a distinction between indirect and direct burdens on religious exercise? Cf. Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) (plurality opinion). What forms of scrutiny should apply? Compare Sherbert v. Verner (1963) (assessing whether government’s interest is “‘compelling'”), with Gillette v. United States (1971) (assessing whether government’s interest is “substantial”). And if the answer is strict scrutiny, would pre-Smith cases rejecting free exercise challenges to garden-variety laws come out the same way? See Smith.

M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued the following statement. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is troubling but, importantly, it refused to give a free pass to people or agencies that want to discriminate against LGBTQ people for religious reasons and is limited to the specifics of Philadelphia’s foster care system. Instead, the Court validated the City’s ‘weighty’ interest in the equal treatment of LGBTQ prospective foster parents and foster children. The only reason those interests did not carry the day was due to the specifics of the City’s contract. Because the Court decided the case on contract-specific grounds, the City can address the situation by rewriting its contracts.” 

“But make no mistake.  Philadelphia has never refused to work with Catholic Social Services. The agency has continued to receive millions of dollars in foster care contracts from Philadelphia and the contract at issue simply applied a standard, important nondiscrimination principle to its contract agencies. Foster care is a government function, and all governments have a compelling interest in ensuring their contract agencies, including faith-based ones, treat all children and families equally. And today’s ruling does mean, at least for now, that different-sex married couples have access to all city agencies, while same-sex couples do not,” Cook said.

“The court’s ruling today on Fulton is a narrow one, limited in both nature and scope. The most important take-away is that the Supreme Court unanimously refused to allow a religious entity to have a license to discriminate. We stand in solidarity with the community in Philadelphia that is working for the fair and equitable treatment of  those who want to provide safe and loving homes to children and hold in our hearts the many children who will be impacted by this decision,” Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force said.

“The work ahead for our community is clear – we must continue to advocate for local and state non-discrimination laws, apply the ones that exist and most importantly, fight for the Equality Act, which would provide long overdue Federal protections to the LGBTQ community and many others,” she added.

Equality California’s Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, a prominent civil rights attorney weighed in saying, “Today’s ruling by the Court is limited in nature and scope. While the Court ruled against the City based on the specific facts of this case, we are heartened by the fact that it did not recognize or create a license to discriminate. The Court’s ruling means that governments can — and must — continue to enforce neutral, generally applicable laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination both inside and out of the foster care system.”

There was a note of defiance and dissent to the ruling from the SPLC listed anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Family Research Council, which released this tweet:

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