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Newport Beach man will stand trial for hate crime in Blaze Bernstein’s murder

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Lincoln Woodward and Blaze Bernstein. (Photo via Facebook)

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 21, was ordered to stand trial in Orange County Superior Court Tuesday, Sept 4, on murder and hate crime charges. OC County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ prosecutorial team linked Woodward to the fatal stabbing of his former high school classmate, Blaze Bernstein. He has pleaded not guilty.

Woodward stabbed Bernstein nearly 20 times in the face and neck after the two met at a park last January, prosecutors said. The two had connected earlier in the evening on Snapchat, after which Woodward picked up Bernstein at his home.

Bernstein’s murder made national headlines after his body was discovered in a shallow grave in a park in Lake Forest near his home on Jan. 9, a week after he disappeared.

Bernstein’s high school classmate, Woodward, then 20, was arrested on Jan. 12 after DNA evidence found at the grave and in Woodward’s car linked him to the slaying. No murder weapon has been found.

The Associated Press reported that about six months before his death which prosecutors have now categorized as a hate crime, Bernstein graphically discussed hopes to have sex with the man charged in his killing, an investigator told the court during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing.

Bernstein had texted a friend a photo of Woodward and said “the two had run into each other and he thought they were going to hook up,” saying sex with the former schoolmate would be “legendary.”

What led to that encounter was not clear during the hearing on the murder and hate crime charges, but Orange County Sheriff’s Investigator Craig Goldsmith said among the anti-gay and hateful material found on his phone was mention of his efforts to pose as “gay curious” to attract men and then reveal it as a prank.

“That’s what they deserve,” Woodward wrote, using an anti-gay slur.

At the close of Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, Superior Court Judge Karen L. Robinson found there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

Testimony during the day-long hearing provided new details about the evidence investigators allege ties Woodward to Bernstein’s death. In addition to the DNA evidence, prosecutors presented the court with evidence that he had troves of homophobic and neo-Nazi material on his mobile phone. Prosecutors say this illustrates his suspected homophobia, as well as his ties to Atomwaffen Division, an armed fascist organization.

Woodward’s defense lawyer, Edward Munoz, didn’t present any witnesses, but on cross-examination it was revealed by his client that he was autistic and was socially awkward and sexually confused.

Munoz argued there was no evidence of a hate crime because reprehensible writings found on Woodward’s phone were not shared with others, but in emails to himself.

“I think in a hate crime instance you have to have an outward manifestation of your loathing to the world,” Munoz said after the hearing.

If convicted of first-degree murder and the hate crime allegation, prosecutors could seek a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.

Reporting by The Associated Press, The Orange County Register, the staff of the Los Angeles Blade, and wire service reports.

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California

California’s LGBTQ Pride week 2021, Capitol Lighting

The building will be illuminated for the week, marking just the second time in California’s history that Pride colors have donned the dome

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California Capitol Building illuminated for Pride 2021 (Photo by Nune Garipian 2021)

SACRAMENTO — The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and partner organizations held a press event and lighting ceremony, Monday, June 21, for the illumination of the California State Capitol Dome in rainbow colors to kick off a weeklong recognition of Pride Month.

The building will remain illuminated for the entire week, marking just the second time in California’s history that Pride colors have donned the dome. The first lighting occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality.

The ceremony is part of a citywide initiative to put light installations at additional Sacramento landmarks, including City Hall, Sutter’s Fort, and the Museum of Science and Curiosity. The lighting initiative is the brainchild of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center and the first of its kind for the region.

Speakers and participants included Assemblymember Evan Low, Chair of the CA Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, Senator Scott Wiener, former Chair of the CA Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, Vice Chair of the CA Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, California’s Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Senator John Laird, Alexis Sanchez, Director of Advocacy for the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, Tony Hoang, Executive Director-designate for Equality California, Tami Martin, External Affairs Director for the Capitol LGBTQ Association and Legislative LGBTQ Caucus members and community stakeholders.

Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Blade thanks the efforts of the event’s photographer, Nune Garipian, who is responsible for covering the event on behalf of the Blade. All photographs are [Copyright Garipian 2021] and are used by permission.

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California

9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks lower court overturn of assault rifle ban

Benitez ruled that California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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SAN FRANCISCO – In a ruling issued Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s controversial decision to overturn California’s assault weapons ban on June 4. The ruling will be on hold until the 9th Circuit court decides on a separate gun control case.

Benitez ruled that California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The state had first crafted the ban in 1989 and in the intervening thirty-two years lawmakers in Sacramento had repeatedly amended the law.

Benitez overturned the ban and likened an AR-15 semiautomatic gun to a Swiss army knife, calling it “good for both home and battle.” California Governor Gavin Newsom took exception to the comparative made by Judge Benitez remarking at the time;

“Today’s decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period. As the son of a judge, I grew up with deep respect for the judicial process and the importance of a judge’s ability to make impartial fact-based rulings, but the fact that this judge compared the AR-15 – a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield – to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon. We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common sense gun laws that will save lives.”

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) is a California law that bans the ownership and transfer of over 50 specific brands and models of semi-automatic firearms, which were classified as assault weapons. Most were rifles, but some were pistols and shotguns.

The case, Miller v. Bonta (previously Miller v. Becerra) had been brought by the  Firearms Policy Coalition, (FPC) which in 2019, developed and filed the suit as a federal Second Amendment challenge to California’s Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA). The FPC argued that the State’s ban prohibits arms that are constitutionally protected, no more lethal than other certain arms that are not banned, and commonly possessed and used for lawful purposes in the vast majority of the United States.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta had appealed Benitez’s ruling. On Monday he said in a tweet; “This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue. We won’t stop defending these life-saving laws.”

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Orange County

Disney honors Pride month and keeps some pandemic rules for now

“I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

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Graphic via the Walt Disney Company's Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Division

ANAHEIM – The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, (DPEP) is celebrating and honoring Pride this year, highlighting its LGBTQ employees as well as supporting a welcoming and embracing work environment where LGBTQ+ cast members are encouraged to be their authentic selves.

Writing for the company’s blog, Michelle Mockler, DPEP’s External Communications Manager profiled  James Heath, a Senior Duty Manager at the Disneyland California Adventure Park. Heath, who has been employed by the Disney company since he was 17, related his personal experiences with Disney that he said shaped not only his career as an employee but as a gay man as well.

In the winter of 2000, Heath applied for a job position in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a cast member, a term that Disney describes it employees as. After several interviews, James was offered a cast member role as a Food & Beverage Host.

According to Heath, he didn’t realise that position working at Disneyland had just given him something far more important than a job… “It gave me a place to belong,” he told Mockler.

Mockler writes that just two years prior, Heath had made the decision to come out as gay. At 15 years old, he found himself as the only openly gay student in his school.

“While I was fortunate to have supportive family and friends by my side, I was missing something truly critical at this time in my life: Other people like me. I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

At Disney, James found himself working alongside other LGBTQ+ cast members. He found people, with whom he could share stories, compare experiences and talk through challenges.

“Being gay was no different to my coworkers and leaders than any of the other countless qualities that make each of us unique.”

Twenty-one years later, the now thirty-eight year old Senior Disney Manager related; “Sometimes I wonder who I would be today had I not had this safe place to grow into my own skin. I was fortunate to have allies who courageously pushed against outdated ideas to give me a safe place to thrive.”

Heath says that he’s found himself in the role of leader, mentor, ally and advocate.

“It’s my turn to give back and help to further our culture of inclusivity. Somewhere out there, a future cast member is looking for a place where they can belong. I’m committed to helping them find it at Disney.”

As Disney celebrates Pride Month, this past week as the State of California lifted most of the restrictions imposed by California state and local health officials and Governor Gavin Newsom. However, Disney officials have decided to keep in place for the time being some of those measures.

“I don’t want to say we are going to go back to the way it was,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said Thursday about managing the parks. “I want to be really smart in the way we do this.”

The parks at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim in Orange County are continuing to reopen in phases, but a handful of the COVID-era changes are going to stick.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this past week, D’Amaro said that the company is poised to keep “in place a reservation system that was adopted to manage visitor numbers under the state-imposed capacity limits and the continued use of a virtual queuing system that was designed to give all parkgoers a shot at visiting the most popular attractions.”

Currently valid theme park admission as well as a confirmed park reservation about both required if a guest wishes to visit either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Park Pass Reservations are also currently required at Disney World.

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